Monday, July 31, 2017

Last Call For The Opioid Crisis Is The Jobs Crisis

The problem we hear from Trump voters in Ohio is that there are no jobs under Obama and the Democrats, so they rolled the dice on Trump and the GOP.  The reality is a lot more complicated of course.  The jobs are there, but qualified workers aren't, and the biggest culprit is not lack of training or immigrant labor or even the death of unions, but the opioid crisis.

Ohio's blue collar workers can't pass drug tests.

An Ohio factory owner said Saturday that though she has blue-collar jobs available at her company, she struggles to fill positions because so many candidates fail drug tests.
Regina Mitchell, a co-owner of Warren Fabricating & Machining in Hubbard, Ohio, told The New York Times this week that four out of 10 applicants otherwise qualified to be welders, machinists and crane operators will fail a routine drug test. 
In an interview Saturday with CNN's Michael Smerconish, Mitchell said that her requirements for prospective workers were simple.

"I need employees who are engaged in their work while here, of sound mind and doing the best possible job that they can, keeping their fellow co-workers safe at all times," she said. 
"We have a 150-ton crane in our machine shop. And we're moving 300,000 pounds of steel around in that building on a regular basis. So I cannot take the chance to have anyone impaired running that crane, or working 40 feet in the air." 
President Donald Trump addressed his blue-collar base in Ohio this week, returning to his campaign theme of getting local communities back to work and returning jobs to America from overseas. 
But Mitchell said she has jobs. She just doesn't have sober applicants. 
For 48 of the 50 years her company has been around, drug abuse had never been an issue, she told Smerconish. 
"It hasn't been until the last two years that we needed to have a policy, a corporate policy in place, that protects us from employees coming into work impaired," she said. 
Opioid use is on the rise across the country, but especially in Ohio. In 2014, the state had the second-largest number of opioid-related deaths in the United States and the fifth-highest rate of overdose. 
"This opioid epidemic that we're experiencing ... it seems like it's worse than in other places all over the country," Mitchell said.

Now keep in mind Ohio Republicans happily put major cuts to Medicaid and drug treatment programs in Ohio's state budget.  They were line-item vetoed by GOP Gov. John Kasich, but the bigger point is that if you want to see the real reason why Obamacare has grown begrudgingly popular out here in the Midwest, it's because for a lot of families the ACA and the treatment options it provides are the only thing standing between them and disaster when it comes to the opioid crisis here.

It's not just "an inner city" problem, either.  And people here damn well know it.

Regrets, He's Had A Few

Reince Preibus may have been unceremoniously booted out of the White House by Trump (having the dubious distinction of the shortest-serving WH Chief of Staff) but he's taking the massive public humiliation in stride, comforting himself on the fact that the GOP has gained control of pretty much the entire country under his watch.

Six years ago, a humble party hack from Kenosha, Wisconsin, took on the thankless job of turning around the Republican Party. As he exits the White House—battered, bruised, and humiliated—Reince Priebus argues he accomplished just what he set out to do. 
“We won,” Priebus told me in an interview. Calling from the golf course on Sunday afternoon, he sounded both defiant and relieved. “Winning is what we were supposed to do, and we won. That’s the job of the Republican Party. It’s in the best shape it’s been in since 1928.” 
The former White House chief of staff and Republican National Committee chairman said he was proud of his stewardship of the GOP, which culminated in the election of a Republican president, Republican Congress, and Republican gains up and down the ballot. 
But the White House is mired in chaos, and all that Republican power has yet to result in a single major policy achievement. Priebus’s critics view him as the man who sold his party out to Donald Trump. Was it really worth it, I asked?

It’s absolutely worth it,” Priebus said, pointing to the appointment of a conservative Supreme Court justice, regulatory reform, and a healthy economy, though he acknowledged health care remained “an obstacle.” “The president has accomplished an incredible amount of things in the last six months,” he added. “The future can be great, and the past has been pretty good.” Even in exile, he was still committed to spinning the Trump line. 
It has been a long, strange trip for Priebus, who came to Washington as GOP chairman in 2011 on a promise to reform a party in disarray. His story, in a way, is the story of the Republican Party itself: His initial wariness of Trump gave way to capitulation and then enabling. He swallowed his private qualms for the sake of the team, until his turn to be the victim of Trump’s pageant of dominance finally came—publicly disgraced, dismissed in a tweet. 
“I see him as kind of a tragic figure,” said Charlie Sykes, a former conservative radio host in Milwaukee who has known Priebus for many years. “What began as a matter of duty on his part—the decision to go all-in on Trump—ended with this scorchingly obscene humiliation.” 
Sykes’s pity for his friend was limited, however. “It’s sad, but it’s the result of choices he made,” said Sykes, a Never Trumper who is now an MSNBC commentator. “It’s not like he wasn’t warned.” 
Ironically, Priebus’s own career in national politics began with an act of disloyalty. In 2011, he won the RNC chair by running against his own boss, then-chairman Michael Steele. Despite big wins in the 2010 midterm elections, party activists had become dissatisfied with what they viewed as Steele’s mismanagement and penchant for gaffes. Steele knew he would have challengers when he sought another term as chairman—but he didn’t expect a challenge from Priebus, his general counsel, whom he considered a teammate.

“This is the bed Reince has been making for himself since he was my general counsel,” Steele told me. “He’s a guy who’s always positioning himself for the next thing. Karma’s a bitch, ain’t it?”

And sure, Priebus almost certainly helped sell the country out to Vladimir Putin in order to win...but they won, and in the end in American politics, winning is the only thing that matters, because winners get to do things, and losers get to complain about it.

It's hard to say he's wrong, either. Laugh all you want at Reince, but it's true: right now the GOP controls 240 House seats, 52 Senate seats, both chambers in a whopping 32 state legislatures (plus de facto control of Nebraska's unicameral state government) and 33 governors...oh yeah, and the White House.  Outside of New England/Mid-Atlantic states and the West Coast, the Dems are also-rans across the board right now.

Of course with the rise of Priebus and the Trump GOP, America is the biggest loser.  Hopefully we'll try to correct this problem before it becomes too permanent, and that means mobilizing for 2018 *now*.  We're already seeing signs of this as Dems are recruiting and registering voters.

On the other hand, Priebus lasted a hell of a lot longer at the White House than Tony Scaramucci did.

He's got that going for him.

Hack The Vote 2018

The annual DEF CON hacker conference took place this weekend in Las Vegas, where corporations, enthusiasts and the the US government backed by Big Data challenge the hacker community in a friendly competitions to break the best defenses the experts have to offer, and pay a pretty handsome sum (not to mention job offers) for those who can find a way through.  It's a way for both sides to get better and stronger, but in the end the decision to implement tougher network defenses are always a business decision and not a security one.

Unfortunately as we've seen recently with Russia, that cost-benefit analysis mindset when applied to government means we still have a major vulnerability in this country with electronic voting machines and have for years.  One of the biggest exhibitions at DEF CON this year was a demonstration on just how easily those machines can be cracked.

Election officials and voting machine manufacturers insist that the rites of American democracy are safe from hackers. But people like Carten Schurman need just a few minutes to raise doubts about that claim.

Schurman, a professor of computer science at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, used a laptop’s Wi-Fi connection Friday to gain access to the type of voting machine that Fairfax County, Virginia, used until just two years ago. Nearby, other would-be hackers took turns trying to poke into a simulated election computer network resembling the one used by Cook County, Illinois.

Elsewhere, a gaggle of hackers went to work on a model still used in parts of seven states, as well as all of the state of Nevada. Though the device was supposedly wiped before it was sold by the government at auction, the hackers were able to uncover the results the machine tallied in 2002.

They were among the hundreds of cybersecurity experts who descended on “Voting Village,” one of the most talked-about features of the annual DEF CON hacker conference. In a cramped conference room, they took turns over three days cracking into 10 examples of voting machines and voter registration systems — a reminder, they say, of the risks awaiting upcoming U.S. elections.

“I could have done this in 2004,” said Schurman, who could gain administrative-level access to the voting machine, giving him the power to see all the votes cast on the device and to manipulate or delete vote totals. “Or 2008, or 2012.”

In the wild, he estimated, it would take him about a minute to break in.

Anne-Marie Hwang, an intern at the digital security firm Synac, demonstrated that by bringing a generic plastic key to mimic the ones given to poll workers and plugging in a keyboard, she could simply hit control-alt-delete and enter the voting machine’s generic password to gain administrative access.

The lesson: “The bad guys can get in,” said Jake Braun, a panel moderator at the conference who advised the Department of Homeland Security on cybersecurity during the Obama administration.

And that means election officials must acknowledge that no security is foolproof. Instead, Braun said, they need to adopt the private sector model of working to better detect and minimize the effect of successful cyberattacks rather than trying to become impenetrable.

“‘Unhackable’ is absurd on its face,” Braun said. “If the Russians and Chinese and whoever else can get into NSA and Lockheed Martin and JP Morgan, they absolutely can get into Kalamazoo County or the state of Ohio or the [voting machine] vendor.”

So this means we either need to go back to paper machines, or massively boost detection and containment protocols.  Either would mean a lot of additional federal money set aside to help county election boards and various offices of Secretaries of State around the country.

The problem is in precisely zero instances can I find a Republican at the federal level who thinks we should do that. If anyone has an example of a Republican in Congress who wants to do it, let me know.

All I can find are Republicans who want to destroy voting in this country through cuts to implementation funds, voter ID laws, and neglect of the Voting Rights Act.

Ask yourself why in every instance why Republicans want to make voting harder and yet less secure.


Sunday, July 30, 2017

Kellyanne Con-Job Gives Up The ACA Game

Right-wing news outlets are "useful" these days because Trump regime folks keep talking to them and giving away their plans.  Nobody's more guilty of this than regime TV mouthpiece Kellyanne Conway, who regularly makes the rounds on FOX to fly the colors (orange, mostly).  These guys aren't clever enough to lie, there's no need to read the tea leaves, Trump makes threats and tries to follow up on them whenever he can.

So where is Trump going after this week's Obamacare crash and burn?  Kellyanne knows and straight up told Chris Wallace of FOX News Sunday.

WALLACE: OK, let’s not waste any more time. Let’s talk -- Kellyanne, let's talk about ObamaCare.

The president put out a new tweet today. I want to put it on the screen. He wrote: Don’t give up Republican senators, the world is watching, repeal and replace, and go to 51 votes, nuclear option, get cross state lines and more.

Is that the president’s plan, stay on repeal and replace, change the Senate rules and legislative filibuster so that you can pass a fuller repeal and replace, including selling insurance across state lines?

CONWAY: The president will not accept those who said it's, quote, time to move on. He wants to help the millions of Americans who have suffered with no coverage. They were lied to by the last president. They couldn't keep the doctor. They couldn't keep their plan.

We’ve met with the ObamaCare victims at the White House several times now. They’re real people, they’re suffering.

And when he talks about the 51 votes, the president is basically making the case that so many of the components of real healthcare reform, Chris, requires 60 votes -- the drug pricing, the selling of insurance across state lines, the associated health plans that allow those who don't get their health insurance to the employers like you and I do, or to government benefits, who have been left out because the premiums are too high.

Premiums have doubled. We see in some states that there are no insurers --


WALLACE: Let's talk about that. Kellyanne --

CONWAY: So, he will. He will stick with it.

WALLACE: OK, failing it, and fail -- and then we should point out that both Republicans and Democrats say that there’s no chance they’re going to change the Senate rules.

Here’s what the president says his plan is.


TRUMP: I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode and then do it. I turned out to be right. Let ObamaCare implode.



WALLACE: Failing repeal and replace, is that really what the president intends to do? Does he intend to cut off what are called cost-sharing reductions which lower the out-of-pocket expenses for people, lower income people? And what about -- you talk about real people, what about the millions of people while ObamaCare is imploding that are going to lose healthcare coverage?

CONWAY: So, Chris, I saw the comment from Mr. Schumer, Senator Schumer, about this. What is their plan to help? The CSR payments are being made and we've already got an opinion by one court because you have members of Congress who sued to say that under ObamaCare, this money was never authorized through the Congress. And so, they would like an opportunity to do that, which is, of course, the normal course of business.

Can I just ask Senator Schumer --


WALLACE: Is the present going to cut off the CSR payments, the out-of-pocket payments? He can do it starting next month, this week.

CONWAY: Yes, he can. He can -- he's going to make that decision this week, and that’s the decision that only he can make.

I mean, that's as loud of an alarm bell as it gets, guys.  Trump has said on Twitter that he plans to cut off these CSR payments (He calls them "bailouts" when they're not, they fund the subsidies for Obamacare premium payments.)  If he does that, Obamacare basically collapses.  It will mean that health insurers will leave the program and that millions will be unable to afford health insurance, period.

So yes, Trump has been screaming about sabotaging Obamacare for weeks now, and guess what? He thinks he can do it.  I bet he's certainly going to try this week.

It's far from over, as I said earlier this morning.

Sunday Long Read: Nukes, Mooks, and Spooks

This week's Sunday Long Read is Michael Lewis's profile on the Trump Department of Energy, currently run by former Texas GOP Gov. Rick Perry (who doesn't know Ukraine from Russia and doesn't bother to check.)  Perry famously said he wanted the agency abolished, and still has no idea what he's supposed to do with it.  That's okay, his boss doesn't either, and that should scare the crap out of all of us.

On the morning after the election, November 9, 2016, the people who ran the U.S. Department of Energy turned up in their offices and waited. They had cleared 30 desks and freed up 30 parking spaces. They didn’t know exactly how many people they’d host that day, but whoever won the election would surely be sending a small army into the Department of Energy, and every other federal agency. The morning after he was elected president, eight years earlier, Obama had sent between 30 and 40 people into the Department of Energy. The Department of Energy staff planned to deliver the same talks from the same five-inch-thick three-ring binders, with the Department of Energy seal on them, to the Trump people as they would have given to the Clinton people. “Nothing had to be changed,” said one former Department of Energy staffer. “They’d be done always with the intention that, either party wins, nothing changes.” 
By afternoon the silence was deafening. “Day 1, we’re ready to go,” says a former senior White House official. “Day 2 it was ‘Maybe they’ll call us?’ " 
“Teams were going around, ‘Have you heard from them?’ ” recalls another staffer who had prepared for the transition. “ ‘Have you gotten anything? I haven’t got anything.’ ” 
“The election happened,” remembers Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, then deputy secretary of the D.O.E. “And he won. And then there was radio silence. We were prepared for the next day. And nothing happened.” Across the federal government the Trump people weren’t anywhere to be found. Allegedly, between the election and the inauguration not a single Trump representative set foot inside the Department of Agriculture, for example. The Department of Agriculture has employees or contractors in every county in the United States, and the Trump people seemed simply to be ignoring the place. Where they did turn up inside the federal government, they appeared confused and unprepared. A small group attended a briefing at the State Department, for instance, only to learn that the briefings they needed to hear were classified. None of the Trump people had security clearance—or, for that matter, any experience in foreign policy—and so they weren’t allowed to receive an education. On his visits to the White House soon after the election, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, expressed surprise that so much of its staff seemed to be leaving. “It was like he thought it was a corporate acquisition or something,” says an Obama White House staffer. “He thought everyone just stayed.”

Oh, but it gets so much worse.

At this point in their administrations Obama and Bush had nominated their top 10 people at the D.O.E. and installed most of them in their offices. Trump had nominated three people and installed just one, former Texas governor Rick Perry. Perry is of course responsible for one of the D.O.E.’s most famous moments—when in a 2011 presidential debate he said he intended to eliminate three entire departments of the federal government. Asked to list them he named Commerce, Education, and … then hit a wall. “The third agency of government I would do away with ... Education ... the … ahhhh … ahhh … Commerce, and let’s see.” As his eyes bored a hole in his lectern, his mind drew a blank. “I can’t, the third one. I can’t. Sorry. Oops.” The third department Perry wanted to get rid of, he later recalled, was the Department of Energy. In his confirmation hearings to run the department Perry confessed that when he called for its elimination he hadn’t actually known what the Department of Energy did—and he now regretted having said that it didn’t do anything worth doing. 
The question on the minds of the people who currently work at the department: Does he know what it does now? D.O.E. press secretary Shaylyn Hynes assures us that “Secretary Perry is dedicated to the missions of the Department of Energy.” And in his hearings, Perry made a show of having educated himself. He said how useful it was to be briefed by former secretary Ernest Moniz. But when I asked someone familiar with those briefings how many hours Perry had spent with Moniz, he laughed and said, “That’s the wrong unit of account.” With the nuclear physicist who understood the D.O.E. perhaps better than anyone else on earth, according to one person familiar with the meeting, Perry had spent minutes, not hours. “He has no personal interest in understanding what we do and effecting change,” a D.O.E. staffer told me in June. “He’s never been briefed on a program—not a single one, which to me is shocking.

So if there's a real crisis that the Department of Energy -- or any Trump era executive agency has to deal with, because they're all in the same boat -- has to deal with, the potential for failure is spectacular.  The distinct issue with the Department of Energy is these are the guys that guard our nuclear weapons and track down rogue nuclear material, and the Trump regime could not give less of a good god damn about it.

The GOP pathology of starving government until it cannot work and then declare "see, we told you government is a failure" is being taken to its endpoint, and that endpoint is a government that cannot perform the most basic of functions, headed by people who have no idea how or any desire to even try to fix the problem.

And so it goes in the Age of Trump.

It's Not Dead Yet

Oh, did you think the Senate GOP was just going to walk away from destroying Obama's legacy after trying more than 70 times over the last 7 years to do so? Of course they have another arcane, byzantine Trumpcare proposal and this time it's Lindsey Graham's straight-out assault on Medicaid, effectively ending the federal program and turning into block grants for states, along with massive cuts to those grants from existing funding levels.

In theory, the Senate could bring back up their party line budget “reconciliation” effort to gut Obamacare as soon as next week. Graham’s bill has not been scored by the Congressional Budget Office and did not receive a test vote this week. It currently has a small group of supporters and will likely need major work to pass the Senate, like language defunding Planned Parenthood which would likely alienate a pair of moderate senators.

Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Dean Heller of Nevada joined Graham at the White House on Friday, and each has joined Graham’s bill as the new alternative plan for Republicans. The bill’s supporters are telling administration officials and congressional aides that the bill will score far better than previous efforts, which CBO analyses project would cause millions more uninsured people and short-term spikes in premiums.

“I had a great meeting with the President and know he remains fully committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare. President Trump was optimistic about the Graham-Cassidy-Heller proposal. I will continue to work with President Trump and his team to move the idea forward.,” Graham said late Friday.

The South Carolina senator has been talking to Meadows about the bill as a possible way forward that both chambers could accept. Several GOP governors have signaled interest to Graham for the bill as a way to keep funding levels steady and give states more control. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is also monitoring those conversations, a Republican aide said.

Meadows has shopped the Graham proposal around to other conservatives to get their take on the bill. He said Thursday that Graham’s bill would need to ease the ability of governors’ to get waivers to ignore some of Obamacare’s regulations.

“We’re going to regroup and stay focused,” Meadows said Friday. “I’m still optimistic that we will have another motion to proceed, and ultimately put something on the president’s desk.”

Sure, it's a great deal for red states that refused Medicaid expansion and already make it impossible to sign up for the program like Texas and Alabama.  For the rest of states, it'll represent hundreds of billions in cuts, oh and states wouldn't have to actually spend any money on Medicaid *at all* if it's like previous GOP proposals, they just have to have a program like Medicaid.  It's not their fault if 99.9% of people don't qualify for it, right?

Meanwhile states like California, New York, and Illinois would see massive, draconian budget cuts, while red states would almost certainly take the money and give tax cuts to the rich.  Lost in the mess would be millions losing their health coverage and while Obamacare rules would stay in place, there wouldn't be any Medicaid to back up coverage for those who couldn't afford individual plans.

Yes, this plan too would devastate the individual insurance market and kicks tens of millions off healthcare plans.  But as the Senate GOP keeps saying, as long as they can pass something, anything, they can get it to conference with the House GOP and force a final bill without the Democrats being able to stop them.

The GOP's biggest enemy now is the clock.  September 30th would mean a government shutdown and no budget, and then they couldn't use budget reconciliation rules and a 50 vote plus Mike Pence threshold to pass repeal unless Mitch eliminates the filibuster, something he knows damn well would give the chamber to the Dems by 2020.

We'll see.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Health Of The Congress

Remember folks, above all Donald Trump is vindictive.  He expects complete subservience and calls it "loyalty", and those who do not meet that standard he either bullies, punishes, or both.  Six months into his term and everyone has essentially failed him, and he will fire and replace who he can rid of and terrorize the people he can't.  He sees Congress not as a co-equal branch of the government, but as people who work for him that he can't fire (yet.)

But he can punish them for failing him, and he will always start with open threats.

The other part of President Trump's tweet this morning that will get a lot of attention from members of Congress: he hinted he might overturn an Obama-era rule that allows members of Congress and their staffers to get subsidies for their health insurance, which they have to get through an Affordable Care Act health exchange. That's what he meant by "BAILOUTS for Members of Congress."

The back story: The ACA requires members of Congress and their staffs to get health coverage through its exchanges, but it was never clear on whether they should get subsidies to pay for most of their premiums, the way employers pay for most of their workers' health premiums. The Obama administration issued a rule that allowed them to get those subsidies — because if it hadn't, members of Congress worried that talented staffers would leave rather than pay the full cost of the premiums
But conservative groups have been urging the Trump administration to withdraw the rule, insisting that members of Congress and their staffs shouldn't be shielded from rising ACA premiums. It's now clear that Trump is thinking of taking their advice, although a senior administration source says no final decision has been made.

So for now this is one of Trump's many threats, as that what he feels is "leadership".  Whether or not he'll carry through is something else, but this is his M.O. and he'll keep using it as long as it works for him.

Vladimir You Don't Even GO Here!

OK, this is hysterical and I'm glad the Washington Post is giving us a badly needed laugh over the ridiculous idiocy in the White House right now.

I laughed at this for a good couple of minutes. It felt pretty good, actually. I hope it helps some of you as well.

Political Block Busters

The courts have come out to say that political figures, government public servants, after all, cannot block people on social media for opposing viewpoints under the First Amendment.

Does the First Amendment bar public officials from blocking people on social media because of their viewpoint?

That question has hung over the White House ever since Donald Trump assumed the presidency and continued to block users on Twitter. The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University has sued the president on behalf of blocked users, spurring a lively academic debate on the topic. But Trump isn’t the only politician who has blocked people on social media. This week, a federal court weighed in on the question in a case with obvious parallels to Trump’s. It determined that the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause does indeed prohibit officeholders from blocking social media users on the basis of their views.

Davison v. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors involved the chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, Phyllis J. Randall. In her capacity as a government official, Randall runs a Facebook page to keep in touch with her constituents. In one post to the page, Randall wrote, “I really want to hear from ANY Loudoun citizen on ANY issues, request, criticism, compliment, or just your thoughts.” She explicitly encouraged Loudoun residents to reach out to her through her “county Facebook page.”

Brian C. Davidson, a Loudon denizen, took Randall up on her offer and posted a comment to a post on her page alleging corruption on the part of Loudoun County’s School Board. Randall, who said she “had no idea” whether Davidson’s allegations were true, deleted the entire post (thereby erasing his comment) and blocked him. The next morning, she decided to unblock him. During the intervening 12 hours, Davidson could view or share content on Randall’s page but couldn’t comment on its posts or send it private messages.

Davidson sued, alleging a violation of his free speech rights. As U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris explained in his decision, Randall essentially conceded in court that she had blocked Davidson “because she was offended by his criticism of her colleagues in the County government.” In other words, she “engaged in viewpoint discrimination,” which is generally prohibited under the First Amendment. Cacheris elaborated:

Defendant’s offense at Plaintiff’s views was therefore an illegitimate basis for her actions—particularly given that Plaintiff earned Defendant’s ire by criticizing the County government. Indeed, the suppression of critical commentary regarding elected officials is the quintessential form of viewpoint discrimination against which the First Amendment guards. By prohibiting Plaintiff from participating in her online forum because she took offense at his claim that her colleagues in the County government had acted unethically, Defendant committed a cardinal sin under the First Amendment.

In response to Randall’s claim that Davidson retained the ability to express his views elsewhere, Cacheris cited the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Packingham v. North Carolina, in which the court asserted that social media may now be “the most important” modern forum “for the exchange of views.”

The Court cannot treat a First Amendment violation in this vital, developing forum differently than it would elsewhere,” Cacheris wrote, “simply because technology has made it easier to find alternative channels through which to disseminate one’s message.

So what does this mean for Trump?  It depends on what he means his official Twitter account is for.

There’s just one lingering issue with this comparison: It isn’t clear whether Trump intends his personal Twitter page to function as a public forum the way Randall did. (Trump has a presidential account, @POTUS, from which he does not block users—but he doesn’t use it for interesting communications.) Public officials have more latitude to censor expression in personal, private forums than they do in forums that they use to speak in their official capacity. Trump’s lawyers will almost certainly argue that his personal Twitter feed is a private forum, not a government project.

But that argument will likely fail. As Trump’s recent tweets banning transgender military service demonstrate, the president uses Twitter not just to convey official policy but also for lawmaking. This habit would seem to turn his feed into a quintessential public forum. And so, under the First Amendment, he lacks the power to block those users who tweet their discontent at @realDonaldTrump.

The WHite House too has said that such declarations on Trump's persona Twitter account amount to official public statements by the administration, and that means in no way is Trump's account "private".

It would seem obvious that the account must remove all blocks for that reason, but then again Trump doesn't really care about the law, does he.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Drive (Out) The All-New Reince Priebus

With the collapse of Trumpcare in the Senate, Tang the Conqueror is going to be looking for some heads to roll in order to sate his impotent rage, and it looks like the head on a silver platter that Trump will get is that of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

But gosh, who could ever replace such an effective lead brawler for the Oval Office?

Reince Priebus is still the White House chief of staff and on Wednesday he told ABC News he intends to remain in the position, but people close to President Donald Trump say he is increasingly frustrated with the management of the West Wing and the president’s most trusted advisers are already making suggestions about who could be the next chief of staff. 
Here is a list of possible Priebus replacements being talked about: 
White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway: Conway has had some tough days in the White House over the past six months, but by all accounts her stock is rising. Close personally to the president and first lady, Conway was the first woman to serve as campaign manager on a winning presidential campaign. She would be the first woman to serve as chief of staff. 
Retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg: Currently the chief of staff and executive secretary for the National Security Council, Kellogg already spends a lot of time around the president. He was also an important adviser to the president during the campaign and one of the first senior military officers to endorse Trump. He has earned the trust of a president who likes to be in the company of generals. 
Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney:Mulvaney didn’t have much of a relationship with the president before the inauguration, but he came highly recommended by Vice President Mike Pence to be OMB director. The president has come to rely on him when it comes to dealing Congress and, of course, on budget issues. 
Retired Gen. John Kelly: To many in the president’s inner circle, Homeland Security Secretary Kelly is considered the MVP of the Trump Cabinet. Kelly might well be the president’s first choice for chief of staff, but there is a big downside: He also likes him in his current role. 
Newt Gingrich: Gingrich has spent a lot of time with the president in recent weeks and has become a close confidant of the Trump family. He is a loyalist from the early campaign days but is not afraid to tell the president when he thinks he is making a mistake. Most recently, Gingrich told Trump he should not fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 
Other possibilities being bandied about include Tom Barrack, Corey Lewandowski, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Gary Cohn.

I don't think Trump will choose a current cabinet member or current GOP member of Congress should Reince go.  Trump would have to have forgiven Newt for the 2016 campaign for him to get the job, and Trump doesn't forgive people.  Conway and Lewandowski remain the most likely choices, but in the end it'll be whomever Jared and Ivanka talk him into, so that could be a number of folks.

Anyway, when the press is openly discussing your termination but also the list of your replacements, odds are pretty good that you're not going to last much longer.

Also note who's suddenly missing from that list:  Tony Scaramucci.  Guess he cursed himself out of a job last night.

We'll see what happens.

[UPDATE] And Trump just announced John Kelly as WH Chief of Staff on Twitter.

Collins And Murkowski Save Obamacare, Oh And That McCain Guy I Guess Too Whatever

I stayed up last night as long as I could to get you the Last Call on Trumpcare's final fate in the Senate but I kinda conked out around midnight.  I knew that Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski were no votes, and once again Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain was uttering platitudes that suggested he would vote no if his action ever matched his lofty rhetoric, which it most certainly did not do earlier this week when McCain voted to advance debate on legislation killing the ACA despite his vocal misgivings about the Senate repeal plan.

You can imagine my surprise this morning when I woke up and found that John McCain was the deciding vote again...this time as the 51st vote to save Obamacare and kill the GOP's plan to repeal it.

A months-long effort by Senate Republicans to pass health legislation collapsed early Friday after GOP Senator John McCain joined two of his colleagues to block a stripped-down Obamacare repeal bill.

“I regret that our efforts were simply not enough, this time,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor after the vote. “This is clearly a disappointing moment.”

“It’s time to move on,” he added after pulling the bill from the floor.

The decision by McCain to vote no came after weeks of brinkmanship and after his dramatic return from cancer treatment to cast the 50th vote to start debate on the bill earlier this week. The GOP’s ‘skinny’ repeal bill was defeated 49-51, falling just short of the 50 votes needed to advance it. Republicans Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski also voted against it.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the next steps would be for the Republicans. The repeal effort had appeared to collapse several times before, only to be revived. And several Republicans pleaded for their colleagues not to give up, even as President Donald Trump blasted the vote.

“3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down, As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!” he wrote on Twitter at 2:25 am Washington time.

But McConnell has struggled to find a compromise that satisfies conservatives, who have demanded a wholesale repeal of Obamacare, and moderates, who have been unnerved by predictions the bill would significantly boost the ranks of uninsured Americans.

Democrats immediately called for a bipartisan debate on how to fix Obamacare.

“We are not celebrating. We’re relieved,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote. “Let’s turn the page and work together to improve our health care system.” He also said Democrats would be willing to help expedite bipartisan legislation and to advance Trump administration nominations.

So for now, millions of Americans can breathe a sign of relief as their health care is spared...for now.  The next battles include raising the debt ceiling and of course the House GOP Austerity Budget which will cut well more than a trillion dollars in spending, including hundreds of billions in Medicaid cuts.

But Republicans will need 60 Senate votes to pass those efforts.  Where things go from here is unknown but I do know Democrats will have much more leverage than they do now.

In the end, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins, the 48 Democrats in the Senate, the millions up us who marched and called over the last several months, they deserve credit.  They made McCain do the right thing in the end.  They deserve the plaudits and accolades.  Remember that.

We'll see.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

Going (Pay)Back To Alaska

If Donald Trump is anything, he's an inveterate liar.  If he's two things, he's an inveterate liar with a massive vindictive streak who likes to bully those he thinks have slighted him in any way, real or perceived. Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski is finding out that second fact today as the Trump regime is now considering The Last Frontier as The Enemy of Trump for her refusal to throw her own constituents off Medicaid.

President Donald Trump isn't going to just let Sen. Lisa Murkowski's no vote on Tuesday's health care motion go.

Early Wednesday, Trump took to Twitter to express displeasure with Murkowski's vote. By that afternoon, each of Alaska's two Republican senators had received a phone call from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke letting them know the vote had put Alaska's future with the administration in jeopardy.

The response follows Trump's no-holds-barred style of governing, even when it comes to his own party. It is his first strike of retaliation against Murkowski, however, despite her tendency to stray from the party line and the president's priorities.

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan said the call from Zinke heralded a "troubling message."

"I'm not going to go into the details, but I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop," Sullivan said.

"I tried to push back on behalf of all Alaskans. … We're facing some difficult times and there's a lot of enthusiasm for the policies that Secretary Zinke and the president have been talking about with regard to our economy. But the message was pretty clear," Sullivan said. The Interior secretary also contacted Murkowski, he said.

First of all, this is Alaska's other senator, Dan Sullivan (who *did* vote for throwing his own constituents off Medicaid like Trump wanted) that is the source of this story. Sullivan confirmed that Zinke's threat was definitely based on Murkowski's no vote to proceed on Trumpcare on Tuesday.  There are several federal projects on the line here, most notably expanded oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, that are now in jeopardy.  Alaska overall relies on a lot of federal dollars for infrastructure and economic assistance.

Those dollars now have to be considered in real trouble.

The second thing is that Trump is more than happen to screw over the entire state to punish Murkowski.  He doesn't exactly care about Alaska's citizens, because he figures most of them will vote for him again in 2020 anyway, and he's probably right.  Trump clearly figures that Alaskans will side with him over Murkowski.

What happens now is anybody's guess, but if I were Ryan Zinke, I might want to keep in mind that the Chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Resources, which controls both the budget and oversight for the Interior Department happens to be...Lisa Murkowski.

This could get interesting.

No Sanctuary For Cities, Con't

The Trump regime has been broadly hinting at retaliation against sanctuary cities across America, but so far nothing's happened other than vague threats and trial balloons involving federal law enforcement grants.  That's still billions of federal dollars at stake, but as of yet, it's nothing more than posturing.

That situation appears to be about to change from posturing to action, rapidly.

On Tuesday night, the Department of Justice announced its first real attempt to prohibit “sanctuary cities” — cities that, in the federal government’s view, don’t do enough to help federal agents enforce immigration law — from getting federal funds. 
Under the DOJ’s new criteria for the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program, the biggest federal grant for local law enforcement, states and cities will only be able to apply if they agree to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers into local jails — and if they notify ICE agents at least 48 hours before anyone ICE has expressed interest in gets released. 
The Trump administration’s been saber-rattling against “sanctuary cities” during its whole six months in office (not to mention on the campaign trail). But until now, the actual steps it’s taken to change federal policy to crack down on “sanctuaries” have been relatively toothless. Tuesday’s announcement puts an end to all that. It signals that the fight to defund sanctuary cities has begun in earnest.

In other words, this just got deadly serious, and the Trump DoJ is now actively moving to cut off a quarter of a billion from police departments across the country in places like New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and more.

The Byrne Justice Assistance Grant program hands out funds to states and cities that get used for everything from training to military-style equipment. It’s the biggest grant the Department of Justice administers to local law enforcement; in fiscal year 2016, it handed out more than $263 million in funds. 
The Trump administration isn’t trying to strip funding that’s already been promised. But starting in the fall, according to the DOJ’s Tuesday announcement, applicants for new Byrne grants are going to have to certify three things: 
  • that they comply with a federal law banning any state or local policy that prohibits municipal employees from sharing information with the feds about someone’s immigration status;
  • that they allow ICE agents into local jails; and
  • that, whenever ICE sends local jail officials a “detainer request” — a request to hold someone after they’d otherwise be released so ICE can pick them up (sent when ICE agents have reason to believe someone in a local jail is deportable) — jail officials give ICE at least 48 hours’ advance notice before letting that person go.
The first criterion is in line with the steps the Trump administration has already taken against “sanctuary cities,” which have focused on the idea that cities are violating the federal law against local bans on information-sharing. 
But it’s a pretty toothless critique. Even the most outspoken sanctuary cities in America claim that they don’t prohibit anyone from sharing immigration information with the federal government.

But the second two criteria added to the Byrne JAG program, though, take turn the rhetoric against sanctuary cities into actual policy.
Many cities and states limit the circumstances under which jails can hold people just because ICE asks them to. And while the DOJ isn’t officially requiring grantees to agree to all ICE requests, it’s requiring them to do things that would lead to pretty much the same outcome.

The bottom line is that current local laws make those last two items impossible to meet in several cities right now, or that the 48-hour notice is impossible to meet in such a large city like Los Angeles when there's potentially thousands of prisoners at any given time.

What ICE wants to do is turn city and county jails into de facto deportation pipelines. Local governments would have to hold anyone suspected of being an undocumented immigrant for at least 48 hours, informing ICE beforehand and they must be able to hold and produce anyone ICE tells local law enforcement that they suspect of being deportable.

In other words, county and city jails would become deportation holding facilities, and local cops and county sheriff's deputies would become de facto immigration agents.

And they'll do it, or lose millions in federal grants.

This is now stated DoJ policy.

Will cities comply?


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Last Call For Redneck Paradise

BuzzFeed's Jane Coaston gets it: the only thing that matters to Republicans in 2017 is "Does it piss off liberals, and how much?"  There's no better symbol of that than musician Kid Rock, who appears to be serious about his Senate run against Debbie Stabenow in Michigan.  The guy has zero credentials or skills other than making albums, but that doesn't really matter in the Age of Trump, does it?

Kid Rock says he wants to be Michigan’s next senator.

Some may think a man who recently sold his 8,300 square foot Balinese-style mansion in Malibu is an unlikely voice for the working people of Michigan, whose swing to the right helped send Donald Trump to the White House. But the author of hits like Black Chick, White Guy("his dick was metal / her pussy was a magnet”) can, in fact, represent the voice of a very specific Republican voter, whose political identity can be summarized as "wants to stick it to liberals."
Pissing off liberals is what the Republican party does best right now. If your political identity is any more conservative than that, you might have a hard time voting for Kid Rock, a supporter of the legalization of all drugs whose position on abortion is “it’s not up to a man to tell a woman what to do.” Take away the commitment to offending liberal snowflakes, and he’s basically Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson, if Johnson had once briefly served as the lead singer for both Metallica and Guns N’ Roses.

Which is to say that Kid Rock is not really a conservative, or even someone who pretends to be one. And that’s just fine with many conservatives. As The Federalist put it, he may currently lack "a cogent list of reasons why he wants the job," but will benefit from "a blood connection through his baby’s momma with African-Americans” — as well as the fact that his Democratic opponent “resembles an overweight, scolding aunt.” Kurt Schlichter, of conservative news site, wrote that Kid Rock deserved to be elected to the Senate for the following reasons: He will annoy liberals, and he will also annoy conservative columnist George Will. "We’re past voting for the ideology," he wrote. "Now we’re ready to vote for the id."

"Vote for the Id" would make a pretty solid tagline for Republican politics circa 2017. The policy conversations and conflicts and basic premises that once governed conservatism — or at least appeared to — have been largely replaced by a set of principles built on the rock-solid foundation of irritating liberals.

After winning a presidential election with a candidate who had no serious conservative bona fides, the Republican Party has come to an important conclusion: Conservatism doesn't sell all that well. Telling Americans in desperate need of affordable health care that free markets will somehow sort it out someday is not a popular policy prescription — and Republicans have essentially given up on trying to enact those changes in the first place, settling instead for gesturing dismissively in its general direction. It turns out that many people, including President Donald Trump, kind of like Big Government, especially when a six-figure hospital bill is staring them down.

So amid the quagmire of the Obamacare repeal effort, Republicans are learning once more that being opposed to something is far easier than building consensus in support of something else. And fortunately for their party, plenty of voters also seem to enjoy focusing their searing anger onto other people and relishing in their apparent suffering, conservative values be damned. 

Once again, as long as the person in question is willing to run to make Obama voters suffer, Republicans will vote for them every time.  There's no hope in courting them by the left, they'll never vote for a Deocrat as long as they live.  But they'll vote for anybody with an R next to their name, anyone, even a faux northern redneck asshole from a millionaire family like Kid Rock, as long as their campaign promise starts with "I will make liberals angry, because screw them."

That's literally the only qualification you need to be a Republican and get 40% of the vote minimum in any election in America, and in about two-thirds of states, that's probably a win.

We'll see what happens in 2018.

Getting Hard-Pressed In The White House

New WHite House Communications Director Tony Scaramucci has one job as far as his boss is concerned (Donald Trump, not WH Chief of Staff Reince Preibus, which is a whole other issue actually) and that's to get heads for leaks to the press.  Scaramucci's first trophy is assistant press secretary Michael Short, along with his own credibility. TPM's Matt Shuham:

Shortly after telling a reporter that he planned on firing assistant White House press secretary Michael Short, White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci said it was “unfair” that the public knew about the firing before Short did — even though Scaramucci himself was the source of the news.

The surreal course of events unfolded over a couple of hours Tuesday morning.

First, Politico’s Tara Palmeri reported that Scaramucci had told her, in her words, “that he plans to dismiss assistant press secretary Michael Short,” as part of his early war on White House leakers and other staffers deemed insufficiently supportive of President Donald Trump.

Short did not respond to TPM’s request for comment, but CNN’s Jeremy Diamond reported less than an hour after Palmeri’s article went live that Short had not been informed of his upcoming firing.

Fifty minutes later, Time’s Zeke Miller reported that Scaramucci said leakers were “unpatriotic” and that Scaramucci refused to confirm Short’s firing, saying it would be inappropriate to speak publicly about the matter — even though, as Miller pointed out, he already had.

Then, Scaramucci blamed “leaking” for the fact that reporters, and thus the general public, knew about Short’s potential firing before Short himself did, even though Politico cited Scaramucci as the source of the information.

In the stunning statement reported by Miller and The Hill, in which Scaramucci blamed leaks for his own actions, he seemed to “leak” yet again, putting forward the hypothetical, “Let’s say I’m firing Michael Short today. The fact that you guys know about it before he does really upsets me as a human being and as a Roman Catholic.”

As comical as Tony the Mooch is, what the White House is doing isn't funny.  Looking closely at yesterday's Washington Post story on Jeff Sessions is that Sessions himself says that investigations and possibly prosecutions are coming for leakers.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will reportedly make an announcement about several criminal leak investigations within days.

Officials told The Washington Post about the forthcoming news from the Justice Department. The investigations will be centered around news reports containing sensitive material about intelligence, the report said. 
The news comes as newly-appointed White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci publicly decried leaks coming from within the West Wing in his first week on the job and vowed to fire staffers who continue talking to reporters.

The impending announcement also comes as Trump grows publicly unhappy with Sessions, last week criticized the attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia investigation.  

If there's one thing that will get Trump off Sessions's back, it's Evil Keebler Elf announcing heads are going to roll over leaks, which Trump takes to Twitter to scream about two or three mornings per week these days.  We'll see where this goes, but my guess is that this is how Sessions keeps his job.

Until the next major leak about Mueller's investigation hits the Washington Post and New York Times, that is.

Black Lives Still Matter, Con't

Here in Cincinnati, the political aftermath of the two mistrials of former U of C campus police officer Ray Tensing over the shooting death of unarmed black motorist Sam Dubose is coming to a head. Now that the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office has dropped charges against Tensing after refusing a third trial, Cincinnati Police have decided that County Prosecutor Joe Deters needs to be dismissed and odds are very good that Deters is in real trouble.

Cincinnati police officers have taken the extraordinary step of issuing a vote of no confidence in the county prosecutor and another that directed their union leader to withdraw from a group working to refresh the city's Collaborative Agreement. 
Both votes, taken late Monday, stem from anger at how Cincinnati Police Sgt. Shannon Heine was treated in the wake of her testimony in the trial of former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing. She said under oath that she believed his actions were justified. 
A jury couldn't come to a unanimous agreement last week on murder or voluntary murder charges brought against Tensing in the fatal shooting of Sam DuBose during a traffic stop, resulting in a mistrial.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said his office was "blindsided" by Heine's testimony and that it changed the direction of the prosecution's case.

An internal affairs report released by the police department Friday found Heine did not deceive prosecutors, but the Citizen Complaint Authority also has received a complaint against Heine. It was filed by Al Gerhardstein, who represents the DuBose family, on behalf of the Black United Front. 
“I’m especially disturbed by Mr. Gerhardstein’s baseless accusations that Sgt. Heine conspired with the defense. That’s a huge accusation. There’s no evidence of it whatsoever, it’s just they did not like her opinion in that case,” Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 69 President Dan Hils said. 
Deters said Tuesday he remains committed to doing the best job as prosecutor he can and that "I have full confidence in the Cincinnati Police Department.”

The vote of no confidence is believed to be the first of its kind and was shocking because Deters has long enjoyed support from the law enforcement community for his tough-on-crime stances. 
The Tensing case was the first he lost while in the top job at the prosecutor's office, but he told the Enquirer he stood by his decision, despite criticism that he over-charged Tensing. 
The Collaborative Agreement refresh was championed by Mayor John Cranley to revisit the police-community agreement that is seen as a national model. Cranley brought back monitor Saul Green for an eight-month look at the agreement with the support of original signers including community activist Iris Roley, Gerhardstein and the police department.

Understand that the issue with Sgt. Heine's testimony is a smokescreen, the issue is that Deters dared to ever indict Tensing.  The police union is making it very clear that the collaborative agreement between the police, the City Council, the Mayor, and the black community is dead unless Deters is fired, and that's something Mayor Cranley can't afford to let crumble as he faces re-election.

That puts Cincinnati in a very bad place.  If the police union bails from the Collaborative Agreement, Cranley is toast and he knows it.

How long Deters survives as County Prosecutor is anyone's guess if the FOP has turned on him.

We'll see.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Last Call For McCain Saves Trumpcare

With 48 Senate Republicans voting yes to proceed on debate on a Trumpcare bill that literally none of them have even seen, GOP Senators Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and John McCain of Arizona stood holding the fate of the country in the balance.  Johnson of course voted yes, making it 49.

Guess what path "Maverick" McCain chose.

Senate Republicans voted Tuesday voted to open debate on repealing Obamacare, dramatically reviving an effort that many GOP lawmakers left for dead just a few days ago. 
The vote is a huge political win and turnaround for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republicans who've promised for seven years to repeal Obamacare if voters gave them control of Congress and the White House.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), recently diagnosed with brain cancer, entered the chamber to a standing ovation and cast the 50th Republican vote. GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska broke ranks to oppose the measure, forcing Vice President Mike Pence to break a 50-50 tie. 
All Democrats opposed the measure. Underscoring the significance of the vote, many senators sat at their desks for the vote. 
The vote is no guarantee that the fractured Republican caucuses can coalesce around a single health care plan. Now that debate has officially started, Republicans in the Senate lack 50 votes on a policy. Moderates oppose repealing Obamacare without a replacement, and conservatives don’t like the idea of significantly replacing it. 
The leading idea now is to repeal only a small portion of the health law just to get a bill to a conference with the Senate.

Of course that "small portion" will be restored in conference to be 95%-100% of the awful House bill, and then these same GOP "heroes" will vote for Trump again, and that will be it for millions of Americans and they lose their insurance and millions more will find care unaffordable in any way, with millions more going bankrupt.

But it doesn't matter to the GOP, as long as they get to erase the nation's only black president from existence.

Never forget that McCain was the deciding vote to proceed in the Senate with whatever the GOP passes and puts on Trump's desk.

The Bong Show Is About To Be Canceled

So all the folks out there who voted for Trump because he promised to leave matters of marijuana legalization to the states and you didn't trust Clinton to follow Obama's hands-off approach?  Jeff Sessions is about to seriously harsh your buzz, man.

The Trump administration is readying for a crackdown on marijuana users under Attorney General Jeff Sessions
President Trump’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, led by Sessions, is expected to release a report next week that criminal justice reform advocates fear will link marijuana to violent crime and recommend tougher sentences for those caught growing, selling and smoking the plant.

Sessions sent a memo in April updating the U.S. Attorney’s Offices and Department of Justice Department (DOJ) component heads on the work of the task force, which he said would be accomplished through various subcommittees. In the memo, Sessions said he has asked for initial recommendations no later than July 27.

“Task Force subcommittees will also undertake a review of existing policies in the areas of charging, sentencing, and marijuana to ensure consistency with the Department's overall strategy on reducing violent crime and with Administration goals and priorities,” he wrote.

Criminal justice reform advocates fear Sessions’s memo signals stricter enforcement is ahead. 
The task force revolves around reducing violent crime and Sessions and other DOJ officials have been out there over the last month and explicitly the last couple of weeks talking about how immigration and marijuana increases violent crime,” said Inimai Chettiar, director of the Brennan Center's Justice Program.

“We’re worried there’s going to be something in the recommendations that is either saying that that’s true or recommending action be taken based on that being true.”

Sessions sent a letter in May asking congressional leaders to do away with an amendment to the DOJ budget prohibiting the agency from using federal funds to prevent states "from implementing their own State laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana."

I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime,” said the letter from Sessions, first obtained by and verified by The Washington Post.

The real drug issue in America is opioids and big pharma's role in spreading them across the country with painkiller abuse, but the Trump regime wants to crack down on weed as an excuse to put more black and brown people in profitable private prisons.  That was always the plan, but hey, people voted for Trump because they bought his campaign nonsense like the suckers they were.

Also notice that Sessions isn't making any distinction between recreational and medical use of marijuana, that both are responsible "for the increase in violent crime" and that he wants the GOP Congress to unchain the DoJ to start a massive wave of federal prosecutions for pot.

In other words, we're headed back for the bad old days of the Reagan/Bush War on Drugs.

But hey dude, you were warned.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

More new developments this week on the Trump/Russia front as White House "adviser" and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner lawyers up to talk to Congress...behind closed doors and not under oath, of course.

Jared Kushner, President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, spent two hours Monday answering questions from Senate investigators about his contacts with Russian officials, as the various probes into Russian interference during the 2016 campaign entered a new phase involving some of those closest to Trump.

After his closed-door questioning, Kushner spoke briefly to reporters outside the White House.

Let me be very clear: I did not collude with Russia, nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so,” he said. “I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses, and I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information.

“Since the first questions were raised in March, I have been consistent in saying I was eager to share whatever information I have with investigating bodies, and I have done so today,’’ he said. “All of my actions were proper.’’

Legal experts expect that all of Kushner’s answers to the Senate Intelligence Committee will be shared with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is conducting a separate investigation of potential criminal activity surrounding Russian meddling and key figures in the Trump campaign.

Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president “was very proud of Jared for voluntarily going to the Hill and being very transparent with every interaction that he’s had. He thought Jared did a great job and was very glad that he was able to go through that process and lay everything out and I think show the members of that committee as well as everybody else what a witch hunt and hoax this whole thing is.’’ 

There are holes in that statement Donald Trump could drive a fire truck through, frankly.  Kushner knows it, Congress knows it, and Robert Mueller knows it.  I'm betting Mueller knows otherwise.  What Kushner did say was that Donald Trump Jr. was basically the bad guy in all this, cavalierly tossing Trump's son under the Mueller bus and dusting off his hands.  As far as the White House is concerned, this is all over now, right?

The only other Russian contact during the campaign is one I did not recall at all until I was reviewing documents and emails in response to congressional requests for information. In June 2016, my brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr. asked if I was free to stop by a meeting on June 9 at 3:00 p.m. The campaign was headquartered in the same building as his office in Trump Tower, and it was common for each of us to swing by the other's meetings when requested. He eventually sent me his own email changing the time of the meeting to 4:00 p.m. That email was on top of a long back and forth that I did not read at the time. As I did with most emails when I was working remotely, I quickly reviewed on my iPhone the relevant message that the meeting would occur at 4:00 PM at his office. Documents confirm my memory that this was calendared as "Meeting: Don Jr.| Jared Kushner." No one else was mentioned. 
I arrived at the meeting a little late. When I got there, the person who has since been identified as a Russian attorney was talking about the issue of a ban on U.S. adoptions of Russian children. I had no idea why that topic was being raised and quickly determined that my time was not well-spent at this meeting. Reviewing emails recently confirmed my memory that the meeting was a waste of our time and that, in looking for a polite way to leave and get back to my work, I actually emailed an assistant from the meeting after I had been there for ten or so minutes and wrote "Can u pls call me on my cell? Need excuse to get out of meeting." I had not met the attorney before the meeting nor spoken with her since. I thought nothing more of this short meeting until it came to my attention recently. I did not read or recall this email exchange before it was shown to me by my lawyers when reviewing documents for submission to the committees. No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign, there was no follow up to the meeting that I am aware of, I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted. Finally, after seeing the email, I disclosed this meeting prior to it being reported in the press on a supplement to my security clearance form, even if that was not required as meeting the definitions of the form.

Kushner hung Trump's own son out to dry, and it looks like he might even get away with it.  For now.

Oh, and it seems our pro-Russian House GOP friend Dana Rohrabacher has Russian problems of his own now.

A new complaint filed with the Treasury's Office of Foreign Asset Control alleges that California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and his staff director, Paul Behrends, violated the Magnitsky Act when they tried to get Russia's deputy general prosecutor, Victor Grin, removed from the US sanctions list last year.

The complaint was filed by US financier Bill Browder, the founder of Hermitage Capital Management, who spearheaded the Magnitsky Act in 2012 to punish Russian officials suspected of being involved in the death of his accountant, Sergey Magnitsky.

Magnitsky uncovered a $230 million tax fraud scheme in 2008 when he was working for Hermitage that implicated high-level Kremlin officials and allies of President Vladimir Putin. He was later thrown in jail by the same Interior Ministry officers he testified against during criminal proceedings to punish those involved in the tax scheme, Browder said in 2015, and died in custody after being held for 358 days.

Browder's complaint rests largely on a Daily Beast report published last week alleging that Rohrabacher, a staunch defender of Russia and Putin, met with officials from the prosecutor general’s office in Moscow in April 2016. The report said he accepted a "confidential" document that Rohrabacher then used to try to undermine the Magnitsky Act on Capitol Hill.

"Changing attitudes to the Magnitsky story in the Congress ... could have a very favorable response from the Russian side," the document said, according to the Daily Beast.

Considering the House is expected to overwhelmingly approve even more sanctions on Russia today, Rohrabacher is not in a good place right now.  He's not Trump, he's not in the White House, and he's not going to be able to dodge things for much longer.

Eventually the truth comes out.

Gonna be a fun time ahead.


Monday, July 24, 2017

Last Call For Taking A Swing At 2018

Gallup's state average approval ratings for Trump for the first half of the year show an interesting trend if you divide them into three categories: states where Trump is above 50%, states where Trump is is the 40's, and states where Trump is under 40%.

President Donald Trump, who has averaged 40% job approval since his inauguration, received approval ratings of 50% or higher in 17 states in the first half of 2017. Residents in an equal number of states gave him approval ratings below 40%. In 16 states, his ratings ranged between 40% and 49%.
Consistent with the broader geographic patterns of Republican strengthacross the country, some of Trump's highest approval ratings tend to be in Southern, Plains and Mountain West states. His lowest ratings are primarily in Northeast and West Coast states.
The results are based on Gallup Daily tracking from Jan. 20 through June 30, including interviews with more than 81,000 U.S. adults. Gallup interviewed at least 220 residents in each state during this period, including 500 or more in 39 states. Gallup weighted each state sample to ensure it is demographically representative of the adult population. The full results for each state are included at the end of the article.
During the Jan. 20-June 30 time period, residents in West Virginia (60%), North Dakota (59%) and South Dakota (57%) gave Trump his highest approval ratings. Montana, Wyoming and Alabama all had average approval ratings of 55% or higher.

Looking at Gallup's map for this:


The dark green states where Trump is above 50 are all states Trump carried in 2016.  The yellow states, where Trump is under 40%, are all states Clinton carried in 2016.  No surprise there.

But look at the light green states.  They're all the swing states of 2016: New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nevada.

But there are some interesting additions to that category, chiefly Maine, Georgia, Missouri, Indiana, Mississippi, Arizona and Texas.  Clinton carried Maine statewide and one district and Nevada, the rest are states that voted for Trump.  Only in Mississippi and Missouri is Trump at a net positive, the rest, Trump has a higher disapproval rating.

In Michigan, North Carolina, Florida and Texas, Trump is at 42% and at least nine points underwater with majority disapproval.

Majority disapproval in Texas, guys.  That's going to help Dems in 2018.

I know it's way far out, but when's the last time that happened to a national Republican in Texas?

Some coattails, huh.

Meanwhile In Bevinstan...

Anti-choice nutjobs are once again laying siege to Kentucky's last abortion clinic in Louisville as GOP Gov. Matt Bevin wants to become the first governor to rid his state of abortion clinics in the Roe v Wade era.

Anti-abortion advocates began a weeklong series of protests Monday in hopes of shutting down Kentucky's last abortion clinic.

Protesters are gathered around the Gene Snyder United States Courthouse, where a hearing is set about a temporary buffer zone outside the clinic.

This week kicks off anti-abortion group Operation Save America's national gathering in Louisville. The gathering runs through July 29 and will feature protests in front of the clinic as well as a mobile electronic billboard depicting graphic images of abortion procedures. 
A federal police officer said he estimated 150-200 people in the area at the intersection of Sixth Street and Broadway.

Enoch Yoder, 26, traveled eight hours from Missouri to protest at the courthouse and clinic. 
"It's murder. Abortion is killing babies," Yoder said. "Plain and simple."

In May, 11 people were arrested in protests led by the anti-abortion group Operation Save America, after they blocked the entrance to the EMW Women's Surgical Center, 136 W. Market St.

As a result of the arrests in May, the U.S. Attorney's office in Louisville filed a motion on last week seeking to enforce the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which bars people from blocking access to reproductive health centers. 
The motion asked Hale to issue an order creating a buffer zone of about 15 by 7.5 feet in front of the clinic and asked that U.S. marshals and law enforcement officials be authorized to arrest anyone who violates the order.

The issue is, as Jessica Mason Pieklo reminded us back in May, that the Trump regime doesn't want to  enforce federal laws that have been on the books for almost 25 years to protect physical access to clinics.  Operation Save America is merely the reboot of Operation Rescue, the religious assholes who precipitated the murder of abortion provider Dr. David Gunn in Florida in 1993.  It's led by Rusty Thomas, who is a real piece of work:

Pay attention to Thomas’ framing here around Saturday’s Louisville siege. “We never go to protest anything,” said Thomas in his interview with the Courier-Journal. “We are ministers of the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and we go to proclaim through word and through Godly action, his great truths and his great Salvation and also to confront our national evil and national sin called abortion and … to rescue these children who are being led to slaughter and provide for them a defense and a voice.” 
Thomas and other activists calling themselves ministers is intentional. It is an attempt to invoke legal protections around communications like anti-choice activist Angel Dillard successfully did to protect her jailhouse communications with Scott Roeder—who was associated with Operation Rescue—in her trial for threatening Dr. Mila Means, the abortion provider set to take over Tiller’s practice following his murder by Roeder.
It’s also an attempt to paint their activities as “religious exercise,” to advance their likely claims that attacking clinics is part of their right to full “civic engagement.” 
Saturday’s siege by OSA was a test on several fronts: It was a test of local law enforcement to advance the group’s philosophy of the “lesser magistrate” doctrine. That doctrine, which is rooted in conservative Christianity, argues law enforcement officers are justified in opposing policies or orders they consider unjust or morally wrong. Roeder used a variation of the lesser magistrate doctrine to argue Tiller’s murder was a “justifiable homicide,” because it prevented the doctor from continuing to provide abortions. Robert Lewis Dear, the man who has admitted to holding siege a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood and killing three, suggested in his legal competency hearing last year that heintended to raise a justifiable homicide defense as well if he ever stands trial. And anti-choice activists, including OSA, argue that it supports local officers’ failure to endorse noise ordinances or trespassing laws in situations like Saturday’s and other protests. 
The attack on the Louisville clinic was also a test of Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who has made no secret about his goal of closing it. The clinic—the last in the state—currently remains open by federal court order, after the governor helped push regulations designed to close it. Bevin has met with OSA leadership, and they consider him an ally. As a result, the group has focused its efforts in Kentucky
In fact, Thomas told the Courier-Journal the group would be back in July: “That is a tremendous opportunity before you all to become the first surgically abortion-free state in the United States of America and so, we’re praying Kentucky will lead the way out of this blood guiltiness that’s upon the land.”

Kentucky is the test.  If any clinic is going to get shut down, it will be this one, in this state, by this governor.  The Trump regime won't lift a finger to stop it.  Whether the courts will is anyone's guess, but I'm betting that Thomas and his cult think they can get away with it.
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