Friday, December 9, 2022

Sinema Verite', Con't

While she will still caucus with the Democrats, for now at least, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema says she's leaving the Democratic party to register as an independent.
Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is changing her party affiliation to independent, delivering a jolt to Democrats’ narrow majority and Washington along with it.

In a 45-minute interview, the first-term senator told POLITICO that she will not caucus with Republicans and suggested that she intends to vote the same way she has for four years in the Senate. “Nothing will change about my values or my behavior,” she said.

Provided that Sinema sticks to that vow, Democrats will still have a workable Senate majority in the next Congress, though it will not exactly be the neat and tidy 51 seats they assumed. They’re expected to also have the votes to control Senate committees. And Sinema’s move means Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — a pivotal swing vote in the 50-50 chamber the past two years — will hold onto some but not all of his outsized influence in the Democratic caucus.

Sinema would not address whether she will run for reelection in 2024, and informed Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of her decision on Thursday.

“I don’t anticipate that anything will change about the Senate structure,” Sinema said, adding that some of the exact mechanics of how her switch affects the chamber is “a question for Chuck Schumer … I intend to show up to work, do the same work that I always do. I just intend to show up to work as an independent.”
What it means is if the last two years in the Senate was all about Chuck Schumer about keeping Joe Manchin happy, the next two now mean keeping Sinema from caucusing with the GOP, she might do in order to force another two years of 50-50 Senate power sharing, and even if the Dems can somehow magically defend all their other 2024 seats, we're stuck with Co-President Sinema for a long time.

But the big thing is that it now means any sort of primary challenge to her in 2024 is doomed and would assure someone like Blake Masters would win easily. She knew she was facing political oblivion if she stayed a Democrat as Rep. Ruben Gallego was waiting for his opportunity to knock her out of the running.

Now she can safely say that it's her way or the GOP. A three way race would go to the GOP, every time. Kyrsten Sinema did this to save Kyrsten Sinema's narrow ass, full stop. The caucusing with the GOP threat is secondary if she can't stay in her seat.

On the gripping hand, maybe she's just doing this for the lobbyist cred and she won't run in 2024 at all.

The Independent thing worked for Bernie, and worked for Angus King in Maine. It'll work for her if she wants it to.

We'll see.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

Last Call For Bugging Out The Troops

The Biden White House is pissed tonight that House Democrats and Nancy Pelosi folded and gave in to Kevin McCarthy's extortion on the Pentagon funding bill, as McCarthy had threatened to kill the bill entirely unless Pelosi removed the military's Covid vaccine mandate.

The Biden administration fumed Wednesday at the near-certainty that Congress will strip away the Defense Department’s requirement that all military personnel be vaccinated against the coronavirus, upending a politically divisive policy that has led to the dismissal of nearly 8,500 service members and numerous lawsuits disputing its fairness.

The agreement, brokered as part of the Pentagon’s next spending bill, was celebrated by Republicans as a victory for individual choice. It comes despite opposition from President Biden and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who characterized the vaccine mandate as a way of protecting troops from covid-19 and preventing sprawling outbreaks that sideline entire units, undermine the military’s readiness and endanger national security.

The looming reversal — spurred by Republicans who had threatened to block passage of the $858 billion spending bill if the mandate wasn’t struck down — creates a rat’s nest for the Pentagon. Commanders whose job it was to enforce the mandate will face the onerous task of assessing whether — and how — to allow back into uniform those already separated from the military for refusing to follow orders. Managing overseas deployments, especially in countries that require visitors to be vaccinated, will create burdensome logistical headaches as well, officials said.

John Kirby, a White House spokesman, would not say whether Biden would entertain vetoing the bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), if as expected the legislation passes both chambers of Congress with the repeal intact. But Kirby emphasized that the administration believes scrubbing the vaccine mandate is a “mistake” and castigated those in the GOP who pushed to end it.

Republicans, he said, “have obviously decided that they’d rather fight against the health and well-being of those troops rather than protecting them.”

Privately, some Defense Department personnel were even more pointed.

One senior defense official said that when service members “inevitability get sick, and if they should die, it will be on the Republicans who insisted upon this.” The official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the polarizing issue, cited the sprawling coronavirus outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt in spring 2020. The vessel — a major power-projection weapon — was sidelined for weeks through a cumbersome quarantine process with more than 1,200 cases in a crew of about 4,800, and one sailor died.

“How does this impact deployments? How does this impact overseas training assignments? How does this impact overseas assignments generally?” this official asked. “What are the downstream consequences of this shortsighted insistence in the new law?”
“Make no mistake: this is a win for our military,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a statement late Tuesday night, warning that when the GOP takes over the House next year, Republicans will “work to finally hold the Biden administration accountable and assist the men and women in uniform who were unfairly targeted.”

While the decision to roll back the vaccine mandate was politically divisive, freezing negotiations between Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate armed services committees for several days, it is far from the only Pentagon policy challenged in the compromise defense bill. The measure, which the full House and Senate still must vote to approve, pushes the Defense Department and related agencies to adopt several ventures, including new programs to arm Taiwan and scrutinize military assistance to Ukraine, and retain aging weapons systems the Biden administration has slated for decommissioning.

The bill creates several new accountability measures for the billions of dollars in military assistance being sent to Ukraine. Those include ordering reports from the Defense Department and a consortium of inspectors general about the methods being employed to track weapons, with the aim of identifying potential shortfalls.

While enhanced oversight of Ukraine aid has become a rallying cry for Republicans skeptical of the continued provision of advanced systems and munitions, the measures included in the defense bill had earlier secured bipartisan support in the House. The Senate never voted on its version of the bill before the compromise legislation’s unveiling.
And the reason this happened of course is that neither Pelosi nor Chuck Schumer had the votes to pass the bill without GOP support.

The sausage got made again, $850 billion worth of it.

It's A Harding Knock Life

Florida Republican state Rep. Joe Harding, the asshole behind the state's "Don't Say Gay" law, is facing numerous federal charges for pandemic business loan fraud.
The Florida legislator who sponsored legislation critics dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay" bill was accused of illegally obtaining tens of thousands of dollars in Covid-relief funds, authorities said Wednesday.

Joseph Harding, 35, was indicted on six counts of wire fraud, money laundering, making false statements and other crimes, the U.S. attorney’s office for Northern Florida said in a release.

Harding, a Republican whose district is south of Gainesville, is accused of seeking Covid-relief loans from the Small Business Administration in 2020 for two companies, Vak Shack Inc. and Harding Farms, according to the indictment.

The indictment alleges that in applications to the agency, Harding said the companies had half a dozen employees and gross revenues from the previous year totaling more than $800,000.

The companies had no employees, and state records showed they had been dormant in the months before the applications were filed, the indictment says.

Harding sought more than $150,000 in loans and received roughly $45,000 in January and February 2021, according to the indictment.

Harding pleaded not guilty to the charges in court Wednesday, court records show. Neither he nor his lawyer immediately responded to requests for comment.
Which is really funny, because after he embezzled tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars, he had the balls to go after Broward County businesses that got pandemic relief funds in March.

The news about Broward County’s new coronavirus aid-funded hotel had one Representative Thursday calling for Broward County to be shut out of future member funding projects — and had some of his Republican colleagues nodding in agreement.

“Maybe the FL Legislature should ban all member projects for Broward since they have so much money they can make ridiculous expenditures such as this,” Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia wrote. He quote tweeted a national Associated Press story that highlighted Broward County’s hotel and the $140 million in federal coronavirus aid it received in the first paragraph.

But at least one Broward County Senator called the Spring Hill lawmaker’s framing of the aid “complete misinformation.”

“His treatment is so emblematic of how we are treated in this Legislature,” said Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky, explaining the “we” as lawmakers from Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. Those counties send more tax money to Tallahassee than they receive, she said.

“The hostility … it’s so palpable and it’s frustrating,” Polsky added.

Besides the “high-end,” 29-story, 800-room hotel that will go with the county’s expanded Convention Center, the story also detailed other projects around the U.S. that the American Rescue Plan helped fund. Those include a minor-league baseball stadium renovation, a ski area and an effort to woo the 2026 World Cup to New Jersey.

Reached later, Ingoglia said, “I’m sick and tired of local governments spending lavishly and egregiously and yet still crying poor and asking the Florida Legislature for money and continuing to raise taxes on people locally,” he said.

Republican Rep. Joe Harding responded with a meme, “I’m in.”
You'll have plenty of time to think up funny memes in prison, Joe.
Next time, keep your damn mouth shut, and keep your hands out of the cookie jar.

Britney Griner Coming Home

President Biden spoke this morning on a prisoner swap to free WNBA player Britney Griner from Russia.

Brittney Griner’s freedom ultimately hinged on the release of a convicted Russian arms dealer whose life story inspired a Hollywood film.

On Thursday, a source told CNN that the US basketball star had been released from Russian detention in a prisoner swap for Viktor Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death” by his accuser.

Bout, a former Soviet military officer, was serving a 25-year prison sentence in the United States on charges of conspiring to kill Americans, acquire and export anti-aircraft missiles, and provide material support to a terrorist organization. Bout has maintained he is innocent.

The Kremlin has long called for his release, slamming his sentencing in 2012 as “baseless and biased.”

Griner – who had for years played in the off-season for a Russian women’s basketball team – was arrested on drug smuggling charges at an airport in the Moscow region in February. Despite her testimony that she had inadvertently packed the cannabis oil found in her luggage, she was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August and was moved to a penal colony in Mordovia in mid-November after losing her appeal.

Griner’s family had urged the White House to secure her release, including via prisoner exchange if necessary. At the center of their bid was Bout, a man who eluded international arrest warrants and asset freezes for years.

The Russian businessman, who speaks six languages, was arrested in a sting operation in 2008 led by US drug enforcement agents in Thailand posing as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by the acronym FARC. He was eventually extradited to the US in 2010 after a protracted court proceeding.

“Viktor Bout has been international arms trafficking enemy number one for many years, arming some of the most violent conflicts around the globe,” said Preet Bharara, the US attorney in Manhattan when Bout was sentenced in New York in 2012.

“He was finally brought to justice in an American court for agreeing to provide a staggering number of military-grade weapons to an avowed terrorist organization committed to killing Americans.”

The trial honed in on Bout’s role in supplying weapons to FARC, a guerrilla group that waged an insurgency in Colombia until 2016. The US said the weapons were intended to kill US citizens.


A source familiar with the matter tells CNN that the swap involves convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The swap did not include another American that the State Department has declared wrongfully detained, Paul Whelan.

“She’s safe, she’s on a plane, she’s on her way home,” Biden said at the White House Thursday morning alongside Griner’s wife, Cherelle. “After months of being unjustly detained in Russia, held under untolerable circumstances, Brittney will soon be back in the arms of her loved ones, and she should have been there all along.”

Biden acknowledged that Griner’s release was occurring while Whelan remained imprisoned, saying that Whelan’s family “have to have such mixed emotions today.”

“This was not a choice of which American to bring home,” Biden said. “Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.”
Viktor Bout is a terrible man, and releasing him is going to make a lot of people ask if it was worth it, to which I say "Screw you." A lot of things got us to this point, bad decisions, structural racism, the gender pay gap, but unlike Bout, Griner never deserved to be a in a goddamn Russian gulag.

If it was your loved one, you'd want them out too. Pasul Whelen will be coming home soon as well, I suspect.

Joe Biden gets that.

Trump would have let her rot.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Last Call For Orange Meltdown, Con't

So here's the kind of trenchant political analysis and pithy observation you've come to expect from ZVTS:

  1. It has already been a horrific week for Donald Trump.
  2. He cost the GOP another Senate seat last night with his personal pick of Herschel Walker.
  3. It's only Wednesday.
  4. Things have already gotten considerably worse for him tonight.
Former President Donald J. Trump hired people to search four properties after being directed by a federal judge to look harder for any classified material still in his possession, and they found at least two documents with classified markings inside a sealed box in one of the locations, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Mr. Trump’s search team discovered the documents at a federally run storage site in West Palm Beach, Fla., the person said, prompting his lawyers to notify the Justice Department about them.

The New York Times reported in October that Justice Department officials had told the former president’s lawyers that they believed he might have more classified materials that were not returned in response to a subpoena issued in May. The F.B.I. searched Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s private club and residence in Florida, in August for additional classified documents and other presidential records.

People close to Mr. Trump had said earlier on Wednesday that no classified material had been found during the searches, a claim that was later proved incorrect. The Washington Post first reported on the locating of the two additional documents, as well as the searches of the properties.

After the warning from the Justice Department, a debate ensued among Mr. Trump’s lawyers about whether to bring in an independent firm to conduct a search.

The discovery of the documents at the storage unit, maintained by the federal General Services Administration, came during a series of wider searches that were completed around Thanksgiving and conducted at Mr. Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, N.J.; at Trump Tower in New York; and in a storage closet at Mar-a-Lago, according to two people familiar with the events.

Steven Cheung, a spokesman for Mr. Trump, said in a statement that the former president and “his counsel continue to be cooperative and transparent, despite the unprecedented, illegal and unwarranted attack against President Trump and his family by the weaponized Department of Justice.”

The department is investigating the former president’s handling of thousands of government documents, including more than 300 classified ones, that were taken from the White House at the end of his term and were found at Mar-a-Lago. Prosecutors are also seeking to determine whether Mr. Trump obstructed the government’s repeated efforts to retrieve the materials.

When the Justice Department warned that it believed Mr. Trump still had documents in his possession, a lawyer whom he had hired a short time earlier, Christopher M. Kise, suggested along with other lawyers working for Mr. Trump that they engage an outside firm, according to people familiar with the events.

A cadre of other Trump lawyers were resistant to the idea; among them was Boris Epshteyn, a communications adviser who has positioned himself as an in-house counsel on some of Mr. Trump’s legal entanglements. The dispute led to Mr. Kise’s standing in Mr. Trump’s circle diminishing for weeks, according to several people close to the former president.

More recently, Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of Federal District Court in Washington, who oversees grand jury investigations, directed Mr. Trump’s lawyers essentially to search more carefully for any remaining documents. Other lawyers in Mr. Trump’s circle took on the issue and hired a firm, according to one of the people familiar with the matter.
So, like everything else in this case, Trump lied, his lawyers said one thing, and the truth was entirely something else.  He can't stop lying. He knows he's going to get caught, and he does.

And this time it's going to cost him.

I hope, anyway.

Antifa, With German Efficiency

Thousands of German police conducted early-morning raids and arrested more than two dozen right-wing domestic terrorists allegedly plotting a fascist coup to overthrow the country's government.
Authorities in Germany arrested 25 people on Wednesday who are suspected of planning to violently overthrow the government in a far-right extremist plot.

More than 3,000 police officers, including special forces, made 130 early morning searches across 11 of Germany's 16 federal states in one of the biggest counterterrorism operations in the country's history.

Suspects from the so-far unnamed group include a nobleman with a historic royal title and various armed forces veterans. It is centered on the so-called Reichsb├╝rger, or Reich Citizens, movement which is motivated by conspiracy theories about the role and legitimacy of the modern German state.

Those arrested will appear in court Wednesday and Thursday. The homes of a further 27 people suspected of being members or supporters of the group have been searched.

“We defend ourselves with all strength against the enemies of democracy," German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser wrote on Twitter.

She said the group was "driven by fantasies of violent overturn and conspiracy ideologies" and hated democracy and the state. "Further investigations will give a clear picture of how far the coup plans had progressed," she said.

The German prosecutor's office said the suspects belong to a terrorist group founded in November 2021 at the latest, which aims to overthrow the government in Berlin and install its own leaders through the "forcible elimination of the democratic constitutional state."

"The members of the association are aware that this project can only be realized through the use of military means and violence against state representatives," the prosecutor's office said in a statement early Wednesday. It said there was "the suspicion that individual members of the association have made concrete preparations to forcibly invade" the German lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, "with a small armed group."
This would have been a competent version of America's January 6th attack, and they supposedly had some serious hardware on them. I don't know if our good friends in Moscow were involved, but I wouldn't be surprised.
The group had planned to overthrow the German government, in part by assassinating government officials and installing “Heinrich XIII P.R.,” identified by German officials as 71-year-old Prince Heinrich XIII, a German noble of the House of Reuss. Heinrich was among those arrested.

According to a press release from the German attorney general’s office, the group was founded around November 2021. Prosecutors allege the organization adheres to the ideology of the “Reichsb├╝rger,” or Citizens of the Reich, and is heavily influenced by QAnon. According to the statement, the group is “firmly convinced that Germany is currently governed by members of a so-called ‘deep state.’” The group also believes an “Alliance” of “technically superior secret society of governments, intelligence services and the military of various states, including the Russian Federation and the United States of America” had assets present in Germany prepared to assist in securing liberation from “deep state” forces.

The organization had reportedly engaged in paramilitary training for its members, and began acquiring arms and equipment in preparation for its coup. Several of the accused individuals were preparing to occupy government positions and head agencies following the overthrow. According to prosecutors, the group targeted members of the Bundeswehr, the German military, and the German police. 

More on this as we get information, but yeah, this was a serious threat, enough so that police acted first, rather than, you know, allow the attack to happen. The Germans actually deal with their neo-Nazi politicians. Here in America they run for office as Republicans.

Maybe we should consider doing the same?

Warnock, Win Notched

Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock has faced voters five times in the last two years and change, a Democratic primary in 2020, two general elections, and two runoff wins with last night's victory over Republican Herschel Walker, and being the 51st Democrat in the US Senate means the current power-sharing agreement with Mitch McConnell goes into the trash.
Democrats had already clinched control of the Senate, with 50 seats secured last month, which would allow Vice President Kamala Harris to cast the tie-breaking vote as she does now. But winning a 51st seat, thanks to Warnock’s victory Tuesday, comes with important benefits for the Democrats running the Senate and for President Joe Biden’s administration.

The party will now enter 2023 with a true Senate majority – one that won’t require the power-sharing agreement that has been in place over the last two years in an evenly divided chamber. That outright majority means that Democrats will have the majority on committees, allowing them to advance Biden’s nominees more easily.

For example: The Senate Judiciary Committee, with its 22 members, will shift from a split of 11 Democrats and 11 Republicans to 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans. That removes a GOP procedural mechanism to slow down the confirmation of Biden’s judicial nominees.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, face a reduced risk that a single senator can hold its priorities hostage, since the party can now afford to lose a vote. Harris, who has already cast the third-most tie-breaking votes of any vice president, and the most since John Calhoun nearly 200 years ago, would be less tied to Capitol Hill.

It’s also an early boost to Democrats ahead of a 2024 election in which the party will have to defend several seats in deep-red states, including West Virginia and Montana, to maintain its majority. 
The good news is that the Dems did astonishing well for 2022. The bad news is 2024 is going to be a far tougher road, and whether you like them or not, both Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin will be up for re-election, along with Jon Tester, Jacky Rosen, Sherrod Brown, Bob Casey, Tim Kaine and Tammy Baldwin. Dems will have to defend all these seats and depending on the presidential outcome, we might have to defend all eight seats and run the table to keep the Senate.

Now, we did that this year and even gained a seat with John Fetterman. But Florida (Rick Scott) and Indiana (Mike Braun, leaving the seat for a Governor's run in Indiana) are going to be tough to pick up. let alone beating Ted Cruz in Texas or Josh Hawley in Missouri.

We'll see how all this turns out.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Last Call For Orange Meltdown, Con't

The Trump Organization’s two affiliate companies on trial in New York City were found guilty of all nine counts of tax fraud and related crimes on Monday, as jurors ended a long trial with a swift verdict against the former American president’s corporate empire.

The Manhattan jury concluded that former President Donald Trump’s eponymous companies dodged taxes by playing accounting games: showering their executives with benefits, reducing their official salary, and paying them at times as if they were “independent contractors.”

As the court clerk read the list of nine criminal counts—tax fraud, falsifying business records, engaging in a conspiracy—the jury foreperson kept repeating the same word, "Guilty." At times, she even got ahead of herself, saying the word before the clerk finished describing the charge. Afterward, each juror nodded and asserted out loud that they agreed.

The company now faces what prosecutors expect to be more than $1 million in fines—a paltry sum for a multi-billion dollar global marketing operation but a mark of shame nonetheless, just as Trump launches a re-election campaign. This is also the first successful legal action against the Trumps in years.

The tax accounting hacks were all a ruse—one that even the company acknowledged but placed all the blame on a rogue employee.

Defense lawyer Michael van der Veen tried to win over jurors with a mantra straight out of the O.J. Simpson trial: “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” The Trump Organization motto was, “Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg.

But the jurors weren’t convinced. After all, those swindling staffers were Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg and company controller Jeffrey McConney, as well as half a dozen other executives who were never charged.

Weisselberg eventually confessed to reducing his on-the-books salary—allowing him to avoid city, state, and federal taxes—and instead got an ton of perks: a fake $6,000 no-show job for his wife, corporate Mercedes sedans for them both, a luxury Manhattan apartment, and more than $360,000 in private school tuition for their grandkids paid by Donald Trump himself.

Weisselberg and several other executives, including Chief Operating Officer Matthew Calamari Sr., also diverted some of their salary to make it seem as if they were outside contractors, claiming a status that allowed them to pay even fewer taxes.

The ploy let the company to reduce the overall size of its payroll, allowing it to pay less in payroll taxes, Medicare, and related expenses.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office spent roughly six weeks at trial against the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation—sister companies within the real estate mogul’s corporate umbrella. The time was stretched out by holidays, the incessant police sirens that echoed in the streets below, and a COVID outbreak that sickened a witness and even the judge.

Prosecutors made the case that top decision makers were all in on the plot to routinely reduce executives’ official salaries in various ways to avoid paying taxes. For prosecutors, the primary challenge came from proving that these executives did it to enrich themselves—and helped the business in the process.

Joshua Steinglass, an assistant district attorney, put it simply to jurors in his closing arguments last week Friday. He described how an employee seeking to buy a $25,000 car would have to ask for a raise worth double that to account for taxes. But the employee and company both make out like bandits—avoiding a heap of taxes—if the company just gives the employee a $25,000 car and reduces their pay by the same amount.

“By far the most significant benefit… is that it allowed these companies to pay these executives less than they otherwise would have,” Steinglass told jurors.

And while Manhattan DA Allen Bragg got his victory today, remember that Bragg is still looking into Trump's hush money check to Stormy Daniels.

Again, politically, this should be the end of Donald Trump, his corporation nailed with massive tax fraud convictions.

We all know however that it won't be.

Republicans In Disarray, Con't

House Republicans are plotting tactics for their new majority and weighing how to use their leverage to enact a laundry list of demands, with many zeroing in on an issue with enormous economic implications: Raising the nation’s borrowing limit.

It’s an issue confronting House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is rounding up the votes to win the House speaker race and facing pressure from some of his colleagues to more forcefully detail how he plans to handle the sensitive topic before they decide whether to support him on January 3 for the most powerful position in Congress.

In interviews with CNN, more than two dozen House GOP lawmakers laid out their demands to avoid the nation’s first-ever debt default, ranging from new immigration policies to imposing deep domestic spending cuts. And several Republicans flatly said they would oppose raising the borrowing limit even if all their demands were met, making McCarthy’s narrow path even narrower.

“I’m a no, no matter what,” Rep. Tim Burchett, a Tennessee Republican, said of raising the debt ceiling.

Despite Congress suspending the nation’s borrowing limit three times when Donald Trump was president, even under all-GOP control of Washington, lawmakers say it is highly uncertain how the matter will be dealt with in a divided Congress next year – reminiscent of the furious battles between House Republicans and Barack Obama’s White House that put the country on the brink of economic disaster.

For McCarthy, the debt ceiling debate will represent one of his most difficult balancing acts if he’s elected speaker: He would need to work with Senate Democrats and President Joe Biden to cut a deal and avoid economic catastrophe without angering his emboldened right flank for caving into the left. And unlike other bills in the GOP House that will die in the Democratic-led Senate, a debt ceiling increase is one of the few must-pass items awaiting the new Congress – something many Republicans see as critical leverage.

Some Republicans say it is incumbent upon McCarthy to spell out his strategy on the issue before they decide if they will support him in the speakership race – when the California Republican can only afford to lose four GOP votes. In one private meeting with a member of the House Freedom Caucus, McCarthy was urged to take a harder public stance on the coming policy issues for next year, according to a person familiar with the matter.

“Several (House Freedom Caucus) members have made spending a main issue,” one GOP lawmaker who has been critical of McCarthy told CNN.

Rep. Scott Perry, the leader of the hardline Freedom Caucus, confirmed it’s an issue that has been broached with McCarthy as he has been wooing members ahead of next month’s vote.

“Debt ceiling has been a conversation that has been perennial in every single conversation or meeting around here since I’ve been here,” the Pennsylvania Republican said in an interview.

But some moderate Republicans – whom McCarthy needs to protect in order to keep their fragile majority in 2024 – have expressed uneasiness over using the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip, risking both a catastrophic default and the political blame, especially if Republicans push for cuts to popular entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. Republicans remember 2011 all too well when a proposal from then-Rep. Paul Ryan to overhaul Medicare became fodder for attacks that depicted him rolling an elderly lady in a wheelchair off a cliff.

“We shouldn’t put the United States in a position to default on our debt, clearly,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson, a South Dakota Republican. “But I also think every member of Congress needs to acknowledge that the $32 trillion debt is not in our national interest
To recap, House Republicans want to destroy America's credit and immediately push us into a deep recession with a debt default, or force massive spending cuts to Social Security and Medicare.  Several of them want to replace the "or" with "and". 

And that's if McCarthy becomes Speaker, which again...seems incredibly unlikely.

Border Line...Sanity?

WaPo's Greg Sargent opines on the lame-duck immigration deal struck between NC Republican Sen. Thom Tillis and Democratic Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Synema that would actually consist of helping to fix the border and immigration in general, and frankly, neither side seems happy with the bill at all.

Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have reached an agreement on a draft framework of immigration reform compromises, sources familiar with the situation tell me. They involve issues such as the fate of “dreamers” brought here as children and the processing of asylum seekers at the southern border. Will the 10 Republican senators necessary to overcome a filibuster go along?
Short answer, no. Long answer:
A white paper laying out this Tillis-Sinema blueprint is circulating on Capitol Hill, congressional aides and advocates plugged into the talks tell me. Though the details are in flux, here’s a partial list of the major items it contains:
  • Some form of path to citizenship for 2 million dreamers.
  • A large boost in resources to speed up the processing of asylum seekers, including new processing centers and more asylum officers and judges.
  • More resources to expedite the removal of migrants who don’t qualify for asylum.
  • A continuation of the Title 42 covid-health-rule restriction on migrants applying for asylum, until the new processing centers are operational, with the aim of a one-year cutoff.
  • More funding for border officers.
The idea behind this compromise is this: It gives Democrats protection for 2 million dreamers and strengthened defenses of the due process rights of some migrants. It gives Republicans faster removal from the country of migrants who fail to qualify for asylum, a continued restriction on applications for the next year and more border security.

The boost in resources would hopefully reduce the strain at the border by moving migrants through the asylum application process more quickly. The processing facilities would be temporary detention centers, but additional lawyers would be present, enabling more robust representation.

On the flip side, if migrants fail the initial interview determining whether they have a “credible fear” of persecution if returned to their home countries, they’d be removed much more quickly. A “Title 42” health rationale, which is indefensible as a border-management tool, would be kept ostensibly to control flows while the reforms are implemented. The Government Accountability Office would have the authority to end it after one year if the processing centers are up and running.

It’s hard to say whether 10 Republican senators would back such a deal to get it past a GOP filibuster. This will become harder when former president Donald Trump and adviser Stephen Miller scream that it represents a massive betrayal by “elites,” as they undoubtedly will, and right-wing media propagandists such as Tucker Carlson amplify that toxic message to enrage the base.

If 10 GOP senators could support this, they’d be drawn from those who are retiring (Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania) or those willing to challenge the Trump wing of the party (Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska).

A big question is whether these Republicans will see any advantage in genuinely trying to fix the problems at the border. They might decide that the GOP won’t get any credit even if the effort succeeds — that credit might go to President Biden — and that it’s better to retain the permanent “border crisis” as an issue.

But this is the last chance for these GOP senators to try to reach a bipartisan compromise. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who hopes to be the next speaker, has vowed not to pass any immigration reform legislation until he deems the border secured, which will never, ever happen. By backing this, retiring GOP senators could plausibly argue that they helped move the party on from Trump and add bipartisan reform on a brutal national problem to their legacy.

On the other side, however, it’s not clear whether 50 Democratic senators would support such a compromise. The continuation of Title 42, which has been a human rights disaster, and the beefed up removal process might make it a nonstarter among progressives in both chambers.


So yeah, like every other "bipartisan" immigration reform in the FOX Noise era, it will fail. Republicans don't want immigration reform because they don't want immigration, period. They want to yell racist nonsense about MS-13 and diseases coming across the border and drug cartels and they're taking our jobs, They want caravans on TV, and eventually M1 Abrams tanks on the damn border.

And even if all Democratic senators are willing to put up with Title 42 removals -- a huge "if" -- there just aren't 10 Republicans willing to go along. I don't think the legislation will even get 50 votes.

No, this one is going to crash and burn, folks.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Last Call For California Schemin'

California Democrats passed the FAST Recovery Act into law last year, which was designed to put wages for the state's hundreds of thousands of fast food workers before a council selected by Gov. Gavin Newsom that would determine fair wages for employees. But restaurant groups and fast food franchisees immediately challenged the law in January and now say they have enough signatures to send the law to voters in November 2024, almost three years after the law was supposed to take effect.

A restaurant business coalition announced on Monday that it has gathered enough signatures to challenge a new California law that would create a state-backed labor council to set pay and working conditions for the fast-food industry.
Save Local Restaurants, a coalition opposing the law, it filed more than 1 million signatures to postpone the law and place a referendum on the November 2024 ballot.
Counties will now have eight business days to provide a count to the secretary of state’s office. Opponents need roughly 623,000 valid signatures.

If the statewide total reaches the required amount, counties will have 30 business days to verify signatures through random sampling.
Sufficient valid voter signatures would place a question on the 2024 ballot asking voters whether the law should take effect.
It could also lead to a costly battle between organized labor and the fast food industry, with spending reaching hundreds of millions of dollars. Save Local Restaurants raised more than $13.7 million between last January and September.

The law, known as the FAST Recovery Act, would create a first-in-the-nation labor council to set wages and working standards for fast food workers. The council’s regulations would apply to any chain restaurant with at least 100 locations in the United States and could set minimum wages at $22 an hour for fast workers by next year.
The law was set to take effect Jan. 1 after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the legislation last September. But one day later, opponents filed a referendum to halt the formation of the council.
They argue the law would result in higher food prices and new regulatory burdens for franchise owners. “The FAST Act would have an enormous impact on Californians, and clearly voters want a say in whether it should is no surprise that over one million Californians have voiced their concerns with the legislation,” the coalition said in a statement. ”

Supporters say the law would give workers a voice in regulating a sector of the state economy that employs more than a half-million people.
Service Employees International Union, which has been supporting the fast-food workers, said companies are “trying to silence voices of half a million Black and Latino workers to increase their billion-dollar profits.”
“It is abhorrent that these corporations have already spent millions of dollars in an attempt to deliberately mislead California voters and stamp out the progress fast-food workers have won, said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry in a statement. “California’s referendum process has been completely taken over by corporations who think they can buy the right to overturn laws they don’t like and exempt themselves from accountability.”


Henry is right about this. Sending legislation to a ballot referendum is exactly how Uber and Lyft beat California's law turning rideshare drivers into full-time employees, meaning they would be eligible for benefits. The rideshare giants spent billions convincing Latino voters in the state they they would be fired first unless the law was defeated, and it worked.

Expect much of the same to follow in the years ahead.

Orange Meltdown, Con't

The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, is hiring a former senior Justice Department official with a history of taking on Donald J. Trump and his family business as the office seeks to ramp up its investigation into the former president.

The official, Matthew Colangelo, who before acting as third in command at the Justice Department, led the New York attorney general’s civil inquiry into Mr. Trump, is likely to become one of the leaders of the district attorney’s criminal inquiry into the former president.

The hire marks the latest turn in a long-running investigation that has proceeded in fits and starts in recent years. When Mr. Bragg took office in January, his predecessor, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., had directed prosecutors to begin presenting evidence about Mr. Trump’s inflation of his assets to a grand jury.

But Mr. Bragg grew concerned about the strength of the case. In February, when he told the two senior prosecutors leading the investigation, Mark F. Pomerantz and Carey Dunne, that he was not prepared to authorize charges, they resigned, clouding the future of the inquiry.

Mr. Bragg insisted that it was continuing, and in recent months, his prosecutors, led by the office’s head of investigations, Susan Hoffinger, have renewed their focus on a hush-money payment to a porn star who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump.

Mr. Colangelo’s work in the New York attorney general’s office may also be relevant in his new job: Manhattan prosecutors have also scrutinized whether the former president illegally inflated the value of his assets, and the New York attorney general, Letitia James, looked at the same practices. In September, she filed a lawsuit accusing the former president of overvaluing his assets by billions of dollars.

By then, Mr. Colangelo was working at the Department of Justice, having been appointed as acting associate attorney general when President Biden took office. In that job, the third highest-ranking at the department, Mr. Colangelo helped oversee the Civil, Civil Rights, Antitrust and Tax divisions, among others.

He stepped aside when a permanent associate attorney general, Vanita Gupta, was appointed but continued working as her deputy and supervised lawyers in those divisions.

Mr. Colangelo, 48, who also worked in the Obama administration as a senior Labor Department official, will join the district attorney’s office as senior counsel. In addition to helping with its “most sensitive and high-profile white-collar investigations,” he is expected to focus on housing and tenant protection and labor and worker protection, priorities for Mr. Bragg.

“Matthew Colangelo brings a wealth of economic justice experience combined with complex white-collar investigations, and he has the sound judgment and integrity needed to pursue justice against powerful people and institutions when they abuse their power,” Mr. Bragg said in a statement confirming the hire.

The U.S. attorney general, Merrick B. Garland, said in a statement that he had relied on Mr. Colangelo’s “wise counsel and excellent judgment” since his first day in the office.
So now that Bragg is staffing up, I can think of six cases Trump now has to deal with off the top of my head:
  1. Jack Smith's special counsel investigation at the federal level
  2. The Trump Organization tax fraud case
  3. The Manhattan DA's investigation into Stormy Daniels hush money
  4. Fani Willis's investigation into Georgia election fraud by Trump and the Georgia GOP
  5. Tish James and the NY State investigation into Trump
  6. E. Jean Carroll's sexual assault case against Trump.
At least one of these has to put Trump in prison somehow., right?


Our Little White Supremacist Domestic Terrorism Problem, Local Edition

Here in Kentucky, the city of Bowling Green canceled its annual Christmas parade and outdoor market over the weekend because of specific white supremacist terrorist threats.
Bowling Green, Kentucky, has canceled its annual Christmas parade scheduled for Saturday due to threats against protests related to the notorious lynching of 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955.

The city announced the cancellation in tweet. In a video posted on Facebook, Police Chief Michael Delaney said at least three groups planned to protest at noon on Saturday at two locations.

Warren County Sheriff Brett Hightower said his office learned of threats late Friday evening “to shoot anyone who is protesting” or assisting protesters, Hightower said.

“At this moment, we have not been able to determine the validity of the threat; however, we believe it’s important to alert our citizens,” the sheriff said.

The protesters want a Mississippi court to order the arrest of Carolyn Bryant Donham, the White woman now in her late 80s who accused Till of whistling at her in 1955 in Mississippi, according to CNN affiliate WBKO. He was abducted, tortured, and lynched, in a case that drew national attention and helped galvanize attention on the civil rights movement.

According to WKBO, Donham’s last known address is believed to be an apartment in Bowling Green.

Donham was never arrested in connection with Till’s death, but a warrant for her arrest was found earlier this year in a Mississippi courthouse basement. A grand jury in Mississippi declined to indict Donham in August.
So yeah, a bit to unpack here. Carolyn Brady Donham was the woman who accused Emmett Till of whistling at her almost 70 years ago. Till was lynched and dragged behind a car to his death as a result. Donham lives in Bowling Green, and when word of a possible protest on Donham at the Christmas parade of Mississippi once again refusing to serve justice got around, that protest became the direct target of white supremacist terrorist violence, so much so that the city and county cancelled the parade.

Remember, this is 2022. We're still having the same conversation about racial justice in this country as we did 70 years ago. A lot has changed.

A lot is still the same.

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Last Call For Ridin' With Biden, Con't

Friday's strong job numbers and the latest news that inflation is moderating is good news for the country and for President Biden heading into 2023.

The price of gasoline is dropping like a rock. Chicken wings are suddenly a bargain. And retailers drowning in excess inventory are looking to make a deal.

After more than a year of high inflation, many consumers are finally starting to catch a break. Even apartment rents and car prices, two items that hammered millions of household budgets this year, are no longer spiraling out of control.

Global supply chains are finally operating normally, as more consumers spend more on in-person services like restaurant meals and less on goods like furniture and computers that come from an ocean away. The cost of sending a standard 40-foot container from China to the U.S. West Coast is $1,935 — down more than 90 percent from its September 2021 peak of $20,586, according to the online freight marketplace Freightos.

The moderation in inflation is just beginning to appear in government statistics. In October, the Federal Reserve’s preferred price gauge, the personal consumption expenditures index, posted its smallest monthly increase since September of last year, and is up 6 percent over the past 12 months. The better-known consumer price index is rising at an annual rate of 7.7 percent, down from 9.1 percent in June.

“The worst of the inflation is behind us,” said Steven Blitz, chief U.S. economist for TS Lombard in New York. “The question is where does inflation settle?”

The Fed has been raising interest rates sharply since March in a bid to get inflation back to its 2-percent price stability target. Fed Chair Jerome H. Powell on Wednesday noted signs of progress, but said it was far too early to claim victory. Friday’s stronger-than-expected jobs report, which showed wages rising too quickly for policymakers’ tastes, only underscored the point. The central bank does not expect to reach its inflation goal until 2025.

“It will take substantially more evidence to give comfort that inflation is actually declining. By any standard, inflation remains much too high,” Powell told an audience at the Brookings Institution.

Still, there are clear signs of improvement in merchandise prices, as consumers resume their pre-pandemic spending patterns. Excluding volatile food and energy prices, goods prices rose in October by 5.1 percent, down from a 12.3 percent annual rate in February.

But as goods prices begin cooling, pressure is building on services. Rising demand and limited supply — think short-staffed restaurants — has services inflation running at an annual 6.7 percent rate, more than twice the year-ago figure.

“The expectation is that goods prices will continue to disinflate. But services inflation will more gradually slow and will be much stickier,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief economist at Nationwide.
So we're nowhere near being out of the woods yet, but we're past the halfway point. Whether or not we can get through without the economy slamming into recession ditch in the next year or so is the real battle. I have to believe that if Trump were still in charge, we'd already be in a recession. 

We'll see how things go, but I'd much rather have Biden's team in charge of the economy. Fed Chair Jerome Powell, well, we'll see.

Our Little White Supremacist Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

I absolutely guarantee that these two stories from the Fayetteville Observer back home in NC are related:


Organizers of a downtown Southern Pines drag show say they aren’t backing down after receiving threats of violence from far-right activists.

The Downtown Divas show planned for Saturday at Sunrise Theater is the fourth drag event hosted by Sandhills Pride in the last few years, Executive Director Lauren Mathers said, but never have the shows caused such a stir in the sleepy Moore County town.

“Most of the time, if people don’t want to see something, they don’t buy a ticket,” she said.

This time, the opposition went on a “crusade” to shut down the event by claiming drag performers are pedophiles with intentions of grooming children, Moore County political blog writer Cheryl Christy-Bowman said.
Authorities in North Carolina believe vandalism may have caused a power outage that affected thousands of customers Saturday night.

A mass power outage in several communities beginning just after 7 p.m. Saturday “is being investigated as a criminal occurrence," the Moore County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post.

“As utility companies began responding to the different substations, evidence was discovered that indicated that intentional vandalism had occurred at multiple sites,” the sheriff's office said.

Moore County deputies and other law enforcement responded and were providing security at the affected sites, the sheriff's office said.

Utility company Duke Energy said nearly 38,000 customers were without power in Moore County, while the Randolph Electric Membership Corporation reported outages affected nearly 3,000 customers in the county's southern area, WRAL-TV reported.
Yeah, the substations were shot up "just after 7 pm Saturday" when the Downtown Divas show was beginning.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see what's going on here, less than 12 hours after Donald Trump called for the suspension of the Constitution in order to declare himself Maximum Leader of America.

This wasn't "vandalism". Vandalism is tagging a hospital or library or school with "Jeff Rules" in safety orange spray paint.  Knocking out power to half of a county in a coordinated effort to damage four substations at once in order to stop a drag show is a terrorist attack and a hate crime.

We need to both treat it as such, and send a warning to these assholes that the consequences of this are going to be very long stints in prison.

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