Saturday, December 31, 2022
Zandar's 2023 Predictions
Holidaze Week: Rest In Peace
It always seems like there are several globally notable deaths at the end of the year, and 2022 was no different.
The standard-bearer of “the beautiful game” had undergone treatment for colon cancer since 2021. The medical center where he had been hospitalized for the last month said he died of multiple organ failure as a result of the cancer.
“Pelé changed everything. He transformed football into art, entertainment,” Neymar, a fellow Brazilian soccer star, said on Instagram. “Football and Brazil elevated their standing thanks to the King! He is gone, but his magic will endure. Pelé is eternal!”A funeral was planned for Monday and Tuesday, with his casket to be carried through the streets of Santos, the coastal city where his storied career began, before burial.
Widely regarded as one of soccer’s greatest players, Pelé spent nearly two decades enchanting fans and dazzling opponents as the game’s most prolific scorer with Brazilian club Santos and the Brazil national team.
Walters joined ABC News in 1976, becoming the first female anchor on an evening news program. Three years later, she became a co-host of "20/20," and in 1997, she launched "The View."
Bob Iger, the CEO of The Walt Disney Company which is the parent company of ABC News, praised Walters as someone who broke down barriers.
“Barbara was a true legend, a pioneer not just for women in journalism but for journalism itself. She was a one-of-a-kind reporter who landed many of the most important interviews of our time, from heads of state to the biggest celebrities and sports icons. I had the pleasure of calling Barbara a colleague for more than three decades, but more importantly, I was able to call her a dear friend. She will be missed by all of us at The Walt Disney Company, and we send our deepest condolences to her daughter, Jacqueline,” Iger said in a statement Friday.
In a career that spanned five decades, Walters won 12 Emmy awards, 11 of those while at ABC News.
She made her final appearance as a co-host of "The View" in 2014, but remained an executive producer of the show and continued to do some interviews and specials for ABC News.
"I do not want to appear on another program or climb another mountain," she said at the time. "I want instead to sit on a sunny field and admire the very gifted women -- and OK, some men too -- who will be taking my place."
Dignitaries and religious leaders have been paying tribute to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who died Saturday in a monastery in the Vatican at the age of 95.
Benedict, who was the first pontiff in almost 600 years to resign his position, rather than hold office for life, passed away on Saturday, according to a statement from the Vatican.
“With sorrow I inform you that the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, passed away today at 9:34 in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery in the Vatican,” the Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Matteo Bruni said.
The funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will be held on Thursday in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City at 9:30 a.m. local time, Bruni said. The funeral will be led by Pope Francis.
The former pope’s body will lie in state in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican from Monday for the faithful to bid farewell, Vatican News reported Saturday. As per the wish of Pope Emeritus, his funeral will be “simple,” Bruni said.
Zandar's 2022 Prediction Scorecard
1) Democrats keep the Senate in 2022. I can't in good faith call the House at this point. But I do know that as Mitch McConnell has proven, keeping the Senate when you have the White House means there's a lot you can do, and Biden has gotten a record number of federal judiciary appointments. The next Supreme Court justice could happen at any time, as we've seen. Without the House, things would be terrible. But without the Senate, it'll be catastrophic.
2) Nancy Pelosi steps down as House Democratic Leader. I hate to say it, even after the long years she has proven that she has been the most effective House leader the Democrats have seen in my lifetime, but I think she steps down in 2022 and will not run as Speaker or House Minority Leader in 2023.
3) Donald Trump is indicted in the state of New York. Don't ask me about the federal charges, but I honestly believe NY AG Tish James is going to try to prosecute Donald Trump, and it's going to be one of the most fateful chapters in our modern political history.
4) COVID-19 deaths will surpass 1.2 million total in the US. The good news here is that 2022 will thankfully have fewer deaths than 2020 or 2021, but not by much. We'll still have to contend with a very bad winter, but if we can get past that, I think there's finally some hope.
5) The Supreme Court will gut/overturn Roe v. Wade. At this point the writing is on the courtroom wall. Roe is dead, and individual states will move to either regulate safe abortion out of existence, criminalize it with heavy penalties for women, doctors, and health care professionals, make crossing state lines to get a abortion elsewhere illegal, ban it altogether, or all of the above. It won't end abortion, just safe ones. It will change America for a generation.
I wish I was wrong here, but this was patently obvious back in December 2021 when I predicted this. A full point I dearly wish I did not get.
6) The Supreme Court will also gut executive agencies. This will be a massive win for corporations, but the bottom line is agencies like OSHA, FDA, CDC, SEC, EPA, you name it, it will be essentially turned off. I don't know what all will be stricken down, but it's going to be a huge mess when it happens. This too will change America for a generation.
This too was eminently predictable, and we'll be paying dearly for the West Virginia v EPA decision for decades to come. Another point I badly wish I was wrong about.
7) The Dow will finish the year above 36,000. I mean that's where it ended the year, so what I basically mean is I'm not predicting a recession, yay! I hope I'm right. If I'm correct on some of these previous predictions, well, things can go badly quickly.
8) Marvel films will make another billion in 2022. Since it seems movie-watching in theaters is now officially back as of December, May's Doctor Strange sequel, July's Thor: Love and Thunder, and November's Black Panther 2 should easily gross a billion combined, if not more.
9) GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy is booted from the House GOP leadership. I don't know who will lead the House GOP in 2023, but I can guarantee you it won't be McCarthy. And I think things will be so bad he'll make his plans known, like Pelosi, that he's "stepping down". The difference is with McCarthy, it won't be a choice.
10) ZVTS will roll on for another year. It's because of you guys, you know this, and we'll sail into year 14 and then some. I want to honestly thank you, the readers. When I started this back in 2008, I had no idea where the country would go. I made the journey along with you, and I'm glad you're here, new or old.
Friday, December 30, 2022
Holidaze Week: The Circus From Hell, or, Church's Chickens
Increasingly, the price for GOP Rep. Kevin McCarthy to become Speaker is to approve a two-year long, all GOP "Select Committee" to investigate everything they can think of, along with regular subpoenas, prime-time hearings, and a nearly unlimited mandate.
Conservatives say they want to model the panel off the 1970s Church Committee, which conducted a landmark investigation that uncovered significant surveillance abuses among the intelligence community and the IRS, leading to the formation of the Senate Intelligence Committee. But it’s a high bar that’s almost certain to fall short. While the Church Committee was a bipartisan operation, Democrats have frequently criticized the GOP’s targeting of the FBI, and their party is highly unlikely to help fuel probes they’ve already derided as political sideshows.
And Democrats are already gearing up to rebut GOP investigations next year. Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, who will be on the frontlines as the top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, summed up how he views his party’s responsibilities as it deals with Republican probes: “a truth squad in the sense that we will have to debunk conspiracy theories.”
And a former senior aide to the Democratic senator who chaired the Church Committee has also criticized Republicans for trying to make the Church comparison specifically, accusing them of wanting to invoke “Church’s legacy not to push for real solutions … but to obtain impunity for themselves and punish their enemies.”
But underscoring how much the “Church” rhetoric has injected itself into the party’s thinking, McCarthy, during a recent Fox Business appearance, tipped his hand toward the idea, saying that “you’re almost going to have to have a Church-style investigation to reform the FBI.”
McCarthy, notably, didn’t specifically mention setting up a new committee, and those comments would also align with previously planned investigations. The ambiguous comments come as the Californian tries to lock down the votes to claim the speaker’s gavel in a thin majority and wants to avoid alienating any more members. A spokesperson for the GOP leader didn’t respond to multiple questions about whether McCarthy was endorsing starting a new panel, or just an investigation into the Justice Department and FBI, which is already in the works.
It’s hardly the first time he’s faced pressure from his right flank to acquiesce to going further on investigations.House Republicans say they now expect to probe the treatment of individuals who were jailed for participating in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, where a mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters breached the building as Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s win. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) previously pressed McCarthy on an investigation last month during a closed-door conference meeting.
Comer noted that there was an ongoing discussion about which panel “needs to take the lead on that,” adding that the Oversight Committee will have “a lot on the platter but we’ll do whatever we’re asked to do from leadership.”McCarthy has also threatened to subpoena intelligence officials who signed a letter in 2020 warning that a New York Post story about Biden’s son Hunter might have its origins in a Russian disinformation operation. And conservatives also think they’ve moved McCarthy on impeaching Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. He hasn’t officially backed the step, but opened the door initially in April and then signaled an impeachment could be on the table, depending on the results of investigations, during a trip to the southern border in November.
Asked about the California Republican’s remarks, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) — whom McCarthy opponents have used as a figurehead for the opposition — noted that McCarthy’s latest border remarks came “after he knew that he was facing somebody who was going to possibly deny him being speaker.”
But conservatives’ vision for the new select committee could stretch far beyond just the FBI and Justice Department — two long-running targets of the party’s ire — by stepping into other jurisdictional lanes.
Roy pointed to three other entities that could fall under its purview, in addition to the FBI and Justice Department: Fauci and the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Education and the IRS and money that will let the agency hire new staff. Those are all areas that other committees have indicated they plan to investigate. And while Roy acknowledged that potential overlap, he added, “You still want your best prosecutors prosecuting the case.”
Holidaze Week: A Taxing Explanation, Con't
Six years of former President Donald Trump’s federal tax returns, long shrouded in secrecy, were released to the public on Friday by the House Ways and Means Committee, the culmination of a battle over their disclosure that went to the Supreme Court.
The returns – spanning the years 2015 through 2020 – were obtained by the Democratic-run committee only a few weeks ago after a protracted legal battle. The committee voted last week to release the tax returns, but their release was delayed to redact sensitive personal information like Social Security numbers.
CNN is currently reviewing the tax returns.
The release of the tax returns follows a years-long pursuit for documents that had typically been made public voluntarily by past US presidents. Trump and his legal team continuously sought to keep his returns secret, arguing that Congress had never wielded its legislative powers to demand a president’s tax returns, which Trump said could have far-reaching implications.
Trump released a campaign video Friday responding to the decision to release his tax returns, calling the move an “outrageous abuse of power” and “completely unconstitutional.”
“There is no legitimate legislative purpose for their action. And if you look at what they’ve done, it’s so sad for our country,” Trump said. “It’s nothing but another deranged political witch hunt which has been going on from the day I came down an escalator in Trump Tower.”
Other Republicans also criticized Democrats’ efforts in pursuit of the tax returns as political, with Texas Rep. Kevin Brady – the committee’s top conservative – saying a release would amount to “a dangerous new political weapon that reaches far beyond the former president and overturns decades of privacy protections for average Americans that have existed since the Watergate reform.”
The committee, which is responsible for overseeing the IRS and writing tax policy, requested the returns under the authority of section 6103 of the US tax code. Their report focused primarily on whether Trump’s tax returns during his time in office were properly audited under the IRS’ mandatory audit program for US presidents.
The committee found that the IRS opened only one “mandatory” audit during Trump’s term – for his 2016 tax return. And that didn’t take place until the fall of 2019, after Chairman Richard Neal, a Massachusetts Democrat, first sent a letter asking the IRS for Trump’s returns and tax information. The report characterizes the presidential audit program as “dormant.”
Thursday, December 29, 2022
Holidaze Week: Fantasma Santos, Con't
When he first ran for Congress in 2020, Santos, who appears to have suffered from financial trouble for much of his adult life, filed disclosures listing no assets and a salary of $55,000, which he earned as a vice president at LinkBridge Investors, a business development firm. But the filings from his most recent run suggest he came into sudden riches, making between $3.5 million and $11.5 million from a company he founded called the Devolder Organization in 2021. He loaned his campaign more than $700,000.
In a phone conversation with Semafor, Santos offered a short tick-tock of how he made his money that left certain key details unanswered.
At LinkBridge, he said, he worked in the so-called “capital introduction” industry, which typically brings together investors and hedge funds. He eventually left that job for Harbor City Capital, a Florida firm the Securities and Exchange Commission accused in April 2021 of running a $17 million Ponzi scheme. Santos was not charged in the fraud, and he says he departed in March, shortly before the company ran into legal trouble, in order to strike out on his own. He incorporated Devolder in May, a few weeks after the S.E.C. filed suit against Harbor City.
Santos said that Devolder was also in the capital introduction business, including “deal building” and “specialty consulting” for “high net worth individuals.”
As an example of his work, he said a client might want to sell a plane or a boat. “I'm not going to go list it and broker it,” he said. “What I will do is I will go look out there within my Rolodex and be like: ‘Hey, are you looking for a plane?’ ‘Are you looking for a boat?’ I just put that feeler out there.” He said he had a network of wealthy investors, family offices, “institutions” and endowments that included about 15,000 people. Within the first six months of starting Devolder, he said he “landed a couple of million-dollar contracts.”
“If you’re looking at a $20 million yacht, my referral fee there can be anywhere between $200,000 and $400,000,” he said.
Santos did not respond to follow-up questions asking what the million-dollar contracts entailed, or if he could share the names of previous clients from his business.
Devolder was dissolved in September 2022 after failing to file an annual report. Given that timing, Rep.-elect Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., has raised the question of whether it was created merely to funnel illegal campaign donations. Santos added further to the mystery by reviving Devolder in Florida last week after the New York Times ran its initial bombshell story about fabrications in his resume, at an address reportedly owned by a former Harbor City executive.
Santos told Semafor that Devolder only shut down because his accountant accidentally submitted its yearly paperwork late.
Republicans have been reluctant to weigh in on Santos’s controversy. But on Tuesday, Rep.-elect Nick LaLota, R-N.Y. followed Democrats in calling for an ethics investigation and law-enforcement involvement “if necessary.” Rep.-elect Anthony D’Esposito, R-N.Y. from the neighboring district urged Santos to “pursue a path of honesty.”
Goldman, a former prosecutor, told Semafor he thought a formal inquiry might not be necessary if Santos simply volunteered documents about his business dealings and finances.
“If he wants to avoid an investigation and he wants to truly come clean, as he claimed he was trying to do yesterday and that other Republican members elected called for him to do, then he should be an open book and reveal all of this related to the Devolder Organization,” Goldman said.
That, however, seems unlikely to happen soon.
“I don’t dance to the tune of Congressman-elect Dan Goldman,” Santos told Semafor. “I don’t dance to the tune of these guys. If it was requested of me to produce any documentation from this organization, I have no problem doing so to people with the proper authority, not to authoritarian members of congress that think they have authority over their peers.”
Anne Donnelly, the Republican district attorney for Nassau County, has opened an investigation into GOP Rep.-elect George Santos after he admitted lying about his work experience and educational background.
Santos, 34, admitted Monday to fabricating key parts of his resume that he had announced on the campaign trail, including that he did not graduate from Baruch College, work for Citigroup or Goldman Sachs, or own any properties.
Santos' admission came one week after a New York Times report found holes in the record he touted during his campaign for New York's 3rd Congressional District.
Donnelly, a longtime Nassau prosecutor who took office at the beginning of the year, told Newsday in a statement:
“The numerous fabrications and inconsistencies associated with Congressman-Elect Santos are nothing short of stunning. The residents of Nassau County and other parts of the third district must have an honest and accountable representative in Congress. No one is above the law and if a crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it."
Voter disconnection must be part of the explanation for why Santos won. Voters in NY-3 say they value integrity and honesty, and I believe they do. But they weren’t on the lookout for a huckster politician; they didn’t think that could happen here, because it hadn’t before.
Moderate Democratic candidates have fared well in the region since 2000. Had Joe Biden run in the redrawn NY-3 map in 2020, he would have won by 8.5 points instead of 10.5, according to Politico. This year, most political observers viewed the district as naturally Democratic, especially against a Republican who’d lost his last election. That’s what I mean by Democratic complacency: the complacency of the establishment.
When he ran against Tom Suozzi, my successor, in 2020, Santos was a complete unknown. I asked Suozzi if he’d found anything of note in his opposition research, but Suozzi said he hadn’t bothered to do much. “It was the middle of COVID,” he said. Santos “had only $40,000 in his campaign account, and he was a nut. We ignored him and won by 12 points.”
Santos ran again in 2022, maybe because he understood that being ignored was a strategic advantage. This time around, the DCCC prepared an initial research document that raised plenty of red flags. The committee turned that document over to the Democratic candidate, Robert Zimmerman, who says his campaign “was unrelenting in getting people’s attention.” But, according to Zimmerman, the prevailing response was along the lines of This guy isn’t going to win, so he’s not a story.
Only after Santos defied expectations did that dynamic change. And by that time, it was too late for voters to react to Santos’s long con. Here’s where media decline enters the story.
The media’s failure to dig into Santos shows the predicament that local newsrooms face in 2022. Newsday dominates the media landscape on Long Island. And its reporters do quality work—they turned out an important investigation just a few years ago that exposed racism in the local real-estate industry. But they don’t have the resources to cover everything—not even everything in their political backyard—and they appear to have written off NY-3 as low priority given the district’s Democratic tilt. So did all the other once-mighty New York–area media operations.
Some observers have also criticized Zimmerman’s campaign for not fully investing in opposition research based on the initial DCCC project. Perhaps that criticism is justified, but we shouldn’t let the Republican Party off the hook. Republicans accepted Santos’s narrative without due diligence because they prioritized extreme ideology over actual qualifications. Santos was at the Ellipse on January 6, 2021, and has even claimed that he helped arrested insurrectionists with their legal fees.
NY-3 voters should have had an honest choice between two candidates—not a choice between Zimmerman and Santos’s fan-fiction version of himself. Politicians embellish résumés; if that were a crime, every candidate in America would be in prison. But Santos’s lies are an assault on democratic norms. The Republicans should have vetted Santos. The Democrats should have checked him out more thoroughly. The media should have as well.
But now, barring a surprise Santos resignation or action following investigations by the House Ethics Committee and the Department of Justice, Long Islanders—and the nation—are stuck with a congressman who is a figment of his own imagination. The caucus of unhinged representatives—the Marjorie Taylor Greenes, the Lauren Boeberts, the Matt Gaetzes—has just increased by one.
Wednesday, December 28, 2022
Holidaze Week: Immigration Nation
The Supreme Court is keeping pandemic-era limits on immigration in place indefinitely, dashing hopes of immigration advocates who had been anticipating their end this week.
In a ruling Tuesday, the Supreme Court extended a temporary stay that Chief Justice John Roberts issued last week. Under the court’s order, the case will be argued in February and the stay will be maintained until the justices decide the case.
The limits were put in place under then-President Donald Trump at the beginning of the pandemic. Under the restrictions, officials have expelled asylum-seekers inside the United States 2.5 million times and turned away most people who requested asylum at the border on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19. The restrictions are often referred to as Title 42 in reference to a 1944 public health law.
Immigration advocates sued to end the use of Title 42. They said the policy goes against American and international obligations to people fleeing to the U.S. to escape persecution. They’ve also argued that the policy is outdated as coronavirus treatments improve.
A federal judge sided with them in November and set a Dec. 21 deadline to end the policy. Conservative-leaning states appealed to the Supreme Court, warning that an increase in migration would take a toll on public services and cause an “unprecedented calamity” that they said the federal government had no plan to deal with.
Tuesday, December 27, 2022
Holidaze Week: It's A Gas Gas Gas!
Gas prices will probably be significantly cheaper overall next year. Yet the national average could still climb back above the $4-a-gallon threshold as soon as May, according to GasBuddy projections shared exclusively with CNN.
The good news is that GasBuddy, an app that tracks fuel prices, doesn’t expect a repeat of this year’s wild swings that at one point sent gas prices above $5 a gallon for the first time ever. That spike set off recession alarm bells, worsened inflation and crushed consumer confidence.
The national average for regular gas, a metric closely watched by Wall Street, Main Street and even the White House, is expected to drop to $3.49 a gallon in 2023, down roughly 50 cents from the average this year, according to GasBuddy.
That cooldown could prove significant, translating to families spending an average of $277 less on fuel for the year. If that holds true, total US gasoline spending would drop by about $55 billion, according to the forecast.
The bad news is GasBuddy expects the national average to climb from $3.10 a gallon today to a range of $3.52 to $4.05 in May as Americans hit the roads.
“2023 is not going to be a cakewalk for motorists. It could be expensive,” Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, told CNN. “The national average could breach $4 a gallon as early as May – and that’s something that could last through much of the summer driving season.”
Gas prices typically rise heading into the summer as Americans hit the road more during the warmer weather. In addition to the pick-up in demand, refiners switch over to summer-grade gasoline, which is designed to improve air quality and costs more to produce.
The GasBuddy forecast calls for the daily national average to top out at as high as $4.25 a gallon in August before dropping towards $3 a gallon by the end of the year.
The federal government has issued similar projections to GasBuddy’s.
Earlier this month, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said the national average is expected to average about $3.50 a gallon in 2023 as refineries continue to ramp up production of gasoline.
Holidaze Week: Lake Woe? Be Gone! Con't
Democratic Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs and Maricopa County filed for sanctions Monday against Republican Kari Lake, less than 48 hours after a judge ruled against Lake's efforts to have herself declared the winner of Arizona's governor race.
Hobbs and the county asked for sanctions against Lake and her legal team after an Arizona judge denied Lake's bid to reverse the results of the November election in a two-day trial. Lake, a prominent election denier and Trump ally, was allowed to go to trial last week with two of her 10 claims, which alleged misconduct with ballot printers and problems with ballot chain of custody.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson denied Lake’s challenge after the trial in a 10-page ruling Saturday. He said the court did not find clear and convincing evidence of misconduct that would have changed the election results. Thompson also noted that the defendants had stated their intention to seek sanctions against Lake and ordered them to file a motion for sanctions by Monday morning.
Attorneys for Hobbs, who has been Arizona's secretary of state for four years, joined the county in its filing Monday seeking $25,050 from Lake, which includes attorney fees for Hobbs and the state’s most populous county. The county took aim at Lake’s remarks before the election indicating she would not accept the results unless she won, as well as her “groundless” and “frivolous” lawsuit after the election was certified.
“Before a single vote was counted in the 2022 general election, Kari Lake publicly stated that she would accept the results of the gubernatorial election only if she were the winning candidate,” the county said in the filing.
“But she has not simply failed to publicly acknowledge the election results. Instead, she filed a groundless, seventy-page election contest lawsuit against the Governor-Elect, the Secretary of State, and Maricopa County and several of its elected officials and employees (but no other county or its employees), thereby dragging them and this Court into this frivolous pursuit.”
Monday, December 26, 2022
Holidaze Week: Our Little White Supremacist Domestic Terrorist Problem
Three power substation facilities were vandalized in Pierce County, Washington, on Christmas morning, knocking out power to more than 14,000 customers, authorities said.
Two of the break-ins were at Tacoma Public Utilities substations and the third was at a Puget Sound Energy station, according to the sheriff's office in Pierce County, which encompasses Tacoma.
No suspects are in custody, according to the sheriff's office.
"It is unknown if there are any motives or if this was a coordinated attack on the power systems," the sheriff's office said in a statement.
Tacoma Public Utilities said about 2,000 of its customers were initially without power and crews are working on restoration, later updating that all but approximately 900 customers had power restored.
"Unfortunately, the impacts to our system from today's deliberate damage are more severe in some places than initial testing indicated," the company said. "Some customers will be restored closer to 8 AM tomorrow. We appreciate your patience as we respond to this intentional vandalism to our system."
"We know this incident has impacted many people’s holiday celebrations, and our crews are working hard to get power safely restored to all customers as quickly as we can," it added.
The Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin last month warning that U.S. critical infrastructure could be among the targets of possible attacks by "lone offenders and small groups motivated by a range of ideological beliefs and/or personal grievances."
Earlier this month, two electrical substations were shot up in North Carolina, causing tens of thousands of customers to lose power and prompting local officials to declare a state of emergency.
Holidaze Week: Water's The Matter With Jackson?
City officials in Jackson, Mississippi, on Christmas Day announced that residents must now boil their drinking water due to water lines bursting in the frigid temperatures.
“Please check your businesses and churches for leaks and broken pipes, as these add up tremendously and only worsen the problem,” the city said in a statement, adding: “We understand the timing is terrible.”
The problems come months after the water system in Jackson — the state capital with about 150,000 residents — partially collapsed. Most of Jackson lost running water for several days in late August after flooding exacerbated longstanding problems in one of two water treatment plants. Residents had to wait in lines for water to drink, cook, bathe and flush toilets.
Along with the order to boil drinking water, city officials said some residents also have reported low water pressure or no water pressure. The city’s water system saw “fluctuating” pressure beginning on Saturday amid frigid temperatures.
The Christmas Day announcement said crews were working to make repairs, but it did not give an estimate on how long the disruption might last.
Sunday, December 25, 2022
Holidaze Week: A Little Christmas Music, Please
It wasn't Christmas growing up without Zandardad breaking out the BEST HOLIDAY ALBUM OF ALL TIME.
Holidaze Week: Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates, and keep warm this Sunday if you don't. Have a good holiday season for you and yours.
Me, I don't ask for much, but if you've enjoyed my posts over the year, try dropping a few bucks in the tip jar.
Several of you have over the years, and it's been appreciated.
Saturday, December 24, 2022
Holidaze Week: Lake Woe? Be Gone!
Kari Lake just lost her ridiculous "voting fraud" case in Arizona, and she gets nothing but coal (and hopefully crushing legal and financial sanctions) for Christmas.
An Arizona judge on Saturday rebuffed an effort by Kari Lake, the defeated GOP candidate for governor in Arizona, to reverse the outcome of her November election, ruling against her after a two-day trial that showcased speculation about systematic malfeasance at the polls but failed to prove it.
The finding was in line with recent judgments against Abe Hamadeh and Mark Finchem, the unsuccessful candidates for attorney general and secretary of state, respectively, who also sought to challenge their losses. Taken together, the rulings show how the judiciary in Arizona, a state rife with distrust in the democratic process, rejected challenges to election results and affirmed the will of voters.
Lake, a former television news anchor and acolyte of former president Donald Trump, lost the Nov. 8 election by more than 17,000 votes. After making election denialism a centerpiece of her campaign, she refused to concede, even after the result was certified on Dec. 5. Days later, she sued her opponent, Democrat Katie Hobbs, as well as officials in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix and more than half the state’s voters.
Lake’s complaint, which asked that she be declared the winner, centered on problems with printers in Maricopa County. Those problems required some voters to wait in line, travel to another polling place or deposit their ballots in secure drawers for tabulation at a central location. County officials have said the problems resulted from insufficient printer heat settings. They also acknowledged at trial that “shrink-to-fit” settings at several voting locations caused ballots to be rejected, though they were all duplicated and ultimately counted. A deeper analysis is still underway, they testified.
A judge found on Election Day that the mechanical issues did not prevent anyone from voting. But in a 69-page filing, attorneys for Lake used a grab bag of unproven assertions and anecdotal accounts to argue that “hundreds of thousands of illegal ballots infected the election in Maricopa County.”
The claims reached far beyond the administration of voting to include conspiratorial allegations about efforts to combat election misinformation, which the filing deemed an “unconstitutional government censorship operation,” as well as evidence from the 2020 election.
The judge hearing Lake’s case, Peter A. Thompson of Maricopa County Superior Court, earlier tossed most of her assertions but allowed arguments to proceed on two claims — that employees at Maricopa County’s ballot contractor stuffed extra ballots into the system and that the printer problems on Election Day were intentional.
In Saturday’s 10-page ruling, Thompson said the court “acknowledges the anger and frustration of voters who were subjected to inconvenience and confusion at voter centers as technical problems arose during the 2022 general election.”
“But this Court’s duty is not solely to incline an ear to public outcry,” he wrote. “It is to subject plaintiff’s claims and defendants’ actions to the light of the courtroom and scrutiny of the law.”
A lawyer for Hobbs told the court that Lake’s lawsuit represents what is “rotten in Arizona.”
“For the past several years, our democracy and its basic guiding principles have been under sustained assault from candidates who just cannot or will not accept the fact that they lost,” said the lawyer, Abha Khanna. “The judiciary has served as a bulwark against these efforts to undo our democratic system from within, and we ask this court to assume that role once again.”
In a closing statement, Khanna said, “Kari Lake lost this election and must lose this election contest. The reason she lost is not because of a printer error, not because of missing paperwork, not because the election was rigged against her, and certainly not for a lack of a full opportunity to prove her claims in a court of law.”
“Kari Lake lost the election because, at the end of the day, she received fewer votes than Katie Hobbs,” Khanna added.
Holidaze Week Begins
OK folks, we're hibernating until 2023 with limited posting.
As usual, I'll have my prediction scorecard for 2022 graded, and I'll make my 2023 predictions on December 31.
Friday, December 23, 2022
Last Call For Insurrection Investigation, The End
The January 6th Committee's investigation of Donald Trump's clumsy attempt to overthrow the U.S. Government and install himself as President has come to an end, as the Committee released its final report on the matter late Thursday night.
Far-right extremists who believed they were answering Donald Trump’s call to stop the transfer of presidential power didn’t just join the Jan. 6 mob — they led it.
The first wave of rioters to enter the Capitol during the siege, according to the Jan. 6 select committee’s final report released Thursday night, was disproportionately comprised of members of the Proud Boys, Three Percenters, QAnon fanatics and so-called “Groypers” loyal to Nick Fuentes, the former president’s racist and antisemitic recent Mar-a-Lago dinner guest.
Among the central findings of the select panel’s report: Trump’s incendiary lies about the 2020 election activated an extraordinary coalition of far-right militants and conspiracy theorists who not only joined the mob but were its vanguard smashing through police lines. Those extremists chose Jan. 6, the report outlines, in large part because Trump told them to in a now-infamous tweet: “Be there. Will be wild.”
“The January 6th attack has often been described as a riot — and that is partly true. Some of those who trespassed on the Capitol’s grounds or entered the building did not plan to do so beforehand,” the committee found. “But it is also true that extremists, conspiracy theorists and others were prepared to fight. That is an insurrection.”
The interplay between Trump world and shadowy right-wing extremist networks dominated the voluminous final report cataloging Trump’s multi-part bid to subvert the 2020 election and prevent Joe Biden from taking office. The document emerged nearly two days later than initially anticipated, as the select panel raced to wind up its work with a dwindling staff footprint in the waning days of its mandate from departing Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But the unspoken alliance Trump developed with those who would go on to do violence and destruction in his name stands out as a central conclusion of the committee’s year and a half of investigative work.
Pro-Trump conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the select committee found, texted with Proud Boys Chair Enrique Tarrio — now charged with seditious conspiracy — during the attack on the Capitol. In addition, Jones’ sidekick Owen Shroyer texted with other Proud Boys charged alongside Tarrio, including leaders Ethan Nordean and Joseph Biggs, who would later breach the Capitol.
Those communications happened after Trump, confronting a failed effort to unravel his loss to Biden, exhorted allies to descend on Washington and pointed an angry crowd to the Capitol, where outnumbered and underprepared police officers quickly became prey.
The select committee has spent months outlining the former president’s bid to subvert the 2020 election, concluding that Trump committed multiple crimes in his quest to corruptly seize a second term. But its final report sheds new light on the nexus between Trump boosters and members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, as well as other groups.
That in-depth analysis is the product of nearly 1,200 witness interviews and reams of hard-won documents, arriving just days after the select panel held its final open meeting to approve the report’s release. It’s likely the last public action from the select panel, which is set to expire at the end of this Congress.
The eight-chapter report traces each element of the last-ditch effort by Trump and his allies to undercut the election. Four appendices to the document break down security and intelligence failures leading up to Jan. 6, the money trail of the “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse, and an analysis of foreign actors’ capitalization on Trump’s election disinformation.
Juxtaposed with the magnitude of the report was its somewhat chaotic conclusion: The select panel had originally targeted a Wednesday release, but Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s last-minute trip to Washington likely complicated the schedule. Then, the select panel abruptly released the report Thursday evening, with a placeholder date left on its cover page.
The Road To Gilead Goes Through Kentucky, Con't
A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled in favor of blocking the enforcement of a Louisville ordinance that allows 10-foot-wide buffer zones outside health care facilities, including a local abortion clinic where protesters have often gathered.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals supported a preliminary injunction because the buffer zone legislation's "limits likely violate the First Amendment" and instructed a U.S. district court to prevent the enforcement of the ordinance for now.
This is the latest decision in a court case filed last year by plaintiffs that include two anti-abortion groups, Sisters for Life and the Kentucky Right to Life Association. The case challenges a Louisville Metro Council ordinance passed in May 2021 that prohibits people from lingering in or obstructing a health care facility's buffer zone and from obstructing someone else's entrance to or exit from that facility.
Abortion access in Kentucky has been severely limited in the past six months. The procedure is banned, with exceptions only for life-threatening health risks, under state law following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last summer to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
A Kentucky Supreme Court ruling is expected anytime concerning whether to temporarily reinstate some abortion access while a separate lawsuit challenging two highly restrictive anti-abortion laws continues.
Shutdown Countdown, Con't
The bill overcame a last-minute snag late Wednesday over a GOP-demanded amendment to keep the Trump-era Title 42 border policy in place. Democrats agreed to hold a vote on their amendment alongside a Democratic alternative. Both failed, and the delicate coalition for the bill stayed intact. Other amendments were approved.
After a yearslong fight, senators approved including the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act as part of the omnibus package, offering protections against discrimination for pregnant workers. The last-ditch effort was led by Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Richard Burr, R-N.C., Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Bob Casey, D-Pa.
“For far too long, too many workers excited about welcoming a new baby had to worry about losing their jobs — all because their employers could deny them basic, low-cost accommodations like a bathroom break or a stool to sit on,” Murray said in a statement, calling the measure “a big and important step forward.”
Another bill to expand accommodations for pumping in the workplace also passed as part of the tranche of amendments, cementing another victory for pregnant women and new moms. It was offered by Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.
In a statement, Murkowski called the amendment's passage “good progress toward ensuring no mother ever has to choose between a job and nursing her child.”
The omnibus bill moved forward 75-20 in the Senate on Tuesday, overcoming staunch opposition from conservative Republicans to win the 60 votes necessary to ensure passage. Before the final vote Wednesday, the Senate defeated a series of amendments that GOP members had demanded in exchange for dropping their threats to drag out the bill for days.
One of those opponents, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, pushed back against McConnell's view. “I don’t understand how that’s a big win for Republicans,” he said. “I do think this is harmful to Republicans. We have a Republican leader in the House and a Republican leader in the Senate taking diametrically opposed positions. And I’m with McCarthy on this one.”
GOP leaders in the House are pressuring members to vote against the bill, which will have to rely on mostly Democratic votes to pass.
The office of House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., told Republicans the bill was "designed to sideline the incoming Republican House Majority by extending many programs for multiple years" and criticized its "large funding increases" for Democratic priorities.
The legislation also includes a rewrite of an 1887 federal election law to close loopholes that then-President Donald Trump and his team sought to exploit on Jan. 6, 2021, to make it harder for presidential candidates to steal elections. It would also grant extra funds to the Justice Department for Jan. 6 prosecutions.
Schumer said the election measures in the bill would “preserve our democracy for generations to come.”
Trump said it was "probably better" to reject the election changes.
"I don’t care whether they change The Electoral Count Act or not, probably better to leave it the way it is so that it can be adjusted in case of Fraud," he wrote on his social media platform, arguing that the desire in Congress to clarify the law validates his belief that the vice president had the power to overturn the 2020 result.
Proponents of the changes say that the 1887 law is poorly written and that it was never intended to give the vice president such power — and that the new legislation would make that abundantly clear.
“It’s going to stop the kind of stuff we saw on Jan. 6, where a sitting president tried to take the election and become dictator of this country,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, a moderate Democrat, said Wednesday on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe." “It’s an important piece of legislation that was worked on in a bipartisan way.”
Thursday, December 22, 2022
Last Call For Fantasma Santos, Con't
So he lied about his work at Goldman Sachs, he lied about his Baruch College degree, he lied about his family business, and oh yeah he's wanted for bad checks back in Brazil.That Democrats in the state left Tom Suozzi's seat open for this clown to win it over Robert Zimmerman, figuring Zimmerman would win by osmosis or something, should serve as a critical lesson to the state's cancerous Democratic state party.The fact that this level of scrutiny was not given to Santos until after her won with the rank lies and fabrications is a failure of the NY Times itself. This white supremacist clown should have been exposed months ago.But the NY Democratic Party should have had this oppo research ready to go. Even an afternoon of work would have cost Santos the race, and they just didn't care to do basic due diligence.
Let’s go through the opposition research process. A junior researcher is tasked to write a “book” — a comprehensive report laying out a buffet of opposition research attacks on a given opponent. Then a senior researcher oversees and edits the book. As the Democratic candidate was not chosen until Aug. 23 in a district Democrats won comfortably in 2020, this process probably started late and was rushed.
Think back to that animal-rescue nonprofit, which reportedly was not registered as a charity. How did Mr. Santos get away with that unnoticed? He didn’t, exactly. We have a copy of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s research book on Mr. Santos, polished for public consumption and posted online in August. Sure enough, we see that Mr. Santos’s charity is documented as unfindable in an I.R.S. database.
Documented, too, are evictions during the 2010s and instances of undisclosed personal finances that appear in the Times story. They’re in small sections interspersed through a nearly 90-page document, yet they’re there. Maybe given more time, the researchers could have gone further to confirm the nonprofit’s lack of state filings or could have contacted his former landlords.
What about Mr. Santos’s apparently lying about his employers and education? The Times reported that Baruch College could not confirm that he graduated in the year he claimed, and companies he has listed, such as Goldman Sachs and Citigroup, found no record of his employment. Often, opposition research is the dark art of searching databases and copying and pasting information so you can write prompts for reporters. You’d be shocked to know what a 20-something given enough time and direction can find out about a person. But oppo researchers are not private investigators, and it’s helpful to consider their sources. During their work, a researcher may notice there’s not a single piece of evidence outside of the candidate’s own claims about his or her history.
So how do you verify? There are sources like yearbooks and services used by employers for education checks, or you can always try asking politely. Employers and universities are under no requirement to share this information with anyone who calls — including a random person asking for the sake of political research. (Though I stress: The odds are better than you think if you ask.) An alternative solution is to bug newspaper reporters to ask those questions and hope their paper’s reputation compels an answer.
Reporters asking questions is what happened to Mr. Santos, as employers and schools spoke with The New York Times. Whether anyone else tried to this extent before, we don’t know. Certainly this story shows why researchers — and reporters — should kick the tires on even small claims by a candidate.
Let’s return to the research process: After a book is completed, communications staff members, campaign officials and consultants are briefed on the best hits the researchers could find for pitching to reporters and for advertising purposes. We can see one outcome of those briefings in a research-packed news release from the D.C.C.C. that blasted Mr. Santos as a “shady Wall Street bro.” Specifically, it highlights the absence of the nonprofit in the I.R.S. database and his previously undisclosed personal finances. It’s not the exact story, but months ago, a Democratic operative had the thought to call him “untrustworthy.”
Then what happened? The D.C.C.C. research department probably moved on to the next project. This year, as they do every two years, Democrats competed in hundreds of House races. The junior staff member may even be moved to a position at a technically distinct division and be legally unable to communicate with his or her former co-workers. That’s how some lines of inquiries never progress beyond PDF files.
Gently, however, I would suggest that the rest of the prepared Democratic research is quite compelling. Mr. Santos claimed he was at the Ellipse at the Stop the Steal rally in Washington, claimed in a video captured by trackers to have assisted with legal fees for Capitol rioters and said he supported a national abortion ban. Heavy stuff! That’s along with your standard politically toxic Republican agenda of cutting taxes for the rich while pursuing some form of partial privatization for Social Security.
We’re waiting for the final data, but Republicans probably carried this New York district for governor and senator. And that’s despite Senator Chuck Schumer’s spending $41 million to his opponent’s $545,000 statewide. Perhaps a stronger attack on Mr. Santos as a possible fraud would have allowed his Democratic opponent to escape such gravity.
The New York Attorney General’s Office said it is “looking into a number of issues" surrounding Congressman-elect George Santos, who was the subject of a bombshell New York Times investigation that questions whether the incoming Republican lawmaker fabricated much of his biography, including his education, work history and financial dealings.
The office, however, did not confirm whether it had opened an official investigation into Santos and declined to comment further on the matter.
A lawyer for Santos, Joe Murray, told NBC News in an email Thursday afternoon that he had "not been contacted by anyone" from the New York Attorney General's Office.
"I have nothing further to add at this time," he said.
Weed, Feed, And Need
Turns out that even recreational marijuana is a secondary expense in states where weed is taxed, because unlike murderously addictive nicotine products, when inflation is high and people have to tighten their belts, getting baked takes a back seat to getting baked goods.
Marijuana tax collections dropped in several states this year as the cannabis industry struggles with low prices and a drop in demand.
California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington all collected less marijuana tax money in fiscal 2022 than the year before, according to a report from the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, a joint venture between two Washington, D.C. think tanks. Most states end their fiscal years on June 30.
That means those states had millions less this past fiscal year to pay for school buildings, drug treatment programs, law enforcement and other services partly funded by taxing pot sales.
Tax revenue may fall even further this fiscal year. Some analysts say the downturn is a reminder that cannabis is an agricultural crop, not a guaranteed moneymaker.
The potential tax revenue “was always oversold as sort of a panacea to state budgets,” said Adam Koh, editorial director of Cannabis Benchmarks, a company that tracks wholesale cannabis prices.
Colorado collected about $370 million in marijuana taxes in fiscal 2022, about 13% less than fiscal 2021.
“We’re anticipating another pretty sizable decline for [fiscal 2023] as well, close to 16%,” said Jeff Stupak, a senior economist with the Legislative Council Staff, a nonpartisan team that advises the Colorado legislature.
Sinema Verite', Con't
Always have a “room temperature” bottle of water on hand for her at all times. Make sure you get her groceries. And book her a weekly, hour-long massage.
These are just a few of the tasks, framed in a dizzying array of do’s and don’ts, that have fallen to the staffers for Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), according to an internal memo obtained by The Daily Beast.
The 37-page memo is intended as a guide for aides who set the schedule for and personally staff Sinema during her workdays in Washington and Arizona. And while the document is mostly just revealing of Sinema’s exceptionally strong preferences about things like air travel—preferably not on Southwest Airlines, never book her a seat near a bathroom, and absolutely never a middle seat—Sinema’s standards appear to go right up to the line of what Senate ethics rules allow, if not over.
One section of the staffer guide explains that the senator’s executive assistant must contact Sinema at the beginning of the work week in Washington to “ask if she needs groceries,” and copy both the scheduler and chief of staff on the message to “make sure this is accomplished.” It specifies Sinema will reimburse the assistant through CashApp. The memo also dictates that if the internet in Sinema’s private apartment fails, the executive assistant “should call Verizon to schedule a repair” and ensure a staffer is present to let a technician inside the property.
The Senate ethics handbook states that “staff are compensated for the purpose of assisting Senators in their official legislative and representational duties, and not for the purpose of performing personal or other non-official activities for themselves or on behalf of others.”
Craig Holman, a congressional ethics expert with the nonprofit group Public Citizen, said Sinema’s apparent demands that staffers conduct personal tasks amount to a clear violation of Senate ethics rules, and would typically warrant a formal reprimand by the Senate Ethics Committee.
Sinema spokesperson Hannah Hurley told The Daily Beast that “the alleged information—sourced from anonymous quotes and a purported document I can’t verify—is not in line with official guidance from Sen. Sinema’s office and does not represent official policies of Sen. Sinema’s office.”
Hurley added that Sinema’s office “does not require staff to perform personal errands.”
The Daily Beast did not share the document itself with Sinema’s office, and is not printing it in its entirety over concerns that doing so may reveal who shared the memo. However, The Daily Beast was able to independently corroborate the veracity of the document, which is at least a couple of years old but could still reflect current policies.
The Daily Beast sent Sinema’s office a detailed list of claims and quotes sourced from the memo and intended for publication.
While the memo may not represent the most up-to-date scheduling practices for Sinema, the document reflects long-running guidelines as well as commitments of the senator’s that have remained consistent. Moreover, the memo is clear that, even if Sinema and her chief of staff never signed off on the document itself, both were to be alerted when the senator’s executive assistant had procured her groceries—or completed a number of other tasks.
Sinema rarely does interviews or comments publicly about how she approaches the day-to-day work of being a senator. The scheduling memo offers a rare glimpse into how one of the Senate’s most inscrutable—and most scrutinized—members approaches her job and runs her office.