Sunday, September 22, 2019

Last Call For (Non)Sense Of The Senate GOP

As Charles Sykes points out, Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse is now fully a Trump bootlicker, and the last shred of human decency left in the Senate GOP has been set on fire, stomped on, pissed on, dug up, and its ashes shot into the sun.

After Trump proposed his ban on Muslim immigration in 2015, Sasse gave a speech on the Senate floor in which he denounced “demagoguing leaders" and "a megalomaniac strongman ... screaming about travel bans and deportation."

In interviews, he compared Trump to former KKK leader David Duke and described Trump’s rise as a personal breaking point. “This is the party of Abraham Lincoln,” he said. “This is not the party of David Duke, Donald Trump.”

Consistently, he cast the issue as one of fundamental constitutional principles rather than personality. Fundamentally, he said, “this party needs to return to its principles of believing in equality under the law and believing in the greatness of the potential of the American people.” As he said in February of 2016:  
The problem is, at the end of the day, most people really want a choice that is about a constitutional recovery. They want to rebuild what's broken in America, not tear it down. And when you listen to Donald Trump, all you really hear is more Donald Trump, more tear it down, and a lot of praise of foreign dictators. I don't think the American people, and I don't think most Republicans really want a strongman.
Even after Trump had secured the nomination, Sasse refused to fall in line. When asked if he would be attending the GOP convention, his office said that the senator would” instead take his kids to watch some dumpster fires across the state, all of which enjoy more popularity than the current front-runners.”

Sasse’s outspokenness continued through the first years of Trump’s presidency. A Politico profile in July 2018 noted that even as the ranks of never-Trumpers in the Republican Party “dwindles to a lonely few, the Nebraska senator has shown little interest in backing down.” Sasse seemed anxious to polish his conservative intellectual credentials by publishing a book just three weeks before the midterm election titled, “Them: Why We Hate Each Other — and How to Heal,” a decidedly non-Trumpian view of culture, politics and the future.

There was even speculation that Sasse might mount an independent challenge to Trump. In an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” a year ago this month, he told host Jake Tapper that he thought about leaving the GOP “every morning” and said that he thought of himself as “an independent conservative who caucuses with the Republicans.”

When Trump lashed out at the Department of Justice in September of 2018 for indicting two Republican congressmen, Chris Collins of New York and Duncan Hunter of California, Sasse delivered a stinging rebuke: “The United States is not some banana republic with a two-tiered system of justice — one for the majority party and one for the minority party,” Sasse said. “These two men have been charged with crimes because of evidence, not because of who the president was when the investigations began.”

Sasse’s apparent independence continued into 2019. In February, declaring himself a “constitutional conservative,” he urged Trump not to declare a national emergency on the border, warning that it would set a dangerous precedent. “If we get used to presidents just declaring an emergency any time they can’t get what they want from Congress, it will be almost impossible to go back to a Constitutional system of checks and balances,” he said. “Over the past decades, the legislative branch has given away too much power and the executive branch has taken too much power.”

But the next month, he stunned observers when he voted to uphold Trump’s order even though 12 other GOP senators broke with Trump on the issue. It was a breathtaking reversal. In many ways, it was no different than the Faustian bargain made by so many of his colleagues and a reflection of the transformation of Republican politics.

Sasse would have been primaried out and destroyed like Justin Amash was and he knows it, but instead he toed the line and got his Trump tweet endorsement earlier this month.  He figures he's got an easy path in 2020 to re-election, and he'll worry about the country in 2026.  After all, Trump will be long gone by then, one way or another.


The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

I'm as shocked as you are, but the normally roller-skates-on-the-moon useless think tank Third Way actually compiled a list of the 99 House Democratic districts where we need to run up the score the most in order to win the White House and the Senate back in order to start cleaning up the Trump disaster, districts like Rob Kind's in Wisconsin, Rashida Tlaib's in Michigan and G.K. Butterfield's in NC.

Third Way, created in the “New Democrat” mold of Bill Clinton’s presidency, often clashes with more liberal activists over party ideology, but in this report the group has tried to illustrate the range of political geography Democrats need to focus their energy on to ensure a broad victory.

So, in this regard, Third Way places double the value on Tlaib, whose staunchly liberal positions would be out of place with the group’s moderate policy prescriptions. But her seat could prove critical to building turnout for the presidential race and to reelect Sen. Gary Peters (Mich.), one of the few incumbent Democrats that Republicans want to target in a year the GOP will mostly be on defense.

Here’s why: In 2016, Tlaib’s district gave Hillary Clinton a margin of victory of almost 61 percentage points, which might seem staggering. But four years earlier, that district gave Obama a nearly 71-point margin.

Trump won Michigan by fewer than 11,000 votes, making that small drop in Detroit critical to Clinton’s defeat statewide.

Down in North Carolina, Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D) has easily won for 15 years, but the former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus has a district that might be key to tipping the state’s 15 electoral votes to Democrats.

Perhaps more importantly, Butterfield could help the Democratic nominee for the Senate race against Sen. Thom Tillis (R), a contest that could serve as a tipping point for control of the Senate.

Without a comprehensive effort, Democrats fear a new president would be stymied if Republicans still control the Senate, where the GOP could block or water down the Democratic agenda, similar to Obama’s second term.

“It determines whether Democrats can accomplish anything in 2021,” said Lanae Erickson, the group’s senior vice president and a policy expert.

Some obviously important Democratic seats are even more critical when looking up and down the ballot in their respective states. These are what [report author David] de la Fuente calls “five point races”: freshman Democrats who narrowly won a GOP-held seat in 2018, running for reelection in districts that Trump won two years before, whose states will also be battlegrounds in the presidential and Senate contests.

There are eight “five-point” Democrats: Reps. Abby Finkenauer (Iowa), Cindy Axne (Iowa), Angie Craig (Minn.), Jared Golden (Maine), Elaine Luria (Va.), Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), Abigail Spanberger (Va.), and Haley Stevens (Mich.). 
Golden carries even more value because Maine allocates some of its electoral votes based on performance within congressional districts, allowing Trump to claim an extra vote for winning the northern Maine district despite losing narrowly statewide.

If Golden, a Marine veteran from Iraq and Afghanistan, can win next year by a sizable margin, he could secure the state for the Democratic nominee and also help knock off Sen. Susan Collins (R) in another critical race.

The full report is here, ranking the districts by how many of those five points it checks off, but the eight listed above are the holy grail.  The four-pointers are Tom O'Halleran and Ann Kirkpatrick in Arizona, Colin Peterson in Minnesota, and Chris Pappas in NH, and 20 districts are worth 3 of the 5 points, with another 40 worth 2 points.

If Dems win big in those districts, they keep the House, they win the Senate back, and they send Trump home.  Take a look at the list, and if you're in at least a one-point district, keep that in mind.  Turnout in these districts will help the Democrats the most.

If you're like me in a red district, well, you can help too.  This report doesn't take into account the red districts that Dems are gunning for, like Will Hurd's TX-23 border district and winnable Texas suburban districts (TX-10,21,22,24 and 31) and national race districts like MI-6, PA-1 and PA-10, and FL-15.

There's a lot of work to be done. Trump won 31 House districts in 2016 that Democrats currently represent, 23 of those 31 currently have House Democratic freshmen who won in 2018.  Democrats are going to be playing a lot of defense and they're just not going to keep all those districts.

But this report is a good start to know where to go.


Sunday Long Read: Just Plane Nonsense

Maureen Tkacik at The New Republic lands our Sunday Long Read this week as we nosedive into Boeing's 737 MAX disaster, a tale of design-by-committee failure and blockheaded corporate culture that killed hundreds of people in airline crashes and may very well finish off America's largest aerospace employer.

Nearly two decades before Boeing’s MCAS system crashed two of the plane-maker’s brand-new 737 MAX jets, Stan Sorscher knew his company’s increasingly toxic mode of operating would create a disaster of some kind. A long and proud “safety culture” was rapidly being replaced, he argued, with “a culture of financial bullshit, a culture of groupthink.”
Sorscher, a physicist who’d worked at Boeing more than two decades and had led negotiations there for the engineers’ union, had become obsessed with management culture. He said he didn’t previously imagine Boeing’s brave new managerial caste creating a problem as dumb and glaringly obvious as MCAS (or the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, as a handful of software wizards had dubbed it). Mostly he worried about shriveling market share driving sales and head count into the ground, the things that keep post-industrial American labor leaders up at night. On some level, though, he saw it all coming; he even demonstrated how the costs of a grounded plane would dwarf the short-term savings achieved from the latest outsourcing binge in one of his reports that no one read back in 2002.*

Sorscher had spent the early aughts campaigning to preserve the company’s estimable engineering legacy. He had mountains of evidence to support his position, mostly acquired via Boeing’s 1997 acquisition of McDonnell Douglas, a dysfunctionalfirm with a dilapidated aircraft plant in Long Beach and a CEO who liked to use what he called the “Hollywood model” for dealing with engineers: Hire them for a few months when project deadlines are nigh, fire them when you need to make numbers. In 2000, Boeing’s engineers staged a 40-day strike over the McDonnell deal’s fallout; while they won major material concessions from management, they lost the culture war. They also inherited a notoriously dysfunctional product line from the corner-cutting market gurus at McDonnell.

And while Boeing’s engineers toiled to get McDonnell’s lemon planes into the sky, their own hopes of designing a new plane to compete with Airbus, Boeing’s only global market rival, were shriveling. Under the sway of all the naysayers who had called out the folly of the McDonnell deal, the board had adopted a hard-line “never again” posture toward ambitious new planes. Boeing’s leaders began crying “crocodile tears,” Sorscher claimed, about the development costs of 1995’s 777, even though some industry insiders estimate that it became the most profitable plane of all time. The premise behind this complaining was silly, Sorscher contended in PowerPoint presentations and a Harvard Business School-style case study on the topic. A return to the “problem-solving” culture and managerial structure of yore, he explained over and over again to anyone who would listen, was the only sensible way to generate shareholder value. But when he brought that message on the road, he rarely elicited much more than an eye roll. “I’m not buying it,” was a common response. Occasionally, though, someone in the audience was outright mean, like the Wall Street analyst who cut him off mid-sentence:

“Look, I get it. What you’re telling me is that your business is different. That you’re special. Well, listen: Everybody thinks his business is different, because everybody is the same. Nobody. Is. Different.”
And indeed, that would appear to be the real moral of this story: Airplane manufacturing is no different from mortgage lending or insulin distribution or make-believe blood analyzing software—another cash cow for the one percent, bound inexorably for the slaughterhouse. In the now infamous debacle of the Boeing 737 MAX, the company produced a plane outfitted with a half-assed bit of software programmed to override all pilot input and nosedive when a little vane on the side of the fuselage told it the nose was pitching up. The vane was also not terribly reliable, possibly due to assembly line lapses reported by a whistle-blower, and when the plane processed the bad data it received, it promptly dove into the sea.

And so the guys who designed a system that they said literally couldn't crash because the plane would automatically correct the stupid, fallible human pilots who were clearly the most unreliable part of the airline industry discovered they had created a computerized flying deathtrap that on occasion didn't know up from down and would override the pilots like some made-for-TV sci-fi flick and very efficiently murder everyone inside it.

This is not the best part.

The best part is that then they charged people extra to fix the code that was responsible for the unfortunate murdery stuff.

And if that, dear reader, isn't the perfect encapsulation of late-stage American capitalism, I don't know what is.

Spies Like Us, Con't

Never Trump Republican Tom Nichols says if the Ukraine scandal story is true, if Donald Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky eight times in one phone call to investigate Joe Biden, then Trump has to be impeached and removed from office.

Let us try, as we always find ourselves doing in the age of Trump, to think about how Americans might react if this happened in any other administration. Imagine, for example, if Bill Clinton had called his friend, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, in 1996, and asked him to investigate Bob Dole. Or if George W. Bush had called, say, President Vicente Fox of Mexico in 2004 and asked him—indeed, asked him eight times, according to The Wall Street Journal—to open a case against John Kerry. Clinton, of course, was eventually impeached for far less than that. Is there any doubt that either man would have been put on trial in the Senate, and likely chased from office
The Republicans, predictably, have decided to choose their party over their country, and the damage control and lying have begun. Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, for one, has already floated the reliable “deep-state attack” nonsense that will play well on Fox and other conservative outlets. And while Giuliani did Trump no favors with his incoherent ranting on CNN, he did manage to hammer away at the idea that Biden, and not Trump, tried to shake down the Ukrainians while he was vice president.

The problem for Giuliani, the Republicans, and the president himself, however, is that Biden and his actions are now irrelevant to the offenses committed by Trump. The accusations against Joe Biden are false, as we know from multiple fact checks and from the Ukrainians themselves (which is why I won’t deign to repeat them here). But even to argue over this fable about Biden is to miss the point, because it changes nothing about Trump’s attempts to enmesh Biden in a foreign investigation for Trump’s own purposes.

There is no spin, no deflection, no alternative theory of the case that can get around the central fact that President Trump reportedly attempted to use his office for his own gain, and that he put the foreign policy and the national security of the United States at risk while doing so. He ignored his duty as the commander in chief by intentionally trying to place an American citizen in jeopardy with a foreign government. He abandoned his obligations to the Constitution by elevating his own interests over the national interest. By comparison, Watergate was a complicated judgment call.

In a better time and in a better country, Republicans would now join with Democrats and press for Trump’s impeachment. This won’t happen, of course; even many of Biden’s competitors for the presidency seem to be keeping their distance from this mess, perhaps in the hope that Biden and Trump will engage in a kind of mutually assured political destruction. (Elizabeth Warren, for one, renewed her call for impeachment—but without mentioning Biden.) This is to their shame. The Democratic candidates should now unite around a call for an impeachment investigation, not for Biden’s sake, but to protect the sanctity of our elections from a predatory president who has made it clear he will stop at nothing to stay in the White House. 
I am speaking only for myself as an American citizen. I believe in our Constitution, and therefore I must accept that Donald Trump is the president and the commander in chief until the Congress or the people of the United States say otherwise. But if this kind of dangerous, unhinged hijacking of the powers of the presidency is not enough for either the citizens or their elected leaders to demand Trump’s removal, then we no longer have an accountable executive branch, and we might as well just admit that we have chosen to elect a monarch and be done with the illusion of constitutional order in the United States.

For all of Nichols's lofty rhetoric, it's already too late though.  The goalposts were moved to Mars in just the last 24 hours because the Democrats, with the exclusion of Liz Warren, said nothing.  Democrats are already walking back their attacks because reportedly, Trump didn't actually mention a quid pro quo on the call itself.

As Nichols points out, that's irrelevant.  The pressure itself should be enough for impeachment if it happened, but that ship has already sailed.

We can't know for sure without the call itself, but Trump will simply claim executive privilege and this will become Hillary's emails all over again, as I predicted Friday.

Democrats should be howling at the moon over this.  Republicans should be pissed off over this.  But as always, the GOP has figured out that as long as they cover for Trump, America will refuse to make them pay any sort of price.  But if they rat Trump out, they will be exterminated like Justin Amash, in a matter of days, if not hours.

That's how mobsters work.

We live under a mob crime family and Eliott Ness is nowhere to be found.
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