Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Trump's Taxing Explanation, Con't

A new court filing from NY Attorney General Tish James makes it abundantly clear that Donald Trump's adult children are targets in the ongoing state fraud investigation into the Trump Organization, and that the cooperation James is trying to compel from the Trumps is nothing even close to a "request" at this point.

New York Attorney General Letitia James disclosed new details Tuesday night about her civil investigation into former President Donald Trump’s business, saying the probe has uncovered evidence suggesting the company put a fraudulent value on multiple assets and misrepresented those values to financial institutions for economic benefit.

James, who launched her probe in 2019, also said in the court filing that the former president “had ultimate authority over a wide swath of conduct by the Trump Organization" that involved fraudulent misstatements to financial institutions, the Internal Revenue Service, and other parties.

She specifically mentioned the responsibility of two of the former president’s adult children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump.

“Since 2017, Donald Trump, Jr. has had authority over numerous financial statements containing misleading asset valuations,” James wrote in the court filing.

Ivanka Trump, a former White House adviser, “was a primary contact for the Trump Organization’s largest lender, Deutsche Bank. In connection with this work, Ms. Trump caused misleading financial statements to be submitted to Deutsche Bank and the federal government,” James wrote.

“Thus far in our investigation, we have uncovered significant evidence that suggests Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization falsely and fraudulently valued multiple assets and misrepresented those values to financial institutions for economic benefit,” James said in a statement Tuesday. “The Trumps must comply with our lawful subpoenas for documents and testimony because no one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them.”


Her office added that it "has not yet reached a final decision regarding whether this evidence merits legal action."

James is conducting a civil investigation into whether the Trump Organization committed fraud in reporting the value of certain properties to banks and tax authorities.

Banks and other lenders need to know the precise financial condition of loan applicants before they make loans. If a company overstates its financial condition in order to get a loan, making its finances seem rosier than they really are, that can be considered fraud. The filing says that Trump's financial statements "were generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared."

Tuesday’s filing is in response to legal efforts by the former president to quash a series of subpoenas against him, Donald Trump Jr., and Ivanka Trump. James is seeking an order to compel all three to appear for sworn testimony.

The filing says there have been problems with valuations in statements that have not been explained by the Trump Organization.

In financial statements, the value of the former president’s New York City apartment in Trump Tower was based on an assertion that the space was 30,000 square feet, when documents show the apartment was 10,996 square feet, the attorney general’s office said.

Former Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg conceded in a deposition that that resulted in an overstatement of around $200 million, the filing stated.

James’ office also said evidence indicates the value of land donations in Los Angeles and Westchester County, New York, were overstated, resulting in several million dollars in deductions.

NBC News has reached out to the Trump Organization for comment on the allegations against the company, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump. Attorneys for Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and the former president did not immediately respond to overnight requests for comment.

Not only does James have the goods, but if she doesn't get the Trump family's cooperation with these subpoenas, think are going to go very badly for not just Donald, but Junior and Ivanka as well.

This is James saying "play ball or else".

There's nothing Trump can do here, either.

The Manchin On The Hill, Con't

West Virginia Dem Sen. Joe Manchin is at this point openly daring Democrats to do anything about him blocking Biden's agenda, and that he firmly believes that he is in 100% control of the country.

Joe Manchin made clear that his party’s push to isolate him and fellow centrist Kyrsten Sinema won’t force his hand on rules changes, once again rejecting Democrats' proposed reforms to the Senate’s filibuster rules.

The West Virginia Democrat actually seems to welcome the isolation. He told reporters ahead of a Democratic Caucus meeting he would not go along with instituting a talking filibuster, which could be used to evade the Senate’s 60-vote threshold, nor would he entertain a rules change by a simple majority.

Asked about his party's priorities, Manchin said people are most worried about inflation and coronavirus right now. He added that he’d welcome a primary challenge over his filibuster position if he runs again for reelection: "I've been primaried my entire life. That would not be anything new for me.”

“The majority of my colleagues in the Democratic caucus have changed their minds. I respect that. They have a right to change their minds. I haven’t. I hope they respect that too. I’ve never changed my mind on the filibuster,” Manchin said.

Though all 50 Senate Democrats support the voting and elections bill before the Senate, the Democratic caucus is pressing forward with laying blame on Manchin and Sinema (D-Ariz.) for the party's failure to advance sweeping elections reform, thanks to their resistance to weakening the filibuster. The move carries considerable risk, given that Sinema and Manchin will be essential to any further success the party can muster this year — particularly on any resuscitation of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda.

Manchin said he doesn’t “take anything personally” as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer presses forward with a vote on weakening the filibuster. Schumer confirmed to reporters after the meeting that he would propose a talking filibuster only covering the package of bills currently in front of the Senate and dismissed Manchin and Sinema’s positions as out of step with the rest of the caucus.

“The vast majority of our caucus strongly disagree with Sens. Manchin and Sinema on rules changes. The overwhelming majority of our caucus knows that if you’re going to try to rely on Republican votes, you will get zero progress on voting rights,” Schumer said.

Schumer also would not say if he would support Manchin and Sinema in future Democratic primaries: “I'm not getting into the politics. This is a substantive, serious issue.” Sinema in particular could face a tough intra-party challenge in 2024.

The Senate Democratic caucus huddled on Tuesday evening to discuss the coming confrontation over changing chamber rules to help shore up the Voting Rights Act and enact federal election standards. During the meeting, Manchin “expressed disagreement” with the justification his party is using to change Senate rules, according to one attendee.


Under the talking filibuster proposed by Schumer, the voting and elections package would only require a simple majority to advance toward final passage, preceded by a lengthy debate. No further bills would get the same treatment; the Senate took up the election reform bill Tuesday and is expected to begin the rules debate on Wednesday.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who has been speaking to Manchin on rules changes, said Democrats have tried to come up with a proposal that's consistent with his and Sinema's positions and that they aren't worried the vote will alienate the two centrists.

"I was not a negotiator of the infrastructure bill — I was so happy they were, and I praised them for it, and I voted for it, and it's going to be great," Kaine said. "This voting bill is as important or more to many of us than the infrastructure bill. The time is nigh for a decision."

 

Last year, Manchin said he was open to the talking filibuster. Now he is 100% against it. And he's going to get away with blocking it, because the alternative is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and everyone knows it. Both Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats continue to give him all of the power, and until that situation changes, nothing's going to pass.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

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

We're now openly to the point where Florida Republicans are trying to criminalize any of America's history that makes white people uncomfortable.

A bill pushed by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis that would prohibit public schools and private businesses from making white people feel “discomfort” when they teach students or train employees about discrimination in the nation’s past received its first approval Tuesday.

The Senate Education Committee approved the bill that takes aim at critical race theory — though it doesn’t mention it explicitly — on party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.

Democrats argued the bill isn’t needed, would lead to frivolous lawsuits and said it would amount to censorship in schools. They asked, without success, for real-life examples of teachers or businesses telling students or employees that they are racist because of their race.

“This bill’s not for Blacks, this bill was not for any other race. This was directed to make whites not feel bad about what happened years ago,” said state Sen. Shevrin Jones, who is Black. “At no point did anyone say white people should be held responsible for what happened, but what I would ask my white counterparts is, are you an enabler of what happened or are you going to say we must talk about history?”


DeSantis held a news conference last month in which he called critical race theory “crap,” and said he would seek legislation that would allow parents to sue schools and employees to sue employers if they were subject to its teachings.

Critical race theory is a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. It was developed during the 1970s and 1980s in response to what scholars viewed as a lack of racial progress following the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. It centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.

Conservatives reject it, saying it is a world view derived from Marxism that divides society by defining people as oppressors and oppressed based on their race. They call it an attempt to rewrite American history and make white people believe they are inherently racist.

The bill reads in part, “An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, does not bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex. An individual should not be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race
.”
 
Setting aside the entire raft of accusations that this is cancel culture from a bunch of snowflakes, under this bill I can't see most of American history being taught at all because it would make somebody uncomfortable. 

Has anyone asked what DeSantis actually wants to be taught in the state's schools? The answer is "not accurate history" which of course is the point. We laugh about textbooks from Texas and Florida that tried to say Black folk benefited from slavery over the years, but that's the only history that will be taught going forward in Florida.

Here's the kicker:

The bill is called “Individual Freedom.” Republican Sen. Manny Diaz, its sponsor, said it is not about ignoring the “dark” parts of American history, but rather ensuring that people are not blamed for sins of the past.

“No individual is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously, solely by the virtue of his or her race or sex,” Garcia said. “No race is inherently superior to another race.”
 
And it just takes one person under this bill to "feel uncomfortable" and it's a criminal act, punishable by heavy fines.  No better way to destroy America's "dark" parts than to make teaching it to be a literal criminal act.

This will go nationwide under the next GOP administration, I guarantee it.

A Hail Mary For Voting RIghts

With voting rights legislation facing a tough, if not impossible vote this week in the Senate, Democrats are considering a Hail Mary pass to try to save the bill from GOP destruction.

Senate Democrats are scrambling for a Plan B to pass voting rights legislation after Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) announced last week that they would not vote to change the Senate’s filibuster rule despite the pleading of President Biden.

Now some Democrats are discussing a novel approach to circumventing a Republican filibuster that may allow voting rights legislation to pass with 51 votes without changing the Senate’s rules.

These Democrats, including Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), are exploring the possibility of forcing Senate Republicans to actually hold the floor with speeches and procedural motions.

They hope that the Republican opposition may tire itself out after a few days or weeks and that Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) may be able to then call for a simple-majority vote on final passage and skip the formal procedural vote — known as cloture — on ending debate.


"There are a couple of paths here. Do we go down the path and do a long debate until it's done and then have a simple debate?" Kaine told reporters last week.

"We wouldn't need a rules change to pass the bill by simple majority if the debate is over. Theoretically, you do not need a rules change to pass a bill that's on the floor, you just have to allow debate to occur," he added.

The strategy has gained more attention from Senate Democrats in recent days as it’s become crystal clear that Sinema and Manchin won’t vote for a more straightforward rules change to lowering the procedural threshold for ending a filibuster from 60 votes to 50.


A second Democratic senator confirmed that colleagues are reviewing the idea of forcing Republicans to stage a talking filibuster to block voting rights legislation.

“We’ve discussed it,” said the lawmaker, who explained that if Republicans don’t occupy the floor with speeches and procedural motions, voting rights legislation should be allowed to come up for final passage under the Senate’s rules.

The problem with this approach, according to Democrats familiar with the discussion, is that it hasn’t been attempted in decades and no one is quite sure how it would play out procedurally.

Cloture votes to end debate in the Senate have become so routine that it’s become second nature to expect the floor is being tied up in debate when a controversial bill is pending.

More often, the floor is usually empty or has only a few members milling about while the clerk reads off the roll of senators’ names during a quorum call.

James Wallner, a former Senate Republican aide and expert on Senate procedure, says that Democrats could pass voting rights legislation with a simple-majority vote if they’re willing to put up with a lengthy battle on the floor.

“Democrats don’t need 60 votes at all. They’re in 51-vote territory. They can move to table any amendments that Republicans offer to the bill,” he said.
 
The two problems are of course "would the Dems be able to outlast the GOP on this?" and "WHo would be the 51st vote". The second question has an answer at least: VP Kamala Harris, who would have to be on hand for the entire battle.
 
But can the Dems pull this off? I don't know. I do know that right now, the bill is 100% doomed.
 
It's worth a shot.

Another #MeToo Moment For Matt Gaetz, Con't

Federal prosecutors have granted legal immunity to the ex-girlfriend of Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz as she testified last week in front of a federal grand jury. Gaetz is facing possible sex trafficking and obstruction of justice charges.

Prosecutors granted immunity to an ex-girlfriend of Representative Matt Gaetz before she testified last week in front of a federal grand jury hearing evidence in the investigation of the congressman, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Gaetz has been under investigation to determine if he violated sex trafficking laws and obstructed justice in that probe. Gaetz has previously denied all wrongdoing, and has said he has never paid for sex nor had sex with an underage girl.

The woman, who CBS News is not naming to protect her privacy, testified in front of a federal grand jury in Orlando last Wednesday. She is viewed as a potential key witness, according to two sources familiar with the investigation. One of the sources said she has information related to the investigation of both the sex trafficking and obstruction allegations.

"This may be a willing participant who has a smart lawyer who sought an immunity deal from the government," said former prosecutor and CBS News legal analyst Rikki Kleiman. "The government does not give immunity blindly, they know what they're getting in exchange."


Isabelle Kirshner, an attorney for Gaetz, told CBS News in a statement last week that "we have seen no credible basis for a charge against Congressman Gaetz. We remain steadfast in our commitment to challenge any allegations with the facts and law."

A source told CBS News last week that as a part of an obstruction probe, investigators are looking into whether Gaetz had a phone call with the ex-girlfriend, and another woman, who was already a witness in the federal investigation.

Multiple sources told CBS News that the ex-girlfriend and the other woman traveled to the Bahamas with Gaetz in 2018, along with a third woman with whom Gaetz was in a sexual relationship. That third woman was 18 at the time of the Bahamas trip, but investigators are also looking into whether she was 17 when the sexual relationship began.

Investigators are trying to determine if any of the women were paid and were illegally trafficked across state or international lines for the purpose of sex with the congressman.
 
Gaetz will never step down voluntarily, and I doubt there will be enough Republican votes to expel him unless he is convicted, a trial being something that wouldn't happen until 2023. He knows he can roll the dice when it comes to his re-election campaign, especially if Trump has his back yelling WITCH HUNT for the next several months.

Would Florida voters re-elect a Congressman facing sex trafficking and/or obstruction charges in connection with trying to cover all this up?

Of course they would.

Proudly.

Don't expect Gaetz to face any consequences. He's betting on the Duncan Hunter special in January 2025.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Last Call For School Of Hard-Right Knocks, Con't

The "Critical Race Theory" panic was always cover for destroying public education, and now we have Republicans openly ordering school libraries to take their collections back to 1950.


School districts from Pennsylvania to Wyoming are bowing to pressure from some conservative groups to review — then purge from public school libraries — books about LGBTQ issues and people of color.

Why it matters: A pivotal midterm election year, COVID frustrations and a backlash against efforts to call out systemic racism — driven disproportionately by white, suburban and rural parents — have made public schools ground zero in the culture wars.

What they're saying: "I've worked for this office for 20 years, and we've never had this volume of challenges come in such a short time," Deborah Caldwell-Stone, director of the American Library Association's Office for Intellectual Freedom, told Axios. "In my former district, we might have one big challenge like every two years," Carolyn Foote, a retired Texas librarian of 29 years, told Axios. " I have to say that what we're seeing is really unprecedented."

Details: The Spotsylvania County School Board in Virginia in November ordered staff to remove “sexually explicit” books from libraries after a parent raised concerns about their LGBTQ themes. “I think we should throw those books in a fire,” school board member Rabih Abuismail said during a meeting. 
That same month, the Goddard School District in Kansas demanded staff remove 29 books from the district’s school libraries. The list included “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood and “The Bluest Eye” by Nobel Prize-winning Toni Morrison.
The Washington County School District in Utah voted last month to ban “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas and "Out of Darkness" by Ashley Hope PĂ©rez, two novels tackling racism, following parent complaints about profanity. The superintendent cast the deciding vote. 
Texas school districts are scrambling to review and ban some library books after state Rep. Matt Krause, a former candidate for state attorney general, asked school superintendents to confirm whether any books on his list of 850 titles were on their shelves.

By the numbers: The ALA has not yet released a full accounting of its data for banning attempts in 2021, but Caldwell-Stone said the ALA tracked 330 challenges just from September through November 2021 and hasn't tallied all the titles yet. 
In 2020, amid the new pandemic and remote schooling, it cited 156 challenges to library, school and university materials and services, and the targeting of 273 books. In 2019, it tracked 377 challenges to materials and services, and the targeting of 566 books.
The top target both years was "George," by Alex Gino, a novel about a transgender girl. "Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You," by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi was last year's second-biggest target. 
ALA classifies a book as "banned" if a school or library removes it from circulation or if a district outlaws it from lessons.

 

I remember similar book bannings when I was growing up three decades ago, but this time the difference is these bans are being codified into state law, and these books are not coming back, folks. 

And wouldn't you know it, it's always, always books by authors of color about the experiences of people of color in America, and LGBTQ+ books. Always.

Becausde those cultural experiences, viewpoints, and voices have to be eliminated from authoritarian white supremacists Christian Dominionist America, where everything is equal and wonderful as long as you submit to the white guys in charge, right?

Free speech right up until we literally make laws to eliminate it.

Insurrection Investigation, Con't

I definitely want to know where this misplaced optimism about Trump facing federal charges is coming from, because I don't believe it for a second.
 
Senate Democrats believe there is a good chance the Department of Justice will prosecute former President Trump for trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election and inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, which would have major political reverberations ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

Democratic lawmakers say they don’t have any inside information on what might happen and describe Attorney General Merrick Garland as someone who would make sure to run any investigation strictly “by the book.”

But they also say the fact that Garland has provided little indication about whether the Department of Justice has its prosecutorial sights set on Trump doesn’t necessarily mean the former president isn’t likely to be charged.

Given the weight of public evidence, Democratic lawmakers think Trump committed federal crimes.

But Senate Democrats also warn that Garland needs to proceed cautiously. Any prosecution that fails to convict Trump risks becoming a disaster and could vindicate Trump, just as the inconclusive report by former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team was seized upon by Trump and his allies to declare his exoneration on a separate series of allegations.


Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said “clearly what [Trump] did” in the days leading up and the day of the Jan. 6 attack on Congress “falls in the ambit of what’s being investigated and perhaps is criminal.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said it’s up to the prosecutors at the Justice Department whether to charge Trump, though he believes that the former president’s actions on and before Jan. 6 likely violate federal law.

“They have all of the evidence at their disposal,” he said.

Kaine believes federal prosecutors are looking seriously at charges against Trump, although he doesn’t have any inside information about what they may be working on.

“My intuition is that they are” looking carefully at whether Trump broke the law, he said. “My sense is they’re looking [at] everything in a diligent way and they haven’t made a decision.”


“I believe there are federal statutes that are very much implicated” by Trump’s efforts to overturn President Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, Kaine added.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said, “I think anybody who it’s proven had a role in the planning of [the Jan. 6 attack] should be prosecuted, not just the people who broke in and smashed the window in my office and others.”

“I think anybody that’s shown to have had a role in its planning absolutely should be prosecuted,” he added. “I mean it was treason, it was trying to overturn an election through violent means.”

Asked whether Trump broke the law, Brown said “I’m not going to say he’s guilty before I see evidence,” but he also said there’s “a lot of evidence that he was complicit.
 
So we're going on Tim Kaine's gut now. Nice.

Meanwhile the story continues to find the much, much more likely scenario of state charges against Trump to be the actual reality, facing election interference in Georgia and bank and insurance fraud in NY.

Those cases I can see going forward in a limited fashion, but after Robert Mueller, I have no confidence that Merrick Garland will ever charge Trump, and none of you should either.

The Honeymoon Is Burned To The Ground

Gallup's quarterly party preference poll numbers are in for 2021, and white they showed a record-tying nine-point lead for the Democrats a year ago, in fourth quarter of last year it was a five-point Republican lead...also a record-tying number.

On average, Americans' political party preferences in 2021 looked similar to prior years, with slightly more U.S. adults identifying as Democrats or leaning Democratic (46%) than identified as Republicans or leaned Republican (43%).

However, the general stability for the full-year average obscures a dramatic shift over the course of 2021, from a nine-percentage-point Democratic advantage in the first quarter to a rare five-point Republican edge in the fourth quarter.

These results are based on aggregated data from all U.S. Gallup telephone surveys in 2021, which included interviews with more than 12,000 randomly sampled U.S. adults.

Gallup asks all Americans it interviews whether they identify politically as a Republican, a Democrat or an independent. Independents are then asked whether they lean more toward the Republican or Democratic Party. The combined percentage of party identifiers and leaners gives a measure of the relative strength of the two parties politically.

Both the nine-point Democratic advantage in the first quarter and the five-point Republican edge in the fourth quarter are among the largest Gallup has measured for each party in any quarter since it began regularly measuring party identification and leaning in 1991.

The Democratic lead in the first quarter was the largest for the party since the fourth quarter of 2012, when Democrats also had a nine-point advantage. Democrats held larger, double-digit advantages in isolated quarters between 1992 and 1999 and nearly continuously between mid-2006 and early 2009.

The GOP has held as much as a five-point advantage in a total of only four quarters since 1991. The Republicans last held a five-point advantage in party identification and leaning in early 1995, after winning control of the House of Representatives for the first time since the 1950s. Republicans had a larger advantage only in the first quarter of 1991, after the U.S. victory in the Persian Gulf War led by then-President George H.W. Bush.
 
The country prefers the GOP now more than it did under Shrub and Trump. Biden got six months to fix the problem, the "Afghanistan disaster" came along (which it wasn't) and a tired, sick America is just ready to throw in the towel and let the Republican authoritarians win, being loudly and confidently wrong on everything because I guess if you're white, you figure things can't get any worse for you with the GOP in charge, right? 

The rest of us, well. We know the answer to that. But judging from the news this morning, our media betters absolutely want to blame Biden for Trump's problems, and can't wait to have a dictator in charge.



Democracy is too hard to fight for, you guys. That's where we are right now.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Last Call For The Vax Of Life, Con't

Lastly tonight, a preview of the fights ahead here in America this week from protests in Europe over vaccine mandates.


Before Covid-19, Nicolas Rimoldi had never attended a protest. 
But somewhere along the pandemic's long and tortuous road, which saw his native Switzerland imposing first one lockdown, then another, and finally introducing vaccination certificates, Rimoldi decided he had had enough. 
Now he leads Mass-Voll, one of Europe's largest youth-orientated anti-vaccine passport groups
Because he has chosen not to get vaccinated, student and part-time supermarket cashier Rimoldi is -- for now, at least -- locked out of much of public life. Without a vaccine certificate, he can no longer complete his degree or work in a grocery store. He is barred from eating in restaurants, attending concerts or going to the gym. 
"People without a certificate like me, we're not a part of society anymore," he said. "We're excluded. We're like less valuable humans." 
As the pandemic has moved into its third year, and the Omicron variant has sparked a new wave of cases, governments around the world are still grappling with the challenge of bringing the virus under control. Vaccines, one of the most powerful weapons in their armories, have been available for a year but a small, vocal minority of people -- such as Rimoldi -- will not take them. 
Faced with lingering pockets of vaccine hesitancy, or outright refusal, many nations are imposing ever stricter rules and restrictions on unvaccinated people, effectively making their lives more difficult in an effort to convince them to get their shots. 
In doing so, they are testing the boundary between public health and civil liberties -- and heightening tensions between those who are vaccinated and those who are not.
 
Increasingly, the answer for the unvaccinated in Europe is turning to the old revolutionary ideas of defeating the "fascists" by becoming them. 
 
As controls have tightened, groups such as Rimoldi's have become increasingly disruptive; few weekends now pass without loud protests in European cities. And anger at restrictive Covid measures has led many who previously considered themselves apolitical to join in. 
Even before the pandemic, vaccine hesitancy in Europe was strongly correlated to a populist distrust of mainstream parties and governments. One study published in the European Journal of Public Health in 2019 found "a highly significant positive association between the percentage of people in a country who voted for populist parties and the percentage who believe that vaccines are not important and not effective." 
But leaders of anti-restriction movements are presenting their campaigns as more inclusive and representative than those studies would suggest. 
"We have farmers, lawyers, artists, musicians -- the whole range of people you can imagine," Rimoldi said. Mass-Voll is aimed specifically at Swiss young people, and boasts that it has amassed more followers on Instagram than the official youth wings of any of the country's major political parties. 
Christian Fiala, the vice president of Austria's MFG party, which was formed specifically to oppose lockdowns, mask-wearing and Covid passports, told CNN: "It's really a movement which comes from the whole population."
 

The Vienna rally was organized by the far-right Freedom Party, the third biggest political party in Austria, which experts say has used the pandemic to further its anti-establishment credentials and re-establish public support after a high-profile scandal.

“STOPP Impffaschismus,” (stop vaccine fascism) one sign in Vienna read. “Kontrolliert die Grenze, nicht euer volk,” (control the border, not your people) another said — just some of the slogans mixing vaccine skepticism with right-wing ideology.

At least one “Q” sign was on display in Vienna, signaling support for QAnon, the outlandish conspiracy theory associated with some supporters of former President Donald Trump and some participants in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

Similar protests and signs could be seen in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Croatia.

Freedom Party Chairman Herbert Kickl has championed the anti-vaccine movement in Austria. Kickl himself tested positive for Covid in the days before Saturday’s rally, forcing him to stay home.

“He has politically mobilized against the Covid-19 vaccines,” said Katharina T. Paul, an expert on vaccine hesitancy at the University of Vienna. “He has disseminated misinformation, to put it mildly.”

“I think he and the Freedom Party play a significant role in the mobilization of the politicalization of the vaccine,” she added. “What’s particular about Austria, especially recently, is the relationship between populism on the one hand and vaccine hesitancy on the other. This is not specific to Austria — we’ve seen it in Italy and France — but Austria does stand out.”

Austria has a long history of vaccine hesitancy, but what’s happening now is unprecedented, Paul said.
 
It's going to be another long, ugly winter.

The Great Canadian Trucker War

Canada has followed through on its threat to require all truckers incoming from the US to be vaccinated, as of this weekend, and only half of them are. With the US Supreme Court killing the OSHA vaccine mandate, it now looks like a massive trade war will be brewing on the northern border. 
 
Industry experts and leaders remained concerned about the country's supply chain as the federal government's new vaccine mandate for truck drivers came into effect Saturday following days of confusion around the rules.

The mandate, which will require Canadian truckers to quarantine if unvaccinated when crossing the border into Canada, led to a number of questions and corrections around who would be exempt and how.

Now, with the vaccine requirement in place, concerns persist about the impact this mandate will have on the North American supply chain.

"I think you probably won't see that movement … that the government's looking for," retail expert Bruce Winder told CTV News Channel on Saturday when asked if the effort will encourage truckers to get vaccinated.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance has said between 10 and 15 per cent of cross-border commercial drivers could be lost if the mandate takes effect.

American Trucking Associations has argued that a misapplied mandate would fuel a surge in driver turnover and attrition, with fleets losing as much as 37 per cent of their current workforce.

There are 120,000 Canadians and 40,000 licensed drivers in the U.S. who operate cross-border, the Canadian Trucking Alliance says, while about 70 per cent of the $648 billion in trade between the two countries moves by truck.

Under the vaccine mandate, unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated non-Canadian truckers will be turned away if they aren't able to show proof of vaccination or a valid medical exemption to the COVID-19 vaccines. The U.S. plans to have a similar mandate come into effect for drivers crossing into the country starting Jan. 22.

"I know what the government's trying to do with managing the hospital capacity, but they could find themselves with a very tough situation if Canadians rise up with inflation and food insecurity, or major manufacturers slow down, lay off people," Winder said.

The mandate throws a "major wrench" in the Canadian and North American supply chains, he added, with grocers, food producers, the auto parts industry and building materials among the sectors expected to be most affected.


If the Biden Administration keeps the mandate requiring Canadian truckers to be vaccinated, then things could get potentially very dicey in the weeks ahead.

Keep an eye on this story.

Sunday Long Read: Buggin' Out

This week's Sunday Long Read comes from The Guardian's Oliver Milman, with a story on how the effects of climate change are already showing up in insect populations in 2022, with more aggressive species of invasive insects migrating to new homes and causing major problems with the ecology.




The climate crisis is set to profoundly alter the world around us. Humans will not be the only species to suffer from the calamity. Huge waves of die-offs will be triggered across the animal kingdom as coral reefs turn ghostly white and tropical rainforests collapse. For a period, some researchers suspected that insects may be less affected, or at least more adaptable, than mammals, birds and other groups of creatures. With their large, elastic populations and their defiance of previous mass extinction events, surely insects will do better than most in the teeth of the climate emergency?

Sadly not. At 3.2C of warming, which many scientists still fear the world will get close to by the end of this century (although a flurry of promises at Cop26 have brought the expected temperature increase down to 2.4C), half of all insect species will lose more than half of their current habitable range. This is about double the proportion of vertebrates and higher even than for plants, which lack wings or legs to quickly relocate themselves. This huge contraction in livable space is being heaped on to the existing woes faced by insects from habitat loss and pesticide use. “The insects that are still hanging in there are going to get hit by climate change as well,” says Rachel Warren, a biologist at the University of East Anglia, who in 2018 published research into what combinations of temperature, rainfall and other climatic conditions each species can tolerate.

Some insects, such as dragonflies, are nimble enough to cope with the creeping change. Unfortunately, most are not. Butterflies and moths are also often quite mobile, but in different stages of their life cycle they rely on certain terrestrial conditions and particular plant foods, and so many are still vulnerable. Pollinators such as bees and flies can generally move only short distances, exacerbating an emerging food security crisis where farmers will struggle to grow certain foods not just due to a lack of pollination but because, beyond an increase of 3C or so, vast swaths of land simply becomes unsuitable for many crops. The area available to grow abundant coffee and chocolate, for example, is expected to shrivel as tropical regions surge to temperatures unseen in human history.

The climate crisis interlocks with so many other maladies – poverty, racism, social unrest, inequality, the crushing of wildlife – that it can be easy to overlook how it has viciously ensnared insects. The problem also feels more intractable. “Climate change is tricky because it’s hard to combat,” says Matt Forister, a professor of biology at the University of Nevada. “Pesticides are relatively straightforward by comparison but climate change can alter the water table, affect the predators, affect the plants. It’s multifaceted.”

Insects are under fire from the poles to the tropics. The Arctic bumblebee, Bombus polaris, is found in the northern extremities of Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia and Russia. It is able to survive near-freezing temperatures due to dense hair that traps heat and its ability to use conical flowers, like the Arctic poppy, to magnify the sun’s rays to warm itself up. Rocketing temperatures in the Arctic, however, mean the bee is likely to become extinct by 2050. Species of alpine butterflies, dependent on just one or two high-altitude plants, are also facing severe declines as their environment transforms around them.

Further south, in the UK, glowworm numbers have collapsed by three-quarters since 2001, research has found, with the climate crisis considered the primary culprit. The larvae of the insects feed on snails that thrive in damp conditions, but a string of hot and dry summers has left the glowworms critically short of prey.

These sort of losses in Europe have challenged previous assumptions that insects in temperate climates would be able to cope with a few degrees of extra heat, unlike the mass of species crowded at the world’s tropics that are already at the upper limits of their temperature tolerance. A team of researchers from Sweden and Spain have pointed out that the vast majority of insects in temperate zones are inactive during cold periods. When just the warmer, active, months of insects’ lives were considered by the scientists, they found that species in temperate areas are also starting to bump into the ceiling of livable temperature. As Frank Johansson, an academic at Sweden’s Uppsala University, glumly puts it: “Insects in temperate zones might be as threatened by climate change as those in the tropics.”
 
We're already starting to see the complete reshuffling of insect populations worldwide, and those species that can adapt to climate change will not only survive, but thrive. But those species left behind, facing imminent extinction, could take all kinds of flowers, crops, fruits and vegetables with them as pollination becomes more and more difficult. 

As goes the insect world, so goes us.

Meet Your New Boss, Virginia

Boy, Virginia sure is lucky that they voted in a moderate Republican like Glenn Youngkin instead of awful Democrat Terry McAuliffe...oh wait, I'm being told that Youngkin's "moderate stance" didn't even survive the first hours after his inauguration on Saturday.

Governor Glenn Youngkin signed 11 executive actions on his first day in office, including orders allowing parents to opt out of mask mandates in Virginia schools, withdrawing from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and ending "the use of divisive concepts, including critical race theory, in public education."

The list of executive orders and directives Youngkin signed is as follows, per his office:
 
  • Executive Order Number One delivers on his Day One promise to restore excellence in education by ending the use of divisive concepts, including Critical Race Theory, in public education.
  • Executive Order Number Two delivers on his Day One promise to empower Virginia parents in their children’s education and upbringing by allowing parents to make decisions on whether their child wears a mask in school.
  • Executive Order Number Three delivers on his Day One promise to restore integrity and confidence in the Parole Board of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
  • Executive Order Number Four delivers on his Day One promise to investigate wrongdoing in Loudoun County.
  • Executive Order Number Five delivers on his Day One promise to make government work for Virginians by creating the Commonwealth Chief Transformation Officer.
  • Executive Order Number Six delivers on his Day One promise to declare Virginia open for business.
  • Executive Order Number Seven delivers on his Day One promise to combat and prevent human trafficking and provide support to survivors.
  • Executive Order Number Eight delivers on his Day One promise to establish a commission to combat antisemitism.
  • Executive Order Number Nine delivers on his Day One promise to withdraw from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
  • Executive Directive Number One delivers on his fulfilling his Day One promise to jumpstart our economy by cutting job killing regulations by 25 percent.
  • Executive Directive Number Two delivers on his fulfilling his Day One promise to restore individual freedoms and personal privacy by rescinding the vaccine mandate for all state employees.

Youngkin was sworn in as governor Saturday, January 15 during a noon ceremony in Richmond.
 
So the end of masks in schools and for vaccines for state employees even though Virginia has reported nearly a quarter-million new COVID-19 cases since January 1, removing the state from an important climate change compact, ending "critical race theory" which isn'y actually being taught in schools but hell if anyone in the Virginia GOP can define it other than "and oh yes, officially ordering his Attorney General to investigate Loudoun County by executive fiat.

We're not sure, we have to investigate though!

It's for the children, you see.

Not often you get to see a Republican be racist, sexist, authoritarian, climate denying, and anti-vax all in one afternoon, but that's the GOP for you.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Last Call For The National Miscount

The Trump regime's sabotage of the 2020 Census was so far-reaching that Census officials kept a long list of unprecedented interference from the White House and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, all in the service of harming blue states and making political and economic gains for Republican one-party rule states like Texas and Florida.


A newly disclosed memorandum citing “unprecedented” meddling by the Trump administration in the 2020 census and circulated among top Census Bureau officials indicates how strongly they sought to resist efforts by the administration to manipulate the count for Republican political gain.

The document was shared among three senior executives including Ron S. Jarmin, a deputy director and the agency’s day-to-day head. It was written in September 2020 as the administration was pressing the bureau to end the count weeks early so that if President Donald J. Trump lost the election in November, he could receive population estimates used to reapportion the House of Representatives before leaving office.

The memo laid out a string of instances of political interference that senior census officials planned to raise with Wilbur Ross, who was then the secretary of the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau. The issues involved crucial technical aspects of the count, including the privacy of census respondents, the use of estimates to fill in missing population data, pressure to take shortcuts to produce population totals quickly and political pressure on a crash program that was seeking to identify and count unauthorized immigrants.

Most of those issues directly affected the population estimates used for reapportionment. In particular, the administration was adamant that — for the first time ever — the bureau separately tally the number of undocumented immigrants in each state. Mr. Trump had ordered the tally in a July 2020 presidential memorandum, saying he wanted to subtract them from House reapportionment population estimates.

The census officials’ memorandum pushed back especially forcefully, complaining of “direct engagement” by political appointees with the methods that experts were using to find and count unauthorized noncitizens.

“While the presidential memorandum may be a statement of the administration’s policy,” the memo stated, “the Census Bureau views the development of the methodology and processes as its responsibility as an independent statistical agency.”

The memorandum was among hundreds of documents that the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school obtained in a lawsuit seeking details of the Trump administration’s plans for calculating the allotment of House seats. The suit was concluded in October, but none of the documents had been made public until now.

Kenneth Prewitt, a Columbia University public-affairs scholar who ran the Census Bureau from 1998 to 2001, said in an interview that the careful bureaucratic language belied an extraordinary pushback against political interference.

“This was a very, very strong commitment to independence on their part,” he said. “They said, ‘We’re going to run the technical matters in the way we think we ought to.’”

The officials’ objections, he said, only underscored the need for legislation to shield the Census Bureau from political interference well before the 2030 census gets underway. “I’m very worried about that,” he said.


Reached by email, Mr. Ross said he neither recalled seeing the memorandum nor discussing its contents with the bureau’s executives. A spokesman for the Census Bureau, Michael C. Cook, said he could not immediately say whether census officials actually raised the issues with Mr. Ross or, if so, what his response was.

The Trump administration had long been open about its intention to change the formula for divvying up House seats among the states by excluding noncitizens from the population counts. That would leave an older and whiter population base in states with large immigrant populations, something that was presumed to work to Republican advantage.

Mr. Trump’s presidential memorandum ordering the Census Bureau to compile a list of noncitizens for that purpose prompted a far-reaching plan to scour billions of government records for hints of foreigners living here, illegally or not. The bureau proved unable to produce the noncitizen count before Mr. Trump left office, and noncitizens were counted in the allocation of House seats, just as they had been in every census since 1790.

But as the documents show, that was not for lack of effort on the part of the Commerce Department and its leader at the time.

Among other disclosures, undated documents show that Mr. Ross was enlisted to lobby 10 Republican governors whose states had been reluctant to turn over driver’s license records and lists of people enrolled in public assistance programs so that they could be screened for potential noncitizens
.
 
Trump absolutely wanted a detailed list of undocumented citizens in order to supply ICE facilities with millions of detainees at immense taxpayer cost while they were slowly deported, with Republicans at every step of the way making tens of billions in a never-ending revenue stream.
 
The plan only failed because the courts stopped Trump.  I'm imagining how a ruling that only counted US citizens in the Census would have been catastrophic.

The federal courts are improving as Biden has appointed judges at a breakneck pace, but the Supreme Court is going to be a mess for the rest of my lifetime.

Unless the laws are changed ahead of 2030 the Supreme Court will eventually side with whatever horrific Republican administration is in charge, and like updating the Civil Rights act, the Voting Rights Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and more, nothing will change as long as the filibuster remains.

Ever.

Next time we won't be so lucky.
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