Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Biden, His Time

According to the Des Moines Register, Iowa is now in play for Biden on top of the rest of the battleground states as he is tied there with Trump at 47% a piece.

 

It's a dead heat in Iowa as a new Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll shows President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden locked in a tie just six weeks to Election Day.

Forty-seven percent of likely voters say they would support Trump for president, and 47% say they would support Biden. Another 4% would vote for someone else and 3% are unsure.

A stark gender divide appears to be driving the race as men of nearly every demographic cast their support for Trump, a Republican, and women do the same for Biden, a Democrat.

“I don’t know that there’s any race in the history of presidential polling in Iowa that shows this kind of division,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., the firm that conducted the poll.

Trump leads by 21 percentage points with men, 57% to 36% over Biden. And Biden leads by 20 percentage points with women, 57% to 37% over Trump.

Data from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office show similar voter turnout rates for men and women over recent elections, though more women typically cast ballots.

The race — despite ongoing uncertainty around the coronavirus pandemic, continued protests over racial justice and raging wildfires in the west — is largely holding steady from June, when Trump led Biden 44% to 43%.

“We've had two polls in a row putting it very, very close,” Selzer said. “I think all eyes will be on Iowa.”

 

If Trump is now in danger of losing Iowa, his firewall has completely cracked. By my count, that means Iowa can be added to NC, Florida, Ohio, and Georgia as all "must-win" states for Trump that are now tossups, and even then Biden leading in PA, WI, AZ and MI gives him the win regardless of how the toss-ups turn out.

We're on the verge of a Biden blowout scenario with six weeks to go.

Again, as 2016 showed, a lot can happen in the last six week, hell, the last two weeks of an election, that turn a strong Democratic lead into a Trump electoral college victory.

Take nothing for granted.

Vote early if you haven't voted already.

Retribution Execution, Con't

The Trump Regime is apparently following through on its threat to deem Democratic cities as "anarchist jurisdictions" in order to justify stripping all federal funds from going to Seattle, Portland, or New York City.

 

The Justice Department announced Monday that New York City, Seattle and Portland, Ore., would be designated as jurisdictions "permitting violence and destruction of property" under President Trump's early-September order requiring federal agencies to submit potential funding cuts for cities "permitting anarchy."

In a statement, the agency hit leaders of the three cities for rejecting federal law enforcement assistance in quelling protests while pointing to ongoing demonstrations that have continued for weeks over the treatment of Black Americans by law enforcement.

“When state and local leaders impede their own law enforcement officers and agencies from doing their jobs, it endangers innocent citizens who deserve to be protected, including those who are trying to peacefully assemble and protest,” said Attorney General William Barr. “We cannot allow federal tax dollars to be wasted when the safety of the citizenry hangs in the balance. It is my hope that the cities identified by the Department of Justice today will reverse course and become serious about performing the basic function of government and start protecting their own citizens.”

The news release also highlighted New York and Portland's efforts to cut police funding in the wake of demonstrations, which began in late May following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

In Seattle, the news release pointed to the area formerly known as the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP), a zone of downtown Seattle occupied by protesters for days after they forced police to withdraw from the area. The CHOP was finally closed down by police, who returned to the area following several late-night shootings.

"For nearly a month, starting in June, the City of Seattle permitted anarchists and activists to seize six square blocks of the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood," the Justice Department charged.

The news release added that other cities could be added to the list of so-called anarchist jurisdictions if necessary: "The Department of Justice is continuing to work to identify jurisdictions that meet the criteria set out in the President’s Memorandum and will periodically update the list of selected jurisdictions as required therein."

 

This is all fantastic horsecrap, with the usual caveat that the answer to "Can Trump actually do this?" is always "If we let him, sure."  This will be fought in court of course, to which all I can say is "Well, the Supreme Court certainly is important and maybe Democrats should vote as such."

Because the next step is clearly going to be "sending in federal troops to liberate these jurisdictions as a matter of national security".

 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Last Call For The FDA Goes Viral, Con't

The last shred of independent, objective authority in the Food and Drug Administration has been lit on fire in Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar's office trashcan, as the agency is now fully and totally under control of Azar and by default, under control of Donald Trump.


In a stunning declaration of authority, Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, this week barred the nation’s health agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, from signing any new rules regarding the nation’s foods, medicines, medical devices and other products, including vaccines.

Going forward, Mr. Azar wrote in a Sept. 15 memorandum obtained by The New York Times, such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” The bulletin was sent to heads of operating and staff divisions within H.H.S.


It’s unclear if or how the memo would change the vetting and approval process for coronavirus vaccines, three of which are in advanced clinical trials in the United States. Political appointees, under pressure from the president, have taken a string of stepsover the past few months to interfere with the standard scientific and regulatory processes at the health agencies. For example, a much criticized guideline on testing for the coronavirus was not written by C.D.C. scientists, and was posted on the agency’s public website over their objections. It was reversed on Friday.

Outside observers were alarmed by the new memo and worried that it could contribute to a public perception of political meddling in science-based regulatory decisions. Dr. Mark McClellan, who formerly headed the F.D.A. and now runs Duke University’s health policy center, praised the agency’s work on vaccine development but said the policy change was ill-timed.

“We’re in the midst of a pandemic, when trust in the public health agency is needed more than ever,” he said. “So, I’m not sure what is to be gained with a management change with respect to F.D.A. when they are doing such critical work.”

Dr. Peter Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest and a former associate commissioner of the F.D.A., called the new policy “a power grab.”

Many rules issued by federal health agencies are signed by lawyers or by the heads of agencies, including the F.D.A., under the umbrella of H.H.S. The new memo requires the secretary to sign them, which Dr. Lurie said could lead to delays in the regulatory process.

“It will introduce an element of inefficiency within government operations that is wholly unnecessary and likely to gum things up,” he said.

Brian Harrison, chief of staff for Mr. Azar, described the new policy as “a housekeeping matter,” aimed at no agency in particular. He said it would have no bearing on how the agency dealt with coronavirus vaccines.
“This was simply pushing a reset button,” Mr. Harrison said. “This is good governance and should have no operational impact.”


The funny part is Brian Harrison is right: this won't have an "operational impact" on the FDA approval process for a COVID-19 or other vaccines going forward because the process was always going to be Azar approving a vaccine to help Trump politically no matter what FDA testing and protocols say.

 I practically guarantee you there will be a vaccine "approved" and distributed to medical personnel before the election. There's going to be a big fight about this and whether or not anyone takes the vaccine, but it will absolutely be announced in late October and will be made available "soon" for widespread use.

That "soon" part will be a lot trickier should Trump win, but the point is Azar and Trump believe it will win him the election. Actually having the vaccine work, well, that will come later.

The Race To Replace, Con't

 Even Republicans say they want to wait until after the election for a Supreme Court battle.


A majority of Americans, including many Republicans, want the winner of the November presidential election to name a successor to Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sunday.

The national opinion poll, conducted Sept. 19-20 after Ginsburg’s death was announced, suggests that many Americans object to President Donald Trump’s plan, backed by many Senate Republicans, to push through another lifetime appointee and cement a 6-3 conservative majority on the court.

The poll found that 62% of American adults agreed the vacancy should be filled by the winner of the Nov. 3 matchup between Trump and Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden, while 23% disagreed and the rest said they were not sure.

Eight out of 10 Democrats - and five in 10 Republicans - agreed that the appointment should wait until after the election.

Trump needs the support of the Senate, which currently has a 53-47 Republican majority to confirm a nominee. So far two Republican senators - Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski - have said publicly since Ginsburg’s death Friday that they think the winner of the election should make the nomination.

 

Vast majorities of Americans want a lot of things, including healthcare, affordable prescriptions, a raise to the minimum wage and universal firearms background checks, but Republicans keep ignoring that anyway.  No reason to think anything different will happen here.

 

Leading Florida Republican politicians are launching an all-out effort to convince President Donald Trump to nominate federal Judge Barbara Lagoa to the U.S. Supreme Court — a move they say would boost his reelection chances in the must-win swing state.

The biggest names in the Florida GOP are working behind the scenes to advocate for Lagoa: U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott have sprung into action, along with Gov. Ron DeSantis, Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida campaign director Susie Wiles and the president’s former impeachment defense lawyer, former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, according to interviews with a dozen Republicans familiar with the effort.

The Republicans are said to be making the case that the longtime judge and devout Catholic has the legal chops to do the job and the conservative background to appease the GOP base, these people said.

But it’s Lagoa’s background as a Florida Cuban-American that could have the most salience for Trump. His reelection hinges on the too-close-to-call battleground state, where his campaign has made outreach to Hispanic voters a top issue, worrying some Democrats.

“If the president picks Barbara Lagoa, they will be dancing salsa with joy in Hialeah well past November,” said Gaetz, referring to Lagoa’s home town, a blue-collar majority Cuban-American city that borders Miami and leans Republican.

 

No doubt Trump has visions of standing up at his hate rallies and belching out how he's "done more for women, done more for Latinos than any president in history" with a Lagoa pick in a city like Orlando or Tampa.  It might actually work.

We'll see.

Banking On Getting Away With It

Jason Leopold and the team at BuzzFeed News give us the "FinCEN Files", a massive collection of documents that show just how pervasive international money laundering by big banks, and the hundreds of billions of dollar that get moved each year by drug cartels, crime lords, and dictators through the global financial network. And under Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, the Trump Regime has made it harder than ever to catch these bad guys -- bad guys including Vladimir Putin.

A huge trove of secret government documents reveals for the first time how the giants of Western banking move trillions of dollars in suspicious transactions, enriching themselves and their shareholders while facilitating the work of terrorists, kleptocrats, and drug kingpins.

And the US government, despite its vast powers, fails to stop it.

Today, the FinCEN Files — thousands of “suspicious activity reports” and other US government documents — offer an unprecedented view of global financial corruption, the banks enabling it, and the government agencies that watch as it flourishes. BuzzFeed News has shared these reports with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and more than 100 news organizations in 88 countries.

These documents, compiled by banks, shared with the government, but kept from public view, expose the hollowness of banking safeguards, and the ease with which criminals have exploited them. Profits from deadly drug wars, fortunes embezzled from developing countries, and hard-earned savings stolen in a Ponzi scheme were all allowed to flow into and out of these financial institutions, despite warnings from the banks’ own employees.

Money laundering is a crime that makes other crimes possible. It can accelerate economic inequality, drain public funds, undermine democracy, and destabilize nations — and the banks play a key role. “Some of these people in those crisp white shirts in their sharp suits are feeding off the tragedy of people dying all over the world,” said Martin Woods, a former suspicious transactions investigator for Wachovia.

Laws that were meant to stop financial crime have instead allowed it to flourish. So long as a bank files a notice that it may be facilitating criminal activity, it all but immunizes itself and its executives from criminal prosecution. The suspicious activity alert effectively gives them a free pass to keep moving the money and collecting the fees.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, is the agency within the Treasury Department charged with combating money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financial crimes. It collects millions of these suspicious activity reports, known as SARs. It makes them available to US law enforcement agencies and other nations’ financial intelligence operations. It even compiles a report called “Kleptocracy Weekly” that summarizes the dealings of foreign leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

What it does not do is force the banks to shut the money laundering down.

In the rare instances when the US government does crack down on banks, it often relies on sweetheart deals called deferred prosecution agreements, which include fines but no high-level arrests. The Trump administration has made it even harder to hold executives personally accountable, under guidance by former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein that warned government agencies against “piling on.”

But the FinCEN Files investigation shows that even after they were prosecuted or fined for financial misconduct, banks such as JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Standard Chartered, Deutsche Bank, and Bank of New York Mellon continued to move money for suspected criminals.

Suspicious payments flow around the world and into countless industries, from international sports to Hollywood entertainment to luxury real estate to Nobu sushi restaurants. They filter into the companies that make familiar items from people’s lives, from the gas in their car to the granola in their cereal bowl.

The FinCEN Files expose an underlying truth of the modern era: The networks through which dirty money traverse the world have become vital arteries of the global economy. They enable a shadow financial system so wide-ranging and so unchecked that it has become inextricable from the so-called legitimate economy. Banks with household names have helped to make it so.


And on top of it all is one underlying truth: there is ample evidence to believe that the current occupant of the White House is up to his neck in this mess. 

Stay tuned. There's a lot more here to come.

StupidiNews!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Last Call For Biden, His Time Con't

CNN pollster guru Harry Enten finally talks about a very real possibility: a blowout by Biden in November that sees him get 400 electoral votes.

 

If you were to look at the polling right now, there's a pretty clear picture. Biden has leads of somewhere between five and eight points in a number of states Trump won four years ago: Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Those plus the states Hillary Clinton won get Biden to about 290 electoral votes. 
If you add on the other states where Biden has at least a nominal edge in the averages (Florida and North Carolina), Biden is above 330 electoral votes.

That's not quite at blowout levels, but look at the polling in places like Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and Texas. We're not really talking about those places right now, even though one or both campaigns have fairly major advertising investments planned down the stretch in all four.
The polling there has been fairly limited, but it's been pretty consistent. Biden is quite competitive. 
If you were to do an aggregation of the polls that are available in those states, Biden's down maybe a point or two at most. 
In other words, Biden's much closer to leading in Georgia, Iowa, Ohio and Texas than Trump is in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, let alone Minnesota. 
Indeed, it's quite possible he's actually up in either Georgia, Iowa, Ohio or Texas, and we just don't know it because there isn't enough fresh data. For example, Clinton only lost in Georgia by five points in 2016, and Biden's doing about five points better in the national polls than she did in the final vote. It would make sense, therefore, that Biden's quite close to Trump there at this point. 
Wins in any of those states by Biden could push his Electoral College tally up to about 340 electoral votes or higher, depending on which states Biden wins. Victories in all four would push him well over 400 electoral votes. 
Models such as those produced by FiveThirtyEight show just how possible it is for Biden to blow Trump out of the water. The model actually anticipates a better chance of Trump closing his deficit than Biden expanding it. 
Even so, Biden has a better chance (about 45%) of winning 340 electoral votes than Trump has of winning the election (about 25%). Biden's chance of taking 400 electoral votes is pretty much the same of Trump winning.

 

The assumption is that the polls are unfairly favoring Biden, because that's what happened to Clinton in state polling in 2016. In Ohio especially, the state polls were all inaccurate to the point of uselessness, turning a three point Clinton lead into an 8-point Trump win.  Granted, a lot of that was the Bradley effect of men refusing to actually vote for a woman president, plus the Comey effect in the last two weeks of the campaign.

I don't see that being the case with Biden.  I think he's doing much better, and the polls are more accurate state-wise.

The Race To Replace

Where does Mitch McConnell go from here? Jane Meyer and Norm Ornstein figure the ever-pragmatic McConnell will hedge his bets on replacing the late Justice Ginsberg before the election.


As I reported in April, behind closed doors McConnell has been raising money from big conservative donors for months by promising that no matter how close it might be to the election, he would install Trump’s Supreme Court pick. As a former Trump White House official told me, “McConnell’s been telling our donors that when R.B.G. meets her reward, even if it’s October, we’re getting our judge. He’s saying it’s our October surprise.”

But now that the moment is here, the calculation isn’t quite so simple. On Friday night, McConnell released a statement vowing that a Trump nominee “will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.” While McConnell’s obstruction of Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, made him the bane of liberals, he has regarded it with pride as the single “most important decision I’ve made in my political career.” He and many others believe it handed Trump his victory by motivating the politically powerful evangelical bloc to vote for Trump, despite their doubts about him, because he promised to fill the Court vacancy with a social conservative. It’s entirely possible that the same scenario will play out again this November, with Trump and McConnell offering another enticing gift to evangelicals.

But McConnell is also what Ornstein calls “a ruthless pragmatist,” whose No. 1 goal has always been to remain Majority Leader of the Senate. He’s made the conservative makeover of the federal court system his pet project, but if he faces a choice between another right-wing Justice and losing his control of the Senate, no one who knows him well thinks he’d hesitate for a moment to do whatever is necessary to stay in power. In fact, back in the summer of 2016, when it looked like Trump would lose to Hillary Clinton, far from being distressed at his party’s dim prospects, McConnell was savoring the probability of being the single most powerful Republican in the country, according to a confidant who spoke with him then.

The problem for McConnell now is that it may be impossible for him to both confirm a new Justice and hold onto his personal power as Majority Leader. A power grab for the Court that is too brutish may provoke so much outrage among Democrats and independents that it could undermine Republican Senate candidates in November. As he knows better than anyone, polls show that Republican hopes of holding the Senate are very much in doubt. If Joe Biden is elected, enabling a Democratic Vice-President to cast the deciding vote in the Senate, Democrats need only to pick up three seats to win a majority. And, at the moment, according to recent polls, Democratic challengers stand good chances against Republican incumbents in Maine, Arizona, and Colorado. Democrats also have shots at capturing seats in South Carolina and Iowa.

 

On the other hand, this is much bigger than McConnell and even Trump, and the GOP knows it.


Much as he has already done on the judicial front, conservatives need him to deliver once more. “This nomination is why Donald Trump was elected,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., told Sean Hannity of Fox News on Friday evening. A graduate of Harvard Law School whose name was on a recent list of potential Trump nominees to the Supreme Court, Cruz urged Trump to nominate the justice next week and confirm him or her before the presidential election on Nov. 3.

That would make for the speediest nomination-to-confirmation process in American history. A 2018 analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service found that the first hearing for a Supreme Court nominee occurred 40 days after the formal nomination.

Obama nominated Garland with 237 days before the 2016 election. Now the 2020 presidential election is 45 days away, and in some states, people have already begun to vote. Trump will still have more than two months after Nov. 3 to govern, even if he loses, but that day’s results could complicate things if Biden is elected or the Senate flips to the Democrats. Either of those developments could rob Republicans of the mandate they believe they currently have.

Speculation about Ginsburg’s health has been rampant in conservative judicial circles for years, stoked by recent trips to the hospital for treatment related to her recurring cancer. Only last week, Trump released an expanded list of potential Supreme Court nominees in what seemed at the time like a ploy to stoke conservative enthusiasm and remind his supporters of why they voted for him in the first place. Now that list will serve as a road map for the weeks ahead.

Mark Meadows, the president’s chief of staff, is expected to lead the process. Though well-liked on Capitol Hill, Meadows, a former House member, doesn’t have experience dealing with the Senate confirmation process. Meadows’s negotiations with House Democrats over coronavirus relief measures do not suggest exceptional skill in either pressuring or persuading legislators, and both those attributes will figure into the fight over Ginsburg’s seat.

Joshua Geltzer, who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and is now a professor at Georgetown Law, believes that there might be just enough of a gap between McConnell and Trump for Democrats to exploit.

“As a pure political calculation, I think Senate Majority Leader McConnell and President Trump might actually be in different camps here,” Geltzer explained to Yahoo News. “McConnell might be inclined to rush a nominee through the Senate before Election Day, despite the obvious hypocrisy with how he handled the Garland nomination in 2016, because the court is a genuine high priority for him.”

 

So which McConnell shows up for this fight, the one that will cautiously move in order to preserve his Senate majority, or the ruthless power broker who knows he can end 50 years of progress in less than 50 days?

We're about to find out.

Sunday Long Read: Spies Like Us, Con't

An Iranian materials scientist with family in the US was made an offer by the Trump regime that he couldn't refuse: spy for the US as an informant in Tehran or spend time in federal prison as a enemy of the state. When he did refuse, the regime was ruthless.

In the spring of 2017, an Iranian materials scientist named Sirous Asgari received a call from the United States consulate in Dubai. Two years earlier, he and his wife, Fatemeh, had applied for visas to visit America, where their children lived. The consulate informed him that their requests had finally been approved. The timing was strange: President Donald Trump had just issued an executive order banning Iranians from entering the U.S. on the very kind of visa that Asgari and his wife were granted. Maybe applications filed before the visa ban had been grandfathered through, or some career State Department official wanted to give families like his a last chance to reunite.

Asgari, who was then fifty-six years old, considered the U.S. a second home. In the nineties, he had attended graduate school at Drexel University, in Philadelphia, and he came to like America’s commonsense efficiency. His daughter Sara was born in the U.S., making her an American citizen. His two older children, Mohammad and Zahra, had attended American universities and stayed on. Asgari was now a professor at Sharif University of Technology, in Tehran, and former graduate students of his worked in top American laboratories; his scientific research, on metallurgy, sometimes took him to Cleveland, where he had close colleagues at Case Western Reserve University.

Asgari and Fatemeh boarded a flight to New York on June 21, 2017. They planned to see Mohammad, who lived in the city, and then proceed to California, where they would visit Zahra and meet the man she had married. But when the Asgaris stepped off the jet bridge at J.F.K. two officials accosted them.

The officials whisked the Asgaris into a room, where a phalanx of F.B.I. agents awaited them. Asgari was under arrest, the agents told him, accused of serious charges in a sealed indictment whose contents they couldn’t reveal at the airport. He could go with them to a hotel and look over the indictment, or he could go to a local detention center, and then be transferred to Cleveland, for an arraignment. In the turmoil of the moment, he barely registered that nobody had stamped his visa or returned his passport.

Asgari was fluent in English, but the word “indictment” was new to him. He’d never had a problem with the law. He was a high-spirited man accustomed to middle-class comforts, a professor’s lectern, and an easy repartee with people in authority. Surely, he figured, he was the subject of some misunderstanding, and so he would go to the hotel and quickly clear it up.

At the hotel, the agents handed Asgari a twelve-page indictment. It charged him with theft of trade secrets, visa fraud, and eleven counts of wire fraud. To Asgari, the indictment read like a spy thriller. It centered on a four-month visit that he had made to Case Western four years earlier, which the document presented as part of a scheme to defraud an American valve manufacturer of its intellectual property in order to benefit the Iranian government. The punishment, the agents made clear, could be many years in prison. Their evidence had been gathered from five years of wiretaps, which had swept up his e-mails before, during, and after the visit in question.

The charges were nonsense, Asgari said. The processes he’d studied at Case Western were well known to materials scientists—they were hardly trade secrets. If the government really meant to prosecute him, it would inevitably lose in court.

“We haven’t lost a case,” one agent told Asgari.

“This will be your first,” he replied.

Asgari didn’t realize it, but a vise was closing around him. He had never seen his visits to America through the prism of its tensions with Iran. “Science is wild and has no homeland,” an Iranian philosopher had once said, and Asgari believed this to be so. His scientific community spanned the globe, its instruments and findings universally accessible. That national boundaries and political intrigue should interfere with intellectual exchange seemed to him unnatural. He had confidence in the capacity of cool rationality to set matters right.


If he could just make the F.B.I. agents understand the science, Asgari told himself, they would see their mistake. He described the relationships and the laboratory equipment that had attracted him to Case Western, and explained how the properties of a material emanated from the arrangement of its atoms, and could be altered by engineers who understood that structure. But even as he talked he began to have a sinking feeling that an indictment was not something he could dissipate with words.

That night, Fatemeh went home with Mohammad, and two guards stayed in Asgari’s hotel room as he slept. In the morning, the agents drove Asgari to Cleveland, his wife and son following behind.

He was arraigned at the federal courthouse and delivered to the Lake County Adult Detention Facility, a maximum-security jail in Painesville, Ohio. For the first of the seventy-two days he would spend in that facility, Asgari occupied an isolated cell. Lying on his bed, he could hear other inmates screaming.

And there Asgari started his journey into hell, a hell created by a vindictive, white supremacist government that wanted to make an intelligence asset out of him...or an example.

Our Little White Supremacist Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

Physical violence by white supremacist domestic terrorists are a direct threat to polling places and in-person voting in 2020, according a recent DHS terrorism intelligence assessment.


The intelligence assessment, first referenced by Yahoo News and published in full by The Nation, was produced by the DHS’ Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) division. In an interview with The Nation, a former senior DHS I&A intelligence officer corroborated the whistleblower’s claims, describing the challenges he had faced to monitoring white supremacists under the Trump administration.

“As soon as Trump came in, counterterrorism ended,” the former intelligence officer said, pointing to the Trump administration’s decision to dissolve DHS’s domestic terrorism division. Since then, DHS I&A’s focus has turned to trivial immigration matters like individuals overstaying their travel visas, he explained.

“The only immigration we should be worried about is a nexus to terrorism, not student overstays and bullshit,” the former intelligence officer said.

The assessment, dated August 17 of this year and marked for OFFICIAL USE ONLY, provides an overview of different threats to the election. Threats are said to include not just white supremacists but also individuals wary of the government’s Covid-19 restrictions, Second Amendment extremists, and confrontations between protesters and counterprotesters.


The report reads: “We continue to assess lone offender white supremacist extremists and other lone offender domestic terrorist actors with personalized ideologies, including those based on grievances against a target’s perceived actual political affiliation, policies, or worldview, pose the greatest threat of lethal violence.”

The assessment links the white supremacist threat to anti-immigrant sentiments, stating, “Immigration-related grievances contributed to motivations of three separate white supremacist extremist shootings since 2018, resulting in 35 total fatalities.”

The intelligence assessment contrasts sharply with the Trump administration’s characterization of threats to public safety. Trump has repeatedly inveighed against violent protesters, especially “antifa,” which he has vowed to designate a terrorist group. While a formal terror designation requires evidence of foreign sponsorship, The Nation recently reported that DHS intelligence officials have quietly sought to tie antifa to foreign militant groups.

Trump’s Attorney General William Barr reportedly instructed prosecutors to consider charging violent protesters with sedition, a rarely invoked law that applies to individuals seeking to overthrow the government.

“The proposal to charge protesters with sedition seems like one more step in the unraveling of constitutional government,” Steven Aftergood, who heads the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, told The Nation. He added that “accusing them of sedition adds a preposterous political overlay that itself is a form of incitement by the attorney general.”


All of this is bad, but taken together, it's just a matter of time before scenes like this in Michigan this week become bloody carnage where white supremacist terrorism turns to mass murder of Democratic lawmakers and voters.

 

Hundreds of pro-gun activists have demonstrated at Michigan's State Capitol in support of the right to open-carry firearms inside the government building.

Heavily-armed protestors, some waving Confederate flags and Trump campaign banners, stood on the lawn outside the capitol building in Lansing brandishing AR-15 firearms and wearing body armour.

Among those in attendance were members of the Proud Boys—a far-right, all-male organization with a history of violence against political opponents—and the Michigan Liberty Militia, a paramilitary group.

After two hours of speeches a group gathered on the steps of the Hall of Justice chanting "U-S-A" and "four more years" for Donald Trump.

Estimates put the number attending the "Second Amendment March," which caused the legislative session to be cancelled, at between 200 and 1,000.

Tom Lambert, former president of Michigan Open Carry, addressed the crowd. "Whether you decide to open carry or concealed carry, that is your choice. It is not my job to make that decision for you," M Live quoted him as saying. "It is not their job to make that decision for you either."

Commenting on the protests, Democratic Senator Dayna Polehanki, who represents Michigan's 7th District, said: "While I did not relish the thought of facing more armed men in the senate gallery on Thursday, we can't keep canceling session ahead of these armed events.

"We were elected to work for our constituents, and this is preventing us from doing that. Ban guns from the Capitol now."

 

We're now seeing the threat of deadly violence by armed militias canceling legislative sessions. In any other scenario the federal government would call this open domestic terrorism and make arrests.

But this government encourages it.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Last Call For Actual, Literal Trump Cards

A White House deal with the pharmaceutical industry to lower drug prescription prices for Americans was apparently destroyed last month when the Trump regime shook down Big Pharma for hundreds of millions in direct payments to seniors during the election with Trump-branded gift cards.

After months of heated accusations and painstaking negotiations, the White House and the pharmaceutical industry neared agreement late last month on a plan to make good on President Trump’s longstanding promise to lower drug prices.

The drug companies would spend $150 billion to address out-of-pocket consumer costs and would even pick up the bulk of the co-payments that older Americans shoulder in Medicare’s prescription drug program.

Then the agreement collapsed. The breaking point, according to four people familiar with the discussions: Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, insisted the drug makers pay for $100 cash cards that would be mailed to seniors before November — “Trump Cards,” some in the industry called them.

Some of the drugmakers bridled at being party to what they feared would be seen as an 11th-hour political boost for Mr. Trump, the people familiar with the matter said.

White House officials insist they didn’t plan to emblazon the president’s name on the cards, which they envisioned sending to tens of millions of Americans to use for prescriptions. Mr. Trump, of course, has a long history of branding everything from skyscrapers to stimulus checks.

Regardless, one drug company executive said they worried about the optics of having the chief executives of the country’s leading pharmaceutical makers stand with the president in the Rose Garden as he hoisted an oversized card and gloated about helping a crucial bloc of voters.

“We could not agree to the administration’s plan to issue one-time savings cards right before a presidential election,” said Priscilla VanderVeer, the vice president of public affairs at PhRMA, the industry’s largest trade group. “One-time savings cards will neither provide lasting help, nor advance the fundamental reforms necessary to help seniors better afford their medicines.”

 

Big pharma got on Trump's bad side by not paying his hundreds of millions in shakedown fees, so now it's time for the consequences.

 

Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, would not comment specifically on the savings cards.

But he noted that Mr. Trump had held back on an executive order the industry fiercely opposed, which would tie some drug prices to the prices paid by other countries — called “most-favored nation” drug pricing. Now the president is poised to link the prices that Medicare pays for drugs administered in doctors’ offices to those paid even by social democracies in Europe.
President Trump is working to ensure American patients are no longer forced to pay outrageously higher drug prices than those in other countries,” Mr. Deere said. “President Trump signed four executive orders earlier this summer. However, he did not release the final executive order on ‘most-favored nation’ drug pricing, giving drug companies a month to come up with a counterproposal. Negotiations did not produce an acceptable alternative, so the president is moving forward.”

It appears, then, the industry will have to confront the executive order it hoped to avoid.

Last Sunday, Mr. Trump released the order, which calls for the establishment of pilot programs tying some Medicare drugs to prices abroad. They are unlikely to be established before the election, and the industry is almost sure to file suit in response.

 

Trump supporters will no doubt cheer this story, ecstatic that their God-Emperor is taking the hated drug companies to task for refusing to pay fealty to Dear Leader, and frankly it's the fact that drug companies have been taking in hundreds of billions in profits for decades that makes American health care the priciest on Earth.

There are no good guys in this particular fight, only tens of millions of Americans suffering.

But a Trump free to shake down any and every industry for hundreds of millions in in-kind payments to his campaign is a dictator and a mob boss, and we deserve better.

Sussing Out The Senate

Time to take a look at the race for control of the US Senate, and the good news is with just over six weeks to go, Democrats are favored to take back control of the upper chamber.

Democrats are slight favorites to regain control of the Senate, according to the FiveThirtyEight Senate forecast, which launched today. But the map is wide open, with at least a dozen competitive races — none of which are certain pickups for Democrats — including some states where Democrats are playing defense.

In fact, while it’s possible that Democrats will wind up controlling 54 seats or perhaps even more, the most likely outcome is a much more closely divided chamber, including the possibility of a 50/50 split in which control of the Senate would be determined by whether the vice president is Kamala Harris or Mike Pence. (Joe Biden and Harris currently have a 76 percent chance of winning the presidential race, according to our forecast.1)

Our Congressional model (our forecast for House races will be released soon) is largely the same as the version we built in 2018, which was quite accurate in predicting the number of Senate and House seats that each party would win. We’ve made a handful of changes since 2018, most of which were designed to create more consistency with our presidential forecast, including assuming that uncertainty is slightly higher this year because of an increase in mail voting under COVID-19. But these adjustments don’t greatly change the outlook. For a complete list of changes, see our methodology guide.

As in 2018, there are three versions of the model, which build on one another and become increasingly complex:

he Lite version of the model relies as much as possible on polling. In races that don’t have much or any polling, it calculates the candidates’ standing from other races that have been polled.

The Classic version relies on polling but also incorporates “fundamentals” such as fundraising, incumbency and a state’s partisan lean relative to the rest of the country.

Finally, the Deluxe version takes all of the above and adds in expert ratings from The Cook Political Report, Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

By default, we’re showing you the “Deluxe” version of the model this year. It’s supposed to be the most accurate one and — given everything going on — we’re inclined to cut to the chase. But you can toggle between the versions using the magnifying glass icon at the bottom of the page.

You might want to get in the habit of doing this, too, because there are some fairly large differences between the model versions this year. This reflects the fact that the polling in individual Senate races is generally quite good for Democrats, while other indicators and expert ratings are more equivocal. For instance, the poll-centric Lite version of the model currently gives Democrats a 68 percent chance of winning the Senate, as compared to a 64 percent chance in the Classic version and a 58 percent chance in the Deluxe version.2

So depending on the model, the Dems have a 58-68% chance of controlling the Senate, but the most likely outcome of all three models remains either 50 or 51 seats.  It's not a done deal by any stretch, Dems are going to have to get five seats to offset Doug Jones's near guaranteed loss in Alabama and get to 51, but they have a very good shot at Maine, Colorado, NC and Arizona and getting to 50. Their next best shot is Iowa and Theresa Greenfield upsetting Joni Ernst, followed by Steve Bullock knocking out Steve Daines in Montana, or Jon Ossaof getting lucky in Georgia. Jones is actually next on that list, but he's looking at 27% odds and it gets worse from there for the Dems, even with Jaime Harrison in SC.

We'll see what happens.  The Dems can get to 50, but after that, well...it gets dicey for 51 and beyond.

But if even one of those upsets happen...it's all they need for 51.

Not Sugar Coats-ing The Election

Former Trump Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats takes to the NY Times in an op-ed, telling Congress straight out that foreign interference and delegitimization efforts against American elections will destroy the country unless stopped.

We hear often that the November election is the most consequential in our lifetime. But the importance of the election is not just which candidate or which party wins. Voters also face the question of whether the American democratic experiment, one of the boldest political innovations in human history, will survive.

Our democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people; that our public discourse has been perverted by the news media and social networks riddled with prejudice, lies and ill will; that judicial institutions, law enforcement and even national security have been twisted, misused and misdirected to create anxiety and conflict, not justice and social peace.

If those are the results of this tumultuous election year, we are lost, no matter which candidate wins. No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome. Total destruction and sowing salt in the earth of American democracy is a catastrophe well beyond simple defeat and a poison for generations. An electoral victory on these terms would be no victory at all. The judgment of history, reflecting on the death of enlightened democracy, would be harsh.

The most urgent task American leaders face is to ensure that the election’s results are accepted as legitimate. Electoral legitimacy is the essential linchpin of our entire political culture. We should see the challenge clearly in advance and take immediate action to respond.

The most important part of an effective response is to finally, at long last, forge a genuinely bipartisan effort to save our democracy, rejecting the vicious partisanship that has disabled and destabilized government for too long. If we cannot find common ground now, on this core issue at the very heart of our endangered system, we never will.

Our key goal should be reassurance. We must firmly, unambiguously reassure all Americans that their vote will be counted, that it will matter, that the people’s will expressed through their votes will not be questioned and will be respected and accepted. I propose that Congress creates a new mechanism to help accomplish this purpose. It should create a supremely high-level bipartisan and nonpartisan commission to oversee the election. This commission would not circumvent existing electoral reporting systems or those that tabulate, evaluate or certify the results. But it would monitor those mechanisms and confirm for the public that the laws and regulations governing them have been scrupulously and expeditiously followed — or that violations have been exposed and dealt with — without political prejudice and without regard to political interests of either party.

Also, this commission would be responsible for monitoring those forces that seek to harm our electoral system through interference, fraud, disinformation or other distortions. These would be exposed to the American people in a timely manner and referred to appropriate law enforcement agencies and national security entities.

Such a commission must be composed of national leaders personally committed — by oath — to put partisan politics aside even in the midst of an electoral contest of such importance. They would accept as a personal moral responsibility to put the integrity and fairness of the election process above everything else, making public reassurance their goal.

Commission members undertaking this high, historic responsibility should come from both parties and could include congressional leaders, current and former governors, “elder statespersons,” former national security leaders, perhaps the former Supreme Court justices David Souter and Anthony Kennedy, and business leaders from social media companies.

In a normal time, this would be a good idea.  In 2020, there's precisely zero chance of this happening, because one party is solely dependent on these foreign efforts to retain power.  The permanent damage has already been done, and Coats knows this all too well.

The time for commissions was 2008 or so. The time for Coats to walk out of the White House with evidence that Trump is a traitor and demand his ouster among Republican Senators was three years ago.

Coats deserves his place in history's dustbin as a result.

Biden, His Time, Con't

Cook Political Report's Amy Walter now has Arizona in Biden's column, meaning he's looking at 290 electoral votes and a comfortable win before the Toss-Ups of Florida, NC, Georgia(!) and Maine's 2nd district are counted.

There are two key geographic battlegrounds for the Electoral College this year. One is the Midwest that until 2016, had been reliably Democratic. The other is the fast-growing Sun Belt section of the country that has traditionally voted Republican.

To help understand how voters in these regions are thinking about this election and the issues shaping it, the Kaiser Family Foundation and Cook Political Report have collaborated on two surveys. In November 2019, we released the Blue Wall Voices Project, a survey of 3,222 voters in the Upper Midwest (Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Michigan).

This week, we are releasing the most recent poll that featured 3,479 interviews with voters in Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina.

While Trump carried all three states in 2020, he is not leading in any of these states today. Trump and Biden are essentially tied in Florida (Trump 42%, Biden's 43%) and NC (Trump 43%, Biden 45%). However, in Arizona, Biden has opened up a more substantial lead (Biden 45%, Trump 40%). A Biden win in Arizona would mean that he could afford to lose Michigan or Wisconsin (two of "Blue Wall" consortium) and still eke out an Electoral College win (assuming that he wins all the states Hillary Clinton carried in 2016). Biden could even afford to lose Pennsylvania and still win the Electoral College with a combination of Arizona and Nebraska's 2nd CD.

Arizona is geographically large, but its population is concentrated in Maricopa County (Phoenix). About two-thirds of the vote comes from Maricopa. Voters there, as in other suburban areas in and around big metro areas, have soured on Pres. Trump. Biden leads Trump there by six points, 46 percent to 40 percent. In 2016, Trump carried Maricopa with almost 52 percent of the vote.

Another troubling sign for Trump in Arizona is that GOP voters are not as committed to supporting him as they are in the other Sun Belt states. Call it the revenge of former Arizona GOP Sens. Jeff Flake and the late John McCain, two of the president's most vocal critics. Only 73 percent of Arizona Republicans say they are definitely voting for Trump, with 9 percent saying they are probably or definitely voting for Joe Biden. In North Carolina and Florida the GOP defection rate to Biden is about half as much (5% in North Carolina and 4% in Florida). Meanwhile, 81 percent of Arizona Democrats say they are definitely voting for Biden with only 1% saying they were probable Trump voters.

Trump is also struggling with Latino support in Arizona, taking just 17 percent of the vote to Biden's 55 percent. In Florida, however, where Latinos also make up a similar percentage of the electorate, Trump is taking 36 percent of the vote to Biden's 53 percent.

This poll tracks with other recent surveys of Arizona which show Biden ahead. The FiveThirtyEight average puts Biden's lead in the state at five points (49-44 percent).

The new data in this poll, combined with other recent polling in the state, all find Arizona slipping away from Trump. We are moving it from Toss Up to Lean Democrat.

Trump losing Arizona is the same as Biden losing Pennsylvania: the death knell of the campaign.

Democrats are also ahead in the two senate races in NC and AZ, with Democrat Mark Kelly up by 8 over GOP Sen. Martha McSally, and Democrat Cal Cunningham up 4 over GOP Sen. Thom Tillis. NC Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is up by 10 points over current GOP Lt. Gov Dan Forest.

Good news for Team Blue, and if everything holds true for another 45 days, it's a Biden win and a Democratic Senate.

But as we all know too well, a lot can happen in 45 days.

Friday, September 18, 2020

BREAKING: Last Call For The Last Watch


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the demure firebrand who in her 80s became a legal, cultural and feminist icon, died Friday. The Supreme Court announced her death, saying the cause was complications from metastatic cancer of the pancreas.

The court, in a statement, said Ginsburg died at her home in Washington surrounded by family. She was 87.

"Our nation has lost a justice of historic stature," Chief Justice John Roberts said. "We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her, a tired and resolute champion of justice."

Architect of the legal fight for women's rights in the 1970s, Ginsburg subsequently served 27 years on the nation's highest court, becoming its most prominent member. Her death will inevitably set in motion what promises to be a nasty and tumultuous political battle over who will succeed her, and it thrusts the Supreme Court vacancy into the spotlight of the presidential campaign.

Just days before her death, as her strength waned, Ginsburg dictated this statement to her granddaughter Clara Spera: "My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."

She knew what was to come. Ginsburg's death will have profound consequences for the court and the country. Inside the court, not only is the leader of the liberal wing gone, but with the Court about to open a new term, Chief Justice John Roberts no longer holds the controlling vote in closely contested cases.

Though he has a consistently conservative record in most cases, he has split from fellow conservatives in a few important ones, this year casting his vote with liberals, for instance, to at least temporarily protect the so-called Dreamers from deportation by the Trump administration, to uphold a major abortion precedent, and to uphold bans on large church gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. But with Ginsburg gone, there is no clear court majority for those outcomes.

Of course, a third Trump justice will be nominated to the court before the end of the month and approved by Mitch McConnell days before the election, and if not before the election, held as a carrot and prime negotiation tool for late November, or early December.  It's the final blow to the country, one that we will not recover from, starting with the end of Obamacare.

Indeed, a week after the upcoming presidential election, the court is for the third time scheduled to hear a challenge brought by Republicans to the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. In 2012 the high court upheld the law by a 5-to-4 vote, with Chief Justice Roberts casting the deciding vote and writing the opinion for the majority. But this time the outcome may well be different.

That's because Ginsburg's death gives Republicans the chance to tighten their grip on the court with another Trump appointment that would give conservatives a 6-to-3 majority. And that would mean that even a defection on the right would leave conservatives with enough votes to prevail in the Obamacare case and many others.


So here we are. Once again we are betting the entire country on Republican senators doing the right thing here when they have every reason to not do it. And every previous time they have failed us, failed history, failed themselves.

Now they will fail one more time, and we are undone as a nation.

Unless...?
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