Sunday, April 30, 2017

Last Call For Full Court Press

The signs of the Trump regime's growing authoritarianism continue to come at a rapid fire pace, now we have White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus suggesting on ABC's This Week to Jonathan Karl that maybe the Constitution shouldn't cover a free press any longer.

KARL: I want to ask you about two things the President has said on related issues. First of all, there was what he said about opening up the libel laws. Tweeting “the failing New York Times has disgraced the media world. Gotten me wrong for two solid years. Change the libel laws?” That would require, as I understand it, a constitutional amendment. Is he really going to pursue that? Is that something he wants to pursue?

PRIEBUS: I think it’s something that we’ve looked at. How that gets executed or whether that goes anywhere is a different story. But when you have articles out there that have no basis or fact and we’re sitting here on 24/7 cable companies writing stories about constant contacts with Russia and all these other matters—

KARL: So you think the President should be able to sue the New York Times for stories he doesn’t like?

PRIEBUS: Here’s what I think. I think that newspapers and news agencies need to be more responsible with how they report the news. I am so tired.

KARL: I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. It’s about whether or not the President should have a right to sue them.

PRIEBUS: And I already answered the question. I said this is something that is being looked at. But it’s something that as far as how it gets executed, where we go with it, that’s another issue.

"We've looked at" giving the Trump the power to sue or take other action against a press that publishes stories critical of the regime, particularly involving Trump's Russia ties.  You'd better believe that this is a open threat to journalists across the country, and one that will be cheered by tens of millions.

This isn't just a threat, either.  It's a promise.  You should take Priebus at his word that the regime is looking for ways to limit free speech to friendly press only.  This is what authoritarian regimes do. This is what controls America now.

The Retirement Party Continues

Republicans in the age to Trump are falling like dominoes, and the most recent one is big: First House Oversight Committee chair Jason Chaffetz announced his retirement, now Florida's top House Republican, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is leaving the House after 35 years.

“It's been such a delight and a high honor to serve our community for so many years and help constituents every day of the week,” the Miami Republican told the Miami Herald in an exclusive telephone interview Sunday. “We just said, ‘It's time to take a new step.’” 
Her unexpected retirement marks the end of a storied career in which Ros-Lehtinen repeatedly broke political ground as a Cuban-American woman -- and gives Democrats an opportunity to pick up a South Florida congressional seat in 2018.

Ros-Lehtinen, 64, was elected last November to Florida’s redrawn 27th district, a stretch of Southeast Miami-Dade County that leans so Democratic that Hillary Clinton won it over Donald Trump by 20 percentage points. It was Clinton's biggest margin of any Republican-held seat in the country.
Ros-Lehtinen defeated Democratic challenger Scott Fuhrman, a first-time candidate, by 10 points. It was her closest reelection race in years and forced her to deplete her $3.4 million campaign account, but she said Sunday she wasn't worried about 2018.

“There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that I would not only win in this election, but I would win by a greater percentage,” Ros-Lehtinen said, adding that she would have been able to raise at least $2.5 million and win in a midterm election without a Democratic presidential candidate leading the ballot. 
But she said the prospect of another two or four or more years in Congress just didn’t appeal to her anymore.

There was no epiphany. There was no moment, nothing that has happened that I've said, “I've got to move on,’” Ros-Lehtinen said. “It was just a realization that I could keep getting elected — but it's not about getting elected.

But she's leaving, and when Republicans have total control to implement whatever legislation that they like with minimal Democratic interference.  Again, she's only 64.  She had another 10 years ahead of her easily, if not longer, during a time of near-total Republican dominance in her home state and the country.  Even Ros-Lehtinen herself was a Republican beloved by Democrats in her home district, where Clinton won huge, but Ros-Lehtinen herself won by double digits.

So when a lifelong politician who's been in office since I was a child says "It's not about getting elected", especially a House Republican, it's a massive lie.

Expect more mysterious, unexplained retirements of Republicans at the top of their political power in the era of Trump.

Trump Cards, Con't

Dear Leader Donald held a patriotism rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania last night to tout his "most successful first 100 days in history" and his supporters in the Keystone State showed up to play along.

President Trump marked his 100th day in office with a campaign rally in Pennsylvania this evening, assailing one of his favorite targets from the electoral cycle, the media, as he skipped the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

He also revisited many other themes from his campaign: building a border wall, repealing and replacing Obamacare, ensuring border security and assailing the Obama administration and Democrats as weak leaders while touting "100 days of devotion hard work and love for our country."

Trump's remarks were interrupted by several protesters, and as had been the case during some campaign rallies, he paused his speech and told security officials to "get 'em out."

"There's no place I'd rather be than right here in Pennsylvania," Trump told the crowd in Harrisburg.

"As you may know there's another big gathering taking place tonight in Washington D.C.," Trump added. "Did you hear about that? A large group of Hollywood actors, and Washington media are consoling each other in a hotel ballroom in our nation's Capitol right now.

"They are gathered together for the White House Correspondent's Dinner -- without the president. And I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from Washington's swamp, spending my evening with all of you."

He went on to call the media "a disgrace" and "incompetent."

Trump said that many journalists are "trapped at the dinner, which will be very, very boring," but he suggested that he could "make it more interesting" next year by showing up.

He made it very clear who the enemies of America are now: the free press that dares question him, the Democrats who dare oppose him, and the people who dare not revere him.  They will be dealt with.

The phenomenon of a Trump rally is its collapsing of the space-time continuum. It’s timeless and timely with the recitations of the old themes—“does anyone remember who our opponent was?”—and the introduction of the new material—“Senator Schumer is a bad leader.”

Within these spaces, Trump is largely impervious to criticism. His failures are the faults of the Democrats and Republicans who won’t cooperate with him, and his successes are the result of a unique businessman’s approach to the presidency.

“What Donald Trump really is is an independent president, if you will, for lack of a better term hijacking the Republican Party,” Michael Avila, a Trump voter from New York City, told The Daily Beast. “Which I think is a good thing.”

“I think he needs to get rid of Paul Ryan somehow, someway,” Avila added. “I think he’s a big issue.”

For Edward X. Young, a 57-year-old actor from New Jersey, sporting an assortment of buttons including pictures of the president and his wife, Trump achieved a great deal in the first 100 days considering the “quasi-Marxist Democratic party” he had to work with.

His one major issue was that Trump didn’t fulfill the campaign promise of putting Hillary Clinton in jail.

“She’s behind the Resistance,” Young told The Daily Beast, referring to Clinton. Trump “should prosecute her and put her and her lousy husband behind bars, and her daughter too.”

 When our economy starts falling apart, the scapegoats are already lined up: "illegals", non-Christians, "the blacks", the Democrats,  They are Resistance, and as far as Trump's supporters are concerned, they have no rights because they chose to no longer be American, and who who never were in their eyes are less than human anyway.  In Trump's America, "those people" will not be mourned when they are gone.

It's dangerous enough with a semi-stable economy and decent unemployment, but the clouds are already on the horizon signaling a very bad time ahead, and with Trump at the helm the pain coming for everyone will be a crate of lit sparklers dropped in a field of dry tinder.  Very soon the creaming for blood at rallies and the calls for "give him some time" will not be enough to sate the Rough Beast.

And then America will become very dangerous, very quickly.

Sunday Long Read: When The Bullet Meets The Bone

Huffington Post writer Jason Fagone goes on the front lines of Gunmerica with Philadelphia trauma surgeon Dr. Amy Goldberg to see just what firearms are designed to do to flesh and bone, and what the doctors that try to repair that damage see on a daily basis.

The first thing Dr. Amy Goldberg told me is that this article would be pointless. She said this on a phone call last summer, well before the election, before a tangible sensation that facts were futile became a broader American phenomenon. I was interested in Goldberg because she has spent 30 years as a trauma surgeon, almost all of that at the same hospital, Temple University Hospital in North Philadelphia, which treats more gunshot victims than any other in the state and is located in what was, according to one analysis, the deadliest of the 10 largest cities in the country until last year, with a homicide rate of 17.8 murders per 100,000 residents in 2015.

Over my years of reporting here, I had heard stories about Temple’s trauma team. A city prosecutor who handled shooting investigations once told me that the surgeons were able to piece people back together after the most horrific acts of violence. People went into the hospital damaged beyond belief and came walking out.

That stuck with me. I wondered what surgeons know about gun violence that the rest of us don’t. We are inundated with news about shootings. Fourteen dead in San Bernardino, six in Michigan, 11 over one weekend in Chicago. We get names, places, anguished Facebook posts, wonky articles full of statistics on crime rates and risk, Twitter arguments about the Second Amendment—everything except the blood, the pictures of bodies torn by bullets. That part is concealed, sanitized. More than 30,000 people die of gunshot wounds each year in America, around 75,000 more are injured, and we have no visceral sense of what physically happens inside a person when he’s shot. Goldberg does.
She is the chair of Temple’s Department of Surgery, one of only 16 women in America to hold that position at a hospital. In my initial conversation with her, which took place shortly after the mass shooting in Orlando, where 49 people were killed and 53 injured by a man who walked into a gay nightclub with a semi-automatic rifle and a Glock handgun, she was joined by Scott Charles, the hospital’s trauma outreach coordinator and Goldberg’s longtime friend. Goldberg has a southeastern Pennsylvania accent that at low volume makes her sound like a sweet South Philly grandmother and at higher volume becomes a razor. I asked her what changes in gun violence she had seen in her 30 years. She said not many. When she first arrived at Temple in 1987 to start her residency, “It was so obvious to me then that there was something so wrong.” Since then, the types of firearms have evolved. The surgeons used to see .22-caliber bullets from little handguns, Saturday night specials, whereas now they see .40-caliber and 9 mm bullets. Charles said they get the occasional victim of a long gun, such as an AR-15 or an AK-47, “but what’s remarkable is how common handguns are.”

Goldberg jumped in. “As a country,” Goldberg said, “we lost our teachable moment.” She started talking about the 2012 murder of 20 schoolchildren and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Goldberg said that if people had been shown the autopsy photos of the kids, the gun debate would have been transformed. “The fact that not a single one of those kids was able to be transported to a hospital, tells me that they were not just dead, but really really really really dead. Ten-year-old kids, riddled with bullets, dead as doornails.” Her voice rose. She said people have to confront the physical reality of gun violence without the polite filters. “The country won’t be ready for it, but that’s what needs to happen. That’s the only chance at all for this to ever be reversed.”

She dropped back into a softer register. “Nobody gives two shits about the black people in North Philadelphia if nobody gives two craps about the white kids in Sandy Hook. … I thought white little kids getting shot would make people care. Nope. They didn’t care. Anderson Cooper was up there. They set up shop. And then the public outrage fades.”

Goldberg apologized and said she wasn’t trying to stop me from writing a story. She just didn’t expect it to change anything.

Odds are this story won't change anything either.  But you should read it anyway, because you should know the true cost of the Second Amendment and its fetishization in this country.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

You Can Only Fail Upwards

Conservative pundits in the Trump era can only be rewarded it seems, and the more ridiculous and irrelevant that they were eight years ago, the more of a hot commodity they are today.  Take Hugh Hewitt, the often-mocked and even more often-wrong conservative radio host.  MSNBC leaped at a chance to make him a contributor (one of the many reasons I've stopped watching the network completely) and they've vindicated my boycott by floating the idea of giving Hewitt his own show

Today MSNBC announced that Nicolle Wallace––former McCain-Palin ’08 senior advisor and current NBC News political analyst––will be hosting a new 4 pm weekday show on the network. And now it appears conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt may be next up for a hosting position.

Hewitt, an MSNBC political analyst, has not only appeared on the network for a while now, but he has made appearances on Meet the Press panels in the last few months.

Yashar Ali reports for New York Magazine that the liberal network is in talks with Hewitt for a program that would air on “weekend evenings.”

Wallace’s 4 pm program and Hewitt’s reported show will be in addition to Morning Joe––Joe Scarborough being a former Republican congressman––and Greta Van Susteren––formerly of Fox News––in providing analysis that won’t exactly win over all of MSNBC’s liberal audience.

People say "But Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes, and Lawrence O'Donnell have been ripping into Trump for months now!"  Somewhat True.  But people forget that Maddow started out her show by giving Pat Buchanan a voice, that Hayes has been rolled by conservative guests because he's too nice, and that O'Donnell and Matthews are more interested in bashing Obama than Trump these days.  Oh, and remember Ed Schultz, now literally working for Putin's English language propaganda network where he's free to rip on Dems all day?

Also let's not forget how MSNBC treats black pundits: firing Melissa Harris-Perry and Tamron Hall and demoting Joy Reid and Al Sharpton from weekday regulars to weekend shows.  Now in the Trump era when MSNBC is looking to grow, they staff the network with white conservative voices like Nicole Wallace and Hugh Hewitt.  Now that Obama's gone, being black doesn't work for ratings it seems.

So now, I've avoided watching MSNBC for more than a year now.  If I wanted a network where  could see 16 hours of Obama/Clinton bashing, I'd run by the TV in the breakroom at work.

The Sheriff Of Going-HAM

White the Trump regime Minister of Homeland Security post may have gone to John Kelly, remember "law and order" in the Trump era means a populace needs to be held in constant fear, and that means headknockers and knuckledraggers like Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke will always have a Homeland Security job if he wants it.

Clarke is in line to be appointed as assistant secretary at DHS’ Office of Partnership and Engagement, which coordinates outreach to state, local and tribal officials and law enforcement. The position does not require Senate confirmation.

A senior administration official cautioned it’s “not a done deal yet.”

Clarke, a longtime supporter of President Donald Trump, has long been rumored as a possible candidate for a job in the administration and met with Trump in November at Trump Tower. He also spoke at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last year.

He has come under fire in recent days amid revelations about the case of Terrill Thomas, who died of dehydration last year at the Milwaukee County Jail after guards turned off the water in his cell.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, has said he won’t remove Clarke from office over Thomas’ death.

Clarke also has faced criticism for participating in a National Rifle Association-backed trip to Russia in 2015, where he and other members of the group’s delegation reportedly met with Dmitry Rogozin, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s deputies. Rogozin was sanctioned by the U.S. government in 2014.

Somebody willing to kill an inmate in his care though neglect and to also be willing to meet with Putin's thugs?  No wonder Trump wants him on the team to tell the country's cops that it's open season on criminals.  There's no clearer signal to the nation's LEOs that the federal government and and AG Jeff Sessions will absolutely look the other way if perps end up in graveyard rather than a cell, and that's doubly true if the inmate is black.

Clarke's reward for overseeing a county sheriff's department that kills an inmate through dehydration is a major promotion in the Trump regime.  Let that sink in.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Running Government Like A Business, Con't

Let's face it, diplomacy is a cost sink, not a revenue-maker, so it's time for new State Department boss Rex Tillerson to take his ExxonMobil CEO knowledge and start getting rid of that boring diplomatic corps that doesn't really serve a purpose other than to keep 'Murica out of exciting new profit opportunities like wars, conflicts, and arms sales.

The State Department plans to cut 2,300 U.S. diplomats and civil servants -- about 9 percent of the Americans in its workforce worldwide -- as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson presses ahead with his task of slashing the agency’s budget, according to people familiar with the matter. 
The majority of the job cuts, about 1,700, will come through attrition, while the remaining 600 will be done via buyouts, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the decision hasn’t been publicly announced. William Inglee, a former Lockheed Martin Corp. official and policy adviser in Congress, was hired to help oversee the budget cuts and briefed senior managers on the plan Wednesday, the people said. 
The personnel cuts, which may be phased in over two years, represent the most concrete step taken by Tillerson as he seeks to reverse the expansion the department saw under former President Barack Obama’s administration and meet President Donald Trump’s demand -- outlined in an executive order signed last month -- to cut spending across federal agencies. A draft budget outline released in March for the year that begins Oct. 1 seeks a 28.5 percent reduction in State Department spending from fiscal 2016. 
The proposed cuts reflect a belief shared by many conservatives that the State Department and other government agencies have grown too large and drifted away from their core missions. Tillerson was taken aback when he arrived on the job to see how much money the State Department was spending on housing and schooling for the families of diplomats living overseas, according to one person familiar with his thinking.
Current and former diplomats fear that the cuts will bite into the work of the State Department and undermine the voice of the U.S. overseas.

Housing and schooling for diplomats and their families?  Who do these people think they are, rich energy company CEOs or something?  You can keep your kids and your spouse home here in the Greatest Country On Earth, while you're on Uncle Sam's payroll, buddy, and don't you ever forget it.

After all the job of the State Department is to make money for US corporations, not this "voice of the US overseas" crap.  We're going to put Trump Towers, Starbucks, KFCs and oil rigs from Albania to Zanzibar, and you're going to create money for US companies and especially Trump companies. You're not here to "talk" to other nations and cultures, you're here to let them know who's now the new landlord in charge, god dammit.

Time to get of the dead weight of these "talkers" and keep more "doers".  This is America, and so is anywhere where we have an embassy, and by God you will act like it.

Trump Cards, Con't

In an interview with Reuters, Donald Trump upended a number of diplomatic apple carts and warned of a possible military conflict on the Korean Peninsula if President Kim Jong Un didn't end his nuclear weapons program.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday a major conflict with North Korea is possible in the standoff over its nuclear and missile programs, but he would prefer a diplomatic outcome to the dispute.

"There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea. Absolutely," Trump told Reuters in an Oval Office interview ahead of his 100th day in office on Saturday.

Nonetheless, Trump said he wanted to peacefully resolve a crisis that has bedeviled multiple U.S. presidents, a path that he and his administration are emphasizing by preparing a variety of new economic sanctions while not taking the military option off the table.

"We'd love to solve things diplomatically but it's very difficult," he said.

In other highlights of the 42-minute interview, Trump was cool to speaking again with Taiwan's president after an earlier telephone call with her angered China.

He also said he wants South Korea to pay the cost of the U.S. THAAD anti-missile defense system, which he estimated at $1 billion, and intends to renegotiate or terminate a U.S. free trade pact with South Korea because of a deep trade deficit with Seoul.

Asked when he would announce his intention to renegotiate the pact, Trump said: “Very soon. I’m announcing it now.

Trump also said he was considering adding stops to Israel and Saudi Arabia to a Europe trip next month, emphasizing that he wanted to see an Israeli-Palestinian peace. He complained that Saudi Arabia was not paying its fair share for U.S. defense.

Asked about the fight against Islamic State, Trump said the militant group had to be defeated.

"I have to say, there is an end. And it has to be humiliation," he said, when asked about what the endgame was for defeating Islamist violent extremism.

At this point our country is controlled by a man who will do whatever you tell him to do if you can convince him enough people will think he's awesome when he orders it done.  That's it.  It applies to both foreign and domestic policy.  Everything else is all for show.


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Last Call For Democratic Hardball

Dems are pretty confident that the House GOP's plan to sneak through Trumpcare on a Saturday vote is a dead bill walking, so they are upping the ante in a dramatic way.

House Democrats will oppose a short-term spending bill if Republican leaders attempt to expedite an ObamaCare repeal bill this week, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) warned Thursday.

Hoyer, the Democratic whip, spoke with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) Thursday morning to warn him of the Democrats' position.

The threat is significant because GOP leaders will likely need Democratic votes to pass a short-term spending bill in the face of opposition from conservatives historically opposed to government funding bills.

"If Republicans announce their intention to bring their harmful TrumpCare bill to the House Floor tomorrow or Saturday, I will oppose a one-week Continuing Resolution and will advise House Democrats to oppose it as well,” Hoyer said in an email.

“Republicans continue to struggle to find the votes to pass a bill that will kick 24 million Americans off their health coverage, allow discrimination against those with pre-existing conditions, and impose an age tax on older Americans. That's why they are trying to jam it through the House before their Members can hear from the American people this weekend about their opposition to this horrible legislation.”

The Democrats’ move comes as bipartisan negotiators in both chambers are getting closer to an agreement on an omnibus spending bill to prevent a government shutdown. If Congress doesn’t act before midnight Friday night, much of the federal government would shut down.

The reality is that Trumpcare 3.0 is going down in flames just as before, and Dems now have the leverage.  Paul Ryan doesn't have the votes.

An amendment released Tuesday night, authored by moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur, appeared to placate conservatives who did not think the original AHCA went far enough in its repeal of Obamacare.

The amendment would allow states to apply for a waiver that would exempt their insurance markets from certain regulations created by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, if they can prove it would bring down costs.

The waiver, health policy experts argue, could have negative consequences for people with preexisting conditions and allow insurers to offer plans that cover fewer health needs.

The tweak was enough to get the conservative House Freedom Caucus officially on board with the bill, which could mean support from roughly 20 members who were against the original AHCA.

But the amendment may have alienated more moderate members of the Republican caucus and could leave the AHCA short of the votes it needs to pass. Only 22 GOP members can vote against the bill for it pass through the Republican-controlled chamber.

And guess what?  That number's already been exceeded.

Time to watch the fireworks.

Out Like Flynn, Con't

Looks like Mike Flynn may need that pardon sooner rather than later, as now the Defense Intelligence Agency would like to have a few words about the whole "being a retired 3-star General and taking foreign payments" thing.

The Pentagon’s inspector general is now investigating Michael Flynn over payments he received from foreign governments after retiring from the Army, according to documents released Thursday by the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. 
The documents also show the Defense Intelligence Agency warned Flynn after his 2014 retirement as the agency’s director that he was barred from accepting payments from foreign governments.

The intelligence agency informed President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser in a letter that, as a retired military officer, he was still subject to the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which bars government officials from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments. 
Flynn was notified in the letter that he was prohibited from the "receipt of consulting fees, gifts, travel expenses, honoraria, or salary ... from a foreign government unless congressional consent is first obtained." 
In a letter dated earlier this month, the Pentagon's IG informed the House Oversight Committee it was investigating the matter. 
“These documents raise grave questions about why General Flynn concealed the payments he received from foreign sources after he was warned explicitly by the Pentagon,” Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the oversight committee’s top Democrat, said in a statement.

Flynn apparently ignored that warning and took money from Turkey.  Oh, and Russia too.  Trump may be able to get away with it, but Flynn?  Yeah, he's gonna need that pardon card.

And yes, it's very possible Sessions won't prosecute and the House Oversight Committee will conclude along party lines that there's nothing to pin on Flynn, and he'll get away clean.  He'll land on his feet and get a job somewhere in the right-wing noise machine, I mean hell at this point the Trump White House is hiring literally card-carrying Hungarian Nazis like Seb Gorka so Flynn ending up on FOX is fine.

Whether we choose to hold Trump and Sessions responsible for failure to prosecute and/or a presidential pardon is up to us, not them.

Just Another Trick In The Wall

Steve M. on The Wall:

I've started to believe that a lot of Trump voters didn't care about building the wall as much as they cared about being given permission to hate the people the wall would supposedly exclude. That's why they felt so much joy chanting about the wall and doing "Who's going to pay?" "Mexico!" call-and-response. They'd love to have it, but they were delighted just to be able to say out loud that they wanted it. They were in a safe space where saying that was not permitted, but encouraged. Even if Trump never gets the wall built, they'll always be grateful to him for that.

As a couple of Steve's commenters pointed out, for WWE Wrestling Hall of Fame inductee Trump, that's the definition of "political kayfabe" according to sociologist Nick Rogers writing in the NY Times.

Although the etymology of the word is a matter of debate, for at least 50 years “kayfabe” has referred to the unspoken contract between wrestlers and spectators: We’ll present you something clearly fake under the insistence that it’s real, and you will experience genuine emotion. Neither party acknowledges the bargain, or else the magic is ruined. 
To a wrestling audience, the fake and the real coexist peacefully. If you ask a fan whether a match or backstage brawl was scripted, the question will seem irrelevant. You may as well ask a roller-coaster enthusiast whether he knows he’s not really on a runaway mine car. The artifice is not only understood but appreciated: The performer cares enough about the viewer’s emotions to want to influence them. Kayfabe isn’t about factual verifiability; it’s about emotional fidelity.

Although their athleticism is impressive, skilled wrestlers captivate because they do what sociologists call “emotional labor” — the professional management of other people’s feelings. Diners expect emotional labor from their servers, Hulkamaniacs demand it from their favorite performer, and a whole lot of voters desire it from their leaders. 
The aesthetic of World Wrestling Entertainment seems to be spreading from the ring to the world stage. Ask an average Trump supporter whether he or she thinks the president actually plans to build a giant wall and have Mexico pay for it, and you might get an answer that boils down to, “I don’t think so, but I believe so.” That’s kayfabe. Chants of “Build the Wall” aren’t about erecting a structure; they’re about how cathartic it feels, in the moment, to yell with venom against a common enemy. 
Voting to repeal Obamacare again and again only to face President Obama’s veto was kayfabe. So is shouting “You lie!” during a health care speech. It is President Bush in a flight suit, it is Vladimir Putin shirtless on a horse, it is virtually everything Kim Jong-un does. Does the intended audience know that what they’re watching is literally made for TV? Sure, in the same way they know that the wrestler Kane isn’t literally a demon. The factual fabrication is necessary to elicit an emotional clarity.

If that isn't the best definition of the Trump era, I don't know what is.  Facts no longer matter because they're not supposed to, emotions do.  It's politics as showmanship, and there's no better showman around than pretend billionaire Trump.  It's politics as two-minute hate, and no emotion is easier to elicit than hatred of the Other.  Trump and the GOP base were made for each other.  We're not being governed, we're being played.

And the people love it.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Last Call For A Plan So Bad Congress Doesn't Want It

There's really no more proof necessary that the House Republican health care plan know what, I can't even keep track at this point...the latest version, we'll call it, is so awful for ordinary Americans that House Republicans refuse to subject themselves to it. Vox's Sarah Kliff explains:

House Republicans appear to have included a provision that exempts Members of Congress and their staff from their latest health care plan.

The new Republican amendment, introduced Tuesday night, would allow states to waive out of Obamacare’s ban on pre-existing conditions
. This means that insurers could once again, under certain circumstances, charge sick people higher premiums than healthy people.

Republican legislators liked this policy well enough to offer it in a new amendment. They do not, however, seem to like it enough to have it apply to themselves and their staff. A spokesperson for Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) who authored this amendment confirmed this was the case: members of Congress and their staff would get the guarantee of keeping this Obamacare regulations. Health law expert Tim Jost flagged me to this particular issue.

A bit of background is helpful here. Obamacare requires all members of Congress and their staff to purchase coverage on the individual market, just like Obamacare enrollees. The politics of that plank were simple enough, meant to demonstrate that if the coverage in this law were good enough for Americans than it should be good enough for their representations in Washington.

That’s been happening for the past four years now. Fast-forward to this new amendment, which would allow states to waive out of key Obamacare protections like the ban on pre-existing conditions or the requirement to cover things like maternity care and mental health services.

If Congressional aides lived in a state that decided to waive these protections, the aides who were sick could be vulnerable to higher premiums than the aides that are healthy. Their benefits package could get skimpier as Obamacare’s essential health benefits requirement may no longer apply either.

This apparently does not sound appealing because the Republican amendment includes the members of Congress and their staff as a protected group who cannot be affected by this amendment.

Oh and it gets better: that state waiver excepting the ban on pre-exsting conditions?  States have to opt-in as a default, which means the House's latest version of Trumpcare would allow states that implemented Obamacare but who are now controlled by Republicans dismantle protections for people preventing them from being charged extra for pre-existing conditions simply by doing nothing for 60 days.

House Republicans and their staff would of course remain protected.

But not the vast majority of Americans.

Fun, huh?

You're Outta Touch, I'm Outta Time

If these ABC/Washington Post poll numbers are true, then the Democrats have a massive problem on their hands heading into 2018, and it's one they'd better figure out how to solve, and fast.

Sunday’s Washington Post-ABC News poll did not contain a lot of surprises. President Trump remains historically unpopular, but the GOP almost universally supports him. Most voters still do not believe that Trump has the temperament to serve effectively as president. And like past presidents, respondents are split on whether Trump is keeping his promises. So far, so expected. 
But one finding in Sunday’s poll is a departure from past polls: The vast majority of Americans now think the Democratic Party is not “in touch with the concerns of most people in the United States.” The current number — only 28 percent think the party is in touch — has been noted elsewhere, and that number is concerning enough on its own: It’s 10 percentage points less than the number of people who think Trump is in touch and 4 percent less than the number who think the GOP is. But what hasn’t been commented upon is even more worrying for Democrats: In 2014, 48 percent of voters felt the party was “in touch,” a 20-percentage-point collapse in just three years
Yes, just three years ago the country was split down the middle about whether Democrats understood voters’ concerns, while only a quarter of voters thought the same about Republicans. Any reckoning of where the party goes from here has to account for this change in the public’s image of the blue party. Worse, it’s likely that the collapse has mostly come among independents and Democrats themselves — three quarters of independents and nearly half of Democrats think the party is out of touch, which can’t help turnout. Politics should not be about blindly following poll numbers, but when so many of your own supporters are rejecting the direction Democrats are moving, they may want to reconsider the course.

People understand that the Republicans are the problem right now.  What they don't believe, and overwhelmingly so, is that the Democrats offer more than zero solutions.  Right now more people believe Donald Trump, a possibly senile reality TV star who regularly lies whenever he can, is more in touch with America than the Democrats.

That's a problem.

That's not true, and not fair, but politics over the last 25 years hasn't exactly been fair, has it?   Dems need to get it in gear, and being mired down in internecine fights between factions since July hasn't helped.  It's time to get a unified message out there, and right now.

Luckily, I'm thinking that the Trump regime is the best ally for the Dems here, by constantly screwing up they'll start to become losers that nobody likes.

We'll see.

Meanwhile Here In Bevinstan

Since Republicans in Washington can't wreck Medicaid fast enough for Kentucky GOP Gov. Matt Bevin, his plan is to take the nation's most successful Medicaid expansion under Democrat Steve Beshear and turn it into some crazy deal involving coupons and rewards, because your health care should completely be like your grocery store loyalty card.

From a glance at Bevin’s proposal, it’s easy to mistake the “MyRewards” idea for an expansion of coverage. The changes are described as “benefit enhancements” in a new, detailed implementation proposal from the consulting firm Deloitte. 
Bevin’s plan is in fact a benefit cut. Kentucky’s Medicaid program currently includes vision and dental. If you’re eligible for Medicaid in Kentucky, then you’re eligible for coverage of regular tooth checkups and eye exams under state law. 
Bevincare would “enhance” Medicaid benefits by taking several of them away. You will lose the security of knowing your eye doctor and dentist will see you when you need them, and gain the exciting new opportunity to earn chits toward the cost of those same services. 
But to accrue those chits, you must live by Bevin’s rules. MyRewards points accumulate based on the enrollee’s participation in job training, health screening, smoking cessation, volunteer, and educational programs, at the rates listed below: 
CREDIT: Kentucky HEALTH Program Requirements Specification 
Bevin’s behavioral incentives effectively convert his definition of good character into a state-enforced moral code which everyone who can’t afford health insurance must follow — and whose compliance the state must monitor. 
This requires building a massive database about people’s individual behaviors, and then keeping it up. Never mind that it’s massively expensive, it also feels very invasive,” former Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Andy Slavitt said in an interview. “I’m not sure the government should be tracking if I put on five pounds, or if I’m advancing in my job, or what grade I got on my GED exam.”

It's weird, it's almost like the notoriously "libertarian" Bevin has a plan set up to make a government program so invasive and obnoxious that people won't want to put up with the hoops required to stay on Medicaid.  Why, it's almost like the GOP response to legal goods and services that they don't think the poor deserve is to make the requirements for getting it so impossibly high that few ever bother with the attempt.

Now if you want Medicaid services, you have to check in with Kentucky and sign up for job skills coaching, community service, job searching and more.  After all, the real goal isn't to get you healthy, the goal is to get you to the point where you no longer qualify for Medicaid and are no longer the commonwealth's problem.

We've got to gamify health care, after all.  And if you can't actually perform these activities, well, too bad.  No vision and dental coverage for you, in a state that already has one of the worst dental coverage rates in the nation.  Good job!

But that's the new game in town here in Bevinstan.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Last Call For We'd Blow It Up Again, Too

As we approach the Trump regime's first 100 days, a new ABC/Washington Post poll shows American voters would happily make the same November mistake again just to stop that Clinton bitch or whatever. WaPo's Aaron Blake:

I argued last week that anecdotal stories about disillusioned Trump supporters were overdone. The fact is that, on a broad scale, Trump supporters say they aren't disappointed. In fact, a poll showed they were more pleased than disappointed, by about 5 to 1:

...The Pew Research Center released a poll showing very little buyer's remorse among Trump voters. The poll showed just 7 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say Trump has performed worse than they expected him to. Fully 38 percent — five times as many — say he has performed better. 
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll confirms this — in spades. And, in fact, it shows more buyer's remorse for Trump's opponent in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton. And were the 2016 election held again today, it shows Trump would avenge his popular-vote loss. 
While just 4 percent of Trump's supporters say they would back someone else if there was a redo of the election, fully 15 percent of Clinton supporters say they would ditch her. Trump leads in a re-do of the 2016 election 43 percent to 40 percent after losing the popular vote 46-44. 
That 15 percent is split between those who say they would vote for Trump (2 percent), Gary Johnson (4 percent), Jill Stein (2 percent), and either other candidates or not vote (7 percent). 
It's not hugely surprising that the losing candidate in an election would see this kind of drop-off. People don't like voting for losers, and if you look closely at polls after an election, some voters won't even admit to having cast their ballots for the losing candidate. The winning margin for the victor is generally exaggerated. 
But against the backdrop of stories about how Trump hasn't delivered what his supporters thought he would, it's notable how much his backers are sticking by their candidate, relative to his opponent. There is basically no real defection to the one candidate who could have delivered a different result.

So yeah, all those supposedly unhappy Trump voters here in Kentucky who are worried about losing their health care and him not bringing back coal jobs?  They'd have voted for Trump again in a heartbeat, knowing what they know now, because in the end America is completely cool with the racist asshole running a country of majority racist assholes.

As I keep saying the problem in this country isn't Trump, it's the people who voted for Trump knowing full well what he is, and especially the 96% of Trump voters who would still vote for him today.  They are the problem, and I want not a damn thing to do with them.

So can we formally dispense with trying to "win Trump voters" as Democrats?  It's not happening. They're a cult.  Let's worry about getting the 47% of people who didn't vote at all interested in saving their country instead.

Out Like Flynn, Con't

Ladies and gents, former Trump regime National Security Adviser Mike Flynn is in a significant amount of trouble with the House Oversight Committee and this could signal a shift into a new phase in the Trump/Russia investigation.

President Donald Trump's former national security adviser did not properly disclose payments from Russia and does not appear to have complied with the law, House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz and ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings said Tuesday after reviewing Michael Flynn's application for a security clearance. 
Chaffetz and Cummings announced their findings to reporters on the Hill following a classified gathering of the committee in which they reviewed documents that Cummings described as "extremely troubling." 
"I see no data to support the notion that Gen. Flynn complied with the law," Chaffetz said, referring to whether Flynn received permission from the Pentagon or the State Department or that he disclosed the more than $45,000 he was paid for a speech he gave to RT-TV in Russia. 
The request comes after the White House declined to provide documents related to Flynn that the panel investigating him had requested, according to a letter obtained by CNN.
White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short outlined in a letter to the House oversight committee how it would not complete the request from the panel, referring some requests to the Department of Defense, saying the office doesn't have custody of some of the other documents or simply stating "we are unable to accommodate" others. 
Whether Flynn properly disclosed payments from foreign governments on his security clearance application is the subject of a House oversight committee meeting Tuesday, as members reviewed the first batch of documents related to the investigation coming from the Pentagon. 
The committee is gathering Tuesday morning at the Capitol to review classified material provided by the Department of Defense in response to its March 22 request for more information on Flynn, according to MJ Henshaw, a spokeswoman for House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz. 
The committee has sent additional requests for information about Flynn to the White House, the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. However, Tuesday's meeting will only include responses from the Pentagon.

So the Trump regime is stonewalling to shield itself, leaving Flynn hung out to dry, or both.  Either way, Flynn's facing a felony here, and if he really does have anything substantial to offer on bigger fish to fry, well this is how you force a plea deal to get it.

For Chaffetz to not even try to defend Flynn on this is a clear signal that what they've found is pretty devastating stuff here (no wonder Chaffetz is retiring from the House soon.)  I think this is where we start getting into the ugly stuff on the Trump/Russia connections.

Stay tuned.

Not Exactly Russian To Judgment

As Tim Mak at The Daily Beast reminds us, the Senate investigation into Trump's Russia ties simply doesn't exist, because there's nobody actually doing any investigation.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe into Russia’s election interference is supposedly the best hope for getting the public credible answers about whether there was any coordination between the Kremlin and Trump Tower.

But there are serious reasons to doubt that it can accomplish this task, as currently configured.

More than three months after the committee announced that it had agreed on the scope of the investigation, the panel has not begun substantially investigating possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, three individuals with ties to the committee told The Daily Beast.

The investigation does not have a single staffer dedicated to it full-time, and those staff members working on it part-time do not have significant investigative experience. The probe currently appears to be moving at a pace slower than prior Senate Intelligence Committee investigations, such as the CIA torture inquiry, which took years to accomplish.

No interviews have been conducted with key individuals suspected of being in the Trump-Russia orbit: not Michael Flynn, not Roger Stone, not Carter Page, not Paul Manafort, and not Jared Kushner, according to two sources familiar with the committee’s procedures.

“It’s either a real investigation or not,” said one individual with knowledge of the committee’s activities. “You have to have an approved investigative guide. You have to make it formal. Can you have a credible investigation with only seven part-time staffers, doing everything in secret?”

No full-time staff has been hired, no witnesses have been called or even interviewed, no actual investigation has even been started in three months, nothing has happened at all.  And since it's being run by the GOP, nothing will happen from it either.

So no, don't expect a Senate investigation to reveal the truth about the Trump regime being compromised by a foreign power any more than the House panel's work.  The fix is in and always has been.

And most of all, America simply does not give a damn enough to do a single thing about it.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Last Call For Public Enemy Number Un

It looks like the Trump regime is getting pretty serious about taking military action against North Korea, and soon.  First, Trump is pushing the UN Security Council for a new round of sanctions against Pyongyang.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday the U.N. Security Council must be prepared to impose new sanctions on North Korea as concerns mount that it may test a sixth nuclear bomb as early as Tuesday.

"The status quo in North Korea is also unacceptable," Trump told a meeting with the 15 U.N. Security Council ambassadors, including China and Russia, at the White House. "The council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions on North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs."

"This is a real threat to the world, whether we want to talk about it or not. North Korea is a big world problem and it's a problem that we have to finally solve," he said. “People put blindfolds on for decades and now it’s time to solve the problem.”

U.S. officials have told Reuters tougher sanctions could include an oil embargo, banning North Korea's airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks and other foreign doing business with Pyongyang.

The State Department said U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would chair a special ministerial meeting of the Security Council on North Korea on Friday to discuss ways to maximize the impact of existing sanctions and show "resolve to respond to further provocations with appropriate new measures".

Secondly, the entire Senate, all 100 members, will be briefed on North Korea on Wednesday.

All 100 senators have been asked to the White House for the briefing by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said White House spokesman Sean Spicer on Monday.

While administration officials routinely travel to Capitol Hill to address members of Congress on foreign policy matters, it is unusual for the entire Senate to go to the White House, and for all four of those officials to be involved.

Wednesday's briefing was originally scheduled for a secure room at the Capitol, but President Donald Trump suggested a shift to the White House, congressional aides said.

Taken together, this seems like a move designed to look for an excuse to take military action based on a "provocation" from North Korea.  In other words, Trump has found the one person who can be baited easier than he can, and the results are going to be spectacularly bad.

Should North Korea make that nuclear test however, who knows.

Tom And Bernie Must Fight, It Is The Way Of All Things

If people somehow needed more proof that the Bernie Sanders Show Featuring That Tom Perez Guy Or Whatever Tour was an abject failure, this weekend both men appeared to not-so-subtly take shots at each other.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders apparently hasn't changed his message in the least, calling the Democratic party "failing" on CBS's Face the Nation.

“I think what is clear to anyone who looks at where the Democratic Party today is, that the model of the Democratic Party is failing,” Sanders told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Sanders cited President Trump’s win, the GOP-controlled Congress, and Republican victories in state legislatures as reasons why Democrats are in trouble.“Clearly the Democratic Party has got to change. And in my view, what it has got to become is a grassroots party, a party which makes decisions from the bottom on up, a party which is more dependent on small donations than large donations,” Sanders said.

Sanders, who ran for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination in 2016, also emphasized the need for Democrats to connect to working-class and middle-class voters.

“The Democratic Party has got to take the lead, rally people, young people, working people, stand up to the billionaire class,” said Sanders.

“And when we do that, you’re going to see voter turnout swell. You’re going to see people coming in and running for office. You’re going to see Democrats regain control of the United States Congress.”

Nowhere in Sanders's message did he mention "black people, brown people, or women" which is I guess why he thinks it's failing.  Meanwhile, DNC chief Tom Perez fired at Sanders on Friday with a very clear statement on Democrats supporting a woman's reproductive rights.

Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez became the first head of the party to demand ideological purity on abortion rights, promising Friday to support only Democratic candidates who back a woman’s right to choose.

“Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” Perez said in a statement. “That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.”

“At a time when women’s rights are under assault from the White House, the Republican Congress, and in states across the country,” he added, “we must speak up for this principle as loudly as ever and with one voice.”

Perez’s statement follows the DNC’s controversial embrace of Heath Mello, a Democratic mayoral candidate in Omaha, Nebraska, whose years-long history of voting against abortion rights in the state Legislature drew fire from progressives this week. Daily Kos, a liberal website that raises money for lesser-known Democratic candidates, pulled its endorsement of Mello this week after discovering his history on the issue, and NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue slammed the DNC for adding him to its cross-country unity tour.

“The actions today by the DNC to embrace and support a candidate for office who will strip women — one of the most critical constituencies for the party — of our basic rights and freedom is not only disappointing, it is politically stupid,” Hogue said in a statement.

So yeah, the "unity" tour was a horrible idea because the guy who refuses to be a Democrat wants the party to change, and the guy running the party has decided that the Dems need to actually start standing for something, full stop.

And away we go.

Shutdown Countdown, Trump Edition

It's that time of year again, when Congress has to get its act together long enough to pass a budget or the government shuts down.  This time around in addition to the GOP being in control of the House and Senate, Trump's a factor too.  Given that Republicans can't pass their own legislation at this point, I'm fairly certain they'll find a way to screw it up.  They've got until Friday night at midnight, or the government shuts down on Saturday -- Day 100 of Trump's regime.

Congressional leaders and White House officials have steered the nation to the brink of a government shutdown that virtually all parties agree would be a terrible idea.

While lawmakers seem eager to forge a deal before government funding expires Friday, the Trump administration wants to use the deadline as a point of leverage that Democrats — and at least a few Republicans — do not believe they have, raising the prospects of a shutdown that had seemed unlikely.

President Trump’s team is straining to demonstrate progress on key campaign promises like money for a border wall and increased military spending, hoping to project success before Mr. Trump’s 100th day in office on Saturday. But any measure will require bipartisan support, and Democrats are unlikely to budge.

The standoff continues a Washington trend, as banal now as it is nonsensical to veterans of the Capitol: legislative cliff-jumping in the name of brinkmanship, frustration or some combination thereof, with no clear endgame.

The last government shutdown was in 2013, encapsulating an era of bitter partisanship and Republican opposition to President Barack Obama. The distinction this time is that the Oval Office, Senate and House are controlled by the same party.

The confrontation also comes as Mr. Trump has said he will reveal a “massive” tax cut proposal on Wednesday and has suggested advancing a retooled version of the health care bill that failed last month in the House.

In Congress, where the completion of even one major task at a time can overwhelm its institutional bandwidth, elected officials remain highly skeptical of their own capacity to juggle successfully.

The Trump factor comes in when you figure that he's desperate for a victory after the complete and utter failure of his first 100 days, and that victory is "getting money for his wall to keep brown people out." a shutdown on Day 100 would simply be the exclamation point on his "worst 100 days ever!" award.

The most likely outcome is a punt where we just get a continuing short-term bill as nobody seems to be eager to shut down the government at the beginning of a congressional term, especially after Trumpcare collapsed.  Surprise, nobody wants to go to bat for a guy with approval ratings in the mid-30's.

Still, time is running out and a punt is not assured.  And who knows if Trump would sign it without the border bill funding?

We'll see.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Last Call For Viva La Revolution

The French took to the polls today for presidential elections and, as the joke goes, are revolting.  But it's no joke here. The French liberal Socialists and conservative Republicans who have traded off for decades are now complete also-rans, and the French government will not be led by either of them I suspect for quite some time.

Marine Le Pen, the candidate of the far-right National Front, is through to the second round of the French presidential election, where she will face Emmanuel Macron, the independent, who won Sunday's first round with 23.7 percent of the vote. Le Pen won 21.7 percent. It's the first time in French history that neither candidate from a major political party is in the second round runoff. It's also the first time a far-right candidate is in the second round since 2002 when Le Pen's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, lost to Jacques Chirac.

Macron and Le Pen’s strong showings Sunday, which saw an approximately 77 percent voter turnout (slightly lower than the 79 percent who voted in the first round in 2012), signaled a rebuke of the political establishment that has dominated French politics for decades. Macron launched his centrist party in August 2016 after he quit his role in President François Hollande’s Socialist government, and despite the party’s youth it boasts a quarter of a million members. Meanwhile, Le Pen’s FN secured the most votes it has ever received in its nearly half-century history, surpassing the 18-percent first-round finish it saw in 2012.

Even Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left candidate who ran under a movement called La France Insoumise, or “Unsubmissive France,” had his strongest performance to date. Though his last-minute surge in the polls wasn’t enough to propel him to the second round, he still managed to claim 19.5 percent of the vote, far surpassing the 11 percent he won during his first presidential bid in 2012.

Republican candidate François Fillon also earned 19.5 percent of the vote, tying Mélenchon for third place. The center-right candidate and former prime minister enjoyed a comfortable lead early on in his campaign, but support wavered in January after his candidacy was embroiled by allegations he misused public funds to pay his wife, Penelope, and two of their children for parliamentary work they are alleged not to have performed. Fillon denied any wrongdoing, although the launch of a formal investigation into both him and his wife prompted several of his Republican allies to quit his campaign.

Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon, who came in last of the main contenders with 6.2 percent of the vote, also suffered from fissures within his own party. Despite clinching a decisive victory during the January primary, Hamon failed to command the support of Socialist party leaders, many of whom, including former Prime Minister Manuel Valls, endorsed Macron instead. This, paired with the deeply unpopular presidency of Hollande and the competition of similarly far-left Mélenchon, made the ruling party’s poor showing all but certain. The results prompted the losing candidates to urge their supporters to back Macron. Hamon said there was a distinction between a political adversary and an “enemy of the Republic,” referring to Le Pen. Fillon warned that Le Pen would lead France to “ruin.”

The Socialists and Republicans got only 25% of the vote combined.  They're both pretty much cooked.  Now we'll see if centrist Macron can hold against the onslaught of Russian election foul play, for if Le Pen's racist National Front party claims victory in two weeks, things are going to go very, very badly for the future of the European Union.

Less than a month before the fiercely contested French presidential election, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen was campaigning not in Nantes or Lyon but in Moscow, where she had an unannounced meeting with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. After exchanging pleasantries with Russia’s leader, a politician for whom she is not shy in expressing her admiration, Le Pen pledged that one of her first actions as president would be to cancel sanctions against Russia.

“A new world has emerged in the last few years,” Le Pen told VICE News and other journalists after the meeting. “It’s the world of Vladimir Putin, it’s the world of Donald Trump in the United States, it’s the world of Mr. [Narendra] Modi in India, and I think I am the one who shares this vision of cooperation, and not a vision of submission or a vision of warmongering, like the one which is put forward far too often by the European Union.”

Le Pen’s surprise trip to Moscow at the height of a raucous French campaign, in which she has been jostling for the lead with more traditional candidates Emmanuel Macron and Francois Fillon, was indicative of the outsized role Russia has played in the election, endorsing France’s right-wing candidates while smearing Macron. So was the knowing grin that crept onto Putin’s face as he told Le Pen on camera that Russia didn’t “want to influence” the vote in any way.

Putin’s smile couldn’t disguise the fact that Russia has financed Le Pen’s National Front party in the past and has been accused of surreptitiously backing her this go-around. Unlike Le Pen and the center-right Fillon, who have both called for closer relations with Moscow, the pro-EU Macron has been the target of smear pieces in Russian state media and cyberattacks that his campaign says originated in Russia.

We'll see if the French made the same mistake we did.  There's some hope that they have learned, but I'm thinking that the next two weeks are going to be brutal.  After all, Hillary was winning too, right up until she didn't.

Sunday Long Read: Not So Black And White

This week's Sunday Long Read is Ijeoma Oluo's profile of Rachel Dolezal in The Stranger and if you didn't read it last week, you should set aside a bit and digest it. Oluo paints Delezal as neither a sympathetic nor villainous person, but one who simply sees her goal of appropriating black culture and who can get away with it like nobody has.

I did not want to think about, talk about, or write about Rachel Dolezal ever again. While many people have been highly entertained by the story of a woman who passed herself off for almost a decade as a black woman, even rising to the head of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, before being "outed" during a TV interview by KXLY reporter Jeff Humphrey as white, as later confirmed by her white parents, I found little amusement in her continued spotlight. When the story first broke in June 2015, I was approached by more editors in a week than I had heard from in two months. They were all looking for "fresh takes" on the Dolezal scandal from the very people whose identity had now been put up for debate—black women. I wrote two pieces on Dolezal for two different websites, mostly focused not on her, but on the lack of understanding of black women's identity that was causing the conversation about Dolezal to become more and more painful for so many black women.

After a few weeks of media obsession, I—and most of the other black women I knew—was completely done with Rachel Dolezal.

Or, at least I hoped to be.

Right after turning in a draft of my book on race at the end of February, I went to a theater to do an onstage interview on race and intersectionality (a mode of thinking that intersects identities and systems of social oppression and domination). But before going onstage, my phone buzzed with a "news" alert. Rachel Dolezal had changed her name. I quickly glanced at the article and saw that Dolezal had changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo. My jaw dropped in disbelief. Nkechi is my sister's name—my visibly black sister born and raised in Nigeria. Dolezal claimed that the name change was to make it easier for her to get a job, because the scandal had made it so that nobody in the Eastern Washington town of Spokane (pop. 210,000) would look at an application with the name Rachel Dolezal on it.

I'm going to pause here so we can recognize the absurdity of this claim: You change your name from Rachel Dolezal to Nkechi Amare Diallo because everyone in your lily-white town (Spokane is more than 80 percent white) now knows you as the Rachel Dolezal who was pretending to be black, so you change your name to NKECHI AMARE DIALLO because somehow they won't know who you are then. Maybe they'll just confuse you with all the other Nkechi Amare Diallos in Spokane and not think when a white woman shows up for the interview: "Oh yeah, it's that white woman who pretended to be black and then changed her name to NKECHI AMARE DIALLO." Also, even if there were 50 Nkechi Amare Diallos in Spokane—trust me, as someone named Ijeoma Oluo who grew up in the white Seattle suburb of Lynnwood—you'd have a much better chance of getting a job interview if you changed your name to Sarah.

By the time I finished my interview on that rainy February day, my cell phone indicated that I had a voice mail. It was The Stranger, asking if I would spend the day with Rachel Dolezal.

For two years, I, like many other black women who talk or write about racial justice, have tried to avoid Rachel Dolezal—but she follows us wherever we go. So if I couldn't get away from her, I was going to at least try to figure out why. I surprised myself by agreeing to the interview.

I began to get nervous as the interview day approached. By the time I boarded a plane to Spokane, which is a one-hour flight from Seattle and is near the border with Idaho, a state that's almost 90 percent white, I was half sure that this interview was my worst career decision to date. Initially, I had hoped that my research on Dolezal would reassure me that there was a way to find real value in this conversation, that there would be a way to actually turn this circus into a productive discussion on race in America.

But then I read her book.

Shortly after I announced the deal for my first book (a primer on how to have more productive conversations on race), a friend posted a link on my Facebook page. With a joking comment along the lines of "Oh no! Looks like Rachel beat you to it!" she linked to an article announcing that Rachel Dolezal would also be publishing her first book on race, In Full Color: Finding My Place in a Black and White World. Throughout the week, at least five other friends sent me similar links with similar comments. A look through my social-media feeds showed that I was not alone. Black women writers around the country were all being sent links to articles on Dolezal's book deal—the memoir of a black woman whose claim to fame is... not being actually black.

Oluo is a fantastic writer, but more importantly she points out the core issue of the conceit here: Dolezal, now Diallo, is better and more successful at being black as a white woman than black women across the country, and while I can't say I'm surprised at this, I do have to say that the near absurdity of it all is at least thought-provoking if not rage-inducing.

We have a long way to go.

The Bomb In Gilead

There's been quite a lot of talk about the television adaptation of Margret Atwood's seminal classic novel The Handmaid's Tale premiering this week on Hulu, and New Republic's Sarah Jones makes the argument that Atwood's dystopian story of America being turned into a prosperity gospel theocracy is closer than ever to merging with the dark reality of the Trump regime.

Set in the very near future, Hulu’s new adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale subtly updates Atwood’s dystopia. The execution of a gay woman in episode three seems inspired by a real Iranian execution. Played by Elisabeth Moss, Offred is more relatable than she’s ever been, with a motto (“I intend to survive”) destined for a thousand Etsy products. In the show, as in our moment, it is not just men, but crucially some women, too, who fervently wish for a society where women are no longer free or equal. Women known as Aunts initiate the Handmaids into their new roles; Wives terrorize Handmaids with little restraint. These women midwife Gilead into the world, though it’s not clear what they stand to gain from any of it.

Most contradictory and recognizable of all these female collaborators is Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), the wife of Offred’s commander. Before Gilead, she graced American television screens as a preternaturally blond evangelist. (Serena Joy was her stage name, a nom de guerre for the culture wars.) Even though she occupies the highest rank for a woman in this new world, she is now legally inferior to her sad-sack husband and, finding herself childless, has to employ Offred as a surrogate. Rage roils the edges of her ice-princess restraint. “She doesn’t make speeches anymore,” Offred notes in the book. “She stays in her home, but it doesn’t seem to agree with her. How furious she must be, now that she’s been taken at her word.”

America is rich in Serena Joys. One need look no further for her contemporary counterparts than Michelle Duggar and her daughters; or Paula White, the televangelist who allegedly led Donald Trump to Christ; or his aide Kellyanne Conway, who defends him as a “great boss” to women. The character Atwood invented is an amalgam of Phyllis Schlafly and Tammy Faye Bakker with a dash of Aimee Semple McPherson. The spectacle of the female fundamentalist celebrity is not recent, and she is not an anomaly. Her existence is proof of American fundamentalism’s durability, and a reminder that it could not thrive without the enthusiastic backing of women.

When Atwood wrote her novel, Schlafly had already established herself as one of America’s most visible and influential conservative women by leading a successful campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment. A committed Catholic, Schlafly hurled herself against feminism’s second wave with all the conviction of the activists she loathed. “The women’s libbers don’t understand that most women want to be wife, mother, and homemaker—and are happy in that role,” she asserted in 1972.

But like her fictional doppelgänger, Schlafly was no homemaker. She traveled the country; she appeared on television; she influenced policy. The world she wanted to build could not coexist with the world that allowed her career. These contradictions did not, however, trouble Schlafly’s supporters. She defeated the ERA by mobilizing them; her mostly female volunteer brigades harried legislators into rejecting the bill.

Women also propped up the career of a man to Schlafly’s right: the theologian Rousas J. Rushdoony. Whereas Schlafly was content to work within the Republican Party, Rushdoony preferred a purist approach: As historian Michael McVicar has recounted, Rushdoony lost a job at the Center for American Studies after attempting to purge its Catholics. This was further than most in the American right of the 1960s wanted to go, and so he labored in the fringes, formulating his vision of a literal Protestant theocracy. It was conservative women who came to his rescue: In 1965, Women for America granted him a stipend to continue his work—envisioning a society in which women would stay at home with their children, and apostasy and homosexuality would be punishable by death.

The dilemma of Serena Joy feels deceptively easy to resolve. She’s in this for power, and understands that it’s hers if she says the right things to the right audiences. Schlafly achieved international fame, and Conway has the ear of the president. With Gilead, however, Atwood reminds such women that they might not like the results of their labor; that by the time they come to regret it, the culture they helped create will have developed far beyond their control. Serena Joy is a warning, not only to her feminist antagonists, but to conservatives, too.

It's a stark but true warning: those who helped create the government we now exist under are only now finding out that it was never meant for them, and that has never been more true than for "powerful women".

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Last Call For Murthy's Law

Somebody in the Trump regime finally noticed that US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy was still on the job, so of course one of the last Obama executive branch holdovers had to be canned

America’s “top doctor” and an Obama-appointee, Vivek Murthy, was dismissed and replaced by the Trump Administration on Friday.

In a statement, the administration said it asked Murthy to resign from his post as Surgeon General after he helped with “a smooth transition.”

"Dr. Murthy has been relieved of his duties as Surgeon General and will continue to serve as a member of the Commissioned Corps," a White House statement read, adding that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price "thanks him for his dedicated service to the nation.”

The New York Times reported a somewhat different story: Murthy was asked to step down, refused, and was fired.

He’ll be replaced by Rear Admiral Sylvia Trent-Adams, a nurse who currently serves as Deputy Surgeon General. (In an acting role for now, she will be the first non-doctor to take the post of America’s “top doctor.”)

Murthy’s early departure came as a surprise to the public health community. It's unusual — but not unprecedented — for a surgeon general’s four-year term to be cut short. Murthy’s term should have run until the end of next year.

The surgeon general’s office is in charge of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, a team of 6,700 public health workers stationed across the US. Although he or she has little power to change policy, surgeons general have a history of creating unwantedcontroversy for the political leadership, and raising awareness about sometimes inconvenient or uncomfortable facts about public health.

Murthy, a graduate of Harvard and Yale University schools of medicine and business, holds views on gun control that are at odds with the new administration. When President Obama nominated Murthy back in November 2013, the Senate blocked his nomination for more than a year, particularly after the National Rifle Association criticized a letter Murthy had co-signed in support of gun control measures.

Murthy only got confirmed in December 2014 after some red-state Democrats who were losing their seats anyway decided to switch course and back him.

I suspect the real reason Dr. Murthy was fired was because the Trump regime demanded he put out a positive statement as the nation's top doc signing off on Trumpcare, not to mention toeing the line on the NRA and the uncomfortable truth of 30,000 plus firearm homicides a year being a public health issue.

I would suspect that he'll be replaced quickly by somebody who will be much less "problematic" with this whole "medical science" thing and will say whatever the regime wants them to say.
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