Saturday, June 30, 2018

Weaponizing The First Amendment

NY Times reporter Adam Liptak follows up on Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan's end-of-term warning that the the right is "weaponizing" the FIrst Amendment in order to use it against classic liberalism in order to curtail labor, civil, voting, and human rights.

The left was once not just on board but leading in supporting the broadest First Amendment protections,” said Floyd Abrams, a prominent First Amendment lawyer and a supporter of broad free-speech rights. “Now the progressive community is at least skeptical and sometimes distraught at the level of First Amendment protection which is being afforded in cases brought by litigants on the right.”

Many on the left have traded an absolutist commitment to free speech for one sensitive to the harms it can inflict.

Take pornography and street protests. Liberals were once largely united in fighting to protect sexually explicit materials from government censorship. Now many on the left see pornography as an assault on women’s rights.

In 1977, many liberals supported the right of the American Nazi Party to march among Holocaust survivors in Skokie, Ill. Far fewer supported the free-speech rights of the white nationalists who marched last year in Charlottesville, Va.

There was a certain naïveté in how liberals used to approach free speech, said Frederick Schauer, a law professor at the University of Virginia.

“Because so many free-speech claims of the 1950s and 1960s involved anti-obscenity claims, or civil rights and anti-Vietnam War protests, it was easy for the left to sympathize with the speakers or believe that speech in general was harmless,” he said. “But the claim that speech was harmless or causally inert was never true, even if it has taken recent events to convince the left of that. The question, then, is why the left ever believed otherwise.”

Some liberals now say that free speech disproportionately protects the powerful and the status quo.

“When I was younger, I had more of the standard liberal view of civil liberties,” said Louis Michael Seidman, a law professor at Georgetown. “And I’ve gradually changed my mind about it. What I have come to see is that it’s a mistake to think of free speech as an effective means to accomplish a more just society.”

To the contrary, free speech reinforces and amplifies injustice, Catharine A. MacKinnon, a law professor at the University of Michigan, wrote in “The Free Speech Century,” a collection of essays to be published this year.

Once a defense of the powerless, the First Amendment over the last hundred years has mainly become a weapon of the powerful,” she wrote. “Legally, what was, toward the beginning of the 20th century, a shield for radicals, artists and activists, socialists and pacifists, the excluded and the dispossessed, has become a sword for authoritarians, racists and misogynists, Nazis and Klansmen, pornographers and corporations buying elections.”

And that's where we are.  The right constantly uses the rights of free speech and religious freedom to justify actions taken against others, and then to prevent the government from curtailing those action, no matter who is harmed in the process.  It's patently ridiculous, and yet it's where we are.

It's not an accident that the right constantly conflates being able to discriminate and preventing the government from censorship as "First Amendment rights".  They've been doing it for decades, guys.  Their entire legal framework is built on it.  It's also no mistake that they are constantly conflating the right to discriminate and the right to not be discriminated against too.  They believe in both, but only if it applies to themselves.

And not anyone else.

Your Even A Stopped Clock Can Be Right Alert

For the first time in years, Dana "Dickwhisperer" Milbank actually wrote something that I didn't want to use a wrapping paper for fish and chips as he notes that Orange Julius's "hell no" 2010 speech on Obamacare warning the Dems what was coming is where Mitch McConnell and the GOP are now as the blue wave roars towards them.

Now I think I know how Boehner felt in 2010. We see Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) vowing to ram through the Senate the confirmation of the decisive fifth hard-right justice on the Supreme Court, quite likely signaling the end of legal abortion in much of the United States and possibly same-sex marriage and other rights Americans embrace, in far greater number, than they ever did Obamacare.

One wants to cry out: Hell no, you can’t! But Republicans can. They have the votes. Democrats can and should fight, but the GOP controls the schedule, sets the rules and already eliminated the procedures that gave the minority a say in Supreme Court confirmations.

If anything, the fury should be far more intense on the Democratic side right now than it was for Boehner in 2010. The Affordable Care Act was the signature proposal of a president elected with a large popular mandate, it had the support of a plurality of the public, and it was passed by a party that had large majorities in both chambers of Congress and had attempted to solicit the participation of the minority.

Now we have a Supreme Court nomination — the second in as many years — from an unpopular president who lost the popular vote by 2.8 million. The nominee will be forced through by also-unpopular Senate Republicans, who, like House Republicans, did not win a majority of the vote in 2016.

Compounding the outrage, each of the prospective nominees is all but certain, after joining the court, to support the eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade, which has held the nation together in a tenuous compromise on abortion for 45 years and is supported by two-thirds of Americans . For good measure, the new justice may well join the other four conservative justices in revoking same-sex marriage, which also has the support of two-thirds of Americans. And this comes after the Republicans essentially stole a Supreme Court seat by refusing to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.

You can only ignore the will of the people for so long and get away with it.

In a way Milbank is right, but frankly the Republicans have been getting away with it through incrementally tightening the screws on Democrats and making it harder and harder to resist them at the ballot box that voting alone isn't going to stop the GOP at this point.

We're going to be in the streets this summer, and long after I suspect as the Mueller investigation reaches its conclusion.  This is the part where we have to step in and do things, guys.

The conflict is coming.  It's been coming for years, but at this point it's time to admit that it's finally here.

Meanwhile In Bevinstan, Con't

Some rare good news here out of the Christian Republic of Bevinstan for once as a federal judge has struck down GOP Gov. Matt Bevin's Medicaid work requirements as "arbitrary and capricious".

A federal judge in Washington D.C. has struck down Kentucky's plan to start requiring some Medicaid recipients to work or volunteer in order to continue receiving benefits.
The ruling blocks Gov. Matt Bevin's administration from implementing the change, which was scheduled to start Monday in one Northern Kentucky county and extend to most of the rest of the state by the end of the year. 
Sixteen Kentucky Medicaid recipients sued the federal government in January to block Bevin's planned changes to the state's Medicaid program. The plaintiffs claim that Bevin's plan — known as Kentucky HEALTH — should not have been approved; they say it violates the 1965 law establishing Medicaid because it will reduce poor people's access to health care. 
Simultaneously, to uphold Kentucky HEALTH, Bevin is suing those same 16 Medicaid recipients in Frankfort before U.S. District Judge Gregory VanTatenhove
The Frankfort lawsuit is about a month behind its Washington counterpart, setting up the possibility that a judge in one federal circuit could strike down Bevin's Medicaid changes while a judge in another could say that he had every right to make them. 
Bevin says that if he loses in court and cannot prevail on appeal, he will end expanded Medicaid in Kentucky, which has extended health coverage to about 400,000 people with incomes just above the poverty line
"Kentucky HEALTH was developed in Kentucky for Kentuckians, and its validity ought to be decided in Kentucky," Bevin's attorney, Stephen Pitt, wrote in a May court filing before VanTatenhove. "This matter should be decided quickly so that the commonwealth can move forward with Kentucky HEALTH or withdraw from expanded Medicaid." 
While much of the controversy over Kentucky HEALTH has focused on Bevin’s 80-hour-a-month "community engagement" requirement, which could be satisfied by work, school or volunteering, the Washington-based suit also called attention to other new hurdles that Medicaid recipients will have to jump in order to keep their coverage. 
Those hurdles include monthly premiums, initially from $1 to $15, although they eventually top out at $37.50; monthly check-ins to report employment and income status; annual re-enrollments; and ongoing verification of extra tasks people must complete if they want to win back the vision and dental coverage they previously had as part of their basic coverage. 
Missing a payment or notification could trigger a six-month lockout on basic health coverage. Missing the enrollment window could mean waiting nine more months for the next opportunity. 
The Bevin administration estimates 95,000 people will lose their coverage over the next five years out of the more than 400,000 Kentuckians just above the poverty line who are currently enrolled in expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Bevin made this bluff back in January that if the courts blocked these work requirements, that he'd end Medicaid for 10% of the state or so.  He's locked into that now, as that bluff has been called.

What will he do?

We'll find out.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Last Call For Deportation Nation, Con't

As I keep telling folks, the Trump regime's goal is not to end illegal immigration, it's to end legal immigration as well as to revoke citizenship from undesirables.  Trump and his white supremacists want to roll back as much of the 1965 Immigration and Naturalization Act as possible.  Part of that goal is to stop as many people as possible from entering the US, and that means ending asylum.

The Department of Justice, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is drafting a plan that would totally overhaul asylum policy in the United States. 
Under the plan, people would be barred from getting asylum if they came into the US between ports of entry and were prosecuted for illegal entry. It would also add presumptions that would make it extremely difficult for Central Americans to qualify for asylum, and codify — in an even more restrictive form — an opinion written by Sessions in June that attempted to restrict asylum for victims of domestic and gang violence
Vox has confirmed that the regulation is in the process of being evaluated, and has seen a copy of a draft of the regulation. 
When the regulation is ready, it will be published in the Federal Register as a notice of proposed rulemaking, with 90 days for the public to comment before it’s enacted as a final regulation. 
The version Vox saw may change before it’s finalized, or even before the proposal is published in the Federal Register. (The Department of Justice declined to comment.)
But as it exists now, the proposal is a sweeping and thorough revamp of asylum — tightening the screws throughout the asylum process. 
One source familiar with the asylum process but not authorized to speak on the record described the proposed changes as “the most severe restrictions on asylum since at least 1965” — when the law that created the current legal immigration system was passed — and “possibly even further back.” 
The Immigration and Nationality Act gives the attorney general, along with the Department of Homeland Security, discretion over asylum standards — saying that the government “may grant asylum” to an applicant who they determine meets the definition of a refugee. But the proposed regulation would make it nearly impossible for Central Americans, including families, to earn the government’s approval. 
It would eliminate the path that thousands of Central Americans, including families, take every month to seek asylum in the US: entering between ports of entry and presenting themselves to Border Patrol agents. It would make it all but impossible for victims of domestic or gang violence to qualify for asylum — going even further than a June decision from Sessions that sought to limit asylum access for those groups. It would create a presumption against Central Americans who travel through Mexico on their way to the US.

The endgame is to reduce the non-white population of the country.  Keep that goal in mind when you take a look at every immigration move that this regime makes.  All of that serves this overarching purpose: to not just to stop the ethnic diversification of America, but to significantly reverse it.

We have to get these assholes out of power.

The Actual President Weighs In

If we had all remembered "Don't boo, vote" we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place, but Barack Obama is more than happy to 100% rightfully remind us that we messed up.

Former President Barack Obama, re-emerging into the political fray for a Democratic National Committee fundraiser here on Thursday, had a message for troubled Democrats: Do more than just mope. 
Obama peppered his 45-minute appearance with subtle knocks for despondent Democrats, warning that it is not enough to lament Donald Trump's presidency or complain about the impact he is having on the country. Instead, a tie-less and visibly relaxed Obama urged Democrats to back up those concerns with action and avoid the belief that the party is bound to defeat Republicans in November. 
"If what you are doing requires no sacrifice at all, then you can do more," Obama told the tony crowd at a sweeping multi-million-dollar Beverly Hills home. "If you are one of these folks who is watching cable news at your cocktail parties with your friends and you are saying 'civilization is collapsing' and you are nervous and worried, but that is not where you are putting all your time, energy and money, then either you don't actually think civilization is collapsing ... or you are not pushing yourself hard enough and I would push harder." 
At one point, he turned to the crowd and declared, "Enough moping, this is a mope-free zone." 
And the former President even suggested to the roughly 200 donors in attendance, who also enjoyed a performance from Christina Aguilera, that Democrats can't get fixated on the glitz and personality of politics. 
"We shouldn't expect (politics) to be entertaining all the time -- and Christina Aguilera was wonderful -- but you don't need to have an amazing singer at every event," he said. "Sometimes you are just in a church basement making phone calls and eating cold pizza."

In other words, we have a lot of work ahead of us, and the time to get going on the heavy lifting: getting people registered, getting people to the polls, phone banking, turning out for marches and protests, all the way down to local county party meetings and door knocking?  The time for that was 24 months ago.

We have to do that now more than ever.  Don't mope, vote.  Help others to vote.  Double check your registration with your secretary of state's website, hell even Kentucky has that capability.  Double check your precinct voting site.  Don't take anything for granted anymore.

Let's get the work done.

Kennedy's Lagacy Will Be Justice Denied

As Imani Gandy and Jessica Mason Pieklo point out at Rewire News, Justice Anthony Kennedy's decision this week to retire is basically dunking on his own legacy over the last 20-plus years and it's all but assured that Trump's pick will destroy it.

Let’s be fair, shall we? His votes in favor of LGBTQ rights from Lawrence v. Texas to Obergefell v. Hodges undeniably advanced the cause of equality for LGBTQ people. And the way that he writes about LGBTQ people would give the impression that he is deeply concerned about LGBTQ rights. 
For example, this is what he wrote in the majority opinion in Obergefell:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. 
Lovely, right? Certainly we thought so at the time, lauding Kennedy for recognizing that love is love and that gays, lesbians, and everyone else should be able to marry. Sure, it’s a conservative vision of love, rooted in patriarchal institutions. Still, though: It remains an important decision, and that passage makes us tear up. 
But given his retirement announcement and his abominable performance during this year’s Supreme Court term, those words have proven ultimately toothless. Because by retiring now—before the 2018 midterms—he has ensured that Senate Republicans will try to ram a Trump nominee through the confirmation process before the new congressional session begins in January. Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has already promised as much. And that nominee is not going to be a friend to the LGBTQ community. It’s more likely than not that open hostility to LGBTQ rights will be an important qualifier for anyone Trump chooses to replace Kennedy. 
By retiring now, Kennedy has almost certainly thwarted Democrats’ chance to wrestle control of the Senate from Republicans and therefore keep them from confirming another right-wing extremist this year. He basically screwed us all. It seems purposeful, not to mention hurtful to the LGBTQ people in the United States who have come to rely on him to advocate for them. 
And yes, the Court is not supposed to be partisan or to concern itself with who is president and who might replace them. But the truth of the matter is that is bullshit: When a Supreme Court justice chooses to retire says a lot about their priorities. Whatever Kennedy’s priorities are, saving his legacy doesn’t seem to be one of them.
If Kennedy truly cared about LGBTQ rights, he would have stayed on long enough to ensure that he would be replaced by someone who shared that (somewhat feckless, let’s be honest) commitment. 
But he didn’t.

Either he doesn't care about his legacy now, or he never cared about it then.  Either way, that legacy will be gone as Obergfell and Lawrence and his many other 5-4 decisions are wrecked within a few short years.

When abortion, same-sex marriage, and even birth control options are unavailable in half the states and only "nearly impossible" to get in the other half, will Kennedy still be around to give a damn?


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Last Call For Another Day In Gunmerica

A gunman is in custody in Annapolis, Maryland after five people were shot at the newsroom of the Capital Gazette newspaper.

At least five people were killed and several others were “gravely injured” in a shooting Thursday afternoon at the Capital Gazette in Anne Arundel County, authorities said.

A shooter is in custody, police said. Police would not name the suspect, but said he was a Maryland resident in his late 30s and had specifically targeted the Capital.

“This was a targeted attack on the Capital Gazette,” said Anne Arundel County Deputy Police Chief William Krampf. “This person was prepared today to come in. He was prepared to shoot people.”

Police said a shotgun was used in the incident. They said officers did not exchange gunfire with the suspect, who was now being interrogated. They said officers had recovered “smoke grenades” used by the suspect in the building, located at 888 Bestgate Road. About 170 people were inside at the time of the shooting, police said.

The Capital Gazette is owned by The Baltimore Sun.

Phil Davis, a Capital Gazette crime reporter who was in the building at the time of the shooting, said multiple people were shot, as others — himself included — hid under their desks. He said there was a lone male gunman.

“Gunman shot through the glass door to the office and opened fire on multiple employees. Can’t say much more and don’t want to declare anyone dead, but it’s bad,” Davis wrote on Twitter as he waited to be interviewed by police.

“There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload.”

In a subsequent interview, Davis said it “was like a war zone” inside the newspaper’s offices — a situation that would be “hard to describe for a while.”

The suspect is a white male from nearby Laurel, Maryland in his 30s who filed a defamation claim against the paper in 2012, but the case was dismissed.  Police are calling this a "targeted attack" as the paper received numerous threats over social media.

Let's not forget that three days ago, Donald Trump once again called the media "enemies of the people" at his rally in South Carolina on Monday, and called them "very dishonest" last week in a rally in Duluth.

Let's not forget that just yesterday, white supremacist Milo Yiannopoulos literally said "I can't wait for vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight" and somebody sure as hell took him up on that offer, huh?

This is where we are in 2018, journalists are being gunned down by maniacs and the goddamn leader of the country and his white supremacist buddies are cheering them on while they kill reporters.

I'm livid.  This is horrific.

We are at war already, as several of you have pointed out.

A Poll Arising America, Con't

Two new polls this week capture the zeitgeist of 2018 pretty succinctly, first an Axios/Survey Monkey poll finds nearly three-quarters of Americans now believe major news outlets intentionally broadcast "fake news".

Seventy-two percent of Americans believe "traditional major news sources report news they know to be fake, false, or purposely misleading," according to a new poll from Axios and SurveyMonkey released on Thursday.

The poll of nearly 4,000 adults shows that 92 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents "say that traditional news outlets knowingly report false or misleading stories at least sometimes," a finding in line with other recent polls conducted by Pew Research and Gallup.

It found the sentiment extends to those who identify as independents and Democrats, with 79 percent of independents also saying traditional outlets knowingly report false or misleading stories at least sometimes. Democrats agree by a slight majority of 53 percent.

The poll also found that almost two-thirds of those polled say fake news "is usually reported because people have an agenda." About one-third of those polled say false information is reported because of "poor fact-checking" or laziness.

A very small percentage, or three percent, say fake news "makes headlines by accident."

Fifty-seven percent of Democrats say they use Google searches to verify facts. Less than half of Republicans, or 48 percent, do the same.

In terms of using fact-checking websites such as or, 43 percent of Democrats say they utilize such resources, while only 30 percent of Republicans and 29 percent of independents do the same.

Trust in media was once at 74 percent in 1976 in the post-Watergate reporting era, according to Gallup.

That number dropped to 32 percent in 2016, the last time Gallup polled on the question. Just 14 percent of Republicans said they trusted the media in that poll.

Even half of Democrats admit that they believe major news outlets intentionally report false stories.   Same goes for nearly 80% of independents. And Republicans?  Over 90%.  We're way past the era where hard-hitting journalism is going to stop Trump's abuses of power, Republicans don't believe a single word of news stories anymore that are critical of the regime.

The right-wing noise machine has won a resounding victory.  The free press is irrelevant if nobody believes it.

Oh, but it gets worse.  Paranoia is becoming far more rampant.

Most voters fear that political violence is coming from opponents of the president’s policies, just as they did in the second year of Barack Obama’s presidency, and nearly one-in-three think a civil war is next.

Thirty-one percent (31%) of Likely U.S. Voters say it’s likely that the United States will experience a second civil war sometime in the next five years, with 11% who say it’s Very Likely
. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that 59% consider a second civil war unlikely, but that includes only 29% who say it’s Not At All Likely. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

Democrats (37%) are more fearful than Republicans (32%) and voters not affiliated with either major party (26%) that a second civil war is at hand.

But 59% of all voters are concerned that those opposed to President Trump’s policies will resort to violence, with 33% who are Very Concerned. This compares to 53% and 28% respectively in the spring of Obama’s second year in office. Thirty-seven percent (37%) don’t share that concern, including 16% who are Not At All Concerned.

Fifty-three percent (53%) are concerned that those critical of the media’s coverage of Trump will resort to violence, with 24% who are Very Concerned. Forty-two percent (42%) are not concerned about violence from media opponents, including 17% who are Not At All Concerned.

It's easy to say the ignorance on display in the first poll leads to the paranoia in the second, but there's also the very real calls by Donald Trump for violence against his critics and the media, on a number of occasions.

I don;t believe things are getting that violent yet, but I certainly think it can happen, and quickly.

A Supreme Labor Of Ignorance

As widely expected, the final day of the 2018 SCOTUS term brought a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Samuel Alito that invalidated union dues sharing rules in 22 states, and all but signed the death blow of organized labor in the US.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Wednesday that non-union workers cannot be forced to pay fees to public sector unions. 
"Compelling individuals to mouth support for views they find objectionable violates that cardinal constitutional command, and in most contexts, any such effort would be universally condemned," wrote Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the court's opinion in the case, Janus v. AFSCME. 
The case, one of the most hotly anticipated of the term, is the second in two days to hand a major victory to conservatives, following Tuesday's holding by the court that President Donald Trump's travel ban is constitutional.

Some experts have said that a holding in favor of Janus would be the most significant court decision affecting collective bargaining in decades. 
Trump hailed the ruling immediately after it was handed down. In a post on Twitter, the president wrote that the decision was a "loss for the coffers of the Democrats."

And that of course is the real reason this case was decided as it was.  Alito's opinion overturned the 1977 Abood vs Detroit Board of Education ruling that allowed public sector unions to exist in the first place.  Now they are effectively subject to right-to-work laws and will be dismantled.

Organized-labor groups strongly disagree with Janus’s interpretation and opposed efforts to reconsider the 1977 precedent. Unions use the term “fair-share payments” because, they argue, the fees prevent non-members from free-riding on the collective-bargaining services from which they benefit. “At its core, Abood acknowledged that certain labor-relations interests justify the small intrusion on employees’ First Amendment interests that fair-share payments represent,” AFSCME Council 31 told the Court earlier this year. 
If Janus prevails and Abood is overturned, the Court’s ruling could effectively act as a nationwide right-to-work law for the country’s public-sector workers, with potentially crushing implications for the funding and resources of the unions that represent them. AFSCME officials told Bloomberg that they estimated in 2015 that only about a third of the workers they represent would pay fees “no matter what,” and that about half were “on the fence” about it. In other words, if given the option to leave the union and avoid paying dues, many could take it and still be supported by collective-bargaining efforts. 
“The Janus case is a blatantly political and well-funded plot to use the highest court in the land to further rig the economic rules against everyday working people,” Lee Saunders, the president of AFSCME, said in a statement. “The billionaire CEOs and corporate interests behind this case, and the politicians who do their bidding, have teamed up to deliver yet another attack on working people by striking at the freedom to come together in strong unions.” 
The Court’s conservative members, led by Justice Samuel Alito, have also fired off signal flares on Abood in recent years. Writing for the majority in the 2012 case Knox v. Service Employees, Alito called the 1977 precedent “something of an anomaly” for its First Amendment implications. Two years later, in Harris v. Quinn, he criticized the Abood decision’s reasoning at length before concluding it was “questionable on several grounds.” The five-justice majority in Harris effectively telegraphed that they would be willing to overturn Abood in the future.

Today, that's exactly what happened.  Public unions will be a thing of the past within a few short years now.  State unions have been able to stay afloat because of dues collected in strongly unionized states to keep coffers full for national unions, but now that's done for.  Alito's ruling ends that practice, and national unions and labor groups are going to be broke within a couple of years.

And of course, this means unions won't have money to donate to pro-union Democrats, either.

Which is the point.  There's no way Democrats will be able to stay on the same playing field as Republicans in donations thanks to this ruling, and both sides know it.

Democrats are in mortal trouble heading into 2020 and beyond.

Again, this is the point.  Don't expect the courts to save us from the party of Trump.  We have to choose to save ourselves, and we're almost out of time.


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Last Call For Wheels On Fire

Where I say there's nothing Donald Trump can do that will cause his cult of followers to abandon him, I mean that Trump can casually destroy the livelihoods of his voters and they will gladly hand him the ax to chop their own heads off.

It is time for a smoke break at the Harley-Davidson power-train facility in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, and the talk is all about tariffs. 
The men and women who build these famous American motorcycles are weighing the latest unintended consequence of Donald Trump’s presidency: the possibility they could lose their jobs because of a tit-for-tat trade war that has caught the Harley in its crossfire. 
The century-old Wisconsin company that Mr Trump has called “an American icon” — and which he has praised as a symbol of stubborn survival against the decline of the American Rust Belt — said on Monday that it would have to move some US production overseas to avoid EU tariffs. The motorcycle maker was the first US manufacturer to scale down domestic production in response to the levies, which were imposed as retaliation for US steel and aluminium duties. 
The workers gathered outside the factory gate could end up as collateral damage, but most are sticking by their man regardless. Wearing earphones draped around their necks and safety blinders on their glasses, most happily volunteer that they voted for Mr Trump and would do so again — tariffs or no tariffs.
“He wouldn’t do it unless it needed to be done, he’s a very smart businessman,” said one Harley employee whose name is embroidered on his work shirt — though he asks not to be quoted by name. “I think he’s playing poker: I’ll hit you with this, you’ll hit us with that, I think this will bring them to the table — unless he’s completely crazy,” chimed in another, who also declined to be quoted on the grounds that he could get into trouble with the company for speaking out.

Asked whether they blame the president or the EU for causing Harley’s offshoring decision, most say emphatically that they blame only the Europeans. “The president was just trying to save the US aluminium and steel industry,” said one approvingly. 
Harley-Davidson said on Monday that it maintained a “strong commitment to US-based manufacturing”, but that its facilities in India, Brazil and Thailand would increase production to avoid paying the EU tariffs that would have cost it as much as $100m. 
When asked whether the latest news could make him vote against Mr Trump if he runs for a second term in 2020, one worker, who gave his name only as Tod, replied: “No, I don’t think so. It’s going to take a little bit more than that. He’s doing good things. We’ll just have to see who runs on the other side, that might change my vote.” 
Mark, another Harley worker sitting astride his motorbike during the afternoon shift change at this plant that employs about 1,000 workers, said: “I think Harley is just using it as an excuse” to move more production overseas, after a recent decision to close the company’s Kansas City plant. “They will just blame it on Trump.” 
Mr Trump later appeared to echo that argument, castigating the company for using the tariffs as a pretext. “Surprised that Harley-Davidson, of all companies, would be the first to wave the White Flag,” he tweeted, highlighting the irony that such a symbol of made-in-the-USA greatness would be one of the first casualties in his trade battle. 
Several workers said they thought they could find other employment if they lost their Harley jobs — partly because the US economy is booming.

 I can't think of anything that falls so squarely into the category of "economic anxiety" quite like "stupid and unnecessary global trade war that will lead to me being laid off" but they are happy with Trump for doing this, if not thrilled.

The "Kenyan Muslim terrorist and the Clinton bitch were going to destroy our jobs" so they voted for Trump, and when Trump specifically takes action to destroy their jobs, they say they'll vote for him again anyway.

Can we finally bury the "Trump won the Rust Belt because of  economic anxiety" lie now?

A Blockbuster Bronx Bombshell

The Democratic primary in NY-14 turned into a stunning upset for the DSA as 56-year old Joe Crowley, 20-year veteran lawmaker representing the Bronx and the Dems' number 4 in the House leadership and Caucus chair, found himself losing by double digits last night to 28-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Rep. Joe Crowley, one of the top Democrats in the House of Representatives, lost his New York primary in a shocking upset on Tuesday night to community organizer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Crowley, having fundraised nearly $3 million for the race in New York’s 14th District, fell easily to a first-time candidate with a viral introduction video, a Democratic Socialists of America membership card, and a proudly leftist agenda. She ran on Medicare-for-all, a federal jobs guarantee, and getting tough on Wall Street. The race was called just before 10 pm for Ocasio-Cortez.

For those who closely watch elections, this is the biggest primary upset since then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated by David Brat in 2014. Brat ran on a campaign of depicting Cantor as a creature of Washington rather than a true representative of the district.

Likewise, Crowley, who has been in Congress since 1999, is the No. 4 Democrat in the House and was widely viewed as an eventual successor to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Though he was a stalwart progressive on nearly every issue, he also had close ties to Wall Street. This made him a formidable fundraiser, something that Ocasio-Cortez turned against Crowley in the primary. She eventually fundraised about $600,000 through small-dollar donors.

The district, which spans parts of the Bronx and Queens, is heavily Democratic, so Ocasio-Cortez is all but guaranteed to be a new member of Congress in November. 

That would make Ocasio-Cortez the youngest woman elected to Congress if she wins, and there seems to be no chance that she doesn't.  And as far as her platform, well, you know what?  An 80% Democratic district is exactly the kind of place we need to have a card-carrying Socialist.

I'm alright with that.  More power to her.

As far as Crowley goes, yeah, he was definitely going for Nancy's job, but then again he was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong 20-year career under his belt.  Crowley hadn't faced a primary challenge since 2004 and it showed.  He got sloppy, skipped debates, and took his opponent for granted.

And he lost because of it.

Don't get me wrong, I don't think for a second that this is the Rise Of The Berniecrats, and the comparison to Dave Brat beating Eric Cantor is lazy at best.  This was "all politics are local" 101 and Crowley flunked the test, and it cost him any shot he had at Nancy Pelosi's job.

The question is who will succeed Pelosi.  Crowley was a smart pick, but the reality is if the Dems do take back the House, Pelosi may not have 218 votes.

We'll see.

Breaking: Justice Kennedy Retires

Donald Trump will get a second SCOTUS pick, GOP Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has dropped all pretense of "the people must get a voice in this nomination" and assures the vote will come in the fall before midterm elections.

Democrats of course cannot filibuster, as McConnell ended that months ago.  There's nothing they can do.  Any Republican senator who defies Trump on this will have Trump calling for their blood.  Literally.

By the way, kiss abortion, affirmative action, same-sex marriage and a whole lot else goodbye.

What will change are rulings on issues where Kennedy has helped maintain a shaky 5-4 center-left consensus. Because of the court’s longstanding principle of stare decisis, or obeying past precedent barring a compelling reason not to do so, some liberal Court achievements are likely to stay. But a Court without Kennedy is substantially more likely to:
  • Overturn Roe v. Wade and allow states (and maybe the federal government too) to ban most or all abortions.
  • Reject challenges to capital punishment and solitary confinement.
  • Rule in favor of religious challenges to anti-discrimination law, and perhaps, in an extreme case, reverse some past Supreme Court rulings on gay rights.
  • Bar government actors from engaging in explicit race-based affirmative action.
And there are likely to be more aftershocks that are hard to anticipate this far in advance.

At this point, we tried to warn you.

A Supreme Disappointment

Yesterday's 5-4 Supreme Court ruling upholding Trump's Muslim travel ban is yet another historical cow flop in the punchbowl of American jurisprudence, one that Bloomberg's Noah Feldman says will take generations to fix.

In what may be the worst decision since the infamous Korematsu case, when the Supreme Court upheld the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the court today by a 5-4 vote upheld President Donald Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

Like the Korematsu decision, Trump v. Hawaii elevates legal formalities as a way to avoid addressing what everyone understood is really at issue here — namely, prejudice. Chief Justice John Roberts’s majority opinion downplays Trump’s anti-Muslim bias, focusing instead on the president’s legal power to block immigration in the name of national security.

The decision will be a stain not only on the legacy of the Roberts court, but on that of the Supreme Court itself. The court tried to compensate by saying how bad the Korematsu decision was. And Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a separate concurrence in which he hints that perhaps the lower courts could reconsider the question of anti-religious animus. But these efforts are far too little to save the court, or Kennedy, from the judgment of history, which will be harsh.

Roberts’s opinion focuses mostly on the Immigration and Nationality Act, which gives the president the authority to exclude foreigners if he finds that their entry “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.” Yet to focus on Roberts's analysis would be to make the same crucial error as Roberts himself — that is, treating one of the most outrageous acts of presidential bias in modern U.S. history as though it were an ordinary exercise of presidential power, taken by an ordinary president acting in good conscience.

When Roberts comes to the topic of bias, he recounts Trump’s anti-Muslim statements and the history of the travel ban (this is the administration’s third version). Then he balks. “The issue before us is not whether to denounce the statements,” Roberts writes. Rather, Roberts insists, the court’s focus must be on “the significance of those statements in reviewing a presidential directive, neutral on its face, addressing the matter within the core of executive responsibility.” 
That is lawyer-speak for saying that, despite its obviousness, the court would ignore Trump’s anti-Muslim bias. Roberts is trying to argue that, when a president is acting within his executive authority, the court should defer to what the president says his intention is, no matter the underlying reality. 
That’s more or less what the Supreme Court did in the Korematsu case. There, Justice Hugo Black, a Franklin D. Roosevelt loyalist, denied that the orders requiring the internment of Japanese-Americans were based on racial prejudice. The dissenters, especially Justice Frank Murphy, pointed out that this was preposterous. 
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the court’s most liberal member, played the truth-telling role today. Her dissent, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, states bluntly that a reasonable observer looking at the record would conclude that the ban was “motivated by anti-Muslim animus.”

She properly invokes the Korematsu case — in which, she points out, the government also claimed a national security rationale when it was really relying on stereotypes. And she concludes that “our Constitution demands, and our country deserves, a Judiciary willing to hold the coordinate branches to account when they defy our most sacred legal commitments.”

Indeed, Sotomayor makes it painfully clear that the man in the Oval Office making these "national security decisions" is a screaming, inchoate bigot in her dissent.

As the majority correctly notes, “the issue before us is not whether to denounce” these offensive statements. Ante, at 29. Rather, the dispositive and narrow questionhere is whether a reasonable observer, presented with all “openly available data,” the text and “historical context” of the Proclamation, and the “specific sequence of events” leading to it, would conclude that the primary purpose ofthe Proclamation is to disfavor Islam and its adherents by excluding them from the country. See McCreary, 545
U. S., at 862–863. The answer is unquestionably yes
Taking all the relevant evidence together, a reasonable observer would conclude that the Proclamation was driven primarily by anti-Muslim animus, rather than by the
Government’s asserted national-security justifications. Even before being sworn into office, then-candidate Trump stated that “Islam hates us,” App. 399, warned that “[w]e’re having problems with the Muslims, and we’re having problems with Muslims coming into the country,” id., at 121, promised to enact a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” id., at 119, and instructed one of his advisers to find a “lega[l]” way to enact a Muslim ban, id., at 125.3 The President continued to make similar statements well after his inauguration, as detailed above, see supra, at 6–10. 
Moreover, despite several opportunities to do so, President Trump has never disavowed any of his prior statements about Islam.4 Instead, he has continued to make remarks that a reasonable observer would view as an unrelenting attack on the Muslim religion and its followers. Given President Trump’s failure to correct the reasonable perception of his apparent hostility toward the Islamic faith, it is unsurprising that the President’s lawyers have, at every step in the lower courts, failed in their attempts to launder the Proclamation of its discriminatory taint.

I mean when's the last time you can recall a Supreme Court Justice saying, like this, that the current leader of the the US was a bigoted asshole like this?

But that's where we are.  And you'd better believe that Trump will use this green light to determine that other groups of people present "national security threats" and must be dealt with.


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Last Call For The War On Women, Con't

The party of Trump has truly made America special indeed, as for the first time America makes the top ten nations in the world...that are the most dangerous to be a woman in.

The United States has been ranked for the first time among the ten nations deemed to be the most dangerous for women by experts in the field. A survey by the Thompson Reuters Foundation of about 550 experts in women's issues around the globe labelled the U.S. the 10th most dangerous nation in terms of the risk of sexual violence, harassment and being coerced into sex. 
Reuters said the U.S. placement on the dubious list was down largely to the #MeToo and Time's Up campaigns increasing awareness of sexual violence and intimidation of women in the U.S. in the wake of the criminal allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein
"People want to think income means you're protected from misogyny, and sadly that's not the case," Cindy Southworth, of the Washington-based National Network to End Domestic Violence, told Reuters. "We are going to look back and see this as a very powerful tipping point... We're blowing the lid off and saying '#Metoo and Time's Up'."

We're number ten!  And topping the list?  The half-billion plus women living under the government of Trump's friend Narendra Modi.

According to the survey, which was last carried out in 2011 and did not then rank the U.S. among the top 10 most dangerous nations, India is the most perilous country for women right now. 
The survey noted that Indian government data shows reported crimes against women were up 83 percent between 2007 and 2016. During that year, there were an average of four rapes reported every hour in India. 
India has seen a series of horrific attacks on women in recent years, the most recent example being five female activists working to raise awareness of human trafficking who were gang-raped at gunpoint in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand just last week.

Rounding out the list: Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, Nigeria, and of course, the United States.

It's really saying something that under Trump, the US is more dangerous for women than say, China under Xi's increasingly one-man rule,  Russia under Putin's regime, Turkey under re-elected strongman Erdogan, or even Cuba, Venezuela or the Philippines, all under authoritarian control.

And the elephants in the room, Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon

It's less dangerous to be a woman in Iran today than in America.  The one good thing is that now everyone is aware of just how bad the problem in this country is.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

The Mueller probe is moving into the endgame as the investigation closes in on Trump and his inner circle, and possibly Trump himself.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is preparing to accelerate his probe into possible collusion between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russians who sought to interfere in the 2016 election, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

Mueller and his team of prosecutors and investigators have an eye toward producing conclusions -- and possible indictments -- related to collusion by fall, said the person, who asked not to be identified. He’ll be able to turn his full attention to the issue as he resolves other questions, including deciding soon whether to find that Trump sought to obstruct justice. 
Mueller’s office declined to comment on his plans.

Suspicious contacts between at least 13 people associated with Trump’s presidential campaign and Russians have fueled the debate over collusion.

Some of those encounters have been known for months: the Russian ambassador whose conversations forced Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation and led Michael Flynn to plead guilty to perjury. The Russians who wangled a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower in July 2016 after dangling the promise of political dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Other encounters continue to emerge, including a Russian’s chat with veteran Trump adviser Roger Stone at a cafe in Florida.

Signs of suspicious Russian contacts first surfaced in late 2015, especially among U.S. allies who were conducting surveillance against Russians, according to a former official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. 
By the spring of 2016 the frequent contacts set off alarm bells among U.S. intelligence officials, according to James Clapper, who was director of national intelligence at the time. The FBI’s Russia investigation officially began that July. 
“The dashboard warning lights were on for all of us because of the meetings,” Clapper said in an interview this month. “We may not have known much about the content of these meetings, but it was certainly very curious why so many meetings with Russians.”
On three occasions, Russians offered people associated with Trump’s campaign dirt on Democrat Clinton -- all before it was publicly known that Russians had hacked the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman. 
Mueller has interviewed or sought information about many of the people known to have met with Russians during the campaign. But it’s not known publicly whether the barrage of Russian contacts was instigated or coordinated by the Kremlin. Trump, for his part, has repeatedly denied any such plotting, tweeting on June 15, “WITCH HUNT! There was no Russian Collusion.”

The article goes on to list the folks under Mueller's sights:

  1. Michael Cohen
  2. Paul Manafort
  3. Michael Flynn
  4. Jared Kushner
  5. Erik Prince
  6. Rick Gates
  7. J.D. Gordon
  8. Carter Page
  9. Roger Stone
  10. Michael Caputo
  11. Donald Trump Jr.
  12. George Papadopoulos
  13. Jeff Sessions
The question: how many of these Dirty 13 are headed for prison?  We know that Gates, Papadopoulos, Prince and Flynn are talking, Manafort and Cohen are looking at spending the rest of their lives in a box if they don't cooperate, Gordon and Caputo have most likely already flipped to get bigger fish, and that Kushner, Sessions, and Don Jr. are currently sweating it out.

Stone I think is the real prize that's shifted Mueller towards the focus on collusion.  He knows way too much about the WikiLeaks/DNC hack connection, but doesn't have the personal protection of Trump like Kushner, Junior, and Sessions does.  Mueller only went after Stone in the last month or so too, when it became clear that he couldn't keep his mouth shut.

Now don't get me wrong, Cohen, Kushner, Flynn, Erik Prince and Paul Manafort are all going to cough up what they know.  But I think it's funny that Roger Stone's discount Batman '66 Penguin self could be the guy that actually brings down Trump.

Stay tuned.

The Supreme Time Of Year Again

The last week in June always means the biggest, most consequential US Supreme Court decisions of the term, and this year has been no exception for the Roberts court.  Monday, we got a massive decision on race and gerrymandering, and the fact that it was a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Samuel Alito should be enough to infer the disaster that awaits the country.  SCOTUSblog's Amy Howe confirms that the decision in Abbott v. Perez is a near-total victory for the GOP on the subject of redistricting with the intent of suppressing the minority vote.

Alito then turned to what he characterized as the main question on the merits of the state’s appeal: whether the district court was wrong “when it required the State to show that the 2013 Legislature somehow purged the ‘taint’ that the court attributed to the defunct and never-used plans enacted by a prior legislature in 2011.” According to Alito, the district court’s analysis was exactly backward: Even if a state has been found to have discriminated in the past, he observed, there is still a presumption that it acted properly in drafting later redistricting plans. This means that the plaintiffs challenging a redistricting plan still have to show that the legislature intended to discriminate when it enacted the current plan.

Alito acknowledged that the intent of the Texas legislature when it enacted the 2011 plan was something that a court could consider, and he added that the mere fact that the 2013 plans largely mirrored the 2012 interim plans adopted by the court did not immunize the 2013 plans from a challenge. But when all of the evidence is considered together, Alito concluded, it does not show that the legislature intended to discriminate against minority voters. If anything, Alito stressed, the available evidence suggests that the legislature did not intend to discriminate, but instead adopted the 2013 plans because it had been advised that doing so was the best way to end the “expensive and time consuming” litigation over the redistricting plans.

The majority’s holding that the district court had applied the wrong test resolved almost all of the case in Texas’ favor, leaving only four districts that the district court had invalidated for reasons other than discriminatory intent. Here the majority reversed the district court’s holding that three of the districts diluted the votes of minority voters, but it upheld the district court’s ruling that a state legislative district in Tarrant County was the product of racial gerrymandering. The legislature had “substantially modified” the Tarrant County district in 2013, and the state contended that it had done so to comply with the Voting Rights Act. But the reasons that the state cited to justify its decision to focus on race in drawing the district were “simply too thin a reed to support the drastic decision to draw lines in this way,” Alito concluded. The court therefore sent the case back to the lower court, presumably for it to apply the correct test to the districts that it had previously struck down.

In other words, after five years ago when the Roberts court blew a hole in the Voting Rights Act's Section 5 by throwing out pre-clearance rules in Section 4 of the law, Alito all but finished the job by effectively neutering Section 2.

It basically makes it impossible to bring a redistrcting challenge based on race, because Alito basically says that state legislatures that draw districts must be given the benefit of the doubt and they can't be racist.

Think about that.

In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor ripped Alito a new one.

In a blistering final paragraph that closed with the phrase “I dissent,” rather than the “I respectfully dissent” often used by the justices, Sotomayor protested that today’s ruling “does great damage to” the right “to equal participation in our political processes.” “Not because it denies the existence of that right, but because it refuses its enforcement. The Court intervenes when no intervention is authorized and blinds itself to the overwhelming factual record below. It does all of this to allow Texas to use electoral maps that, in design and effect, burden the rights of minority voters.”

Understand that if Republicans are still in charge of your state when redistricting rolls around in 2021, minority voters are going to be gerrymandered into oblivion.  The VRA's protections for minority voters have been fully dismantled.  Trump will never sign a new VRA into law, even if Democrats somehow manage to win back the House and the Senate and get something passed.

It was bad five years ago.  It's worse now.  It will be exponentially worse in 2020, 2022, and 2024.


Monday, June 25, 2018

Last Call For It's Mueller Time

Time to check in with the Mueller probe as the investigation continues to close in on Donald Trump, and while last week I mentioned that former Blackwater CEO (and brother of current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) Erik Prince is now cooperating with Mueller on Prince's role brokering meeting between the Trump campaign and foreign interests, it seems this Prince is now singing as prolifically as his late musical namesake.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is digging deeper into Trump ally and Blackwater founder Erik Prince, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the matter.

Prince, America’s most famous private military contractor, acknowledged last week that he “cooperated” with Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election after falling under scrutiny amid questions about an alleged effort to establish a backchannel between the Trump administration and the Kremlin, something Prince has vehemently denied.

ABC News has since learned that Mueller is also reviewing Prince’s communications. In response to questions from ABC News, a spokesperson for Prince released a statement noting that Prince has provided Mueller with “total access to his phone and computer.” 
“As Mr. Prince told the Daily Beast he has spoken voluntarily with Congress and also cooperated completely with the Special Counsel’s investigation, including by providing them total access to his phones and computer,” the spokesperson said. “Mr. Prince has a lot of opinions about the various investigations, but there is no question that they are important and serious, and so Mr. Prince will keep his opinions to himself for now and to let the investigators do their work. All we will add is that much of the reporting and speculation about Mr. Prince in the media is inaccurate, and we are confident that when the investigators have finished their work, we will be able to put these distractions to the side.”

Prince knows full well what Mueller and his team are capable of wringing out of him, and those meetings in the Seychelles are looking more and more like serious pay-for-play action with foreign powers.  That may be cool when you buy and sell wars all over the globe, but being, say, frozen out of Pentagon contracts for being a felon is bad business.

Prince also isn't taking the fall for Trump, and he knows he has enough to be useful to Mueller in exchange for a deal.Dying on Trump's hill isn't profitable, after all.  He wants this done with ASAP so he can get back to being, you know a respectable international arms dealer and James Bond villain.

He also figures he's smart enough to get out of this mess, and that Trump isn't.  He's more than likely correct on both accounts.

We'll see.

Trump Trading Blows, Con't

Iconic American motorcycle brand Harley-Davidson makes bikes right here in the US, but it looks like it will make far fewer bikes here in 2018 as Trump's trade war is forcing the company to move production  -- and potentially hundreds, maybe thousands of jobs -- overseas.

The European Union on Friday began rolling out tariffs on American imports like bourbon, peanut butter and orange juice. The EU tariffs on $3.4 billion worth of U.S. products are retaliation for duties the Trump administration is imposing on European steel and aluminum. 
President Donald Trump has used Harley-Davidson as an example of a U.S. business that is being harmed by trade barriers. Yet Harley has warned consistently against tariffs, saying they would negatively impact sales. 
Harley-Davidson Inc. sold almost 40,000 motorcycles in the Europe Union last year, generating revenue second only to the United States, according to the Milwaukee company. 
The maker of the iconic American motorcycle said in a regulatory filing Monday that EU tariffs on its motorcycles exported from the U.S. jumped between 6 percent and 31 percent, which translates into an additional, incremental cost of about $2,200 per average motorcycle exported from the U.S. to the EU. 
“Harley-Davidson maintains a strong commitment to U.S.-based manufacturing which is valued by riders globally,” the company said in prepared remarks. “Increasing international production to alleviate the EU tariff burden is not the company’s preference, but represents the only sustainable option to make its motorcycles accessible to customers in the EU and maintain a viable business in Europe. Europe is a critical market for Harley-Davidson.” 
Harley-Davidson will not raise its prices to avert “an immediate and lasting detrimental impact” on sales in Europe, it said. It will instead absorb a significant amount of the cost in the near term. It anticipates the cost for the rest of the year to be approximately $30 million to $45 million. 
Harley-Davidson said that shifting targeted production from the U.S. to international facilities could take at least nine to 18 months to be completed. 
The company is already struggling with falling sales. In January, it said it would consolidate its Kansas City, Missouri, plant into its York, Pennsylvania, facility. U.S. motorcycle sales peaked at more than 1.1 million in 2005 but then plummeted during the recession. 

So Trump is happily wrecking Harley-Davidson in order to win his trade war.  US automakers are next, when it becomes cheaper to make cars and car parts in Europe and Asia, that's where production lines will be headed, and they'll take a whole lot of American jobs with them when plants here are mothballed.

I keep warning that there's plenty of red flags that Trump's trade war, in combination with his massive and increasingly unpopular tax cuts for the rich, is going to help cause a recession.  Whether or not that becomes obvious by November is still up in the air, but by 2019 things are going to starting becoming increasingly grim economically, and this time we won't have Obama around to try to fix it.

By this time next year, we're going to be hurting.  Of course, by this time next year we'll be deep in a Constitutional crisis from the Mueller report on Trump's misconduct, so who knows.

Mad Dog In The Doghouse

Not that Trump's decision Friday to officially drop joint military exercises between the US and South Korea didn't already prove this beyond a doubt or anything, but yes, Defense Secretary James Mattis is clearly getting the Rex Tillerson treatment these days as his Pentagon tenure appears to be increasingly in trouble.

Defense Secretary James Mattis learned in May from a colleague that President Donald Trump had made the decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal, and scrambled to get his boss on the phone before a formal announcement was made. It wouldn't be the last time he was caught off guard by a presidential announcement.

A month later, Mattis was informed that Trump had ordered a pause in U.S. military exercises with South Korea only after the president had already promised the concession to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Last week, Trump again blindsided and overruled his defense secretary by publicly directing the Pentagon to create a sixth military branch overseeing operations in space.

The way these recent presidential decisions on major national security issues have played out, as detailed by current and former White House and defense officials, underscores a significant change in Mattis's role in recent months. The president is relying less and less on the advice of one of the longest-serving members of his cabinet, the officials said.

"They don't really see eye to eye," said a former senior White House official who has closely observed the relationship.

It's a stark contrast to Trump's early enthusiasm for the retired four-star Marine general he proudly referred to as "Mad Dog." And while the two men had disagreements from the start — on the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects, for instance — Trump still kept Mattis in the loop on major decisions and heeded his counsel.

"He's never been one of the go-tos in the gang that's very close to the president," a senior White House official said. "But the president has a lot of respect for him."

In recent months, however, the president has cooled on Mattis, in part because he's come to believe his defense secretary looks down on him and slow-walks his policy directives, according to current and former administration officials.

The dynamic was exacerbated with Trump's announcement in March that he had chosen John Bolton as national security adviser, a move Mattis opposed, and Mike Pompeo's confirmation as secretary of state soon after.

The president is now more inclined to rely on his own instincts or the advice of Pompeo and Bolton, three people familiar with the matter said.

There's no question now that Bolton and Pompeo are running our military policy on the Middle East, North Korea, Iran, China, Russia and Europe.  Whether or not he'll make enough noise on the way out the door may play a role, but at this point there's no reason to believe that Mattis has any clout anymore.  This is exactly what happened to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Also, compare Mattis, who is repeatedly overruled and marginalized by Trump, to EPA head Scott Pruitt, who by all rights should have been fired months ago for his obvious corruption and incompetence, but he's still riding high as Trump loves the guy because he's doing what Trump wants.

Maybe Mattis will survive the way Trump's Chief of Staff John Kelly has, by keeping his mouth shut and rolling over.  But Kelly, Mattis and Tillerson were supposedly the "adults in the room" keeping Trump's authoritarian impulses in check.  If anything, Trump is riding roughshod over them, and they are doing nothing while Trump calls for the end of due process.

Tillerson is gone, replaced by the totally subservient Pompeo.  Kelly has rolled over completely, not that he wasn't a seething racist to begin with like his boss.  Now we learn Mattis has effectively been replaced by John Bolton's mustache.  The "moderating influences" on Trump by the professionals are completely gone.

Now we have Trump unleashed upon the world.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Immigration Nation Becomes Deportation Nation

America took another dangerous shift towards authoritarian rule this weekend as Dear Leader Trump publicly declared that undocumented immigrants crossing the border be deprived of due process and immediately deported without trial.

In a pair of tweets sent during his drive to his Virginia golf course, Trump described immigrants as invaders and wrote that U.S. immigration laws are “a mockery” and must be changed to take away trial rights from undocumented migrants.

“We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country,” Trump wrote. “When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order. Most children come without parents.”

The president continued in a second tweet, “Our Immigration policy, laughed at all over the world, is very unfair to all of those people who have gone through the system legally and are waiting on line for years! Immigration must be based on merit — we need people who will help to Make America Great Again!”

The latest presidential exhortations came as House Republicans were prepping for a vote on comprehensive immigration legislation, after a more hard-line bill failed last week. Neither bill has Democratic support, and prospects for the second one passing appeared dim, although the White House still supports it.

“I did talk to the White House yesterday. They say the president is still 100 percent behind us,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said Sunday on “Fox News Sunday.”

Some Republican lawmakers are preparing a more narrow immigration bill that would address one of the flaws in Trump’s executive order mandating that children and parents not be separated during their detention.

“I think, at minimum, we have to deal with family separation,” McCaul said.

The 1997 “Flores settlement” requires that migrant children be released from detention after 20 days, but the new GOP measure would allow for children and their parents to stay together in detention facilities past 20 days.

Once again, Trump is moving the Overton window sharply to the right by proposing eliminating due process for non-citizens, while the real goal is to hide Republican lawmakers quietly eliminating the Flores settlement provisions that have stood for two decades, preventing indefinite detainment of undocumented.

The Flores settlement requires the federal government to do two things: to place children with a close relative or family friend “without unnecessary delay,” rather than keeping them in custody; and to keep immigrant children who are in custody in the “least restrictive conditions” possible.

Republicans in Congress have proposed legislation that would overrule Flores and allow children to be kept with their parents in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody while they are put through criminal prosecution and deportation proceedings — which many migrant families fight by claiming asylum in the US, a process that can stretch out for months or years.

Trump can’t overrule the Flores settlement with the stroke of a pen. But getting rid of the court agreement has been in his administration’s sights for months. While Republicans frame Flores as the obstacle to keeping families together, many of the people outraged over family separation might not be too happy with a world without Flores, either.

Trump has also tweeted multiple times that getting rid of immigration judges altogether is one of his true goals.

In his classic stream-of-consciousness style, President Donald Trump took aim at immigration judges, saying “I don’t want judges, I want border security.”

“I don’t want people coming in,” he said, referring to immigrants. “If a person comes in and puts one foot in our ground, it is essentially ‘welcome to America, welcome to our country,’ and you never get them out.

“Because they take their name, they bring the name down, they file it, they let the person go, they say ‘show back up to court in one year from now,'” he continued. “One year. But here’s the thing, that in itself is ridiculous. Three percent come back.”

According to a 2016 report from the Syracuse University Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a collection of nonpartisan reports on federal spending and enforcement actions, in 2015, 86 percent of undocumented immigrants who were released from detention and given a later court date showed up.

Trump also attacked the entire process by which we choose immigration judges, calling the nomination and vetting process “graft.”

“Who are these people?” he said, of immigration judges. “When we vet the single federal judge, it goes through a bid process, everybody that’s ever met her or him, they come, they complain, they don’t complain, they say he’s brilliant, she is brilliant, he’s not smart enough to be a judge, now we are hiring thousands and thousands — what country does this?”

He added that people “line up” to become immigration judges, calling the process “horrible.”

Immigration judges are selected by the Executive Office for Immigration Review, part of the Department of Justice.

Trump also asserted that some immigration lawyers are “bad people” for coaching asylum applicants about what to say during their hearings.

Once again, this is all part of a plan to create a system where the government can rapidly detain and deport large numbers of people quickly.  It's only a matter of time of course before this mass deportation infrastructure, without due process, is used not just on those crossing the border now, but used on those already here

Once you establish that those who are declared non-citizens by the government are not subject to due process, the government has the ability to strip citizenship -- and the legal rights that citizenship guarantees -- from anyone it chooses.  And once you have established that, that non-citizens have no legal rights, well, you can do pretty much anything to them.

I cannot overstate the dangers here.
History tells us exactly what authoritarian governments do in situations like this.


Sunday Long Read: A Situation Depp Ending

This week's Sunday Long Read is Stephen Rodrick's detailed Rolling Stone chronicle of actor Johnny Depp's decade-plus crash and burn routine, where in the era of #MeToo, there may not be anyone in Hollywood less prepared and less able to make the transition to the future of entertainment.

Johnny Depp isn't here yet. Still, his presence is all around the 10,500-square-foot rented mansion at 16 Bishopswood Road in London's Highgate neighborhood.

He is here in the busy hands of Russell, his personal chef working up the Peking duck. He is here in the stogie-size joint left by the sink in the guest bathroom. He is here in the never-ending reservoir of wine that is poured into goblets. And he is here in a half-done painting upstairs that features a burning black house, a child Johnny and an angry woman who resembles his mother, Betty Sue.

And then he is actually here. He is in the living room, crooning his entrance: "Oh, my darling, oh, my darling, my darling Clementine. You are lost and gone forever, my darling Clementine."

Depp has come from a photo shoot for the Hollywood Vampires, his sometime band that features Alice Cooper and Joe Perry. Trailing behind is his lawyer Adam Waldman. Depp is dressed like a Forties gangster, jet-black hair slicked back, pinstripes, suspenders and spats. His face is puffy, but Depp still possesses the fixating brown eyes that have toggled between dreamy and menacing during his 35-year career. Now, Depp's studious leer is reminiscent of late-era Marlon Brando. This isn't a coincidence, since Depp has long built his life by imitating his legends – buying an island like Brando, becoming an expert on quaaludes like Hunter S. Thompson.

"Hey, I'm Johnny. Good to meet you."

He reaches out a right hand whose fingers recently had their tats changed from "slim" – a reference to his ex-wife Amber Heard – to "scum."

"So are you here to hear the truth?" asks Depp as Russell brings him a glass of vintage red wine. "It's full of betrayal."

We move to the dining room for a three-course meal of pad thai, duck and gingerbread with berries. Depp sits at the head of the table and motions toward some rolling papers and two equal piles of tobacco and hash, and asks if I mind. I don't. He pauses for a second. "Well, let's drink some wine first."

This goes on for 72 hours.

It had taken a month and almost 200 e-mails for the message to become clear: Come to London; Johnny Depp wants to bare his soul about his empty bank accounts.

It's estimated that Depp has made $650 million on films that netted $3.6 billion. Almost all of it is gone. He's suing The Management Group, run by his longtime business manager, Joel Mandel, and his brother Robert for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and fraud. The suit cites, among other things, that under TMG's watch Depp's sister Christi was given $7 million and his assistant, Nathan Holmes, $750,000, without his knowledge, and that he has paid the IRS more than $5.6 million in late fees. (Most of the ire is directed toward Joel, who had day-to-day responsibility for Depp's account.) There are additional charges of conflict of interest, saying that TMG invested Depp's money for its own purposes and returned it without profit. The suit seeks more than $25 million from TMG, accounting for "tens of millions" it claims TMG illegally took for its commission, plus any additional damages the court sees fit.

The Mandels categorically deny all wrongdoing and are countersuing, alleging that Depp breached his oral contract with the company. The suit suggests that Depp has a $2-million-a-month compulsory-spending disorder, offering bons mots like "Wine is not an investment if you drink it as soon as you buy it." Depp was continuing to "concoct malicious and false allegations" against the company, according to TMG's countersuit, because TMG had filed a private foreclosure notice on one of Depp's properties, claiming Depp owes TMG $4.2 million in unpaid loans.

Over the past 18 months, there has been little but bad news for Depp. In addition to the financial woes, there were reports he couldn't remember his lines and had to have them fed to him through an earpiece. He had split from his longtime lawyer and agent. And he was alone. His tabloid-scarred divorce from actress Heard is complete, but not before there were persuasive allegations of physical abuse that Depp vehemently denies. Depp's inner circle had begged him to not wed Heard or to at least obtain a prenup. Depp ignored his loved ones' advice. And there were whispers that Depp's recreational drug and alcohol use were crippling him.

During my London visit, Depp is alternately hilarious, sly and incoherent. The days begin after dark and run until first light. There is a scared, hunted look about him. Despite grand talks about hitting the town, we never leave the house. As Depp's mind leads us down various rabbit holes, I often think of a line that he recited as the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland: "Have I gone mad?"

His closest confidant seems to be Waldman, a lawyer he met less than two years ago. Waldman, 49, possesses an unlined face, sandy hair, a designer black leather jacket and a soothing voice that could make the bird-flu epidemic sound reasonable. He tells me he is married to the "world's number-one face doctor."

Depp seems oblivious to any personal complicity in his current predicament. Waldman seems to have convinced Depp that they are freedom fighters taking on the Hollywood machine rather than scavengers squabbling over the scraps of a fortune squandered.

One day, Depp shows me his artwork, and it strikes me that Depp is now a worn Dorian Gray. "I imagine Johnny doing a version of Jack Sparrow at 70, at 80," his friend Penélope Cruz tells me. "It will be as charming and as great." But the things that were charming when he was 28 – doing drugs and running around the scaffolding on a high floor of Atlantic Records' L.A. building – seem disturbing at 55. (Cruz ends our conversation by telling me about Depp trying to pull his own tooth at a London restaurant while having dinner with her and Stella McCartney.)

Maybe being a permanent Peter Pan is the key to Depp's onscreen charm. But time has passed. Boyish insouciance has slowly morphed into an aging man-child, still charismatic but only in glimpses. If his current life isn't a perfect copy of Elvis Presley's last days, it is a decent facsimile.

The guy is a walking bad decision, through and through.  As the "motivational" poster says, sometimes the point of your entire life is to serve as an example of what not to do, ass a warning to others.  Yes, Depp has been taken advantage of, but he still has nobody but himself to blame for the choices he's made, and the clear wrongs that he has done to others, the story does not gloss over the damage he has done to the people in his life.

It's a good piece, but far from a cheerful one.

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