Monday, September 25, 2023

Big Bob's Bribery Blowout, Con't

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez continues to face a concerted effort to oust him in the wake of last week's federal bribery indictments, and Democrats in the Garden State are ready to take out the trash.
Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) announced Saturday that he will primary Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) after the senator was indicted on corruption charges Friday.

“After calls to resign, Senator Menendez said ‘I am not going anywhere.’ As a result, I feel compelled to run against him,” Kim said on X, formerly Twitter. “Not something I expected to do, but NJ deserves better.”

Kim was the second member of Congress and first from New Jersey to call on Menendez to resign Friday. A growing list of Democrats, headlined by Gov. Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), have asked Menendez to step down.

“I believe more than ever that New Jersey needs hard working, trustworthy leaders focused on the common good and injecting some integrity and civility back into our politics,” Kim wrote in his announcement, sharing a link to his donations page. “We cannot jeopardize the Senate or compromise our integrity any longer.

“Help me build a movement to restore faith in our democracy,” he added.

Prosecutors allege that Menendez and his wife accepted over $600,000 in bribes from a group of New Jersey businessmen to help them and interests in Egypt.

“These allegations are serious and alarming. It doesn’t matter what your job title is or your politics — no one in America is above the law,” Kim said in a statement to The Hill on Friday. “The people of New Jersey absolutely need to know the truth of what happened, and I hope the judicial system works thoroughly and quickly to bring this truth to light.”
I don't even think we'll get that far, I think Menendez will be told in no uncertain terms that he's out if NJ Dem Gov. Phil Murphy has anything to say about it.  Hell, even Sen. John Fetterman says Menendez needs to step aside and "focus on the trial".

"It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat," he wrote in a statement in response to Democratic officials who have publicly broken with him. "I am not going anywhere."

Menendez was appointed to the Senate in January 2006 by then-Gov. Jon Corzine, who previously held the seat and had just taken office in Trenton. The senator was elected to a full term later that year and reelected in 2012 and 2018.

And Menendez is up for reelection next year, creating a politically-perilous situation where he could stand trial while also campaigning for a fourth full term in office — a scenario many Democrats would prefer not to see unfold.
It's not brown, it's green cash and gold bars, my man.
Time to go.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Last Call For Shutdown Countdown, Clown Town Edition

With under a week to go before the GOP shuts down the government,  the only questions now appear to be how long the shutdown lasts, and how quickly GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is replaced by Republicans (and by whom) when he inevitably caves.
Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., said he would consider voting to oust House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., should the speaker opt to work with Democrats to pass funding measures ahead of the Sept. 30 funding deadline.

"That would be something I would look strongly at," Burchett said in an interview on CNN's "State of the Union."

Burchett dismissed the notion that he and other House Republicans opposed to passing a short-term stopgap measure are at fault if lawmakers fail to pass spending measures, noting that the group made their priorities clear far before House members returned from August recess.

"We're gonna get the blame because we're trying to do our job," Burchett said.
Like most terrorists, Burchett believes he and his fellow economic suicide bombers are the good guys here.
The bigger problem is that even before Burchett piped up, the number of House Republicans that have said they would be open to replacing McCarthy is already enough to cost him his job.  So again, when he caves, and he will cave, folks, he'll be ousted, as I've been saying for a while now. It's Boehner all over again.

In fact, McCarthy has already caved, backtracking on last week's demand from Marjorie Terrorist Greene that he yank all Ukraine funding from the Pentagon bill.

Who will replace him, well, we'll see.

That Poll-Asked Look, Con't

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll has Trump up by nine, and while that's a major outlier, the fact is the GOP plan to impeach Biden while Trump burns down everything to martyr himself over his four trials. It may be working.
President Joe Biden's job approval rating is 19 points underwater, his ratings for handling the economy and immigration are at career lows. A record number of Americans say they've become worse off under his presidency, three-quarters say he's too old for another term and Donald Trump is looking better in retrospect -- all severe challenges for Biden in his reelection campaign ahead.

Forty-four percent of Americans in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll say they've gotten worse off financially under Biden's presidency, the most for any president in ABC/Post polls since 1986. Just 37% approve of his job performance, while 56% disapprove. Still fewer approve of Biden's performance on the economy, 30%.

On handling immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border, Biden's rating is even lower, with 23% approval. In terms of intensity of sentiment, 20% strongly approve of his work overall, while 45% strongly disapprove. And the 74% who say he's too old for a second term is up 6 percentage points since May. Views that Trump is too old also are up, but to 50% in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates.

Such is down-on-Biden sentiment that if a government shutdown occurs at month's end, 40% say they'd chiefly blame him and the Democrats in Congress, versus 33% who'd pin it on the Republicans in Congress -- even given the GOP infighting behind the budget impasse.
Yeah, that's right, Biden will get the blame if the government shuts down. I almost have to ask if the poll took place in a GOP party meeting at this point, but if any of this is remotely true, we're going to give this country away to the fascists because ground beef is $5 instead of $4 a pound.

The crosstabs are...not good. 74% of Americans think the economy is bad, with 87% angry about gas prices and 91% thinking food prices are bad. Hell, at this point a clear majority is upset about the unemployment rate being lower than it was under Trump, 57%. 
Some 29% of Americans believe Joe Biden stole the election anyway. Only 60% believe he won legitimately, and the big one, only a third of Dems would back Biden for a second term. That's been true for over a year now.

Looking ahead to the 2024 general election, the NBC News poll shows Biden and Trump tied in a hypothetical contest among registered voters, 46% to 46%.

In June, Biden held a 4-point lead over Trump, 49% to 45%.

According to the new poll, Biden is ahead of Trump among Black voters (76% to 14%), voters between the ages of 18 and 34 (57% to 34%), whites with college degrees (56% to 34%), Latinos (51% to 39%) and women (51% to 41%).

Trump is ahead among rural voters (67% to 31%), men (51% to 40%) white voters (51% to 41%) and whites without college degree (63% to 32%).

Among independents, Biden gets 42%, while Trump gets 35%.

Notably, Biden leads Trump by 18 points among those who “somewhat disapprove” of the president’s job performance (49% to 31%). And nearly 1 in 5 registered voters who say they have concerns about Biden’s age still vote for him over Trump.

In other hypothetical matchups, Biden holds a 1-point lead over DeSantis, 46% to 45%, well within the poll’s margin of error. 

The other good news in that poll, a solid majority oppose the impeachment inquiry against President Biden and it's not even close, 56%-39% against.

The bad news is that given third party candidates, Trump pulls ahead.

In a multi-candidate field including third parties, Trump gets 39% from registered voters, Biden gets 36%, an unnamed Libertarian Party nominee gets 5%, an unnamed No Labels candidate gets 5% and an unnamed Green Party candidate gets 4%.
So yes, third party spoilers are just that, and while I don't expect any third party candidate to get more than 1 or 2 percent nationally, it would be enough to throw the election to Trump.

Still, between that Washington Post poll and columnist David Ignatius calling for Biden and Harris to step aside for 2024, you'd be forgiven if you thought the Post had it in for Biden in order to cover a competitive open primary, which the GOP is most certainly not.

Sunday Long Read: Black And White

This week's Sunday Long Read comes to us from Gyasi Hall at Longreads, who takes a fresh look at the six-decade history of Antonio Prohias's iconic, subversive, and surreal masterpiece Cold War comic, MAD Magazine's Spy vs. Spy.

The seventy-first issue of MAD Magazine, cover dated June 1962, contains a noteworthy entry in Antonio Prohías’ Spy vs. Spy, a comic strip depicting Looney Tunes-style espionage between two pointy-headed, monochromatic secret agents. This particular installment isn’t the series’ best strip: it’s not the one with the most elaborate explosions, the most clever ending, or the one that’s most exemplary of Prohías’ precise and peerless art style. But it is, for me, the most Spy vs. Spy strip ever, the one that best distills the already simplified distillate and sums up the whole enterprise.

One spy, sporting a trenchcoat, a wide-brimmed G-Man fedora, and secret service shades—a collection of clichéd noir signifiers, all in stark black—stands out in a field with a bucket of water. The moon is full and beautiful. The other spy, identical except in blinding white, peeks out from behind a tree, trying to suss out what his rival is up to. Black Spy stares at the moon through an elaborate sextant, adjusting various settings and making mental calculations, finally drawing an X on the ground with a compass before setting the bucket down. As he leaves, White Spy sneaks up to it, peers inside, trying to figure out what this could all mean. In the last panel, Black Spy has snuck back around to give White Spy a swift kick in the ass, grinning triumphantly as his enemy falls headfirst into the bucket, soaked and seeing stars.

This is the essence of Spy vs. Spy: delightfully stupid without ever being mean, delightfully simple without ever being dumb. Prohías’ comics are as perfect an example of the medium as you’re ever likely to find—even more so, I’d argue, than other all-time strips like Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes, since its wordless pantomime operates so effortlessly using the mechanics of graphic narrative as its sole language. The above strip works so well because it forgoes high-concept gadgetry to make the petty, low-stakes reality of the spies’ eternal struggle that much clearer. It’s a perfect way to frame the proceeding complexities of the franchise as a whole.

And make no mistake: Spy vs. Spy is a franchise, a bona fide phenomenon, as ubiquitous as comic strips get without the nostalgic momentum of the above GOATs, the “who the hell thinks this is funny?” anti-spectacle of something like Dilbert, or the dearth of basic premise that makes Garfield so ripe for memery. Decades and decades of comics, sure, but also video games, segments on TV shows, T-shirts, trading cards, a board game, action figures, plush toys, Halloween masks, NASCAR promotions, fucking Mountain Dew commercials. The famous image of the spies, shaking hands while holding explosives behind their backs with the tenderness you’d afford fresh fruit, is famous for a reason.

But like the spies themselves, the image we have of something is often what gets us in trouble. As consumers and customers, we are often trained not to see art (or tools or people) as complex things with a story, or the evolving context that informs their continued existence. This not-seeing is often a foundational ingredient of success. The image—the idea of an idea—is what everyone will know, what everyone will buy. I would like to look at Spy vs. Spy in chronological order to tell you the story of a simple, stupid thing. Knowing, after all, is half the battle.

Me, I had all three Spy vs. Spy video games on the C64 (but not the bad 2005 PS2 game, they did the spies dirty on that one) and enjoyed them very much. I also remember the animated Spy vs. Spy cartoons as part of MADtv back in the 90's.

Without a word of dialogue, Spy vs. Spy was arguably one of the best examples of showing a story rather than telling it.

Really do need a 2023 remake of those C64 titles though. 

Saturday, September 23, 2023

Last Call For The NC GOP Just Stole Your Vote

The most horrifying result of the defection of Democratic state Rep. Tricia Cotham to the NC GOP, giving Republicans a veto-proof supermajority in the General Assembly over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has just made itself clear: Republicans in the legislature can now determine the winner in every single election in the state.

North Carolina Republicans on Friday passed a major power grab, stripping the state’s Democratic governor of the authority to appoint a majority of members to state and county election boards and giving the heavily gerrymandered GOP legislature far more influence over how elections are run and certified in the battleground state.

In North Carolina, the governor dictates the political makeup of the state and county election boards, which are each composed of five members. Under Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, the boards have three Democrats and two Republicans. The governor appoints the members of the state board and the chair of the county boards. Under the new bill, those bodies would be evenly divided, with legislative leaders choosing the members of the state and local boards.

While that is theoretically more bipartisan, it is a recipe for gridlock that could hand sweeping new powers to Republicans in the legislature, who have a supermajority in both chambers due to the gerrymandered maps they drew in 2021.

If the state election board deadlocks and cannot certify a winner of an election, that power would instead go to the legislature. That means Republicans could determine the state’s presidential electors and potentially subvert the popular vote winner of the state if a Democrat carries North Carolina. “The legislature now gets to decide the outcome of all of our elections,” says Melissa Price Kromm, executive director of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, a pro-democracy coalition in the state. “When people vote is the will of the people still going to be accepted in North Carolina?” (State and federal courts could still order that elections be certified, and in presidential elections the legislature would need to comply with the revamped Electoral Count Act passed by Congress in 2021, which makes it harder for rogue legislatures to overturn the will of the voters.)

The bill also makes it easier to overturn elections in another way: only five of eight members of the new state board need to vote in favor of redoing an election, compared to four out of five members under the previous law (the board would grow in size from five members to eight under the new bill).

In addition to subverting fair election outcomes, the bill could lead to a huge decrease in voter access as well. Local election boards currently determine the number of early voting sites in a county, but if those boards deadlock under the new legislation there would only be one early voting location per county. That would dramatically limit the number of early voting sites in large urban counties that favor Democrats, leading to much longer lines at the polls. In 2020, for example, Wake County, home to Raleigh, had 20 early voting sites used by 374,000 voters, according to WRAL News. “There would only be one early voting location in counties with more than a million people,” says Price Kromm. “Can you imagine how long the lines would be?”

More than half of North Carolinians used early voting in 2022 and Democrats were more likely to cast a ballot that way. “In the state’s 2022 Senate race, writes Daniel Walton of Bolts magazine, “in-person early voters favored Democratic candidate Cheri Beasley by five percentage points, even as she lost the election overall by more than three percentage points to Republican Ted Budd.”

That’s not all. The legislation could also lead to the ouster of the current executive director of the state board of elections, Karen Brinson Bell, who is widely respected but has been targeted by election deniers for extending the deadline for returning mail ballots during the pandemic. If the state board cannot come to an agreement on the board’s executive director by July 15, 2024, Republicans in the legislature would get to make the selection, allowing them to put in place someone who is more allied with the GOP just months before the 2024 election.

And thanks to the villainous Tricia Cotham, the NC GOP has the margin to overturn Gov. Cooper's veto of the plan.  The state Senate has already passed the bill, and if Cooper's veto is overridden, North Carolina ceases to become a democracy.

Understand that there's not a reason to pass this bill other than to steal elections. It's specifically designed to allow Republicans to deadlock a county or state election board and have the legislature name the winner. Who or what will stop Nc Republicans from declaring the party's candidate the winner in every single election in the state?

What are Democrats in NC going to do about this? Because if the answer isn't "fight this until they win" then democracy is 100% lost in my home state.

Orange Meltdown, Contempt Of Court Edition

I'll be the first to admit that Thursday's Jeffrey Goldberg hagiography of former Trump Defense Secretary Gen. Mark Milley in The Atlantic laid it on thick enough to be mistaken for repairs on a DC brutalist concrete edifice. It's not that Gen. Milley did a bad job of stopping Trump's coup, it's that it was necessary in the first place.

Former President Donald Trump is lashing out at U.S. Army General Mark Milley as a "woke train wreck" just before his retirement as the country's top military officer.

Milley is set to step down October 1 as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a position to which he was appointed by Trump in 2019. The general's relationship with the former president deteriorated significantly by the time Trump left office in January 2021 and has since become adversarial.

In a Truth Social post on Friday, Trump denounced Milley for enacting "perhaps the most embarrassing moment in American history" by withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan. While the withdrawal happened during the administration of President Joe Biden and was ordered by the current president, Trump had also ordered a full withdrawal before leaving the White House.

The former president suggested that all Americans should "celebrate" Milley's retirement and said that the general would have been executed for treason in "times gone by" over reports claiming that he called his Chinese counterpart in 2020 and said that he would warn China if Trump ever decided to launch a military attack.

Trump suggested in the post that any military officer who "failed America" as much as Milley did in Afghanistan would historically be put to death. You know, by following Trump's orders.

Still, Milley is a probable witness in Trump's January 6th trial, and calling for the execution of a witness against you in a trial just might be considered witness intimidation that Judge Chutkan cautioned Trump over earlier last month.

As I've said, Trump 100% wants to make this gag order necessary. The plan is to turn up the heat to the point to where Judge Chutkan has no choice, in which case Trump will continue to violate the order again and again until Chutkan is forced to act with possible contempt orders that put Trump behind bars.

Trump knows the moment that happens, he's an instant martyr for the MAGA cause, and the expected retribution from tens of millions at the ballot box -- and more than a few using a bullet box -- will put him back in the White House to finish America off.

This is all according to Trump's plan, and Judge Chutkan has to know this.

We may not even make it to any trials.

Unionized, Galvanized, And Ionized, Con't

President Biden will join the picket line in solidarity with members of the United Auto Workers union in Detroit on Tuesday, he announced on social media.

Mr. Biden likes to call himself the most pro-union president, and visiting striking workers — a highly unusual move for a president — will certainly send a strong message.

"Tuesday, I'll go to Michigan to join the picket line and stand in solidarity with the men and women of UAW as they fight for a fair share of the value they helped create," he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. "It's time for a win-win agreement that keeps American auto manufacturing thriving with well-paid UAW jobs."

UAW President Shawn Fain had invited the president to join the picket line. When a reporter asked the president Friday if he would do so, the president turned the question around, asking, "Would you come with me?"

Last week when he addressed the strike situation, the president said companies involved have made "significant offers," but need to do more.

"Companies have made some significant offers, but I believe it should go further — to ensure record corporate profits mean record contracts," Mr. Biden said.

The strike began after union leaders were unable to reach an agreement on a new contract with Ford, General Motors and Stellantis. UAW workers want a four-day, 32-hour work week, for the pay of a five-day, 40-hour week, as well as substantial pay raises. They also want more paid time off and pension benefits, instead of a 401K savings plans, among other demands.

UAW announced Friday that it was expanding its strike to include 38 General Motors and Stellantis parts distribution centers across 20 states. However, Ford was notably not included in the strike expansion as the two sides have had positive contract talks in recent days.
The UAW knows damn well how Trump treated them, and they're making no mistake. Joe Biden coming to Detroit the day before makes Trump look exactly like the opportunistic villain that he is. 
The unions in blue states know the difference.

Friday, September 22, 2023

Last Call For Supremely Corrupts Crooks, Cads, And Creeps, Con't

And as bad as Bob Menendez is with his bribery indictments, he's still not 1% as corrupt as, say, Justice Clarence Thomas.
On Jan. 25, 2018, dozens of private jets descended on Palm Springs International Airport. Some of the richest people in the country were arriving for the annual winter donor summit of the Koch network, the political organization founded by libertarian billionaires Charles and David Koch. A long weekend of strategizing, relaxation in the California sun and high-dollar fundraising lay ahead.

Just after 6 p.m., a Gulfstream G200 jet touched down on the tarmac. One of the Koch network’s most powerful allies was on board: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

During the summit, the justice went to a private dinner for the network’s donors. Thomas has attended Koch donor events at least twice over the years, according to interviews with three former network employees and one major donor. The justice was brought in to speak, staffers said, in the hopes that such access would encourage donors to continue giving.

That puts Thomas in the extraordinary position of having served as a fundraising draw for a network that has brought cases before the Supreme Court, including one of the most closely watched of the upcoming term.

Thomas never reported the 2018 flight to Palm Springs on his annual financial disclosure form, an apparent violation of federal law requiring justices to report most gifts. A Koch network spokesperson said the network did not pay for the private jet. Since Thomas didn’t disclose it, it’s not clear who did pay.

Thomas’ involvement in the events is part of a yearslong, personal relationship with the Koch brothers that has remained almost entirely out of public view. It developed over years of trips to the Bohemian Grove, a secretive all-men’s retreat in Northern California. Thomas has been a regular at the Grove for two decades, where he stayed in a small camp with real estate billionaire Harlan Crow and the Kochs, according to records and people who’ve spent time with him there.

A spokesperson for the Koch network, formally known as Stand Together, did not answer detailed questions about his role at the Palm Springs events but said, “Thomas wasn’t present for fundraising conversations.”

“The idea that attending a couple events to promote a book or give dinner remarks, as all the justices do, could somehow be undue influence just doesn’t hold water,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“All of the sitting Justices and many who came before them have contributed to the national dialogue in speeches, book tours, and social gatherings,” the statement added. “Our events are no different. To claim otherwise is false.”

In a series of stories this year, ProPublica reported that Thomas has accepted undisclosed luxury travel from Crow and a coterie of other ultrawealthy men. Crow also purchased Thomas’ mother’s home and paid private school tuition for the child Thomas was raising as his son. Thomas has said little in response. In a statement earlier this year, he said that Crow is a close friend whom he has joined on “family trips.” He has also argued that he was not required to disclose the free vacations. Thomas did not respond to questions for this story.

The code of conduct for the federal judiciary lays out rules designed to preserve judges’ impartiality and independence, which it calls “indispensable to justice in our society.” The code specifically prohibits both political activity and participation in fundraising. Judges are advised, for instance, not to “associate themselves” with any group “publicly identified with controversial legal, social, or political positions.”

But the code of conduct only applies to the lower courts. At the Supreme Court, justices decide what’s appropriate for themselves.

“I can’t imagine — it takes my breath away, frankly — that he would go to a Koch network event for donors,” said John E. Jones III, a retired federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush. Jones said that if he had gone to a Koch summit as a district court judge, “I’d have gotten a letter that would’ve commenced a disciplinary proceeding
Of course, that's the problem. Supreme Court justices are, again, not subject to any ethics rules other than their own recognizance. 

And Republicans keep making sure that will remain the case.


Big Bob's Bribery Blowout

A federal grand jury in New York has returned a sweeping indictment against United States Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the powerful Foreign Relations Committee.

The investigation focused on a luxury car, gold bars and an apartment allegedly received by Menendez and his wife, Nadine Arslanian. His wife was also indicted.

The indictment charges Menendez, 69, and his wife with having a corrupt relationship with three New Jersey businessmen -- Wael Hana, Jose Uribe and Fred Daides.

The indictment accuses Menendez and his wife of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes in exchange for using the senator's power and influence to seek to protect and enrich the businessman.

"Those bribes included cash, gold, payments toward a home mortgage, compensation for a low-or-no-show job, a luxury vehicle, and other things of value," the indictment said.

In June 2022, federal agents searched Menendez's New Jersey home and found "fruits" of the pair's "corrupt bribery agreement" with the three businessmen, according to the indictment. Investigators found over $480,000 in cash, some stuffed in envelopes and hidden in clothing, as well as $70,000 in Nadine Menendez's safe deposit box.

Also found in the home were over $100,000 worth of gold bars, "provided by either Hana or Daibes," according to the indictment.

Menendez allegedly gave sensitive U.S. government information "that secretly aided the Government of Egypt" and "improperly advised and pressured" a U.S. agricultural official to protect an exclusive contract for Hana to be the exclusive purveyor of halal meat to Egypt, according to the indictment.
Yeah, all this is gross, comical, even cartoonish levels of corruption. Gold bars? C'mon.
It's New Jersey, but, damn.
Get his resignation by the end of the year, and Gov. Phil Murphy appoints someone who promises not to run in 2024 and leaves an open primary is the fairest way to do it.

Either way, Menendez has to go.

[UPDATE] Menendez has stepped down as Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairas Senate rules require a chair indicted under a felony to do so. Multiple Dems are calling on Menendez to resign, including Gov. Murphy and former Obama-era AG Eric Holder.

Not looking good for him to stay on through this.

Shutdown Countdown, Clown Town Edition, Con't

Turns out GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy still doesn't have the votes to pass anything at all as far as keeping the government open as a second attempt to pass a Pentagon funding bill had to be pulled from the House floor, and with the House now in recess, it looks like a GOP-caused shutdown is all but guaranteed.
For the second time this week, House Republicans on Thursday failed to start debate on a key military funding bill after five conservative rebels blocked the measure over demands for additional spending cuts.

The defeat marked yet another public embarrassment for Speaker Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans as Washington barrels toward a government shutdown. Then, they left town for the week.

"We are very dysfunctional right now," Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn., said, adding that the failure proves that GOP leaders "obviously can't count" votes, unlike Democrats. "Speaker Pelosi, love her or hate her, she put something out there and they'd rally around it."

McCarthy had vowed that the House would work through the weekend to find a solution to the crisis, with votes expected through Saturday. Now, they've canceled votes for Friday and the weekend, telling members they'll get "ample notice" if any votes are scheduled.

Moderate Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., who is facing a tough re-election bid next year, has been describing the GOP dysfunction as a "clown show" and warned that pragmatists would work with Democrats to keep the government funded.
Even House Republicans themselves are calling this clown show a clown show! 

"For my colleagues, they have to come to a realization: If they are unable or unwilling to govern, others will. And in a divided government where you have Democrats controlling the Senate, a Democrat controlling the White House, there needs to be a realization that you're not going to get everything you want," he said.

"And just throwing a temper tantrum and stomping your feet, frankly not only is it wrong — it's pathetic," Lawler added.

The House paralysis bodes ill for preventing a government shutdown at the end of September, as Republicans remain unable to pass messaging bills that would represent their opening bid and have no chance of passing the Democratic-led Senate. The infighting could only escalate when they have to make policy compromises to accept a bill that President Joe Biden can sign into law.

“At the end of the day, any final bill is going to be bipartisan. And if somebody doesn’t realize that they’re truly clueless,” Lawler said.

Thursday's vote failed 212-216. The Republicans who voted no were Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia; Dan Bishop of North Carolina; Matt Rosendale of Montana; and Andy Biggs and Eli Crane, both of Arizona. Rules Committee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., later switched his vote to no, a procedural move that will allow him to bring the bill up again.

“The problem is, we’ve been doing CRs for 25 years or longer. And that works the same way. Lather, rinse, repeat. The Washington wash cycle,” Bishop said. “So there’s another CR and they get to a few days before Christmas and they pass on monstrous omnibus. That’s exactly the path. We all see it, we all recognize it. The only way to change it is to change it.”
But of course Republicans don't have the votes to change it, and they could have passed spending bills months ago without a single Democratic vote. They chose not to. 

Republicans are clowns, period. We're all here to watch the Big Top burn down with them -- and America -- in it.

And when the Villagers are openly asking if Kevin McCarthy is even still in charge and worse, answering that question with "No, Matt Gaetz is running the circus now" then yeah, I don't see how McCarthy seriously survives the next few weeks as Speaker. More than ever it feels like the Clown Town kids table is going to have to eat what the adults in the Senate give them, and that McCarthy's going to spend the holidays shooting hoops in his driveway in sweatpants and muttering about how he was A Contenda™.

His only hope is that Matt Gaetz would be so much worse as Speaker that the thought alone might keep him in the office as whipping boy, and in that scenario, McCarthy's just a puppet.

We'll see.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Last Call For Logan Roy Takes A Victory Lap

Having all but destroyed the American political media landscape, FOX Corp. and News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch is stepping down to bask in his dark brilliance.
Rupert Murdoch, the Australian press baron who reshaped conservative media in his image, plans to step down as chairman of Fox Corp. and News Corp.

He will become chairman emeritus of the two corporations, Fox Corp. announced in a news release. His older son, Lachlan Murdoch, will become the sole chairman of both the firms.

"For my entire professional life, I have been engaged daily with news and ideas, and that will not change. But the time is right for me to take on different roles," Murdoch, 92, said in a six-paragraph message to employees Thursday.

"In my new role, I can guarantee you that I will be involved every day in the contest of ideas," he wrote.

Fox Corp. said in its news release that Murdoch will formally resign at a shareholder meeting in November.

The mogul's resignation marks the end of one of the most storied careers in modern media. Murdoch built a small Australian newspaper business into a sprawling corporate empire that, at its height, included a movie studio, a television network and a roster of cable channels.

The media titan's most lasting legacy will almost certainly be Fox News, the 24/7 network he founded in 1996 as a competitor to CNN. The channel cultivated a devoted audience in the decades to come, establishing itself as a pillar of the modern conservative movement.

In recent years, Fox News opinion hosts have drawn intense criticism for pushing conspiracy theories and falsehoods, including airing baseless claims of voter fraud after then-President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden.

Fox Corp. and Fox News were sued over those false allegations, most notably by Dominion Voting Systems, which settled with the companies for a staggering $787.5 million in April, averting what had promised to be a high-stakes trial.

The media magnate looms large in popular consciousness. In the eyes of many progressives and Democratic voters, Fox News is a scourge, while many Republicans regard Murdoch as a folk hero. The Murdoch family's private dramas helped inspire the HBO series "Succession."

Murdoch's departure comes at a pivotal time for the conservative media ecosystem. Fox News remains the market leader in right-wing news, but the channel faces competition from brands such as Newsmax, One America News Network and The Daily Wire.

It remains to be seen whether Fox News opinion hosts under the new corporate regime will continue to bind themselves to Trump, who leads the Republican presidential primary race by wide margins.
It doesn't matter how much of the day-to-day decisions at FOX or News Corp. that dark lord emeritus here handles in the next year or so, if Trump wins, Murdoch gets as much credit as anyone for ending America's 250-year experiment in democracy.

He's one of history's greatest villains. Well, at least in the 21st century he is.

The Country Goes Viral, Con't

As the latest variant of Covid ravages the country this fall, more Americans than ever have given up on vaccines and boosters, and the Biden administration has quietly folded efforts to fight vaccine disinformation after being blocked by Republicans in Congress and by the Supreme Court on what they can actually accomplish.
A Biden administration that vowed to restore Americans’ faith in public health has grown increasingly paralyzed over how to combat the resurgence in vaccine skepticism.

And internally, aides and advisers concede there is no comprehensive plan for countering a movement that’s steadily expanded its influence on the president’s watch.

The rising appeal of anti-vaccine activism has been underscored by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s insurgent presidential campaign and fueled by prominent factions of the GOP. The mainstreaming of a once-fringe movement has horrified federal health officials, who blame it for seeding dangerous conspiracy theories and bolstering a Covid-era backlash to the nation’s broader public health practices.

But as President Joe Biden ramps up a reelection campaign centered on his vision for a post-pandemic America, there’s little interest among his aides in courting a high-profile vaccine fight — and even less certainty of how to win.

“There’s a real challenge here,” said one senior official who’s worked on the Covid response and was granted anonymity to speak candidly. “But they keep just hoping it’ll go away.”

The White House’s reticence is compounded by legal and practical concerns that have cut off key avenues for repelling the anti-vaccine movement, according to interviews with eight current and former administration officials and others close to the process.

Biden officials have felt handcuffed for the past two years by a Republican lawsuit over the administration’s initial attempt to clamp down on anti-vaxxers, who alleged the White House violated the First Amendment in encouraging social media companies to crack down on anti-vaccine posts. That suit, they believe, has limited their ability to police disinformation online. In addition, Congress is clawing back Covid funds once earmarked for vaccine education and outreach. And Biden himself has opted to largely ignore Kennedy’s campaign, concluding there’s no political benefit to engaging with the increasingly longshot challenger or his conspiratorial views.

The approach has given conservative influencers and lawmakers who have embraced Kennedy and other vaccine skeptics more space to promote their views and tout themselves as free speech warriors doing battle against the Biden administration.

And the impact is clear: As another Covid vaccination campaign gets underway, fewer Americans than ever have kept up to date on their shots. Child vaccination rates against the flu are measurably lower than before the pandemic. Even standard childhood inoculations to prevent diseases like the measles are subject to deepening partisan divisions, with recent polling showing Republicans are now more than twice as likely to believe the shots should be optional than they did in 2019. Democrats, by contrast, remain overwhelmingly in favor of childhood vaccine requirements.

We can see a long-term future where kids aren’t going to get vaccinated in schools, diseases that we once thought had ended will roar back and kids will get sick and die from 100 percent preventable conditions,” said Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University public health professor who has advised the White House. “This will cost lives in the long term.”
Science won many battles over the last three years, but the anti-vaxxers have all but won the war politically, and it's going to cost thousands upon thousands of preventable deaths in the years ahead.

I don't know how we fix this, either. The Roberts Court has made it clear that the government can't mandate vaccinations, and corporations can't require them for employment. Increasingly, schools are being blocked from requiring them for attendance as entire school districts are getting sick and schools having to shut down because of lack of healthy staff or students.

Hospitalizations are up as I pointed out at the top of the post, and we're in as bad of a situation as we were in 2020, only we have the vaccines ready and much fewer people are using them.

Please get the latest booster. Trust me when I say you never know what's around the corner in life...or death.

Garland, Wreathed In Fire

Jim Jordan and the House Oversight Clown Show came for Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday, and through the fire and flames he withstood it all.
Garland — carefully and deliberately — defended the country’s largest law enforcement agency of more than 115,000 employees at a time when political and physical threats against agents and their families are on the rise.

“Our job is not to take orders from the president, from Congress, or from anyone else, about who or what to criminally investigate,” the attorney general said. “I am not the president’s lawyer. I will also add that I am not Congress’ prosecutor. The Justice Department works for the American people.”

Questioning in the Republicans’ arsenal focused on allegations that the Justice Department interfered in the yearslong case into Hunter Biden and that the prosecutor in charge of that case did not have the full authority he needed to bring necessary charges.

Republican Mike Johnson of Louisiana asked Garland whether he had talked with anyone at FBI headquarters about the Hunter Biden investigation. The attorney general’s response began with a long pause before he said: “I don’t recollect the answer to that question,” later adding “I don’t believe that I did.”

Garland then said repeatedly that he purposely kept the details of the investigation at arms length, to keep his promise not to interfere.

His testimony came just over a week after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., launched an impeachment inquiry into Garland’s boss, President Biden, with a special focus on the Justice Department’s handling of Hunter Biden’s case.

The White House has dismissed the impeachment inquiry as baseless and has worked to focus the conversation on policy instead.

“These sideshows won’t spare House Republicans from bearing responsibility for inflicting serious damage on the country,” Ian Sams, a White House spokesperson, said in a statement Wednesday.

Hunter Biden’s legal team, on the other hand, has gone on the offensive against GOP critics, most recently filing suit against the Internal Revenue Service after two of its agents raised whistleblower claims to Congress about the handling of the investigation.

Republicans contend that the Justice Department — both under Trump and now Biden — has failed to fully probe the allegations against the younger Biden, ranging from his work on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma to his tax filings in California and Washington D.C.

An investigation into Hunter Biden had been run by the U.S. Attorney for Delaware, Trump appointee David Weiss, who Garland kept on to finish the probe and insulate it from claims of political interference. Garland granted Weiss special counsel status last month, giving him broad authority to investigate and report his findings.

Last week, Weiss used that new authority to indict Hunter Biden on federal firearms charges, putting the case on track toward a possible trial as the 2024 election looms.

When asked by Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., whether he had tried to figure out if Weiss was facing any hurdles in bringing charges against the president’s son, Garland said he had purposely kept his distance to keep a promise not to interfere.

“The way to not interfere was to not investigate an investigation,” Garland said.

One Republican during the more than five-hour hearing came to Garland’s defense

Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado, a former Justice Department prosecutor, told Garland that he was in an impossible situation after inheriting an investigation into the president’s son and would have been criticized no matter what.

“Do you know what people would have said if you had asked for U.S. Attorney Weiss’ resignation when you became attorney general?” Buck asked Garland. “They would have said that you were obstructing the Hunter Biden investigation and you were firing a Republican appointee so that you could appoint a Democrat to slow walk this investigation.”

He added, “You would have been criticized either way, whether you acted or did not act in that situation.”

Weiss, since 2018, has overseen the day-to-day running of the probe, while another special counsel, Jack Smith, is in charge of the Trump investigation, though Garland retains final say on both as attorney general.

Garland said no one at the White House had given him or other senior officials at the Justice Department direction about the handling of the Hunter Biden investigation. Asked whether he had spoken with Weiss, Garland said he had followed his pledge not to interfere in the investigation but declined to say whether or how often he had spoken with the newly named special counsel, citing the ongoing investigation.
Ken Buck may be the last non-clown in the circus. That doesn't mean much, as I'm sure Buck will be neutered or driven out of the House. But Garland has done his job, despite flames from both the left and the right. 

We'll see how the trials and tribulations go. But what's going on with Donald Trump is not equal to what the Bidens are being put through. Not by a long shot.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Last Call For Vote Like Your Country Depends On It, Con't

Democrats in Pennsylvania have prevailed in Tuesday's special election for the state House, and that means Dems now regain control of the lower chamber by one vote.
Democrat Lindsay Powell, a nonprofit worker and former staffer for the city of Pittsburgh, won a special election Tuesday and gave her party control of the state House of Representatives, The Associated Press projected.

Powell triumphed in a Democratic-leaning district in Allegheny County vacated by former state Rep. Sara Innamorato. Innamorato left office to run for Allegheny County executive and will be the Democratic nominee for that office in the November general election.

Powell’s victory was expected due to the blue hue of the open district, but it's still important because it tips the balance of power in the statehouse’s lower chamber back to Democrats, who will hold 102 seats after she is seated, compared to Republicans’ 101 seats.

Democrats won the state House majority in 2022 for the first time since 2010, running on maps that were drawn by a state court. But they soon lost full control over the chamber due to vacancies in three seats. In February, after three special elections in Allegheny County, Democrats took back the majority.

Tuesday's special election win puts the party in control of one chamber of the statehouse and the governorship in a key 2024 battleground state, where Democrats flipped a U.S. Senate seat last year.
The state's budget fight now looms, but Democrats are in control. That's a good thing, as Democrats have done very well in 2023 special elections across the country.

Hopefully 2024 will follow suit.

Shutdown Countdown, Clown Town Edition, Con't

With Tuesday's House GOP vote on Pentagon spending pulled because GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy doesn't have the votes to pass anything at this point, a MAGA federal government shutdown now looks all but inevitable.
Republican divisions paralyzed the House again on Tuesday as a small band of conservative rebels blocked a motion to merely begin debate on a military funding bill and GOP leaders abandoned a separate vote to avert a shutdown at the end of the month.

The military vote was close, 212-214, with five GOP hardliners in the narrow majority joining Democrats to sink it: Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., Dan Bishop, R-N.C., Ken Buck, R-Colo., Ralph Norman, R-S.C., and Matt Rosendale, R-Mont.

With just 11 days until the deadline, Norman said a government shutdown is inevitable.

“I do not” see a way to prevent it, Norman said, adding that conservatives want assurances on a “top line” spending level that Congress will stick by before they agree to pass any full-year funding bills.

Meanwhile, a split within the far-right has also endangered a continuing resolution, or CR, to stave off a shutdown on Sept. 30, with some Freedom Caucus members rejecting a deal struck between other Freedom Caucus members and center-right lawmakers. A procedural vote on the CR was planned for Tuesday afternoon, but leadership pulled it off the floor after failing to flip the roughly dozen declared no votes.

"They didn't have the votes," Norman said after meeting with leadership.

The House GOP chaos is worse than it may appear. The bills Republicans are fighting over have no chance of becoming law — and if they passed the chamber they’d merely represent an opening bid to negotiate with the Democratic-led Senate and President Joe Biden, who oppose the spending cuts and conservative policies that House Republicans are pursuing.
House Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and President Biden are letting McCarthy burn in the bed he made, and aren't about to help him keep the MAGA promises he made in January to become Speaker

With just days to go before the government runs out of money, Biden’s team is watching Congress steam toward a shutdown, resigned to the reality that there’s little they can do now to fix the situation and confident the politics will play out their way.

President Joe Biden has steered well clear of the chaos engulfing the House, where Republicans are battling each other over a government funding bill. Within the White House, aides have settled on a hard-line strategy aimed at pressuring McCarthy to stick to a spending deal he struck with Biden back in May rather than attempt to patch together a new bipartisan bill.

“We agreed to the budget deal and a deal is a deal — House GOP should abide by it,” said a White House official granted anonymity to discuss the private calculations. Their “chaos is making the case that they are responsible if there is a shutdown.”

Biden world’s wait-and-see approach comes against the backdrop of an increasingly likely shutdown, which would be the first of the Biden era.
The debt ceiling deal made earlier this year with the White House is the first thing McCarthy's MAGA chuds threw under the bus this month, so there's no reason why the Biden administration would help break their own commitments to the American people.

Rep. Jeffries is working with the House Problem Solvers caucus to get to a deal to end a shutdown, but it's looking like weeks of Clown Town government shutdown well into October in the meantime.

McCarthy is going to have to eventually fold and make the deal with Jeffries and Biden, and that's almost certainly the end of his Speaker career.
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