Friday, June 30, 2017

Last Call For The Coming Trumpsplosion

Martin "BooMan" Longman has been around the liberal blogosphere for a long time, and I first got my start writing over at his place so many years ago.  He's maintained his space for over a decade now and you can find him over at Washington Monthly's invaluable Political Animal blog along with another crucial voice in Nancy LeTourneau.  Anyway, the point of all this that Martin has a pretty damned good track record on how things have panned out over the years, and he's only been all the more accurate with his analysis and predictions as America enters the Age of Trump.

Reading the New York Times last night and this morning, I felt like I had been plagiarized. It seems that what was once a lonely voice is rapidly becoming common wisdom. It’s been a recurring theme of my analysis for months that the Trump administration had blundered badly by marrying his unorthodox and in many cases heretical campaign for the Republican nomination and presidency with a strategy that is wholly reliant on conventional conservative Republicans for implementation and passage. 
In particular, the decision to sign off on the never-before-attempted plan to pass two budget reconciliation bills in a single fiscal year is beginning to look like a narrow-alley dead end in a very bad neighborhood. The idea was that the Republicans could take advantage of the fact that since they never did their budget work last year they still had the opportunity to finish that up with a health care bill that only requires fifty votes to pass (with the vice-president breaking any tie). They could then use the same legislative trick to pass tax reform in this year’s budget plan at a fifty vote threshold. Without getting into all the parliamentary rigamarole that’s involved, the most significant consequence of adopting this plan was that the administration believed and acted as if they would never need a single Democratic vote for anything, ever.

And of course that's what the Trumpistas believe, that well beyond Newt Gingrich's declaration of Bill Clinton's irrelevance in 1997 is the unshakable fanaticism that just because Trump defied the odds and the pollsters (with or without Russian help, mind you) and won in November, that the Democrats and their voters no longer matter, no longer have any political power, any voice, any franchise, or any rights as citizens.  We're not even Americans to them at this point, the country has moved on into a Brave New World of Trump.

Only, reality has come a-knockin', and Mitch and Paul Ryan just aren't up to fixing this mess.

If that looks familiar it’s because I’ve written essentially the same thing over and over again. It’s not just health care and tax reform that are in peril. If Trump attempts to raise the debt ceiling using nothing but Republican votes, he will fail, too. If he tries to pass appropriations bills without any Democratic support, the government will either shut down or be funded on continuing resolutions that keep Obama’s priorities in place. He will not get an infrastructure bill without significant Democratic input and support. 
Not only can he not govern successfully using this strategy, he cannot govern at all. This is why I foresaw that his administration would crack up on the shoals sometime this summer, and certainly no later than September when the fiscal year ends and the debt ceiling becomes critical. 
Most concerning was the prospect and likelihood that he had painted himself into a corner and would discover that he had no way of recovering from the mess he’d made. As McConnell’s plan for Obamacare repeal faltered, he began warning his caucus of exactly what I am explaining now. But it was too late and the plan was never going to work anyway. The only thing that McConnell had to use in support of a bill that the people hate was the direness of the consequences of failure. But either he doesn’t understand the severity of the problem or he was unable to communicate it effectively enough. Perhaps it’s just not salvageable on any level, since the only way to delay their fate is to pass a bill that would strip 22 million people of their access to health care. 
The consequences will begin to pile up now. Trump will lash out in ever more confusing and bizarre ways. And then the indictments and plea deals will start to flow in from Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s shop. By Thanksgiving, if not before, the nation will be confronted with the urgent need to remove Trump from power and I suspect there will be more consensus about it by then than most people can imagine right now.

Not only do I believe Martin is right, I think the reality of the just how bad this can get is going to hit long before Thanksgiving, especially if Trump botches the debt ceiling or stomps his way into a shooting conflict somewhere.  Trump still has most of Obama's economy right now.  Should the economic consequences of Trumpism arrive sooner rather than later and the Dow goes from 21,000 to 16,000 again, you are going to see Republicans head for the exits at near relativistic velocities.

The larger point is that Martin predicted Trump's inability to govern would be what sinks the guy, and that's looking more likely than ever after just five months on the job.  The State Department is at this point in shambles, the FBI, CIA, and NSA are having a good old time plying connect-the-dots with Trump's Russian buddies, it's all the Pentagon can do to keep Trump from burning down the Middle East, and morale is so bad at the rest of the executive branch agencies due to purges and proposed massive budget cuts that it's all starting to come unglued.

And it's only end of June, some 22 weeks in.  We can't even see the bottom yet, but we're on the way down so fast that the fog is beginning to clear just from the speed of our descent.

Moving The MAGA Militants

Pierre Omidyar's Democracy Fund (yes, the same guy behind bankrolling Team Double G and The Intercept) has an interesting new study out on Trump voters and what motivated them to support Trump.  Not all Trump voters are the same, but the study claims that a particular subset of Trump voters were the ones that Democrats have lost over the last six years, and they are largely responsible for the GOP being in charge of the country.  Meet the "American Preservationists" who voted to wreck the America they love so much.

These Trump voters lean economically progressive, believe the economic and political systems are rigged, have nativist immigration views, and a nativist and ethnocultural conception of American identity. 
Although American Preservationists are less loyal Republicans than other Trump voter groups, and nearly half had positive views of Clinton in 2012, American Preservationists comprise the core Trump constituency that propelled him to victory in the early Republican primaries. 
American Preservationists have low levels of formal education and the lowest incomes of the Trump groups—and non-Trump voters as well. Despite being the most likely group to say that religion is “very important” to them, they are the least likely to attend church regularly. They are the most likely group to be on Medicaid, to report a permanent disability that prevents them from working, and to regularly smoke cigarettes. Despite watching the most TV, they are the least politically informed of the Trump groups
American Preservationists appear more likely to desire being around people like themselves, who have similar backgrounds and cultural experiences. They are far more likely to have a strong sense of their own racial identity and to say their Christian identity is very important to them. They take the most restrictionist approach to immigration— staunchly opposing not just illegal but legal immigration as well, and intensely supporting a temporary Muslim travel ban. They feel the greatest amount of angst over race relations: they believe that anti-white discrimination is as pervasive as other forms of discrimination, and they have cooler feelings (as measured on a feeling thermometer scale) toward minorities.(2) They agree in overwhelming numbers that real Americans need to have been born in America or have lived here most of their lives and be Christian. 
American Preservationists are trade skeptics and look more like Democrats on domestic economic issues, particularly on the nation’s wealth distribution, concern over old-age entitlement programs, and animus toward Wall Street. They feel powerless against moneyed interested and the politically connected and tend to distrust other people. They also share liberals’ views on the environment, believing that global warming is a serious threat and human activity is primarily to blame.

The theory is until Trump came along, these are the folks that would just have easily voted for the Democrats over Medicaid, Wall Street and climate change then they would vote for Republicans over immigration, race, and religion.  When Trump came in and appealed directly to these voters and their fears, they dumped Clinton like a hot sack of garbage to go be publicly racist assholes.

If you've ever been to Kentucky, the state is full of these voters.  They were tailor-made to flip to the GOP when Trump ran.  Obamacare pissed them off until they figured out that it meant more stuff for them.

The question is do the Democrats bother to try to get these voters back?

It's About Suppression, Con't.

OK folks, as if I haven't stressed this enough over the last almost nine years, now is way past the time to be worrying about Trump's point man on national voter suppression efforts, our old friend Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has asked the state of Connecticut to provide President Donald Trump’s new voter commission with the names, birthdates and Social Security information for that state’s voters going back to 2006. 
Kobach, a former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party and a candidate for Kansas governor in 2018, serves as vice chairman of Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. 
In a June 28 letter, Kobach asked the Connecticut secretary of state’s office to provide it with all publicly available voter roll data, including the full names of all registered voters along with their addresses, dates of birth, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, voting history and other personal information. 
Kobach’s office did not immediately answer a question about how many states received similar letters. Kobach previously promised that the commission would undertake the most comprehensive study of voter fraud to date. 
Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, a Democrat, said in a statement that her office plans to share “publicly-available information with the Kobach Commission while ensuring that the privacy of voters is honored by withholding protected data.”

“In the same spirit of transparency, we will request that the Commission share any memos, meeting minutes or additional information as state officials have not been told precisely what the Commission is looking for,” she said. “This lack of openness is all the more concerning, considering that the Vice Chair of the Commission, Kris Kobach, has a lengthy record of illegally disenfranchising eligible voters in Kansas.” 
Kobach has championed some of the strictest voting laws in the country during his tenure as secretary of state. Those laws have spurred multiple lawsuits.
Last week, a federal judge fined him $1,000 for making “patently misleading representations” about documents he took to a November meeting with Trump that relate to federal voting law as part of an ongoing voting rights case. 
“The courts have repudiated his methods on multiple occasions but often after the damage has been done to voters,” Merrill said. “Given Secretary Kobach’s history we find it very difficult to have confidence in the work of this Commission.” 
Vanita Gupta, the former head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s office of Civil Rights, said on Twitter that the letter proves that Kobach and Vice President Mike Pence, who serves as the commission’s chairman, “are laying the groundwork for voter suppression, plain & simple.” 
Kobach’s office denied a request by The Kansas City Star for documents related to the commission last week on the grounds that his office has no documents pertaining to the commission.

Vanita Gupta is right, and Connecticut is not the only state who got this letter demanding voter information for the last ten years.  All 50 states have been asked to do this.  At least three have said no, including to her considerable credit, Kentucky's Secretary of State, Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said in a statement that he has “no intention” of fulfilling the request, defending the fairness of his state's elections. He also blasted the commission in his statement, saying it was based on the "false notion" of widespread voter fraud in the November presidential election.

“At best this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trump’s alternative election facts, and at worst is a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression,” McAuliffe stated. 
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) also responded to the request, saying “I will not provide sensitive voter information to a commission that has already inaccurately passed judgment that millions of Californians voted illegally” in the last election.

“California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, Vice President, and [Kansas Secretary of State Kris] Kobach,” Padilla stated. 
Kobach is the vice chairman of the voter fraud panel who asked each state for its voter rolls. 
Later in the evening, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) said she too wouldn't offer up the information requested by the panel. 
"The president created his election commission based on the false notion that "voter fraud" is a widespread issue – it is not," Grimes said in a statement Thursday. 
"Indeed, despite bipartisan objections and a lack of authority, the President has repeatedly spread the lie that three to five million illegal votes were cast in the last election," her statement continued. "Kentucky will not aid a commission that is at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst an attempt to legitimize voter suppression efforts across the country."

And the only reason you would force states to do this is if your "solution" to the issue of "voter fraud" was a "national voter integrity database" ahead of national voter ID legislation that would standardize voting and registration procedures across the country for federal elections.

Keep in mind too that Trump would then have a database of every voter in the country and how they voted for the last ten years.  You can imagine the awesome levels of malfeasance that could occur in the annals of targeting voter disenfranchisement with that type of information.

You can also imagine that there would be no independent oversight of the commission and the conclusions they would draw, which of course would be that America desperately needs "voter registration and identification reform legislation" ahead of 2020...or maybe ahead of 2018.

This is where we lose our two-party system, guys, right here.  Republicans vote, Democrats are mysteriously purged from the rolls, just enough to give Republicans key wins in key locations time and time again.  You don't have to touch a single voting machine in the country to control the outcome if you already know who can and cannot vote in each precinct in America.

Even if you don't believe that Trump got help from this from the Russians the first time around, you'd better believe Kobach is going to push for this to happen by 2020.  Keep a really close eye on this one guys, because your democracy is going to go poof before you know it.


Thursday, June 29, 2017

Last Call For Russian To Judgment

Today's Russia bombshell story (and we're well into the uncharted territory where we have enough regular bombshell stories for me to use the term today's Russia bombshell story) is from the WSJ's Shane Harris, who tells us the story of a GOP political operative named Peter Smith.  Smith, it turns out, is the cutout man linking Hillary Clinton's stolen emails, taken by Russian hackers, and Mike Flynn and the Trump campaign

Before the 2016 presidential election, a longtime Republican opposition researcher mounted an independent campaign to obtain emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server, likely by Russian hackers.

In conversations with members of his circle and with others he tried to recruit to help him, the GOP operative, Peter W. Smith, implied he was working with retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, at the time a senior adviser to then-candidate Donald Trump.

“He said, ‘I’m talking to Michael Flynn about this—if you find anything, can you let me know?’” said Eric York, a computer-security expert from Atlanta who searched hacker forums on Mr. Smith’s behalf for people who might have access to the emails.

Emails written by Mr. Smith and one of his associates show that his small group considered Mr. Flynn and his consulting company, Flynn Intel Group, to be allies in their quest.

What role, if any, Mr. Flynn may have played in Mr. Smith’s project is unclear. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Smith said he knew Mr. Flynn, but he never stated that Mr. Flynn was involved.

Mr. Flynn didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A Trump campaign official said that Mr. Smith didn’t work for the campaign, and that if Mr. Flynn coordinated with him in any way, it would have been in his capacity as a private individual. The White House declined to comment.

So if you wanted to know what the big shoe waiting to drop on Trump was, judging by his screaming Twitter rants all week, this appears to be it.  By the way, Peter Smith is now dead.  Did I mention that?

Mr. Smith died at age 81 on May 14, which was about 10 days after the Journal interviewed him. His account of the email search is believed to be his only public comment on it.

The operation Mr. Smith described is consistent with information that has been examined by U.S. investigators probing Russian interference in the elections.

Those investigators have examined reports from intelligence agencies that describe Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn via an intermediary, according to U.S. officials with knowledge of the intelligence.

It isn’t clear who that intermediary might have been or whether Mr. Smith’s operation was the one allegedly under discussion by the Russian hackers. The reports were compiled during the same period when Mr. Smith’s group was operating, according to the officials.

Mr. Smith said he worked independently and wasn’t part of the Trump campaign.

His project began over Labor Day weekend 2016 when Mr. Smith, a private-equity executive from Chicago active in Republican politics, said he assembled a group of technology experts, lawyers and a Russian-speaking investigator based in Europe to acquire emails the group theorized might have been stolen from the private server Mrs. Clinton used as secretary of state.
Mr. Smith’s focus was some 33,000 emails Mrs. Clinton said were deleted because they were deemed personal. Mr. Smith said he believed that the emails might have been obtained by hackers and that they actually concerned official matters Mrs. Clinton wanted to conceal—two notions for which he offered no evidence. Mrs. Clinton gave the State Department tens of thousands of emails related to official business.

Ahh, but it gets better.

In the interview with the Journal, Mr. Smith said he and his colleagues found five groups of hackers who claimed to possess Mrs. Clinton’s deleted emails, including two groups he determined were Russians.

“We knew the people who had these were probably around the Russian government,” Mr. Smith said.

And better.

Mr. Smith said after vetting batches of emails offered to him by hacker groups last fall, he couldn’t be sure enough of their authenticity to leak them himself. “We told all the groups to give them to WikiLeaks,” he said. WikiLeaks has never published those emails or claimed to have them.

No, that would have given the game away.  But Flynn had them.  The Russians had them.  Smith talked to the WSJ.  And now he's dead.

Fun times, huh?

Gunmerica Declares War

The NRA is apparently sick and tired of liberals wanting to not have schools full of kids being shot up and have decided that the real enemy of the United States is people who don't like firearms. If you think I'm exaggerating the "liberals are the enemy" angle of the NRA, this is their newest video.

MoJo's Kevin Drum on what amounts to a right-wing white supremacist recruitment video:

I’m not sure this video is even unusual for the NRA, which, these days, is more a purveyor of wholesale culture war zealotry than it is just a gun rights group. But it’s still a pretty spectacular appeal to the seemingly bottomless resentment of liberal sophisticates that eternally haunts conservatives despite controlling virtually the entire political apparatus of the United States. If there were a secret version of this video that ended with a call to march on Hollywood and raze it to the ground, I wouldn’t be surprised.

This raises a question for “both sides” apostles: Can you think of a recent video anywhere near as vicious as this one from a left-wing group? I don’t mean some dude on Twitter. I mean some significant organization associated with mainstream liberalism. It’s an honest question. I don’t watch a lot of propaganda videos, so I could easily have missed something. Any takers?

That's Dana Loesch in the video, by the way.  If the name sounds familiar, she's one of Glenn Beck's friends at The Blaze and is married to equally awful conservative media jackass Chris Loesch.

Her response to criticism of this video?

“The language of the left is violence and it has been because they think it’s an acceptable form of protest,” she said. “I thought these people were supposed to be open-minded and creative and funny, and I’ve never seen people who are the dullest crayons in the box in my life, and these people who try to overreact — hyper-reaction — and feign outrage about condemnation of violence that they themselves don’t have the balls to condemn.”

When somebody tell you straight out that "the only way to stop their violence of lies is with the clenched fists of truth" as an endorsed, public statement of an advocacy group for the promotion and use of firearms, it is not "rhetoric"or "metaphor" or "hyperbole", it is a statement that the NRA believes and is openly advocating that firearms should be purchased to be used by scared and angry people as a tool of resolution of political disagreement, to be used on Americans, by Americans.

It is a declaration of a belief that the time is coming when firearms must be used not in defense of liberty but as offense to put down enemies of the state.

It is a call for civil war, a clarion call to take up arms and to use those arms.

It's the most irresponsible and hideous thing I think I've seen in a long time, and the racial undertones of it are both indelible and unmistakable.  This goes far beyond the sick lunacy of a single man's attempt to kill a Republican Congressman earlier this month.  It is a call to open fire, during an open season of blood.

No Republican will dare disavow this.  But if I were making a recruitment video for a anti-government militia group, a white supremacist sovereign citizen movement, or I just wanted to inspire someone to start shooting up the next Black Lives Matter demonstration, in sixty seconds I could not have done a better job.

This is terrifying.  And there will be bloody consequences from this, I guarantee it.

The Bible Belt Meets The Bourbon Trail

It's no wonder that here in a state with the twin national embarrassments of the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter theme park, in a state where religious organizations now have the same "equal access" to discriminate against LGBTQ organizations on public university campuses and use tax dollars to do so, that GOP Gov. Matt Bevin is now putting Bible study courses in Kentucky high schools.

Public schools in Kentucky can soon teach reading, writing and the book of Revelation.

At the Capitol on Tuesday, Gov. Matt Bevin gave his public “Amen” to a bill allowing Bible courses in public schools.

Normally, a bill signing does not open with prayer, but in this case, it may have been appropriate. At a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, Bevin signed House Bill 128, which allows public schools to teach courses on the Bible.

The bill's sponsor says students need to understand the role the Bible played in American history.

“It really did set the foundation that our founding fathers used to develop documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights," said Rep. D.J. Johnson (R-Owensboro). "All of those came from principles from the Bible."

The bill, which easily passed the House and Senate, gives local school boards the option of developing a Bible literacy class as part of their social studies curriculum. The course would be elective, not required.

“The idea that we would not want this to be an option for people in school, that would be crazy. I don't know why every state would not embrace this, why we as a nation would not embrace this,” Bevin told the crowd.

The ACLU of Kentucky said it’s concerned about how the law might be used in schools.

“A Bible literacy bill that, on its face, may not appear to be unconstitutional, could in fact become unconstitutional in its implementation,” said Advocacy Director Kate Miller.

Miller told WDRB News the ACLU will monitor the law closely.

Comparative religion courses are one thing, I took such a class in college and hey, I learned about the Bible, the Qu'ran,  the Torah and Talmud, the Mahabharata, the Tripitaka and more.  But teaching the Bible in high school, even as a social studies elective, is tricky and in this state probably going to get ugly fast next year.

I'd argue that we need more Constitutional literacy, or literacy in general here in Kentucky, but that's why I'm not on any school boards around here. Go figure.

Bonus question:  When do we get the high school elective courses on literacy of the Qu'ran or any non-Christian religious text?

But you already know the answer to that.


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Last Call For Rand, True To His Name

Meanwhile here in Kentucky, Sen. Rand Paul is pissed off that the Senate GOP bill to wreck Medicaid and health insurance doesn't go far enough to rid America of a few million undesirable sick poors and that his Senate GOP buds need to be ready to purge the sick from the country in the name of that Tree of Liberty and all.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) says some of his "weak-kneed" Republican colleagues need to remember what they stand for regarding the repeal of ObamaCare. 
During a Wednesday interview on Fox News, Paul — an opponent of the Senate GOP's healthcare bill in its current form — said all Democrats hate the legislation, and so do half of Republicans. 
"The half of Republicans that hate it are conservatives like myself who went to rally after rally after rally saying 'We're going to repeal ObamaCare,' and now we're not repealing it, we're keeping it," Paul said.

"These weak-kneed Republicans up here who are saying, 'Oh, we got to spend more money and we got to keep Medicaid forever, the expansion,' they need to get over themselves." 
Paul said Republicans need to remember what they were for: "Repealing ObamaCare."
He added he'd like to support a healthcare bill, but will only vote for one that truly nixes the Affordable Care Act, not just modifies it or scales it back.

Got that, Kentucky voters?  If you got help from the Affordable Care Act over the last few years, well, you just need to "get over yourselves" and be sick and poor again.  Rand doesn't give a good goddamn if you live or die.

Keep in mind that if the Senate bill passes, the biggest loser in federal Medicaid spending cuts by percentage will guessed it, Kentucky.  The Bluegrass State will lose 58.5% of its federal funding for healthcare by 2022 if this bill becomes law, putting us in a worse position than before Obamacare even came along in the first place.

And Rand Paul believes those federal spending cuts to Kentucky aren't steep enough.

Do you finally get it now, fellow Kentuckians?

A Wealth Of Problems

We've seen plenty of charts on America's income being lopsided as Republicans are more than happy to give the richest Americans a trillion-dollar tax cut or three while ravaging social programs, but it turns out America's wealth distribution is even worse.

Research from Berkeley economists has found incomes at the top 0.001% of the income strata surged a whopping 636% between 1980 and 2014, while wages for the bottom half of the population were basically stuck in place.

Critics of that body of work say its use of pre-tax data masks some of the equalizing effects of the tax code, and thus overstates inequality. If that were indeed the case, a look at the distribution of wealth as opposed to just income, while harder to measure, could be a better barometer as to the true state of America’s social divide. 
This chart courtesy of Deutsch Bank economist Torsten Slok shows the picture with regards to wealth is even bleaker. The richest 10% of families are worth a combined $51 trillion, equal to 75% of total household wealth. To put that figure in perspective, US GDP totaled $18.5 trillion in 2016.

DB Wealth inequality

Please note America's total wealth doubled during Bill Clinton's two terms, from $30T to $60T, and wealth went up among America's bottom 50%, tripling to $3T or so.  It really was a boom time, and them Dubya came along and screwed us.
Still, the problem remains that just 10 percent of the country owns three-quarters of the wealth in America, and most of us have nothing or next to nothing.  Now we're ruled by a cabal that seems to think that the wealthiest ten percent need more trillions at our expense.
Don't count on voters to fix this either.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

As long suspected, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort officially admits now that he was taking money from a pro-Russian party in the Ukraine for two years, something he never officially disclosed when working for the Trump campaign.

Paul Manafort, who was forced out as President Trump’s campaign chairman last summer after five months of infighting and criticism about his business dealings with pro-Russian interests, disclosed Tuesday that his consulting firm had received more than $17 million over two years from a Ukrainian political party with links to the Kremlin.

The filing serves as a retroactive admission that Mr. Manafort performed work in the United States on behalf of a foreign power — Ukraine’s Party of Regions — without disclosing it at the time, as required by law
. The Party of Regions is the political base of former President Viktor F. Yanukovych, who fled to Russia during a popular uprising in 2014.

The disclosure hints at the vast fortunes available to top American political consultants plying their trade in other countries.

It was not immediately clear if Mr. Manafort would be required to pay any fines for the late filing. He has maintained that a majority of his work for Mr. Yanukovych was political consulting in Ukraine, where his firm, Davis Manafort International, operated an office at the time.

The Party of Regions employed Mr. Manafort to help rebrand Mr. Yanukovych and his party, which was long known as tilting toward Russia, as modernizers favoring closer ties to the European Union. All the work disclosed by Mr. Manafort on Tuesday predated Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.

Mr. Manafort’s filing indicates that he was retained by the Party of Regions to help elect national and regional candidates in Ukraine and to liaise with American diplomats in Kiev, the capital, who were monitoring elections there.

“Paul’s primary focus was always directed at domestic Ukrainian political campaign work, and that is reflected in today’s filing,” said Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Mr. Manafort.

The problem of course is that Manafort's millions in blood money meant he was in the business of helping a government friendly to Russia get elected, something he refused to actually disclose as he should have done under law here.  Then again, he was performing the same job here, wasn't he?  That mean both Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort have both lied about representing foreign powers in campaign capacity, and then both went to work for Trump.

I'm betting Robert Mueller is having a less-than-fun time sifting through this maze of sand, but when he hits pay dirt it's going to be a hell of a thing.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Last Call For Wage Slaves, Con't

Five Thirty Eight's Ben Casselman and Kathryn Casteel take a look at the relative uncharted economics of Seattle's $13 minimum wage on the way to $15, and reminds us that what may work economically in King County and SeaTac may not work for say, Bracken County, Kentucky.

As cities across the country pushed their minimum wages to untested heights in recent years, some economists began to ask: How high is too high
Seattle, with its highest-in-the-country minimum wage,1 may have hit that limit. 
In January 2016, Seattle’s minimum wage jumped from $11 an hour to $13 for large employers, the second big increase in less than a year. New research released Monday by a team of economists at the University of Washington suggests the wage hike may have come at a significant cost: The increase led to steep declines in employment for low-wage workers, and a drop in hours for those who kept their jobs. Crucially, the negative impact of lost jobs and hours more than offset the benefits of higher wages — on average, low-wage workers earned $125 per month less because of the higher wage, a small but significant decline. 
“The goal of this policy was to deliver higher incomes to people who were struggling to make ends meet in the city,” said Jacob Vigdor, a University of Washington economist who was one of the study’s authors. “You’ve got to watch out because at some point you run the risk of harming the people you set out to help.” 
The paper’s findings are preliminary and have not yet been subjected to peer review. And the authors stressed that even if their results hold up, their research leaves important questions unanswered, particularly about how the minimum wage has affected individual workers and businesses. The paper does not, for example, address whether displaced workers might have found jobs in other cities or with companies such as Uber that are not included in their data. 
Still, despite such caveats, the new research is likely to have big political implications at a time when the minimum wage has returned to the center of the economic policy debate. In recent years, cities and states across the country have passed laws and ordinances that will push their minimum wages as high as $15 over the next several years. During last year’s presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton called for the federal minimum wage to be raised to $12, and she faced pressure from activists to propose $15 instead. (The federal minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour.) Recently, however, the minimum-wage movement has faced backlash from conservatives, with legislatures in some states moving to block cities from increasing their local minimums.

The reality is while an $11 minimum wage had little to no deleterious effects, going to $13 is beginning to cause issues in at least one study.

Monday’s report looks at the impact of the second wage increase under the law: the January 2016 hike to $13 an hour for large employers. This time, the findings look very different: Compared to a counterfactual in which Seattle didn’t raise its minimum wage, the number of hours worked by low-wage workers (those earning less than $19 an hour) fell by 9.4 percent over the first nine months of 2016, and the number of low-wage jobs fell by 6.8 percent. Cumulatively, those add up to the losses of 5,000 jobs and 3.5 million hours of work. The average low-wage employee, they found, saw his or her monthly paycheck shrink by $125, or 6.6 percent. 
The study is far from the last word on the impact of Seattle’s law, let alone the $15 minimum wage movement more generally. Indeed, just last week another study used similar methods to reach seemingly the opposite conclusion: A report from the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, found that Seattle’s minimum wage, “raises pay without costing jobs,” as a press release on the study announced. 
The Berkeley study, however, looked exclusively at the restaurant industry. That has been a common practice in minimum-wage research, because the industry is one of the largest employers of low-wage workers. But the University of Washington study suggests a possible flaw in that approach: That research, too, found essentially no job losses in the restaurant sector as a result of the city’s minimum wage hike. That suggests that studies that focused on the restaurant industry might have missed larger effects in other sectors. (Michael Reich, one of the authors of the Berkeley study, said he was confident in his findings. Bernstein said focusing on restaurants, especially fast food, was a widely accepted approach that was well grounded in economic theory.) 
The Washington study has one big advantage over most past research: The authors had access to detailed data on the hours and earnings of nearly all employees in Washington state, allowing them to measure the effects of the minimum wage much more directly than is possible with less complete datasets.3 But the study has its own weaknesses. Because the researchers had data only for Washington state, they had only a limited pool of places they could compare Seattle to — a key step for figuring out the effects of the minimum wage policy. (The Berkeley paper, by contrast, compared Seattle to similar communities across the country.4
The Washington researchers also had to exclude many multilocation businesses, which means their sample could leave out major low-wage employers such as fast-food chains. Reich, in a letter to Seattle’s mayor responding to the study, called the findings “not credible” in part because they differed so much from those of past research. But Jeffrey Clemens, an economist at the University of California, San Diego who has studied the minimum wage, said it isn’t surprising that Seattle’s minimum wage would have an unusually big impact because it is so much higher than most other minimums. 
Even if the Washington study stands up to scrutiny — and it will get lots more scrutiny — it carries important caveats. Vigdor cautioned that the study makes no claims about individual workers: It is possible, for example, that workers who lost their jobs after the wage hike quickly found other jobs outside of Seattle, or that they made up for lost hours by driving for Uber. Neither shift would show up in the researchers’ data.

It's a cautionary tale, but again the categories of jobs and employers in the studies are not complete. What this really means is that we don't know what Seattle's minimum wage hikes will mean truly without more data and more expansive research.  Meanwhile, several other cities are set to join Seattle soon at that $15 point, and we'll have more data in more locations pretty rapidly over the next several years.

I know that's all pretty clinical when we're talking about a living wage for Americans out there working every day to put food on the table, but the issue has to be dealt with in a country where the federal minimum wage isn't a livable wage in any single county in the US.  That has to increase.  The question is "by how much".  We have one set of data points, but right now we're still largely in the "here be macroeconomic dragons" section of the chart.

However, keep in mind that the answer as long as the GOP is in charge is "it will never increase because we think that's already too high."

World War 3.0

The next evolution of warfare is being carried out in Ukraine today as the country's internet-enabled infrastructure is being systematically crippled by network attacks

Ukraine’s national bank, state power company and largest airport are among the targets of a huge cyber attack on government infrastructure. 
Rozenko Pavlo, the deputy Prime Minister, said he and other members of the Ukrainian government were unable to access their computers. 
“We also have a network 'down',” he wrote. “This image is being displayed by all computers of the government.” 
The photo showed his PC displaying a message claiming a disk “contains errors and needs to be prepared”, urging the user not to turn it off. 
Images from other affected computers and disabled cash points showed what appeared to be ransomware, demanding a payment of $300 (£235) in Bitcoin to re-gain access to encrypted files. 
Analysts said the virus, named Petrwrap or Petya, appeared to work similarly to the WannaCry ransomware that infected more than 230,000 computers in 150 countries last month. 
Ukrainian state-run aircraft manufacturer Antonov was among the companies hit, along with power distributorUkrenergo, which said the attack did not affect power supplies. 
The National Bank of Ukraine said an “unknown virus” was to blame, saying several unnamed Ukrainian banks were affected along with financial firms.

“As a result of cyber attacks, these banks have difficulties with customer service and banking operations,” a statement said.

No shots fired, no soldiers parachuting in, no tanks rolling across the roads, but still billions in damage.  And there really shouldn't be any question as to who's behind it.

The secretary of Ukraine's security council said there were signs of Russian involvement in a wave of cyberattacks that hit Ukrainian institutions on Tuesday, including banks and the state power distributor.

"Already on first analysis of the virus it is possible to talk of Russian fingerprints," the National Security and Defense Council quoted Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov as saying.

This is how wars will be fought going forward: critical transportation, corporate, medical, economic, logistic, and electrical infrastructure systems all crashed at once.  Of course, there will be plenty of old fashioned shooting and bombing too, but the era of including a cyber component of warfare in skirmishes between nation-states is upon us.

After all, our good friends the Russians know damn good and well that internet warfare works.

Just ask Donald Trump.

To Heller In A Handbasket

So the theory goes that vulnerable Nevada GOP Senator Dean Heller announced his opposition over the weekend to the Trumpcare Senate bill, and that some behind-the-scenes stuff would happen where Heller would get permission to vote no on it from Mitch McConnell and the bill still passes the Senate with 51 GOP votes instead of 52 when he has to face voters in 2018.  Heller can then say "Well I heard you and I voted no on it" and gets John McCain Maverick Points™, which he can trade in for another term.  That's the theory anyway, and I'm sure that's what Heller was expecting.

That theory just got burned to the ground this week along with possibly Dean Heller's career as the White House has now declared open season on his head.

A new campaign by top White House allies targeting the GOP’s most vulnerable senator over health care sends a loud message to those resistant to the Trump agenda: We’re coming after you. 
America First Policies, a White House-backed outside group led by the president’s top campaign advisers, has launched a $1 million attack against Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who on Friday announced that he opposed the Senate’s recently unveiled Obamacare repeal plan.

That included a Twitter and digital ad campaign targeting the senator, including a video that accuses him of “standing with” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a reviled figure in conservative circles. 
“Unacceptable,” the video says. “If you’re opposed to this bill, we’re opposed to you.” 
America First Policies is set to expand its campaign early this week with TV ads that will go after the Nevada senator. 
The offensive aims both to punish Heller and to sway his vote, and it is a stunning act of political retaliation against a member of the president’s own party — one who faces a perilous path to reelection in 2018. Senior Republicans, many of whom are deeply worried about Heller’s political standing and increasingly nervous about the midterms, were shocked and spent the weekend measuring the possible fallout.

It's one thing to say "Sorry Dean, nobody's getting a pass on this one, we need a united vote" and quite another thing to spend a million bucks to take out ads going after somebody in your own party. I'm trying to imagine the Obama White House doing this to Joe Manchin or something and I just can't.  It's ludicrous.

But the cold calculus is there: there are a lot more vulnerable Dems in 2018 in red states (ten of them!) then there are blue state Republicans, which currently consists solely of Dean Heller.  Losing Heller at this point is a calculated risk to make sure there are no surprises on this Senate bill vote.  I guess the White House figures there will still be a net gain of Senate Republicans in 2018 even if Heller loses, and frankly they're probably correct.

Also, it's still early enough to primary Heller off the island.  Former Utah GOP Sen. Bob Bennett only realized how awful the Trump GOP was on his deathbed last year after the Tea Party primaried him out of a career in 2010.  Heller's only finding out now that loyalty to Dear Leader or Else is the name of the game.

But that leaves the question of "What about the other GOP senators who are holding out?"  Maine's Susan Collins, Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski have all come out against the bill as too cruel, and Utah's Mike Lee, Texas's Ted Cruz and my local blockhead Rand Paul have come out saying the bill is not cruel enough.  None of those senators face re-election in 2018, so ads aren't going to matter.

But cold hard cash certainly will.  It's time for the "Let's Make A Deal" phase of the Senate GOP healthcare bill!

White House and Capitol Hill officials are exploring potential deals to divvy up billions of dollars to individual senators’ priorities in a wide-ranging bid to secure votes for the imperiled GOP health care bill. 
A Congressional Budget office score that projected 22 million fewer Americans would have insurance under the plan sent some members fleeing Monday and left the bill in jeopardy of failing to have enough votes to even be called to the Senate floor this week.

But Republicans in the White House and in Congress were pleasantly surprised that the bill included more savings than they expected — and are trying to figure out if they can dole it out for votes. 
The Senate has about $188 billion to play with. 
Among the possible changes: More spending for health savings accounts to appease conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, according to three people familiar with the matter, and some additional Medicaid and opioid spending for moderates. 
"We are still working with leadership to change the base bill," a Lee aide said. 
Lee, Cruz and others on the right have been looking to wipe out as much of Obamacare as possible and replace it with health savings accounts, group plans and selling insurance across state lines, among other ideas. It’s not clear if the Senate parliamentarian would allow all of those proposals through under strict reconciliation rules. And Lee will likely require far more dramatic changes to be won over. 
Meanwhile, senators from Medicaid expansion states huddled after the CBO score revealed the nearly $200 billion in savings to see if they could get GOP leaders to put more money into Medicaid and to thwart drug addiction. Those modifications may take place on the Senate floor, but Republicans are divided on how to use the money.

Let's keep in mind that this "windfall in savings" of nearly $200 billion comes from throwing tens of millions of people off Medicaid coverage.  Mitch McConnell is then going to turn around and take that money and try to bribe GOP senators with it.

That's how Republicans operate.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Last Call For Running The Numbers

To recap, this is what President Obama did for white people since the middle of his first term:

White America turned the country over to the GOP anyway.  When Reagan had to deal with a first term recession and was re-elected and brought white unemployment down from over 9% to 4% in his second term, the country gladly elected another Republican to follow him because he was a hero.

Obama did the same thing in a much worse recession but was reviled for it by the very people he helped the most.

But please tell me again it was "economic anxiety".

SCOTUS-Palooza, 2017 Edition

If it's the last Monday in June, it's time for the big Supreme Court rulings for the end of spring term, and as with 2014's awful Alito Hobby Lobby decision, 2015's Scalia EPA decision wrecking President Obama's clean power plant initiative,  and 2016's Breyer strikedown of Texas's TRAP laws regulating abortion clinics out of business , this year's final rulings were big news that will have lasting effects for years.

The big ruling is actually a future one: the Supreme Court will take up Trump's Muslim travel ban in October and for now has issued a messy partial stay, partial enforcement on the ban.

The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it would decide whether President Trump’s revised travel ban was lawful, setting the stage for a major decision on the scope of presidential power. 
Mr. Trump’s revised executive order, issued in March, limited travel from six mostly Muslim countries for 90 days and suspended the nation’s refugee program for 120 days. The time was needed, the order said, to address gaps in the government’s screening and vetting procedures. 
Two federal appeals courts have blocked critical parts of the order. 
The administration had asked that the the lower-court ruling be stayed while the case moves forward. The court granted part of that request in its unsigned opinion. 
We grant the government’s applications to stay the injunctions, to the extent the injunctions prevent enforcement of” Mr. Trump’s executive order “with respect to foreign nationals who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

Which means family members of US citizens or employees of US companies can't be banned, but that means that it looks like the burden of proof of said "bona fide relationship" would have to be on the person wishing to enter the US.  That's going to be spectacularly messy to enforce.

Worse, the Supreme Court even taking this up is a majorly bad sign.  We'll see in October when SCOTUS hears the case, but my guess is a ruling would come sooner rather than later given the Trump regime argument involving national security import that the Court clearly believes is relevant here.

We'll see where this goes.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

As I keep saying, the investigation into the Trump regime by Special Counsel Robert Mueller has three components: possible collusion with Russia on the election, possible money laundering through Russian firms (as possible payoff for the collusion) and possible obstruction of justice in covering up the first two components.

A Washington Post story from Sunday ties Trump son-in-law and campaign  consultant Jared Kushner to involvement in all three when Kushner profited handsomely from a real estate deal made through Germany's Deutsche Bank just before joining the Trump campaign in an official capacity.

The Deutsche Bank deal was one of the last Kushner orchestrated before joining the White House. It is among the dozens of complex transactions that he was involved with during his decade in the real estate business. 
Although Kushner divested some properties in an effort to address potential conflicts, he retains an interest in nearly 90 percent of his real estate properties, including the retail portion of the former New York Times headquarters, and holds personal debts and loan guarantees. 
The deal that led to the Deutsche Bank loan is rooted in a holiday party held in late 2014 at the Bowlmor bowling alley, which is located in the retail portion.

At the party, Kushner decided that the four retail floors of the building, while rundown, could be transformed into a thriving tourist destination, according to his associates.

The building passed through several owners after the newspaper sold the property for $175 million in 2004 to Tishman Speyer. Tishman sold it three years later for $525 million to a company called Africa-Israel Investments. (Those transactions prompted Trump a few months ago to poke fun at the Times, tweeting that the “dopes” at the newspaper “gave it away.”) 
Africa-Israel’s decision to purchase the building was made by its chairman, an Uzbek-born Israeli citizen, Lev Leviev. He is one of the world’s wealthiest men, known as the “King of Diamonds” for his extensive holdings in Africa, Israel and Russia. He was then expanding his real estate holdings in New York City.

Leviev told the New York Times shortly after the building’s purchase that he was a “true friend” of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, largely through his work with an influential Jewish organization in the former Soviet Union. The newspaper wrote that he kept a photo of Putin in his office in Israel. Leviev’s company said in a statement to The Post that Leviev “does not have a personal relationship” with Putin but has met him “on a few occasions.” Leviev’s statement said he was referring to his belief that “Mr. Putin has been a ‘true friend’ to the Jewish people in Russia.” 
In 2008, a year after the building’s purchase, Leviev invited Trump to his Madison Avenue store, an ultra-high-end establishment called Leviev Jewelry, where they were photographed together, according to the Leviev statement. Leviev hoped to work with Trump on Moscow real estate deals, according to an article in Kommersant, a Russian newspaper. The Leviev statement said that the two “never had any business dealings with one another, contrary to speculation.”

Six years later, Kushner saw an opportunity for his own company.

Leviev, whose company was having financial difficulties, according to an Israeli press account, sold the building’s 12-floor office portion for $160 million, a transaction that did not involve the four retail floors.

Leviev’s daughter, Chagit, took charge of her father’s U.S. subsidiary and set out to find a buyer for the retail portion of the building. The company said it would entertain offers no lower than $300 million. 
Kushner’s company offered $265 million, which was rejected. Kushner himself then negotiated with Chagit Leviev and others in 2015 and succeeded with a $296 million offer, according to an official involved in the matter.

“It was a very hard back-and-forth New York negotiating style,” said Kushner’s broker, Lon Rubackin. Leviev’s partner in the deal, Five Mile Capital, did not respond to a request for comment.
Few knew it at the time, but the negotiations were nearly consummated when Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, ran into Chagit Leviev on May 4, 2015, at an after-party for a Metropolitan Museum of Art gala — an encounter that was memorialized in a picture posted on Instagram. 
“Such a pleasure seeing ­@jaredckushner and his stunningly beautiful wife @ivankatrump last night [at] the #metball­afterparty,” Chagit Leviev wrote.

The deal was signed a week later and closed in October 2015. The Leviev company said in a statement to The Post that Kushner simply made the highest offer and “there was no political element to the transaction.”

Kushner took over a property that was only 25 percent leased, according to a company official. His company recruited tenants, offering some a year’s free rent to lock in long-term contracts, according to an SEC filing. As a result, the building was nearly fully leased, with higher rents, including new tenants such as National Geographic. 
The strategy paid off when Kushner’s company went to Deutsche Bank for refinancing. An appraisal cited in SEC filings for the package of mortgage-backed securities placed the value at $470 million, a 59 percent increase in a year. The bank declined to release the appraisal, but a person involved in the deal said that such a rapid increase was unusual when New York real estate was rebounding from recession, and credited Kushner for finding stellar tenants.

So Kushner just happens to end up making a crapton of money through a bank that was fined for not keeping sufficient tabs on Russian money laundering, and did so with the help of a major Russian oligarch friend of Putin's who just happens to be an expert in a relatively easy method of moving large amounts of cash through something like, I don't know, diamonds.

All this happens a month before Trump is elected.

Kushner didn't bother to disclose this deal that by all rights he should have been very proud of, following in his father-in-law's footsteps as a real estate business tycoon.

The cases against Deutsche Bank were then both settled within weeks of Trump taking office.

So much smoke here there's a probably a small volcano under midtown Manhattan.

But remember this is all fake news because Dear Leader Don says so.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Last Call For Conway Con Job, Con't

OK, I definitely needed to be over being mad at the Dems about Jon Ossoff, as several of you pointed out in the comments.  Let's not forget who the real bad guys here are, and that's the friggin Trump regime and their Queen of Propaganda, Kellyanne Conway.

Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway asserted Sunday that the Senate health care bill does not propose cuts to Medicaid, despite projections that it would cut the federal health insurance program by $800 billion.

“These are not cuts to Medicaid," Conway said to ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" Sunday.

"This slows the rate for the future and it allows governors more flexibility for the future with Medicaid dollars,” she said.

If you are currently in Medicaid, if you became [a recipient] ... through the Obamacare expansion, you are grandfathered in. We’re talking about in the future,” Conway said.

When pressed by Stephanopoulos on how the proposal doesn’t amount to cuts when it directly curtails funding for Medicaid, Conway said the administration sees its actions as putting Medicaid back to pre-Obamacare levels.

We don’t see them as cuts, it’s slowing the rate of growth in the future and getting Medicaid back to where it was,” she said.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is expected to release its analysis of the impact of the Senate bill this week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hopes to bring the bill to a vote on the Senate floor before the July 4 recess.

That part about being "grandfathered in" is 100% nonsense.  What will really happen is that 1) states will be free under Trumpcare to spend Medicaid funds for whatever they want to do with them, and 2) the amount of funds from the federal government will be reduced.  It'll be then the fault of the states who will have to either raise revenue dramatically to "grandfather people in" or make steep cuts to Medicaid, not Trump or the GOP-led Congress, as nearly all states have to balance their budgets and can't go into deficit spending.

What the GOP is really hoping is that enough people lose that grandfather status because they won't be able to afford the massive increase in premiums they'll have to pay under the GOP plan, with the loss of premium subsidies under Obamacare.  Then, Republicans can say "Well, you didn't come up with your fair share of your insurance payments" and then they'll of course have to lose coverage.

Getting Medicaid back to where it was means tens of millions of people will no longer be on Medicaid, and it will be everyone's fault but Dear Leader Trump.

No wonder Republican governors like John Kasich, Brian Sandoval, and Charlie Baker are in full panic mode and publicly attacking Trumpcare.  They know what's coming for the GOP brand in their states.  And they know they're the ones who will have to present and sign ruthless austerity budgets under the "new and improved" GOP healthcare system.  If it doesn't do their party in come 2018, it'll definitely end them in 2020.

Sunday Long Read: To Serve And Neglect

HuffPost Highline gives us our Sunday Long Read for the week, as America's epidemic of domestic abuse is particularly grim when it comes to the abuser being a law enforcement officer.  Who watches the watchmen, indeed?

If domestic abuse is one of the most underreported crimes, domestic abuse by police officers is virtually an invisible one. It is frighteningly difficult to track or prevent—and it has escaped America’s most recent awakening to the many ways in which some police misuse their considerable powers. Very few people in the United States understand what really happens when an officer is accused of harassing, stalking, or assaulting a partner. One person who knows more than most is a 62-year-old retired cop named Mark Wynn.

Wynn decided to be a police officer when he was about 5 years old because he wanted to put his stepfather in prison. Alvin Griffin was a violent alcoholic who terrorized Wynn’s mother, a waitress and supermarket butcher. Looking back, Wynn compares his childhood in Dallas to living inside a crime scene. “There was always blood in my house,” he said.

The cops sometimes showed up, usually after a neighbor called to complain about the screaming, but they didn’t do much. Wynn doesn’t remember them ever talking to him or his four siblings. He does remember clinging to his mother while a police officer threatened to arrest her if they had to come back to the house again. “There was no one to help us,” he said. “We were completely isolated.” Wynn has often spoken of the time he tried to kill his stepfather when he was 7—how he and his brother emptied out the Mad Dog wine on Griffin’s bedside dresser and replaced it with Black Flag bug spray. A few hours later, Griffin downed the bottle as the boys waited in the living room. Griffin didn’t seem to notice anything wrong with the wine. But he didn’t die, either.

Years later, when Wynn was around 13 and all but one of his siblings had left home, he was watching television when he heard a loud crack that sounded like a gunshot. He found his mother splayed on the floor of their tiny kitchen, blood pooling around her face. Griffin had knocked her out with a punch to the head. Wynn watched as Griffin stepped over her, opened the fridge, pulled out a can of beer and drank it. That night, Griffin got locked up for public drunkenness and Wynn, his sister and his mother finally got out, driving to Tennessee with a few belongings. Griffin never found them.

Wynn became a police officer in the late 1970s and after a few years, he wound up in Nashville. Then as now, domestic complaints tended to be one of the most common calls fielded by police. And Wynn was disturbed to find that he was expected to handle them in much the same way as the cops from his childhood had—treat it as a family matter, don’t get involved. He remembers that officers would write cursory summaries on 3 by 5 inch “miscellaneous incident” cards rather than full reports. To fit what he regarded as essential details in the tiny space provided, Wynn would print “really, really small,” he said. “The officers I worked with used to get pissed off at me,” he added. They couldn’t understand why he bothered.

But Wynn had entered the force at a pivotal moment. In the late 1970s, women’s groups had turned domestic violence into a major national cause, and abused women successfully sued police departments for failing to protect them. Over the next decade, states passed legislation empowering police to make arrests in domestic incidents and to enforce protective orders. Wynn eagerly embraced these changes and in the late 1980s, the Department of Justice asked him to train police chiefs on best practices. He went on to lead one of the country’s first specialized investigative units for family violence. By the passage of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which poured more than $1 billion into shelters and law enforcement training, the U.S. was finally starting to treat domestic violence as a crime. “It was like stepping out of the Dark Ages,” Wynn said.

And yet when officers themselves were the accused, cases tended to be handled in the old way. Wynn would hear stories around his station, like an assailant who received a quiet talk from a colleague instead of being arrested. “Officers thought they were taking care of their fellow officer,” said David Thomas, a former police officer and a consultant for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). “But what they were doing was colluding with a criminal.”

It is nearly impossible to calculate the frequency of domestic crimes committed by police—not least because victims are often reluctant to seek help from their abuser’s colleagues. Another complication is the 1996 Lautenberg Amendment, a federal law that prohibits anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse from owning a gun. The amendment is a valuable protection for most women. But a police officer who can’t use a gun can’t work—and so reporting him may risk the family’s livelihood as well as the abuser’s anger. Courts can be perilous to navigate, too, since police intimately understand their workings and often have relationships with prosecutors and judges. Police are also some of the only people who know the confidential locations of shelters. Diane Wetendorf, a domestic violence counselor who wrote a handbook for women whose abusers work in law enforcement, believes they are among the most vulnerable victims in the country.

This is where America needs to start cleaning up domestic abuse, with law enforcement personnel.  But it's not going to happen as long as we keep pretending police are above the law.

It's About Suppression, Con't

Yet another massive difference between Democrats and Republicans: House Democrats want to fix the Voting Rights Act, which has been fatally broken since before the 2016 election. Republicans will never let such legislation come to a vote.

House Democrats introduced legislation Thursday to restore parts of the Voting Rights Act while pledging to make the issue of voting rights a priority if the party wins in 2018.

On the eve of the four-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down key parts of the VRA, Rep. Terri Sewell, D-AL, told a crowd of voting rights advocates and supporters gathered on Capitol Hill that it is time to “restore the promise of voter equality.”

“Today, I’m introducing the Voting Rights Advancement Act because I believe that the right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights in our democracy,” Sewell said. “As state after state create new barriers to the polls, our work to prevent discrimination and protect the rights of all voters has taken on a new urgency. The time to restore the vote is now.”

The Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) aims to modernize Section 4 of the VRA that the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder was outdated on June 25, 2013. Under the new act, local and state governments with a history of voter discrimination from the past 25 years would have to obtain federal approval before making changes to voting policies or procedures.

These states would include: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

The bill has 180 Democratic co-sponsors, but has yet to garner support from across the aisle. Without it, the bill cannot forward in the Republican-controlled chamber.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, while calling on her GOP colleagues to make it a bipartisan measure, said the bill "will be introduced on the very first day" Democrats regain control of the House in 2018.

“We want people to understand they have the right to vote and their vote will be counted and counted as cast. Many people sacrificed so much for the right to vote in our country,” Pelosi said. "You have our commitment that this will become the law when we become the majority and we want it to become the law even before then."

I'm extremely glad that Democrats are focusing on this important issue, but there's no way it will ever pass as long as Republicans control the House, Senate, and/or the Oval Office.  And it's going to be extremely difficult to fix Congress and the White House before we fix rampant GOP voter suppression.

We need to start now.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Last Call For Awful Ossoff

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir has a pretty damning analysis of the failure of Democrats in Georgia's 6th district special election last Tuesday.

Furthermore, as I hinted earlier, the dominant liberal narrative about what happened in the Georgia Sixth is somewhere between highly misleading and complete fiction. If you’ve gotten the impression that the commuter hellscape of the northern Atlanta ‘burbs saw a surge of anti-Trump, pro-Democratic enthusiasm that wasn’t quiteenough to put Ossoff over the top, that’s 100 percent fake news. Want to know how many votes Ossoff picked up with all those millions of dollars in outside donations and all those doorbell-ringing volunteers? I will tell you: Essentially none.

No, it’s true. Ossoff received almost exactly the same vote total as the district’s previous Democratic nominee got against Tom Price in 2016. (In fact, he got 24 fewer votes than that guy. Twenty-four!) The race was close because Karen Handel underperformed drastically, getting about 66,000 fewer votes than Price did in November. I’m going to say that again: There were no Democratic gains in that district at all. The “vote shift” was entirely a matter of bummed-out Republicans staying home. The dynamic in Montana was similar, if slightly worse for both sides: Democrat Rob Quist got 40,000 fewer votes than the last defeated Democrat, while the infamous Greg Gianforte fell 95,000 votes short of previous GOP incumbent Ryan Zinke.

Maybe that’s the grand Democratic strategy for 2018: Depressed voter turnout! Republicans are bewildered about Trump, and if you can run somebody so bland and inoffensive that they don’t get pissed off, they might not show up at all. It would be a measure of karmic payback for the Koch brothers, I guess.

More seriously, those startling numbers from Georgia call into question the apparently reasonable premise that the only way Democrats could possibly compete there was to run a milquetoast moderate with no discernible ideology. You can’t win in an archetypal “Panera district” like that one (the theory holds) by terrifying the polite, professional white folks with vows to tax the rich, provide health care for all and jack up the price of that Cinnamon Dolce Light Frappuccino with a $15 minimum wage.

That might all be true, as a matter of electoral calculus. But if the Democrats are now playing the Republicans’ game of trying to shrink the opposing voter base instead of expanding their own, another Rubicon has been crossed in the degradation of democracy. Maybe an activist firebrand candidate might have expanded the Democratic base or motivated the district’s modest African-American population or done something, anything, beyond spending vast sums of money to accomplish literally nothing. Such a candidate might also might have sparked an intense Republican response and lost anyway, to be sure. But isn’t it better, in terms of morale and long-term strategy, to go down fighting on principle than to go down as a calculated nonentity?

Jon Ossoff was not a whole bunch of things: He had no political experience and no discernible ideology. He did not actually live in the district where he ran for Congress. (He did not look old enough to shave.) To his credit, he was not Donald Trump, not a Republican, not vicious or venal or insane, and those things formed the entire text of his campaign. Ossoff also did not win, and it would not have mattered much if he had. Instead of engineering a symbolic victory, his campaign drained an immense amount of money and activist energy into a black hole of disappointment and defeat.

It's really hard for me to look at Ossoff's loss at this point as anything other than a massive failure.  His biggest problem was running to get Romney voters, and they simply stayed home.  Not enough of them for Ossoff to win however, and there was every indication that if he did win, we'd have ended up with another useless Democrat like Kyrsten Sinema.

I'm not as cynical as Andrew here, but I do agree that the goal here must be to expand the Democratic base, not trade in base voters for Republicans sick of Trump.  We've gotten multiple attempts at failure now running like that.  Could another candidate have done better?  Maybe.  2018 is another attempt.  I hope the lesson is learned.

Time to act like Democrats, and not Republicans.  Even in Republican districts, we have to give voters a Democratic choice.

California Love (Not Hate)

California has had a state travel and business ban in place for four states over LGBT discrimination.  Now the sixth-largest economy on earth will no longer do business with four more states, including Texas and here in Kentucky.

Decrying a “scourge of discrimination” against LGBT individuals in four states, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Thursday doubled the number of states subject to California’s state-sponsored travel ban.

Speaking in San Francisco, Becerra increased the number of states that California state employees cannot travel to on official government business from four to eight.

The four additions — Alabama, Kentucky, South Dakota and Texas — each passed state legislation that took effect starting in March that Becerra alleged discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families.

“The state of California is not going to participate in discriminatory conduct by other states,” Becerra said.

The states join Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee on California’s list of banned states. The first four were put in place by then-Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Thursday marked Becerra’s first action on the matter since he took office, and he blamed the delayed rollout on the complications of analyzing four separate pieces of state legislation.

Under a California law that took effect in January, there are a number of exemptions to the ban on travel. The restrictions do apply to the University of California and other state schools.

But the attorney general’s office would not say whether the rules would prevent an athletic team — the California Golden Bears, for example — from playing an away game at one of the affected states. A representative said the office was reviewing the matter.

Asked about the consequences for California in refusing to do business with those states — especially Texas, which boasts the second-largest economy in the United States behind only California — Becerra paused.

“Texas is a big state,” he said, but “the consequences are real” for LGBT people in Texas and elsewhere.

He said he would not rule out adding more states.

California refusing to do business with Texas is a big, big story.  California's GDP is over two trillion yearly, Texas is just under that number.  If that ban does include college sports, well, that's going to be a major issue, especially here in Kentucky.

But there's consequences for codifying into law that LGBT citizens are second-class and can be discriminated against in every way in the name of "religious liberty".  I'm really hoping Eric Schneiderman and New York follow suit soon, especially in regards to Texas.  States no longer having access to Wall Street or Silicon Valley investments just might make them think twice.
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