Thursday, March 31, 2022

Last Call For Bad Medicine, Con't


The House on Thursday passed a bill capping the monthly cost of insulin at $35 for insured patients, part of an election-year push by Democrats for price curbs on prescription drugs at a time of rising inflation.

Experts say the legislation, which passed 232-193, would provide significant relief for privately insured patients with skimpier plans and for Medicare enrollees facing rising out-of-pocket costs for their insulin. Some could save hundreds of dollars annually, and all insured patients would get the benefit of predictable monthly costs for insulin. The bill would not help the uninsured.

But the Affordable Insulin Now Act will serve as a political vehicle to rally Democrats and force Republicans who oppose it into uncomfortable votes ahead of the midterms. For the legislation to pass Congress, 10 Republican senators would have to vote in favor. Democrats acknowledge they don’t have an answer for how that’s going to happen.

“If 10 Republicans stand between the American people being able to get access to affordable insulin, that’s a good question for 10 Republicans to answer,” said Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., a cosponsor of the House bill. “Republicans get diabetes, too. Republicans die from diabetes.”

Public opinion polls have consistently shown support across party lines for congressional action to limit drug costs.

But Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., complained the legislation is only “a small piece of a larger package around government price controls for prescription drugs.” Critics say the bill would raise premiums and fails to target pharmaceutical middlemen seen as contributing to high list prices for insulin.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Democrats could have a deal on prescription drugs if they drop their bid to authorize Medicare to negotiate prices. “Do Democrats really want to help seniors, or would they rather have the campaign issue?” Grassley said.

The insulin bill, which would take effect in 2023, represents just one provision of a much broader prescription drug package in President Joe Biden’s social and climate legislation.

In addition to a similar $35 cap on insulin, the Biden bill would authorize Medicare to negotiate prices for a range of drugs, including insulin. It would penalize drugmakers who raise prices faster than inflation and overhaul the Medicare prescription drug benefit to limit out-of-pocket costs for enrollees.

Biden’s agenda passed the House only to stall in the Senate because Democrats could not reach consensus. Party leaders haven’t abandoned hope of getting the legislation moving again, and preserving its drug pricing curbs largely intact.

The idea of a $35 monthly cost cap for insulin actually has a bipartisan pedigree. The Trump administration had created a voluntary option for Medicare enrollees to get insulin for $35, and the Biden administration continued it.

In the Senate, Republican Susan Collins of Maine and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire are working on a bipartisan insulin bill. Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock has introduced legislation similar to the House bill, with the support of Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Stung by criticism that Biden’s economic policies spur inflation, Democrats are redoubling efforts to show how they’d help people cope with costs. On Thursday, the Commerce Department reported a key inflation gauge jumped 6.4% in February compared with a year ago, the largest year-over-year rise since January 1982.

But experts say the House bill would not help uninsured people, who face the highest out-of-pocket costs for insulin. Also, people with diabetes often take other medications as well as insulin. That’s done to treat the diabetes itself, along with other serious health conditions often associated with the disease. The House legislation would not help with those costs, either. Collins says she’s looking for a way to help uninsured people through her bill.
 
And that's the rub, the bill does absolutely nothing for capping costs for the uninsured. It's better than nothing, but there are still millions who are going to suffer, and Republicans will just make everyone suffer, because it's what they do.

Vote Like Your Country Depends On It, Con't

A federal judge today struck down several provisions of the state GOP's nightmarish voter suppression law, ordering the state placed under the Voting Rights Act's pre-clearance clause for blatantly unconstitutional acts.
 
In his decision issued Thursday, Judge Mark Walker ruled that the provisions in the law restricting drop boxes, creating new requirements for voter applications including vote-by-mail, and banning interactions with voters on line were unconstitutional and could not be enforced by the state. The law was a top priority of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The decision also put Florida under the “preclearance” provisions of the federal Voting Rights Act, a measure first used on mostly Southern states in the 1960s to prevent them from discriminating against minorities in the voting booth. Under it, the state would need federal court approval to make any revisions to its elections laws for the next 10 years.


Walker cited Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote about Americans not being “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” but added that a few years later King said, “some of the old optimism was a little superficial and now it must be tempered with a solid realism.”

“While this Court lauds the idealism of Dr. King’s dream in 1963, this Court is not so na├»ve to believe that the Florida Legislature would not pass an intentionally discriminatory law in 2021,” Walker wrote. “We do not live in a colorblind society— not that this was ever Dr. King’s point.

“For the past 20 years, the majority in the Florida Legislature has attacked the voting rights of its Black constituents,” Walker wrote. “They have done so not as, in the words of Dr. King, ‘vicious racists, with [the] governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification,’ but as part of a cynical effort to suppress turnout among their opponents’ supporters. That, the law does not permit.”
 
This is a big win, but I expect it will be quickly blocked by the 11th Circuit for being too close to the primary elections.  You know, the ones in late August.

We'll see if this holds. It is a major win for today.

I don't think it will last..

The Burned Bridges Of Madison Cawthorn, Con't

NC GOP Rep Madison Cawthorn can't help himself, it seems. The youngest member of the US House can't stop acting like your obnoxious Gen Z co-worker who knows everything (of course) but won't stop pissing off the management, and it looks like this time he's gotten dragged into Principal McCarthy's office for ratting out the big after-prom party, and now the football team wants him gone.

Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina is throwing his weight behind a primary opponent to freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn -- an extraordinary broadside against a fellow Republican from his home state, as internal frustration with the controversial MAGA firebrand reaches a boiling point. 
"It comes down to focus on the district, producing results for the district, and in my opinion, Mr. Cawthorn hasn't demonstrated much in the way of results over the last 18 months," Tillis told CNN, describing why he is backing state Sen. Chuck Edwards in his primary against Cawthorn. 
And Tillis may not be alone. Other GOP lawmakers who are at their wits' end with Cawthorn are considering endorsing one of his primary foes, according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions, amid growing concerns that the North Carolina Republican is dragging down the entire party with his problematic behavior. The two most powerful North Carolina Republicans in the state legislature -- Senate leader Phil Berger and House speaker Tim Moore -- are headlining a fundraiser for Edwards on Thursday, according to the Edwards campaign. 
It's the latest sign of turmoil for the 26-year-old, who has angered and annoyed a wide swath of his colleagues with a steady stream of controversial antics and attempts to play political kingmaker in North Carolina and beyond. Most recently, Cawthorn sparked an uproar after claiming on a podcast that people in Washington have invited him to participate in orgies and used cocaine in front of him. Even fellow members of the House Freedom Caucus, a far-right crew with a penchant for controversy, have turned on Cawthorn: They've floated the idea of kicking him out of the group if he didn't clarify his wild accusations, according to GOP sources, though such a step seems unlikely. 
Amid complaints from members, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy hauled Cawthorn into his office Wednesday morning and pressed him on the unsettling allegations, which he said Cawthorn admitted were untrue, and told the freshman lawmaker he needs to get his act together or else he could face internal consequences. 
"He's got to turn himself around," McCarthy told reporters. "I just told him he's lost my trust, and he's going to have to earn it back. I laid out everything I find that's unbecoming. ... He's got a lot of members upset. You can't just make statements out there."
 
The whole Zack Morris/Principal Belding dynamic is fascinating on one level, but it just proves some people peaked in high school.

This is one example where a GOP primary fight may actually not produce a worse Republican, as the worse one is already in office.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Last Call For Orange Meltdown, Mind The Gap Edition, Con't

And this week's story on "possible" call records missing from the Trump WH call log on January 6th, 2021 just became actual calls missing as the Guardian's Hugo Lowell backs up the Washington Post story with information that GOP Utah Sen. Mike Lee's call should have been on that list, because Trump absolutely talked to him during the nearly 8-hour gap.


Donald Trump used an official White House phone to place at least one call during the Capitol attack on January 6 last year that should have been reflected in the internal presidential call log from that day but was not, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The former president called the phone of a Republican senator, Mike Lee, with a number recorded as 202-395-0000, a placeholder number that shows up when a call is incoming from a number of White House department phones, the sources said.

The number corresponds to an official White House phone and the call was placed by Donald Trump himself, which means the call should have been recorded in the internal presidential call log that was turned over to the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack.

Trump’s call to Lee was reported at the time, as well as its omission from the call log, by the Washington Post and CBS. But the origin of the call as coming from an official White House phone, which has not been previously reported, raises the prospect of tampering or deletion by Trump White House officials.


It also appears to mark perhaps the most serious violation of the Presidential Record Act – the statute that mandates preservation of White House records pertaining to a president’s official duties – by the Trump White House concerning January 6 records to date.

A spokesperson for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump called Lee at 2.26pm on January 6 through the official 202-395-0000 White House number, according to call detail records reviewed by the Guardian and confirmation by the two sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

The call was notable as Trump mistakenly dialed Lee thinking it was the number for Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville. Lee passed the phone to Tuberville, who told Trump Mike Pence had just been removed from the Senate chamber as rioters stormed the Capitol.

But Trump’s call to Lee was not recorded in either the presidential daily diary or the presidential call log – a problem because even though entries in the daily diary are discretionary, according to several current and former White House officials, the call log is not.

The presidential daily diary is a retrospective record of the president’s day produced by aides in the Oval Office, who have some sway to determine whether a particular event was significant enough to warrant its inclusion, the officials said.

But the presidential call log, typically generated from data recorded when calls are placed by the White House operators, is supposed to be a comprehensive record of all incoming and outgoing calls involving the president through White House channels, the officials said.

The fact that Trump’s call to Lee was routed through an official White House phone with a 202-395 prefix – either through a landline in the West Wing, the White House residence or a “work” cellphone – means details of that call should have been on the call log.

The only instance where a call might not be reflected on the unclassified presidential call log, the officials said, would be if the call was classified, which would seem to be unlikely in the case of the call to Lee. The absence of Trump’s call to Lee suggests a serious breach in protocol and possible manipulation, the officials said.

 

As I said, we're at the "cover-up" part of this, on top of the crime being "seditious conspiracy to defraud the United States government".  January 6th Committee knows, Merrick Garland knows, the cases are being prepared.

The only question is time now.

The Tik-Tok GOP PNG Tech Wreck

Expecting Facebook to go after the hot mobile social media app of the moment Tik-Tok is normal, they're a direct competitor for social media clicks, ads, and eyeballs. But what Facebook actually did was far worse and far more frightening: it hired a GOP online disinformation factory to create fake controversy in order to bury the company and make it ripe for takeover.

Facebook parent company Meta is paying one of the biggest Republican consulting firms in the country to orchestrate a nationwide campaign seeking to turn the public against TikTok.

The campaign includes placing op-eds and letters to the editor in major regional news outlets, promoting dubious stories about alleged TikTok trends that actually originated on Facebook, and pushing to draw political reporters and local politicians into helping take down its biggest competitor. These bare-knuckle tactics, long commonplace in the world of politics, have become increasingly noticeable within a tech industry where companies vie for cultural relevance and come at a time when Facebook is under pressure to win back young users.

Employees with the firm, Targeted Victory, worked to undermine TikTok through a nationwide media and lobbying campaign portraying the fast-growing app, owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, as a danger to American children and society, according to internal emails shared with The Washington Post.

Targeted Victory needs to “get the message out that while Meta is the current punching bag, TikTok is the real threat especially as a foreign owned app that is #1 in sharing data that young teens are using,” a director for the firm wrote in a February email.

Campaign operatives were also encouraged to use TikTok’s prominence as a way to deflect from Meta’s own privacy and antitrust concerns.

“Bonus point if we can fit this into a broader message that the current bills/proposals aren’t where [state attorneys general] or members of Congress should be focused,” a Targeted Victory staffer wrote.


The emails, which have not been previously reported, show the extent to which Meta and its partners will use opposition-research tactics on the Chinese-owned, multibillion-dollar rival that has become one of the most downloaded apps in the world, often outranking even Meta’s popular Facebook and Instagram apps. In an internal report last year leaked by the whistleblower Frances Haugen, Facebook researchers said teens were spending “2-3X more time” on TikTok than Instagram, and that Facebook’s popularity among young people had plummeted.

Targeted Victory declined to respond to questions about the campaign, saying only that it has represented Meta for several years and is “proud of the work we have done.”

In one email, a Targeted Victory director asked for ideas on local political reporters who could serve as a “back channel” for anti-TikTok messages, saying the firm “would definitely want it to be hands off.”


In other emails, Targeted Victory urged partners to push stories to local media tying TikTok to dangerous teen trends in an effort to show the app’s purported harms. “Any local examples of bad TikTok trends/stories in your markets?” a Targeted Victory staffer asked.

“Dream would be to get stories with headlines like ‘From dances to danger: how TikTok has become the most harmful social media space for kids,’ ” the staffer wrote.

Meta spokesperson Andy Stone defended the campaign by saying, “We believe all platforms, including TikTok, should face a level of scrutiny consistent with their growing success.”
 
And please note who Meta went to: a GOP firm, with GOP lobbying clients and direct connections to GOP members of Congress, to turn the national GOP disinformation machine against Tik-Tok in order to destroy it completely. 

They're doing it with complete disinformation, accusing Tik-Tok of starting "trends" that are "harmful to kids", trends that simply don't exist:

One trend Targeted Victory sought to enhance through its work was the “devious licks'' challenge, which showed students vandalizing school property. Through the “Bad TikTok Clips” document, the firm pushed stories about the “devious licks” challenge in local media across Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C.

That trend led Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to write a letter in September calling on TikTok executives to testify in front of a Senate subcommittee, saying the app had been “repeatedly misused and abused to promote behavior and actions that encourage harmful and destructive acts.” But according to an investigation by Anna Foley at the podcast network Gimlet, rumors of the “devious licks” challenge initially spread on Facebook, not TikTok.

In October, Targeted Victory worked to spread rumors of the “Slap a Teacher TikTok challenge” in local news, touting a local news report on the alleged challenge in Hawaii. In reality, no such challenge existed on TikTok. Again, the rumor started on Facebook, according to a series of Facebook posts first documented by Insider.
 
Facebook really is a tremendously evil company, and of course they are paying the tremendously evil political party to user their propaganda and disinformation outlets.

Remember that in November.

Ukraine In The Membrane, Con't

In the last 24 hours, Republicans have unleashed their plan to fully go after Joe Biden's son, Hunter, and make his prosecution the number one political issue heading into November. Donald Trump flat-out asked Vladimir Putin to release anything that Moscow happens to have on Hunter Biden.
 
In a new interview published Tuesday, former President Donald Trump called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to release any damaging information he has about the Biden family, in a brazen request for domestic political assistance from America's top adversary. 
It's the latest example of Trump's willingness to solicit and embrace domestic political help from foreign powers -- even from Putin, who is currently overseeing a bloody war against Ukraine. 
In an interview with JustTheNews, Trump pushed an unproven claim about Hunter Biden's business dealings in Russia, and asked Putin to release any information that he might have about the situation. It's not clear that any material exists, or if the Kremlin has access to it. 
"I would think Putin would know the answer to that," Trump said, referring to Hunter Biden's potential dealings in Russia. "I think he should release it. I think we should know that answer." 
It is true that Hunter Biden was paid handsomely for consulting work he did in foreign countries, including Ukraine and China, while his father -- President Joe Biden -- was vice president. The Justice Department has an ongoing criminal investigation into these dealings and potential financial crimes. 
But no evidence has emerged to support Trump's claims that the Bidens engaged in corruption or influenced US policy for personal gain, and the President hasn't been implicated in the probe. Hunter Biden has denied wrongdoing and says he'll be cleared when the criminal probe is over.
 

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) entered a copy of Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop hard drive into the Congressional record during a House cybersecurity meeting Tuesday.

The Florida Republican had earlier asked for unanimous consent to do so, but was denied after House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) objected.

Eventually, Gaetz received his wish as Nadler relented, meaning the notorious drive from the son of President Joe Biden is a matter of Congressional record.

Gaetz celebrated on his Twitter account and shared a video of the moment.

“Moments ago, I successfully entered the hard drive of Hunter Biden’s laptop into the Congressional Record. SUBPOENA HUNTER BIDEN!” he tweeted.
 
Gaetz, by the way, still facing his own Justice Department bribery and sexual assault of minors investigation, so his "hard drive" could, you know, have anything on it. But Gaetz is almost certainly headed for federal indictment soon, why not go for broke with fake evidence?
 
The clown show continues.


 



 
 
 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Last Call For Rand's Way

As President Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act into law today, understand that while this is a huge win for us Black folk, as we've been fighting for centuries in otrder to get lynching classified as a federal crime, Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul is also claiming victory by limiting the bill's additions to federal hate crimes to just lynching, as Paul has blocked the legislation like this for his entire Senate career until now. Earlier this month, Morgan Watkins at the Louisville Courier-Journal explained why.

Nearly two years after he received intense criticism for pumping the brakes on the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, Sen. Rand Paul is co-sponsoring a new version of that legislation and told The Courier Journal he expects the Senate will unanimously pass it.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., introduced the bipartisan legislation this week. Paul, R-Ky., said he’ll be cosponsoring it, too.

The bill would classify lynching as a federal hate crime and is named in honor of Emmett Till, a Black 14-year-old who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 and whose horrific death catalyzed the civil rights movement.

"I think it's great to have the legislation, you know, to remember Emmett Till but also to remember a terrible time in our history and to know that we're a better place and a better people now," Paul told The Courier Journal in an exclusive interview Monday.

After a year or so of impasse over the legislation, Paul said staff from his office and Booker's started negotiating closely a couple of weeks ago about how to get a compromise done. He also said he was pleased to have worked with both Booker and Scott on strengthening this proposal.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives passed its own updated version of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, sponsored by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Illinois, Monday night. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., was one of just three lawmakers who voted against it.

Massie, who also voted against the original Emmett Till Antilynching Act in 2020, tweeted Monday about his reasons for doing so again, including concerns about expanding federal hate crime laws.

"A crime is a crime, and all victims deserve equal justice. Adding enhanced penalties for “hate” tends to endanger other liberties such as freedom of speech," Massie said.

Paul noted he got a lot of grief in the summer of 2020 for his handling of the initial anti-lynching bill, as racial justice protests emerged across the nation after a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd.

"It wasn't a popular stand to slow this bill down, but I wanted to do it because, you know, I thought it was the right thing to do," he told The Courier Journal. "And in the end, I think the compromise language will hopefully keep us from incarcerating somebody for some kind of crime that's not lynching.

"We just wanted to make sure that the punishment was proportional to the crime, and I guess it's just good news that it finally worked out," he added.

The new bill would add lynching to the federal hate crimes statute and would subject someone to up to 30 years in prison if their actions result in the death or serious bodily harm of another person or result in the attempted or actual kidnapping, aggravated sexual abuse or killing of another person because of that individual's race or another protected characteristic.

The 2020 version of the bill also would have classified lynching as a federal hate crime, but it would have included certain crimes under that classification that involved defacing religious property or preventing someone from exercising their religious beliefs or engaging in other federally protected activities, such as voting.
 
And that's the thing that Paul objected to: causing grievous bodily harm to somebody for being Black is a hate crime (and even that took years to talk him into) but defacing a Black church or stopping someone Black from engaging in voting for being Black is too much and we can't punish that as a hate crime.

Better than Thomas Massie, who wants hate crimes done away with completely because it's free speech to shoot a ni-CLANG.

NKY is the most racist area in the country at times, I swear.

Orange Meltdown, Mind The Gap Edition

 
Internal White House records from the day of the attack on the U.S. Capitol that were turned over to the House select committee show a gap in President Donald Trump’s phone logs of seven hours and 37 minutes, including the period when the building was being violently assaulted, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post and CBS News.

The lack of an official White House notation of any calls placed to or by Trump for 457 minutes on Jan. 6, 2021 – from 11:17 a.m. to 6:54 p.m. – means the committee has no record of his phone conversations as his supporters descended on the Capitol, battled overwhelmed police and forcibly entered the building, prompting lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence to flee for safety.

The 11 pages of records, which consist of the president’s official daily diary and the White House switchboard call logs, were turned over by the National Archives earlier this year to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.

The records show that Trump was active on the phone for part of the day, documenting conversations that he had with at least eight people in the morning and 11 people that evening. The seven-hour gap also stands in stark contrast to the extensive public reporting about phone conversations he had with allies during the attack, such as a call Trump made to Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) — seeking to talk to Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) — and a phone conversation he had with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

The House panel is now investigating whether Trump communicated that day through backchannels, phones of aides or personal disposable phones, known as “burner phones,” according to two people with knowledge of the probe, who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information. The committee is also scrutinizing whether it received the full logs from that day.


One lawmaker on the panel said the committee is investigating a “possible coverup” of the official White House record from that day. Another person close to the committee said the large gap in the records is of “intense interest” to some lawmakers on the committee, many of whom have reviewed copies of the documents. Both spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal committee deliberations.

The records show that former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon – who said on his Jan. 5 podcast that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow” – spoke with Trump twice on Jan. 6. In a call that morning, Bannon urged Trump to continue to pressure Pence to block congressional certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election, according to people familiar with the exchange.

Trump was known for using different phones when he was in the White House, according to people familiar with his activities. Occasionally, when he made outbound calls, the number would show up as the White House switchboard’s number, according to a former Trump Cabinet official. Other times, he would call from different numbers – or no number would appear on the recipient’s phone, the official said.


A spokesman for the committee declined to comment.

In a statement Monday night, Trump said, "I have no idea what a burner phone is, to the best of my knowledge I have never even heard the term."

A Trump spokeswoman said that Trump had nothing to do with the records and had assumed any and all of his phone calls were recorded and preserved.
 
We have now officially reached the "cover-up" part of "it's not the crime, it's the cover-up" although the crime is, you know, seditious conspiracy.  Trump has been dodging presidential record keeping since the beginning of his term, and now it's caught up with him.
 
Look, I'm betting that there's several phone calls missing from the Trump WH record, and that the January 6th committee already has some of those records from the other side. If they don't have them all from mobile carriers themselves, they soon will. 


This is just bad, bad criming in 2022. Everything's data now, and it will be found.

The Justice Department wants to hire 131 additional lawyers to help with the hundreds of prosecutions stemming from the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, according to the Biden administration's budget request for the upcoming fiscal year.

Rolling out the Justice Department's portion of that request Monday, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco emphasized the scope of the January 6 investigation, which law enforcement officials have repeatedly described as unprecedented.

In the nearly 15 months since a pro-mob stormed the Capitol, the Justice Department has brought more than 770 prosecutions, including cases charging members of far-right groups with seditious conspiracy.

"The January 6 investigation is among the most wide-ranging and most complex that this department has ever undertaken. It reaches nearly every US attorney's office, nearly every FBI field office," Monaco said.

You don't do that when you're winding down, you do that when you're getting ready to go hunting big game.

Big, orange, stupid game.

All Aboard The Trump Fraud Train

Donald Trump's Republicans wrote the COVID-19 relief package legislation and told Democrats to take them or else, so they did in order to help the economy. The reality is that the Trump COVID packages ended up being hundreds of billions for fraudsters across the board, fraud that the Republican party took advantage of time and time again. Now a new report finds that the total fraud among all the Trump COVID-19 bills could be more than a half-trillion dollars. 

They bought Lamborghinis, Ferraris, and Bentleys.

And Teslas, of course. Lots of Teslas.

Many who participated in what prosecutors are calling the largest fraud in American history—the theft of hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money intended to help those harmed by the pandemic — couldn’t resist purchasing luxury automobiles. Also mansions, private jet flights and swanky vacations.

They came into their riches by participating in what experts say is the theft of as much as $80 billion — or about 10 percent — of the $800 billion handed out in a Covid relief plan known as the Paycheck Protection Program. That’s on top of the $90 billion to $400 billion believed to have been stolen from the $900 billion Covid unemployment relief program — at least half taken by international fraudsters — as NBC News reported last year. And another $80 billion potentially pilfered from a separate Covid disaster relief program.

The prevalence of Covid relief fraud has been known for some time, but the enormous scope and its disturbing implications are only now becoming clear.

Even if the highest estimates are inflated, the total fraud on all Covid relief funds amounts to a mind-boggling sum of taxpayer money that could rival the $579 billion in federal funds included in President Joe Biden’s massive, 10-year infrastructure spending plan, according to prosecutors, government watchdogs and private experts who are trying to plug the leaks.

“Nothing like this has ever happened before,” said Matthew Schneider, a former U.S. attorney from Michigan now with Honigman LLP. “It is the biggest fraud in a generation.”

Most of the losses are considered unrecoverable, but there is still a chance to stanch the bleeding, because federal officials say $600 billion is still waiting to go out the door. The Biden administration imposed new verification rules in 2021 that administration officials say appear to have made a difference in curbing fraud. But they acknowledge that programs in 2020 sacrificed security for speed, needlessly.

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, who oversees Covid relief spending, told "NBC Nightly News" anchor Lester Holt in an exclusive interview that Covid relief programs were structured in ways that made them ripe for plunder.

“The Small Business Administration, in sending that money out, basically said to people, ‘Apply, and sign, and tell us that you're really entitled to the money,’” said Horowitz, who chairs the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee. “And, of course, for fraudsters, that's an invitation…what didn't happen was even minimal checks to make sure that the money was getting to the right people at the right time.”

The criminal methodology varied, depending on the program. The epic swindle of Covid unemployment relief has been carried out by individual criminals or organized crime groups using stolen identities to claim jobless benefits from state workforce agencies disbursing federal funds. Each identity could be worth up to $30,000 in benefits, according to Horowitz.

The looting of the Paycheck Protection Program worked differently — and could be far more lucrative. That program authorized banks and other financial institutions to make government-backed loans to businesses — loans that were to be forgiven if the companies spent the money on business expenses. Nearly 10 million of these loans have already been forgiven. Many of these loans-turned-grants were for millions of dollars, public records show.

Experts say millions of borrowers inflated the number of employees or created companies out of whole cloth. For much of 2020, lenders did little to verify the applications, prosecutors and experts say, in part because Congress required the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which ran the program, to issue explicit guidance that in the interest of getting the money out fast, lenders “will be held harmless for borrowers’ failure to comply with program criteria.” The Government Accountability Office warned of fraud risk, but the program continued under that rule.

“The government spent approximately $800 billion and provided 21 million loans to individuals,” said Haywood Talcove, CEO of Lexis Nexis, which works with the government to verify identities.

No one is sure exactly how much was stolen. An academic paper released last year estimated at least $76 billion in potential fraud, and the authors said that was conservative.

The SBA’s Inspector General has identified $78.1 billion in potentially fraudulent Economic Injury Disaster Loans, another Covid relief program for businesses. The Secret Service has its own estimate: $100 billion.

The basic scheme, Talcove said, was “really simple.” People went on state websites and took the names of existing businesses or registered new, fake ones.

“There's absolutely no security on there. There's no validation of any information,” Talcove said. “And voila, you have company ABC with 40 employees and a payroll of $10 million. And you go and apply for a PPP loan. It was a piece of cake.
 
And just like that, thousands of fake companies looted billions of dollars. Rich Republican lawmakers made sure that their businesses got huge cash payout, the loans free of charge. It was a pinata stuffed with billions, and everyone got a piece.
 
You and me, well, we all got screwed, didn't we?

Monday, March 28, 2022

Last Call For Our Little White Supremacist Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

I've talked about Trump White House legal adviser John Eastman before as the author of Trump's "legal strategy" to steal the Oval Office from Joe Biden. Eastman is increasingly looking like the key to Trump's January 6th conspiracy on the White House side, and two big stories today back that up. First, January 6th Committee investigators are taking a very close look at Eastman's relationship with Sen. Ted Cruz and his role in trying to overthrow the election.

An examination by The Washington Post of Cruz’s actions between Election Day and Jan. 6, 2021, shows just how deeply he was involved, working directly with Trump to concoct a plan that came closer than widely realized to keeping him in power. As Cruz went to extraordinary lengths to court Trump’s base and lay the groundwork for his own potential 2024 presidential bid, he also alienated close allies and longtime friends who accused him of abandoning his principles.

Now, Cruz’s efforts are of interest to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, in particular whether Cruz was in contact with Trump lawyer John Eastman, a conservative attorney who has been his friend for decades and who wrote key legal memos aimed at denying Biden’s victory.

As Eastman outlined a scenario in which Vice President Mike Pence could deny certifying Biden’s election, Cruz crafted a complementary plan in the Senate. He proposed objecting to the results in six swing states and delaying accepting the electoral college results on Jan. 6 in favor of a 10-day “audit” — thus potentially enabling GOP state legislatures to overturn the result. Ten other senators backed his proposal, which Cruz continued to advocate on the day rioters attacked the Capitol.

The committee’s interest in Cruz is notable as investigators zero in on how closely Trump’s allies coordinated with members of Congress in the attempt to block or delay certifying Biden’s victory. If Cruz’s plan worked, it could have created enough chaos for Trump to remain in power.

“It was a very dangerous proposal, and, you know, could very easily have put us into territory where we got to the inauguration and there was not a president,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a Jan. 6 committee member, said earlier this year on the podcast “Honestly.” “And I think that Senator Cruz knew exactly what he was doing. I think that Senator Cruz is somebody who knows what the Constitution calls for, knows what his duties and obligations are, and was willing, frankly, to set that aside.”

The Jan. 6 committee’s investigators have recently focused on Eastman’s efforts to pressure Pence to declare Trump the winner, but there has been little public notice that Cruz and Eastman have known each other since they clerked together 27 years ago for then-U.S. Appeals Court Judge J. Michael Luttig. Cruz’s proposal ran on a parallel track to Eastman’s memos.

Luttig told The Post that he believes that Cruz — who once said that Luttig was “like a father to me” — played a paramount role in the events leading to Jan. 6.

“Once Ted Cruz promised to object, January 6 was all but foreordained, because Cruz was the most influential figure in the Congress willing to force a vote on Trump’s claim that the election was stolen,” Luttig said in a statement to The Post. “He was also the most knowledgeable of the intricacies of both the Electoral Count Act and the Constitution, and the ways to exploit the two.”
 
Ted Cruz was the point man in the Senate to execute the Eastman Memo plan once Mike Pence scuttled the elector vote count. He was part and parcel of the conspiracy along with Eastman, and there's no reason he should still be in the Senate, let alone walking around as a free man and not a seditious felon. 


A federal judge said Monday that former President Donald Trump and right-wing attorney John Eastman may have been planning a crime as they sought to disrupt the January 6 congressional certification of the presidential election. 
"Based on the evidence, the Court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021," Judge David Carter wrote Monday. 
Carter, a federal judge in California, ordered Eastman to turn over 101 emails from around January 6, 2021, that he has tried to keep secret from the House select committee investigating the US Capitol attack. 
Carter's reasoning is a startling acknowledgment by a federal court that Trump's interest in overturning the election could be considered criminal. 
Trump has not been charged with any crime nor has Eastman. 
"The illegality of the plan was obvious," Carter writes. "Our nation was founded on the peaceful transition of power, epitomized by George Washington laying down his sword to make way for democratic elections. Ignoring this history, President Trump vigorously campaigned for the Vice President to single-handedly determine the results of the 2020 election ... Every American -- and certainly the President of the United States -- knows that in a democracy, leaders are elected, not installed."

Add more to the evidence against Team Trump...and Ted Cruz.

Rand-Dumb Roadblocks

The House overwhelmingly passed legislation to remove Russia from Most Favored Nation trade status, but in the Senate, Rand Paul is doing everything to block it, and as usual, it's human rights language in the bill that Paul is objecting to, in this case, applying Magnitsky Act reauthorization to Moscow, something Paul has been trying to scuttle for a long time now.

The original Magnitsky bill targeted “gross” violations of human rights. The language in the Russia trade bill would expand that to target “serious” human rights violations, codifying language used in a Trump-era executive order.

But Paul wants language put into the bill that would reinsert “gross” violation of human rights and define that as dealing with torture, cruel and inhumane treatment and indefinite detention, though Paul said he was open to including other actions in the definition.

Paul argued that language as written in the House-passed could be used to sanction individuals who deny access to abortions, a concern echoed by a group of House Republicans.


“It has to be in the body of it. I’m not voting on it. It has to be in the body” of the bill, Paul said about the change.

Senate leadership tried to offer him a vote on his proposal if he would, in exchange, agree to speed up both the trade bill and the energy ban. Schumer said that Paul “appears to be the lone senator demanding this” and that he thought all other 99 senators would approve the deal to let the trade and energy package move quickly.

"The question before Sen. Paul is … is he going to tank PNTR because his interpretation is not forced into his bill? Can Sen. Paul take yes for an answer?" Schumer asked.

Paul, however, rejected that offer.

Paul’s demand has infuriated senators who worked on the sanctions language.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) argued that Paul was trying to relitigate a fight that he had already had, and lost, in the Foreign Relations Committee. Cardin also argued that Paul’s amendment would undercut sanction efforts.

“The substance of it is that it would not allow us to do what we need to do in regards to Mr. Putin and Russia,” Cardin added.

Senate leadership has started the process of putting both bills on the calendar, which will make them available for a vote. But the Senate is also facing a time crunch that absent a deal with Paul could delay the Russia bills for weeks.

 

Or, you know, never. Paul has blocked legislation for years in some cases, winning concessions. Other times, he has folded. We'll see what happens here, but the bigger question is why would Rand Paul care about Russia denying abortions? 

I mean, it's not like he's a white supremacist misogynist who wants more "correct" white babies to be born, right?

Oh, wait.

The House(s) That The Queen City Built

Mayor Aftab Pureval is getting things done in Cincinnati, finally. After being stalled out for almost four years under former Mayor John Cranley, the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund is finally getting some attention, and millions in much needed cash.

The group of people putting together a comprehensive plan for housing in Cincinnati met for the first time Friday, nearly a year after Council established its mission.

The Housing Advisory Board will recommend criteria for how to spend the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The fund was established in 2018 and has never been used for its intended purpose: to incentivize the preservation and production of affordable housing through loans and grants.

The fund itself will be managed by the nonprofit Cincinnati Development Fund; one of the board's first tasks will be to determine the parameters of that partnership.

"Our primary function in this relationship is to add back-office capacity, strength of our team who is engaged and embedded in the community, and to be able to maintain regulatory compliance and reporting requirements that the city needs," said CDF President Joe Huber. "This board was specifically chosen by the city because of their expertise and what they brought to affordable housing over the years."

The board will also consider wider issues of affordability, including advising the city manager's office on a review of zoning policy and recommended reforms.

The board consists of 13 people, including former Cincinnati Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who is serving as chair. Other members include representatives from CMHA, The Port, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, LISC Greater Cincinnati, and developers (see a full list of members at the end of this article).

Council Member and Board Member Reggie Harris says one of their first tasks is to define the goals.

"If the housing advisory board is successful, and the trust is working well, what does the city look like?" Harris said.

Recent efforts to bulk up the fund include Mayor Aftab Pureval's plan to add $5 million from federal stimulus and establish an annual revenue source using year-end carryover funds.

An outline provided by city staff Friday shows a breakdown of the $57 million available for distribution in the near future:

  • Section 108 loan: $34 million (a revolving loan fund using federal HUD dollars)
  • Fund 439 and related capital: $3 million
  • Private investments: $12 million
  • American Rescue Plan: $5 million
  • CDF Leverage: $3 million

This $57 million does not include what was already in the fund (about $2 million). It also seemingly doesn't include the $6.4 million allocated from the American Rescue Plan last year, which is separate from the $5 million in ARP approved this month).

Several board members asked for clarification on how much money is in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (and related funds) and which parts of that money fall under the advisory board's jurisdiction.

The board will meet monthly. The Department of Community and Economic Development plans to publish meeting minutes on a forthcoming web page.
 
Again, Mayor Cranley had years to get this project going, and he did nothing. Pureval's been in office for a few months, and already affordable housing is a priority. 

I like the look, Cincy.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Last Call For Ukraine In The Membrane, Con't

 A land-for-peace deal in Ukraine may not be that far off, or it could be in the next solar system, depending on which Ukrainian official you talk to.

Ukraine is willing to become neutral and compromise over the status of the eastern Donbass region as part of a peace deal, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday, even as another top Ukrainian official accused Russia of aiming to carve the country in two.

Zelenskiy took his message directly to Russian journalists in a video call that the Kremlin pre-emptively warned Russian media not to report, saying any agreement must be guaranteed by third parties and put to a referendum. read more

"Security guarantees and neutrality, non-nuclear status of our state. We are ready to go for it," he said, speaking in Russian.

But even as Turkey is set to host talks this week, Ukraine's head of military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, said Russian President Vladimir Putin was aiming to seize the eastern part of Ukraine.

"In fact, it is an attempt to create North and South Korea in Ukraine," he said, referring to the division of Korea after World War Two. Zelenskiy has urged the West to give Ukraine tanks, planes and missiles to help fend off Russian forces.


In a call with Putin on Sunday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan agreed to hold talks this week in Istanbul and called for a ceasefire and better humanitarian conditions, his office said. Ukrainian and Russian negotiators confirmed that in-person talks would take place. read more

Top American officials sought on Sunday to clarify that the United States does not have a policy of regime change in Russia, after President Joe Biden said at the end of a speech in Poland on Saturday that Putin "cannot remain in power".

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Biden had simply meant Putin could not be "empowered to wage war" against Ukraine or anywhere else. read more

After more than four weeks of conflict, Russia has failed to seize any major Ukrainian city and signalled on Friday it was scaling back its ambitions to focus on securing the Donbass region, where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting the Ukrainian army for the past eight years.
 
Ukraine's a mess, and back stateside, the American people are much more worried about paying the bills than pursuing peace in Ukraine.

Amid Europe’s largest land war since World War II, 7 in 10 Americans expressed low confidence in President Joe Biden’s ability to deal with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a new NBC News poll, and 8 in 10 voiced worry that the war will increase gas prices and possibly involve nuclear weapons.

And during the nation’s largest inflation spike in 40 years, overwhelming majorities said they believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and disapproved of the president’s handling of the economy.

Those are some of the major findings of the new national NBC News poll, which found that Biden’s overall job approval rating had declined to 40 percent, the lowest level of his presidency. The survey also found that Republicans enjoyed a 2-point lead in answer to which party should control Congress ahead of November’s midterm elections.

“What this poll says is that President Biden and Democrats are headed for a catastrophic election,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinions Strategy, who conducted this survey with Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates.

The poll was conducted between March 18-22, before the president's overseas trip, where he was to meet with NATO allies, visit with U.S. troops in Poland and deliver a major speech on Russia's war in Ukraine.
 
It's going to take some time for Fed measures to get inflation under control. It's time that Biden and the Democrats don't have, and Republicans continue to block Biden's Build Back Better plan.
 
Unfortunately, Sen. Joe Manchin continues to play games with the bill as well. One of those things has to change in the next few months, or November's going to get ugly.
 
If Ukraine takes a major turn for the worse and Putin decides he's going to go out with a bang, well, all bets are off too.
 

Robin Hood Meets The Merry Manchin

As much as I would love to see America's multi-millionaires and billionaires have to pay, this will never happen in your lifetime.
 
The White House will unveil a new minimum tax targeting billionaires as part of its 2023 budget Monday, proposing a tax on the richest 700 Americans for the first time, according to five people with knowledge of the matter and an administration document obtained by The Washington Post.

The “Billionaire Minimum Income Tax” plan under President Biden would establish a 20 percent minimum tax rate on all American households worth more than $100 million, the document says. The majority of new revenue raised by the tax would come from billionaires.

Biden has long favored higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans, but the White House has not introduced a tax plan specifically designed to hit billionaires until now. The plan comes amid signs that the administration’s negotiations with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) over stalled White House economic proposal may be reviving. But all previous efforts to tax billionaires have failed amid major political head winds, and it is unclear if Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) will go along with the plan.


Many billionaires can pay far lower tax rates than average Americans because the federal government does not tax the increase in the value of their stock holdings until those assets are sold. Billionaires are able to borrow against their accumulated gains without triggering taxes on capital gains, enabling huge accumulations of wealth to go virtually untaxed by the federal government.

The White House Office of Management and Budget and Council of Economic Advisers estimated this fall that 400 billionaire families paid an average federal tax rate of just over 8 percent of their income between 2010 and 2018. That rate is lower than the rate paid by millions of Americans.

The White House plan would mandate billionaires to pay a tax rate of at least 20 percent on their full income, or the combination of traditional forms of wage income and whatever they may have made in unrealized gains, such as higher stock prices.

Billionaires paying a rate below that will have to pay the difference between what they pay now and the 20 percent rate. Billionaires already paying more than 20 percent would not owe additional taxes. The taxes paid toward the minimum tax would count toward whatever billionaires owe once they have to pay ordinary capital gains taxes.

“The Billionaire Minimum Income Tax will ensure that the very wealthiest Americans pay a tax rate of at least 20 percent on their full income,” the White House document says. “This minimum tax would make sure that the wealthiest Americans no longer pay a tax rate lower than teachers and firefighters.”

White House officials estimate the tax would raise roughly $360 billion in new revenue over the next 10 years if enacted, according to the document. The proposal was developed by Biden aides at the Office of Management and Budget, the Treasury Department and the White House National Economic Council.

The White House is expected to release a budget Monday that includes increases in defense and nondefense spending, with a focus on mental health, child care, other social programs, and reducing the deficit, two other people familiar with the matter said. These people, like the others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect planning not yet made public.

Biden’s budget proposal will also cut the federal deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next decade, according to a White House document. News of the deficit reduction was first reported by the Associated Press.
 
Manchin will have killed this plan on the Sunday shows by next weekend at the latest. 
 
I don't even think the Democrats have the votes to pass something like this in the House, let alone get the 50 votes needed for budget reconciliation, if the Senate Parliamentarian even allowed it, let alone the Roberts Court declaring it a unconstitutional bill of attainder., let alone the reality of the wealthiest 700 Americans simply buying the votes they need to kill this plan.

It's cute, but in this case, Robin Hood Biden is facing down a storm of arrows fired by his own Merry Men, with longbows, crossbows, and probably a few ballistas paid for by Prince John.

Sunday Long Read: The War Correspondent

 This week's Sunday Long Read comes to us from the Associated Press and their team in Maripol, Ukraine. The true story of how Mstyslav Chernov and his colleague, photographer Evgeniy Maloletka got out of the city after three weeks of covering the siege from the inside is a hell of a read.

The Russians were hunting us down. They had a list of names, including ours, and they were closing in.

We were the only international journalists left in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, and we had been documenting its siege by Russian troops for more than two weeks. We were reporting inside the hospital when gunmen began stalking the corridors. Surgeons gave us white scrubs to wear as camouflage.

Suddenly at dawn, a dozen soldiers burst in: “Where are the journalists, for fuck’s sake?”

I looked at their armbands, blue for Ukraine, and tried to calculate the odds that they were Russians in disguise. I stepped forward to identify myself. “We’re here to get you out,” they said.

The walls of the surgery shook from artillery and machine gun fire outside, and it seemed safer to stay inside. But the Ukrainian soldiers were under orders to take us with them.

We ran into the street, abandoning the doctors who had sheltered us, the pregnant women who had been shelled and the people who slept in the hallways because they had nowhere else to go. I felt terrible leaving them all behind.

Nine minutes, maybe 10, an eternity through roads and bombed-out apartment buildings. As shells crashed nearby, we dropped to the ground. Time was measured from one shell to the next, our bodies tense and breath held. Shockwave after shockwave jolted my chest, and my hands went cold.

We reached an entryway, and armored cars whisked us to a darkened basement. Only then did we learn from a policeman why the Ukrainians had risked the lives of soldiers to extract us from the hospital.

“If they catch you, they will get you on camera and they will make you say that everything you filmed is a lie,” he said. “All your efforts and everything you have done in Mariupol will be in vain.”

 The officer, who had once begged us to show the world his dying city, now pleaded with us to go. He nudged us toward the thousands of battered cars preparing to leave Mariupol.

It was March 15. We had no idea if we would make it out alive
.
 
A warning, some of the photos and the account itself may be disturbing, but then again war is not a pretty thing, and we're only weeks into the first major European war of my lifetime, if not a much larger one in the future.


Saturday, March 26, 2022

The GOP Grift Actually Stopped For Once

 
Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska on Saturday resigned from office after a California jury convicted him of lying to federal authorities about an illegal campaign donation from a foreign national.

In a letter to the House, Fortenberry said he was resigning from Congress, effective March 31.

Fortenberry’s announcement followed concerted pressure from political leaders in Nebraska and Washington for him to step down. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Friday urged Fortenberry to resign. Nebraska Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts said Fortenberry should “do the right thing for his constituents” and leave the office he has held since 2005.

Fortenberry’s withdrawal from the primary leaves state Sen. Mike Flood as the likely GOP nominee. The former speaker of the Nebraska Legislature, who has won endorsements from Ricketts and former Gov. Dave Heineman, has a strong advantage in the Republican-leaning 1st Congressional District. State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, a Democrat from Lincoln, is also running for the seat.

Pansing Brooks said Fortenberry’s conviction is a “wake-up call” that the district needs a change.
 
We'll see if Brooks can convince voters that Mike Flood is as bad or worse than Fortenberry, but I suspect Fortenberry's going to have much bigger problems come June and his sentencing hearing.
 
Of course, this means I was extremely wrong about Fortenberry remaining in office in a Trump-like stand that would last months, and I don't honestly know why the party ejected Fortenberry for his felony conviction, but continues to tolerate racists like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar.
 
Oh, wait, we all know why.
 
 

The Nameless Fox In The Henhouse

It was fine for Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney to risk her seat by joining the January 6th House Committee, but people seem to forget that Cheney's role as co-chair is to take swings at Trump-era Republicans so that the GOP can get back to being evil Dubya-era Republicans again, and nothing demonstrates this more than her reluctance to drag Ginni Thomas into the legal spotlight.
 
Buried in the thousands of documents that Mark Meadows, former President Donald J. Trump’s final White House chief of staff, turned over late last year to the House committee examining the Jan. 6 attack were text messages that presented the panel with a political land mine: what to do about Virginia Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas.

The messages showed that Ms. Thomas relentlessly urged Mr. Meadows to overturn the 2020 presidential election, which she called a “heist,” and indicated that she reached out to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, about Mr. Trump’s legal efforts to keep power. She even suggested the lawyer who should be put in charge of that effort.

The public disclosure of the messages on Thursday focused new attention on one avenue of the investigation and risked creating a rare rift within the committee about how aggressively to pursue it, including whether to seek testimony from Ms. Thomas, who goes by Ginni.

In the Thomases, the committee is up against a couple that has deep networks of support across the conservative movement and Washington, including inside the committee. The panel’s Republican vice chairwoman, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, has led the charge in holding Mr. Trump to account for his efforts to overturn the election, but has wanted to avoid any aggressive effort that, in her view, could unfairly target Justice Thomas, the senior member of the Supreme Court.

So although a debate has broken out inside the committee about summoning Ms. Thomas to testify, the panel at this point has no plans to do so, leaving some Democrats frustrated. That could change, however: On Friday, despite the potential for political backlash, Ms. Cheney indicated she has no objection to the panel asking Ms. Thomas for a voluntary interview.

A New York Times Magazine investigation last month examined the political and personal history of Ms. Thomas and her husband. That included her role in efforts to overturn the election from her perch on the nine-member board of CNP Action, a conservative group that helped advance the “Stop the Steal” movement, and in mediating between feuding factions of organizers “so that there wouldn’t be any division around Jan. 6,” as one organizer put it.

During that period, the Supreme Court was considering a number of cases related to the election, with Justice Thomas taking positions at times sympathetic to Mr. Trump’s efforts to challenge the outcome.

This month, Ms. Thomas acknowledged attending the rally that preceded the violence in an interview with a conservative news outlet, but otherwise downplayed her role. Then came disclosure of the texts to Mr. Meadows, the contents of which were earlier reported by The Washington Post and CBS News.

If the committee does not summon Ms. Thomas, some legal analysts said, it runs the risk of appearing to have a double standard. The panel has taken an aggressive posture toward many other potential witnesses, issuing subpoenas for bank and phone records of both high-ranking allies of the former president and low-level aides with only a tangential connection to the events of Jan. 6.

“I think it would be a dereliction not to bring her in and talk to her,” said Kimberly Wehle, a University of Baltimore law professor who has closely tracked the committee’s work. “It certainly is inconsistent with their neutral, ‘find the facts where they go’ type of approach to this.
 
Cheney will never allow Ginni Thomas to be subpoenaed, and expecting Thomas to "voluntarily" do anything to help the January 6th Committee is a joke. If you want to know why Cheney accepted the role on the committee, it was in case the investigation turned up real evidence against somebody the GOP needs post-Trump, in this case, the wife of their most reliably partisan Supreme Court justice.
 
Mark this one down, because if it turns out this is when the committee loses its credibility, and America loses its democracy., you were warned.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Last Call For Culture Warriors, Con't

Republicans continue to target trans folks in women's sports, with several states adding to the ridiculous pain this week. Utah GOP Gov. Spencer Cox's veto of a ban on trans folk in women's sports was meaningless as Republican bigots were able to override his veto

GOP lawmakers in Utah pushed through a ban on transgender youth athletes playing on girls teams Friday, overriding a veto and joining 11 other states with similar laws amid a nationwide culture war.

A veto letter from Gov. Spencer Cox drew national attention with a poignant argument that such laws target vulnerable transgender kids already at high suicide risk.

Business leaders also sounded the alarm that the ban could have a multimillion-dollar economic impact on Utah, including the possible loss of the NBA All-Star Game next year. The Utah Jazz called the ban “discriminatory legislation” and opposed it.

Before the veto, the ban received support from a majority of Utah lawmakers, but fell short of the two-thirds needed to override it. Its sponsors on Friday flipped 10 Republicans in the House and five in the Senate who had previously voted against the proposal.

Cox was the second GOP governor this week to overrule lawmakers on a sports-participation ban, but the proposal won support from a vocal conservative base that has particular sway in Utah’s state primary season. Even with those contests looming, however, some Republicans stood with Cox to reject the ban.

“I cannot support this bill. I cannot support the veto override and if it costs me my seat so be it. I will do the right thing, as I always do,” said Republican Sen. Daniel Thatcher.

With the override of Cox’s veto, a dozen states have some sort of ban on transgender kids in school sports. Utah’s law takes effect July 1.

Not long ago efforts to regulate transgender kids’ participation in sports failed to gain traction in statehouses, but in the past two years groups like the American Principles Project began a well-coordinated effort to promote the legislation throughout the country. Since last year, bans have been introduced in at least 25 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This week, lawmakers in Arizona and Oklahoma passed bans.

“You start these fights and inject them into politics,” said Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project. “You pass them in a few states and it starts to take on a life of its own and becomes organic. We helped start this fight and we’re helping carry it through, but a lot of this is coming from the local level.”

Leaders in the deeply conservative Utah say they need the law to protect women’s sports. The lawmakers argue that more transgender athletes with possible physical advantages could eventually dominate the field and change the nature of women’s sports without legal intervention.

Utah has only one transgender girl playing in K-12 sports who would be affected by the ban. There have been no allegations of any of the four transgender youth athletes in Utah having competitive advantages
.
 
Can't wait until the tall Black person ban in school basketball. It puts short white kids at a competitive disadvantage that eventually could lead to tall Black kids dominating the sport.
 
Oh wait.
 
Hell, that's probably coming next once the Supreme Court strikes down most equal rights laws.  And then we'll be targeting a new bunch of kids for not being white, straight, and Christian.

Good Ol' Rotten Top, Rotten Top Tennessee

 
Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton has been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury as part of an ongoing FBI investigation into Capitol Hill corruption.

Legislative sources had suggested they believed that as many as 10-12 other House Republicans were also served Tuesday with grand jury subpoenas, although NewsChannel 5 Investigates has not been able to confirm that number.

Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration, confirmed Wednesday that she received a subpoena to testify, as did Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport. Hulsey said he had not been able to determine why federal prosecutors might be interested in his testimony.

“We have been fully cooperating with the federal authorities since I became speaker in 2019," Sexton said in a statement, confirming his own grand jury subpoena.

"It is not unexpected that I and other members would be called to appear before a grand jury to provide factual statements as part of this ongoing investigation.”

A spokesperson for Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that "no one from the governor's office has been subpoenaed."

This dramatic development follows the recent guilty plea of now-former Rep. Robin Smith, R-Hixson, to federal wire fraud charges relating to a shadowy company that provided mailing services to Republican lawmakers, using both campaign money and taxpayer funding.

As part of her plea, Smith admitted that she and former House Speaker Glen Casada, R-Franklin, received kickbacks from that company, Phoenix Solutions, in exchange for using their positions to steer business to that company.

Phoenix Solutions, according to federal prosecutors, was really controlled by former Casada aide Cade Cothren.

Smith's plea bargain required her to assist the FBI as it continues its investigation.

Sources had told NewsChannel 5 that it was expected that individuals who had contact with Smith and/or Casada regarding Phoenix Solutions would be subpoenaed.
 
Volunteer State Republicans making the case as to why they're the most corrupt GOP state legislature in America, along with Ohio, Florida and Texas.  Ohio Republicans got rid of Larry Householder and then all of them were reelected after the billion-dollar First Energy bribery mess, so it's probably not going to affect much in 2022 in Tennessee.  We'll see.

The GOP Grift Never Stops, Con't

Six months ago I noted that Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry had been caught up in the illegal donation scandal involving Lebanese-Nigerian Billionaire Gilbert Chagoury, and his straw donations to several Republicans in 2020. Fortenberry went to trial this week, and now the hammer has come down on Fortenberry, as a jury took all of two hours to ring him up on all three charges.

History hit Jeff Fortenberry with a devastating blow Thursday.

A federal jury deliberated less than two hours before convicting the nine-term Nebraska congressman on one count of concealing conduit campaign contributions and two counts of lying to federal agents.

Fortenberry, a 61-year-old Republican, is the highest-ranking elected official to be convicted of a felony in Nebraska history.

Fortenberry betrayed little emotion as the verdict was read. After the guilty verdict was read on the concealment charge, Fortenberry closed his eyes and kept them closed for at least a minute.

His youngest daughter dropped her head into her hands and heaved. His oldest daughter doubled over in the courtroom gallery, her boyfriend comforting her.

Celeste Fortenberry, who had testified earlier Thursday, remained mostly stoic. She comforted her daughters, then her husband, cupping his face with her hands and giving her husband of 26 years a kiss.

U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr. set sentencing for June 28. The congressman faces up to five years in prison on each count, although he could also receive supervised release.

Ironically, he does not have to give up his congressional seat. Federal law requires members of Congress to give up their seats only for crimes that are tied to treason.


It is unclear whether Fortenberry’s campaign will continue. He faces a Republican challenger in the May primary: State Sen. Mike Flood. Two Democrats, including State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, are also vying for the seat.

Fortenberry’s staff, including his current chief of staff Andy Braner, sat outside a courtroom, stunned. Braner left the courthouse with his hands stuffed in his suit pockets.

Fortenberry exited the courtroom to a gaggle of about seven members of the Nebraska press corps.

“Thank you all for coming out here; this is important to Nebraska,” Fortenberry said. “We always thought it was going to be hard to get a fair process out here. This appeal starts immediately.”

Actually, any appeals typically would have to wait until after the June sentencing, although attorneys can ask for a new trial before then.

Fortenberry — the judge determined he was not a flight risk and allowed him to remain free pending sentencing — said his phone was buzzing off the hook. One of the texts: a note from one of his five daughters.

“She said ‘I love you Daddy, no matter what anyone else accuses you of,’” Fortenberry said. “Just remember so many other people do too.”

Asked if he would continue his campaign, Fortenberry said his family is going to sit down and evaluate next steps.

The jury of four men and eight women convicted the congressman after watching several tapes of him making incriminating statements.

The investigation ramped up when the FBI discovered that a Nigerian billionaire, Gilbert Chagoury, had been funneling cash into the campaigns of four Republican politicians: former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, current California Rep. Darrell Issa, former Nebraska Rep. Lee Terry and Fortenberry.


It is illegal for U.S. elected officials to accept foreign money
.
 
You'd think that would be it, but as the article points out, being convicted of a felony is no guarantee of being expelled or even being voted out of office.  Remember, former Democratic Rep. Katie Hill resigned over a relationship with a staffer that happened before she was in office, and this guy is frankly going to get another term.
 

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Friday suggested Rep. Jeff Fortenberry should resign from Congress, hours after the Nebraska Republican was convicted of lying to the FBI over illegal campaign contributions.

“I think when someone’s convicted, it’s time to resign, ” McCarthy told reporters at a press conference on the final day of the House GOP retreat.

“I am going to discuss with him today. I think he had his day in court. I think if he wants to appeal he can do that as a private citizen,” McCarthy added, noting that he had texted Fortenberry late last night after the conviction.

Minutes after McCarthy’s remarks, Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a more declarative statement on the matter, calling on Fortenberry to immediately resign.

“Congressman Fortenberry’s conviction represents a breach of the public trust and confidence in his ability to serve. No one is above the law,” she said.

But that's how Republicans work, Nancy. Laws only apply to Democrats and their voters.

I fully expect Fortenberry to simply walk this off.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Last Call For Our Little White Supremacist Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

As the January 6th Committee continues to investigate the seditious conspiracy that led to the attack on the US Capitol, we learn today that Trump's former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was in direct contact with Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, with text messages supporting the Trump coup attempt to overthrow the Biden administration through both legal trickery and violence.

Virginia Thomas, a conservative activist married to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, repeatedly pressed White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to pursue unrelenting efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in a series of urgent text exchanges in the critical weeks after the vote, according to copies of the messages obtained by The Washington Post and CBS News.

The messages – 29 in all – reveal an extraordinary pipeline between Virginia Thomas, who goes by Ginni, and President Donald Trump’s top aide during a period when Trump and his allies were vowing to go to the Supreme Court in an effort to negate the election results.

On Nov. 10, after news organizations had projected Joe Biden the winner based on state vote totals, Thomas wrote to Meadows: “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!!...You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.”

When Meadows wrote to Thomas on Nov. 24, the White House chief of staff invoked God to describe the effort to overturn the election. “This is a fight of good versus evil,” Meadows wrote. “Evil always looks like the victor until the King of Kings triumphs. Do not grow weary in well doing. The fight continues. I have staked my career on it. Well at least my time in DC on it.”

Thomas replied: “Thank you!! Needed that! This plus a conversation with my best friend just now… I will try to keep holding on. America is worth it!”

It is unclear to whom Thomas was referring.

The messages, which do not directly reference Justice Thomas or the Supreme Court, show for the first time how Ginni Thomas used her access to Trump’s inner circle to promote and seek to guide the president’s strategy to overturn the election results – and how receptive and grateful Meadows said he was to receive her advice. Among Thomas’s stated goals in the messages was for lawyer Sidney Powell, who promoted incendiary and unsupported claims about the election, to be “the lead and the face” of Trump’s legal team.

The text messages were among 2,320 that Meadows provided to the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The content of messages between Thomas and Meadows – 21 sent by her, eight by him – has not previously been reported. They were reviewed by The Post and CBS News and then confirmed by five people who have seen the committee’s documents.

Meadows’s attorney, George Terwilliger III, confirmed the existence of the 29 messages between his client and Thomas. In reviewing the substance of the messages Wednesday, he said that neither he nor Meadows would comment on individual texts. But, Terwilliger added, “nothing about the text messages presents any legal issues.”

Ginni Thomas did not respond to multiple requests for comment made Thursday by email and phone. Justice Thomas, who has been hospitalized for treatment of an infection, did not respond to a request for comment made through the Supreme Court’s public information office.

It is unknown whether Ginni Thomas and Meadows exchanged additional messages between the election and Biden’s inauguration beyond the 29 received by the committee. Shortly after providing the 2,320 messages, Meadows ceased cooperating with the committee, arguing that any further engagement could violate Trump’s claims of executive privilege. Committee members and aides said they believe the messages may be just a portion of the pair’s total exchanges.

A spokesman for the committee declined to comment. The revelation of Thomas’s messages with Meadows comes three weeks after lawyers for the committee said in a court filing that the panel has “a good-faith basis for concluding that the President and members of his Campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States” and obstruct the counting of electoral votes by Congress.
 
 To recap, the wife of a sitting Supreme Court justice was smack in the middle of a seditious conspiracy to overthrow the duly elected President of the United States in Joe Biden, and wanted to help Donald Trump to illegally stay in office, telling Trump's Chief of Staff that Trump should not concede.

Surely if Trump's coup would have been heard by the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas would have been directly involved.
 
And let's remember, Thomas was the only SCOTUS Justice to vote to block the release of the January 6th evidence from the House Committee.  Not only did Thomas not recuse himself where his own wife was directly involved in evidence in question, he voted against its release.

A whole lot of people need to end up in prison, folks.  And a Supreme Court justice and his wife need to be among them.

Speaking of that, where is Clarence Thomas, anyway? Nobody seems to know.

The Supreme Court has remained silent on the condition of 73-year-old Justice Clarence Thomas since it announced his hospitalization earlier this week and said he was on the mend.

Thomas was admitted to Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C. Friday night where he was being treated for an infection, the court said in a statement released Sunday.

The statement also said Thomas’ “symptoms are abating” after receiving antibiotics and he expected to “be released from the hospital in a day or two.”

But the court hasn’t provided an update since Sunday, and didn’t respond to multiple messages seeking comment Thursday.
 
Justice Thomas vanishing the same week his wife's text messages putting her square in the crossfire of the January 6th Committee end up being public?
 
There's way too many coincidences here.

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