Saturday, April 30, 2022

America Goes Viral Yet Again, Con't

As I warned weeks ago, all the evidence pointed to another surge in COVID-19 cases as the Omicron.BA2 variant, because the virus does not care about your mask politics, and now cases are rising across the country in yet another pandemic spread.

Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are rising in a majority of American states, in what appears to be the first widespread increase since the peak of the Omicron surge in January.

Reports of new cases were nearly flat in the United States at the beginning of April, but as the month draws to a close, they are increasing in all but three states, signaling a wave that is increasingly national in scope.

“Most of the cases are relatively mild,” said Dr. Eric S. Toner, a senior scholar at the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The recent increase was once concentrated in the Northeast, but the effects of the highly contagious BA.2 subvariant is growing more geographically diverse. In the last two weeks, cases have more than doubled in states from West Virginia to Utah.

Hospitalizations are also on the rise nationwide, after plummeting early this month to their lowest point since March 2020. More than 30 states and territories have seen their hospitalization rates tick up in the past two weeks, and in much of the Northeast, the number of people hospitalized with the coronavirus has increased since mid-month by 40 percent or more.

“It’s not over yet,” Dr. Toner said in an interview on Friday. “It may be a mistake to relax all of our protective measures too quickly.”

Still, new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that more than 60 percent of Americans have been infected with the coronavirus at least once, lending credence to the belief that the modest effects of this surge could reflect growing immunity from previous infections and vaccinations.

The number of new cases announced each day in the United States — about 55,000 — remains at its lowest level since last summer, and hospitalizations, despite recent growth, are still nearly as low as they have been at any point in the pandemic.

Case counts have become an increasingly unreliable measure of the virus’s true toll, as Americans increasingly turn to at-home tests that go unreported. That has prompted some officials to put more emphasis on hospitalization rates as a measure of the virus’s true impact.

“What we’re not seeing is a lot of stress on hospitals, and that’s very encouraging,” Dr. Toner said.

The nightmare scenario isn't happening thanks to vaccinations, but the people dying are unvaccinated still. COVID-19 continues to rip across the country every 3-5 months and we're in for a bad spring. The country has crossed more than one million COVID deaths, and people keep using wishful thinking to make the virus leave, but of course that's not happening.

What I fear is that people who do mask up are going to be attacked, banned, and harmed by the CHUDs. We're already seeing that in red states, and that will only get worse too.

America has largely given up on fighting the virus.

The (Burned) Bridges Of Madison Cawthorn, Con't

GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn has now reached the "embattled and besieged" stage of his rapidly fading political career, and I have neckties older than he is. Republicans want him gone like the fart in the wind he is, apparently.

Besieged by multiplying scandals and salacious accusations, Representative Madison Cawthorn, Republican of North Carolina, is under mounting pressure from both parties to end his short career in Congress.

In rapid succession, Mr. Cawthorn, who entered Congress as a rising star of the party’s far right, has been accused of falsely suggesting that his Republican colleagues routinely throw cocaine-fueled orgies, insider trading and an inappropriate relationship with a male aide. This week, he was detained at an airport, where police said he tried to bring a loaded handgun onto an airplane, the second time he has attempted that.

That came just days after pictures surfaced of him wearing women’s lingerie as part of a cruise ship game, imagery that might not go over well in the conservative stretches of his Western North Carolina district. And last month he was charged with driving with a revoked license for the second time since 2017.

The deluge of revelations and charges have left him on an island even within his own party. A political group supporting Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, has been pouring money into an ad campaign accusing Mr. Cawthorn of being a fame-seeking liar. The group is supporting the campaign of a more mainstream Republican, State Senator Chuck Edwards, who is running against Mr. Cawthorn. And the far-right, anti-establishment wing of the party now views the first-term congressman with similar skepticism, as someone who is falsely selling himself as a gatekeeper in his state to former President Donald J. Trump.

After initially blaming Democrats for the onslaught, Mr. Cawthorn on Friday said it was Republicans who were targeting him because he threatens the status quo.

“I want to change the GOP for the better, and I believe in America First,” he wrote on Twitter. “I can understand the establishment attacking those beliefs, but just digging stuff up from my early 20s to smear me is pathetic.”

At 26 years old, Mr. Cawthorn is not far removed from his early 20s, and Republicans running to unseat him in the May 17 North Carolina primary said the drumbeat of revelations could put his seat at risk if he secures the nomination for a second term.

Washington Republicans scoff at the notion that a solidly conservative district could be at risk during a year in which they are heavily favored, but early voting began this week as the avalanche of accusations against Mr. Cawthorn was gaining steam.

“He could absolutely lose,” said Michele Woodhouse, one of seven Republicans challenging Mr. Cawthorn in the primary.

His leading Democratic opponent, the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, continues to raise money off her Republican opponent’s foibles. Ms. Beach-Ferrara called Mr. Cawthorn “a troubled young man.”

“I hold him in my prayers, but I believe he is not fit to serve in office,” she said in an interview.
For those of you who don't speak Southern, "I hold you in my prayers" is the formal version of "Bless your heart" and it's just about the worst thing anyone can say about you in Carolina politics.

Oh, but it gets worse for the Madman...

Still, the dirt being dished is coming from Republicans — not in Washington but in North Carolina, said David B. Wheeler, president of American Muckrakers PAC, a group he said was put together to “hold Cawthorn accountable.”

Mr. Wheeler’s group, run by Western North Carolina Democrats, filed an incendiary ethics complaint on Wednesday that included a video of Mr. Cawthorn with a senior aide, Stephen L. Smith. In the video, Mr. Cawthorn, in the driver’s seat of a car, appears to say, “I feel the passion and desire and would like to see a naked body beneath my hands.

The camera then pans back to Mr. Smith who says, “Me too” as he places his hand onto Mr. Cawthorn’s crotch.

The ethics complaint said Mr. Cawthorn has provided loans to Mr. Smith in violation of House rules. It also suggested that Mr. Cawthorn, who, according to the complaint, lives with the aide, has violated rules put in place during the #MeToo movement that bar lawmakers from having sexual relationships with employees under their supervision.

After the story broke in The Daily Mail, Mr. Cawthorn posted on Twitter, “Many of my colleagues would be nowhere near politics if they had grown up with a cell phone in their hands” — not exactly a denial but a suggestion that other members should not cast stones.

Mr. Wheeler provided The Times with a screenshot of the anonymous text he received that included the video, and he said he believed the tipster to be a former Cawthorn campaign aide. Another former aide, Lisa Wiggins, went public in an audio recording released by Mr. Wheeler with her consent, saying, “We all want the ultimate goal of him never serving again.”

Republicans in the state insist that accusations of lawlessness and neglect of his district are more damaging than details of his sex life. Democrats say they are most concerned with Mr. Cawthorn’s support for the protesters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. A legal effort led by North Carolina Democrats to label him as an “insurrectionist” and constitutionally disqualify him from the ballot failed last month.
The legal, ethical way to get this little skidmark off the ballot may have failed, but it's now Republicans who are doing him in just weeks before his primary, and I couldn't be happier.  Yes, it means that Chuck Edwards may end up in Congress and he's a giant Republican racist asshole too, but it also means Cawthorn might survive his primary and end up losing a safe seat to a Democratic challenger, too.

We'll see.

Our Little White Supremacist Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

Federal prosecutors on Friday secured a second guilty plea and cooperation deal with a member of the Oath Keepers militia group charged in the government's seditious conspiracy case stemming from the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Brian Ulrich, of Guyton, Georgia, admitted on Friday that he was part of the group of Oath Keepers that was seen during the riot ascending the east steps of the Capitol in a military-style "stack" formation.

The 44-year-old pleaded guilty to two felony charges of seditious conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding, both of which carry maximum sentences of 20 years in prison and fines up to $250,000. As outlined in his plea, Ulrich's estimated offense level carries a sentencing range between 63-78 months, though the government could recommend a lesser sentence based on the extent of his cooperation.

As part of his plea deal, Ulrich agreed to provide "substantial cooperation" to the government, including testifying before a grand jury and at trial, as well as sitting for additional interviews with the government if they request it.

As D.C. district judge Amit Mehta read off the terms of his plea, Ulrich became emotional, his voice cracking as Mehta described the potential time in prison he could face at sentencing.

Mehta at one point asked Ulrich if he wanted to take a break to compose himself.

"It's not going to get any easier," Ulrich responded.
He could be heard weeping over the teleconference line several times through the remainder of the hearing.

In a filing released Friday, Ulrich acknowledged using the Signal app to send private messages to other members of the Oath Keepers regarding their plans to prevent Joe Biden from becoming president in favor of then-President Donald Trump.

"I seriously wonder what it would take just to get every patriot marching around the capital armed?" Ulrich messaged on Dec. 5, 2020. "Just to show our government how powerless they are!"

Ulrich also admitted he traveled to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 4 with the knowledge that other members of the group had stored firearms at a hotel in Virginia, where prosecutors say a number of Oath Keepers were stationed on Jan. 6 as part of a heavily armed "Quick Reaction Force" in case the group wanted to transport weapons into the city.
Ultich will be testifying against his fellow seditious white supremacist terrorist comrades in the weeks and months ahead. I hope all these assholes, especially Stwart Rhodes, end up in prison for a very long time.
After ratting out Trump's circle, of course.  That's the thing with conspiracies: there's always more people to charge.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Last Call For Ron's Gone Wrong, Con't

The Disney/Reedy Creek debacle in Florida keeps getting worse by the day for GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has now pissed off financial bond ratings agency Fitch with the Republican law dissolving Disney's development district in direct violation of the state's contract with the House of Mouse.

One of the nation’s leading bond rating agencies warned Thursday that if the state of Florida doesn’t resolve a conflict over its decision to repeal Walt Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District and its obligation to investors, the move could harm the financial standing of other Florida governments.

Fitch Ratings posted the alert late Thursday on its Fitch Wire web site, nearly a week after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law the measure dissolving the special taxing district that governs Disney property by June 1, 2023.

Reedy Creek Improvement District holds nearly $1 billion in bond debt and last week Fitch issued a “negative watch” because of the uncertainty around how that debt will be paid and by whom.

The agency said the situation “reflects a unique and dynamic level of discord” and expects the state to “ultimately work with various stakeholders to resolve the uncertainty.”

But it also added a warning: “The failure to do so could alter our view of Florida’s commitment to preserve bondholder rights and weaken our view of the operating environment for Florida governments.”
Fitch and other ratings agencies cutting the credit rating of Florida governments will cost state taxpayers billions in borrowing costs, and that is going to wreck the state's budget. DeSantis and his people know this, and they can't wait to blame those awful Disney people for it.

A 1967 state law that established the Reedy Creek Improvement District on 39 square miles of Disney property gave the district the power to issue bonds and tax itself to build roads, sewers and utilities, establish its police and fire departments, and regulate its construction. In exchange, the state pledged “it will not limit or alter the rights of the District...until all such bonds together with interest thereon...are fully met and discharged.”

The law dissolving the district does not address how the bonds will be paid, but on Friday when he signed the measure, DeSantis said: “We’re going to take care of all that. Don’t worry. We have everything thought out. Don’t let anyone tell you that somehow Disney is going to get a tax cut out of this. They’re going to pay more taxes as a result of that.”
DeSantis knows full well what's coming, and he's going to shift the blame to Democrats as soon as he can. Most likely, he's going to get away with it too.

The Big Lie, Con't

 The Trump regime's disinformation campaign about the 2020 presidential election being "stolen" has no actual evidence about election theft, but there's plenty of actual evidence about FOX News working with the regime to lie to Americans, in particular, Sean Hannity.

Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Fox's Sean Hannity exchanged more than 80 text messages between Election Day 2020 and Joe Biden's January 2021 inauguration, communications that show Hannity's evolution from staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump's election lies to being "fed up" with the "lunatics" hurting Trump's cause in the days before January 6.

CNN obtained Meadows' 2,319 text messages, which he selectively provided in December to the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. While the logs show Meadows communicating with multiple Fox personalities, as well as a number of journalists from other organizations, Hannity stands out with 82 messages. The texts, including dozens of newly disclosed messages, offer a real-time window into how Hannity, a close friend of Trump, was reacting to the election and its aftermath. 
Throughout the logs, Hannity both gives advice and asks for direction, blurring the lines between his Fox show, his radio show and the Trump White House. 
On the afternoon of Election Day, Hannity texted Meadows at 1:36 p.m. to ask about turnout in North Carolina. Two hours later, Meadows responded: "Stress every vote matters. Get out and vote. On radio."

"Yes sir," Hannity replied. "On it. Any place in particular we need a push."

"Pennsylvania. NC AZ," Meadows wrote, adding: "Nevada."

"Got it. Everywhere," Hannity said.
The texts also show the two men debating Trump's strategy to challenge the election, complaining about Fox, and plotting about what to do after Trump left office -- including possibly working together.

"You also need to spend at least half your time doing business with us," Hannity texted Meadows on December 12. "And I'm serious. Did u ever talk to Fox. I've been at war with them."

"I agree. We can make a powerful team," Meadows responded. "I did not talk with (Fox News CEO) Suzanne (Scott) because I got tied up with pardons but I will make sure I connect. You are a true patriot and I am so very proud of you! Your friendship means a great deal to me."

"Feeling is mutual," Hannity wrote back. 
Hannity did not respond to requests for comment from CNN; neither did Meadows or his attorney. A spokesman for the January 6 committee declined to comment.
To be clear, Trump's WH Chief of Staff was giving and getting advice on lying to the American people from a major cable news network host directly as part of a massive seditious conspiracy to defraud the nation and steal the election. 

Hannity too needs to see the inside of a prison for a very long time.

It must knock over the big fish, or we're done as a democracy.

We Don't Need No Education

A new NPR/Ipsos poll finds the vast majority of parents are happy with what's being taught in schools, with fewer than 20% of parents actually screeching about "culture wars" crap, yet that's driving 100% of the conversation about K-12 education in America.

Math textbooks axed for their treatment of race; a viral Twitter account directing ire at LGBTQ teachers; a state law forbidding classroom discussion of sexual identity in younger grades; a board book for babies targeted as "pornographic." Lately it seems there's a new controversy erupting every day over how race, gender or history are tackled in public school classrooms.

But for most parents, these concerns seem to be far from top of mind. That's according to a new national poll by NPR and Ipsos. By wide margins – and regardless of their political affiliation – parents express satisfaction with their children's schools and what is being taught in them.

The nationally representative poll of 1,007 parents of school-aged children follows up on a similar survey NPR and Ipsos conducted about a year ago. In both polls, parents answered questions about the impact of the pandemic on their children, academically and socially, and about their schools' performance during this time.

This year's responses showed positive trends as the nation continues to recover from the worst of the pandemic. Compared to 2021, a growing margin of parents say their child is "ahead" when it comes to math, reading, social skills, and mental health and well-being. Fewer parents say their child is "behind" in those areas. In fact, in 2022, almost half of parents, 47%, agree with the statement: "the pandemic has not disrupted my child's education." That's up from 38% in 2021, and is a view at odds with that of most education researchers, who see big disruptions in indicators like test scores, college attendance, and preschool enrollment.

For decades, voters have expressed concern in polls about the state of K-12 education in the U.S. But when you zoom in closer, parents seem to like their own kids' school, and they like their kids' teachers even more.

That's true in the NPR/Ipsos poll as well. Parents named education as their top concern after inflation and crime/gun violence.

However, 88% of respondents agree "my child's teacher(s) have done the best they could, given the circumstances around the pandemic." And 82% agree "my child's school has handled the pandemic well."

That satisfaction extends to hot-button topics. In the poll, 76% of respondents agree that "my child's school does a good job keeping me informed about the curriculum, including potentially controversial topics."

"It really is a pretty vocal minority that is hyper-focused on parental rights and decisions around curriculum," observes Mallory Newall of Ipsos, which conducted the poll.

Just 18% of parents say their child's school taught about gender and sexuality in a way that clashed with their family's values; just 19% say the same about race and racism; and just 14% feel that way about U.S. history.

Christine, a mother in Wisconsin who participated in the poll, is a member of that vocal minority. She asked not to use her last name because she says she's afraid of her child being retaliated against.

Christine, who is white, says her son's teacher has made "snarky comments about white privilege. " She also doesn't approve of her son, who is in high school, being asked what pronouns he prefers to use. Switching to a different school or district would be tough for their family, so, Christine says, "hopefully we can do enough countereducation at home to have it not be detrimental to [his] growth and development."
The problem of course is that the vocal, largely unhinged fifth of American parents treat "countereducation" the same way Bush-era neocons treated "counterinsurgency", which is "carpet bomb everyone involved until they stop". Right now Republicans are winning this battle with the media as a force multiplier, and it's working.

It's far past time for the satisfied 80%+ of parents to get involved, folks.

And for the rest of us.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Last Call For Biden Smokes Them Out

The Biden administration is having the FDA ban menthol and flavored cigarettes, cigarillos and flavored cigars, where mentholds in particular have been sold as "safer" than regular cigarettes and have been killing generations of Black folk in America for decades. The bad news is the policy that may not take effect for years, depending on court battles and more.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed banning menthol cigarettes, a significant step praised by leading health and civil rights groups that say the tobacco industry has a history of aggressively marketing to Black communities and causing severe harm, including higher rates of smoking-related illness and death.

The FDA also proposed prohibiting flavors in cigars, including small ones called cigarillos that are popular with teenagers. 
FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, in remarks to reporters, said a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars would save lives and reduce health disparities. Expressing a sense of urgency to finalize the rule, he stressed that 480,000 people a year in the United States die of tobacco-related illnesses, making smoking the leading cause of preventable death. 
Still, the effective date for the ban could easily be two years away. The FDA will accept public comments for the next few months and then write a final regulation that will include lead time for manufacturers to shutter production. Court challenges by the industry are expected and could set off a protracted legal battle. 
Assuming a federal ban is finalized, it would be the most aggressive action taken by the FDA against the industry since Congress gave the agency the authority to regulate tobacco products in 2009, said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. 
“This is a giant step forward” in decreasing health disparities, said Carol McGruder, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, an advocacy group that has pushed hard for the change. Because of potential litigation-related delays, she urged states and cities to adopt their own bans. 
Manufacturers sold 203.7 billion cigarettes in the United States in 2020, according to the Federal Trade Commission’s annual Cigarette Report. That marked the first increase in two decades but was sharply lower than the peak in the 1980s, when annual sales exceeded 600 billion cigarettes. Menthol cigarettes make up about 36 percent of the market — and 50 percent of sales for Reynolds American, which manufactures Newport, the top-selling menthol brand. 
Tobacco companies, which have long expressed opposition to a menthol ban, said a prohibition is unlikely to work and that menthol cigarettes should not be singled out. 
“The scientific evidence shows no difference in the health risks associated with menthol cigarettes compared to non-menthol cigarettes, nor does it support that menthol cigarettes adversely affect initiation, dependence or cessation,” Kingsley Wheaton, chief marketing officer of British American Tobacco, which owns Reynolds, said in a statement. 
Altria, which makes menthol versions of Marlboro and its other brands, warned that “taking these products out of the legal marketplace will push them into unregulated, criminal markets that don’t follow any regulations and ignore minimum age laws.”
Guy Bentley, director of consumer freedom at the Reason Foundation, said on Twitter: “Serious Volstead Act vibes here,” referring to the 1920 law designed to implement Prohibition, which failed to end sales of alcohol. The Reason Foundation is a think tank that advocates on behalf of libertarian principles. 
Thursday’s move was foreshadowed almost exactly a year ago, when the FDA promised to propose a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars within 12 months. 
Menthol has deep roots in Black communities. In the 1950s, about 10 percent of Black smokers used menthol cigarettes. Today, more than 85 percent of Black smokers choose menthol cigarettes — almost three times the proportion for White smokers. Researchers and regulators have found the sharp rise was a result of aggressive marketing in Black communities — especially of menthol cigarettes — by the tobacco industry. The cigarette companies deny targeting Black communities. African Americans die of tobacco-related illnesses, including cancer and heart disease, at higher rates than other groups.
This battle will take years, and I expect major interference by Republicans along the way. But there's no doubt that tobacco kills nearly a half-million Americans a year, and it's the right thing to do.

The Big Lie, Con't

Trump's cultists would do anything in order to "prove" their case of "massive election fraud" and that apparently included breaching swing state election systems in order to find...or plant...evidence of such.

Eighteen months after Donald Trump lost the White House, loyal supporters continue to falsely assert that compromised balloting machines across America robbed him of the 2020 election.

To stand up that bogus claim, some Trump die-hards are taking the law into their own hands – by attempting, with some success, to compromise the voting systems themselves.

Previously unreported surveillance video captured one such effort in August in the rural Colorado town of Kiowa. Footage obtained by Reuters through a public-records request shows Elbert County Clerk Dallas Schroeder, the county’s top election official, fiddling with cables and typing on his phone as he copied computer drives containing sensitive voting information.

Schroeder, a Republican, later testified that he was receiving instructions on how to copy the system’s data from a retired Air Force colonel and political activist bent on proving Trump lost because of fraud.

That day, Aug. 26, Schroeder made a “forensic image of everything on the election server,” according to his testimony, and later gave the cloned hard drives to two lawyers.

Schroeder is now under investigation for possible violation of election laws by the Colorado secretary of state, which has also sued him seeking the return of the data. Schroeder is defying that state demand and has refused to identify one of the lawyers who took possession of the hard drives. The other is a private attorney who works with an activist backed by Mike Lindell, the pillow mogul and election conspiracy theorist.

Schroeder said in a legal filing that he believed he had a “statutory duty” to preserve voting records. He declined to comment for this report.

The episode is among eight known attempts to gain unauthorized access to voting systems in five U.S. states since the 2020 election. All involved local Republican officeholders or party activists who have advanced Trump’s stolen-election falsehoods or conspiracy theories about rigged voting machines, according to a Reuters examination of the incidents. Some of the breaches, including the one in Elbert County, were inspired in part by the false belief that state-ordered voting-system upgrades or maintenance would erase evidence of alleged fraud in the 2020 election. In fact, state election officials say, those processes have no impact on the voting systems’ ability to save data from past elections.

The incidents include a North Carolina case, first reported last week by Reuters, in which a local Republican Party leader threatened to get a top county election official fired or have her pay cut if she didn’t give him unauthorized access to voting equipment. In southern Michigan, a pro-Trump clerk who has expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy theory on social media defied state orders to perform maintenance on a voting machine on the unfounded belief that doing so could erase proof of alleged fraud. In another Michigan case, a Republican activist impersonated an official from a made-up government agency in a plot to seize voting equipment.

Some of the people and groups involved in the vigilante election-investigator movement are drawing financial support from Lindell, the My Pillow Inc chief executive and one of the most visible backers of Trump’s false fraud claims. Lindell said he hired four top members of one group, the U.S. Election Integrity Plan, or USEIP. The group got Lindell’s backing about three months after its co-founder advised Elbert County Clerk Schroeder in his effort to copy and leak voting data. In all, Lindell told Reuters he has spent about $30 million and hired up to 70 people, including lawyers and “cyber people,” partly in support of Cause of America, a right-wing network of election activists.

Lindell, who said he hasn’t been involved in any data breaches, said his quest aims to prove fraud in the 2020 vote and to reshape American elections by getting rid of electronic voting machines and returning to paper ballots. The Trump ally said his fraud claims will eventually be vindicated in spite of what he described as ridicule from the media.

“We’ve got to get rid of the machines!” Lindell said. “We need to melt them down and use them for prison bars and put everyone in prison that was involved with them.”

A spokesperson for Trump did not respond to requests for comment.
A lot of people should be in jail, chiefly Trump himself.  But the larger problem is that these crooks are setting up their game plan to steal the election from the Democrats in 2024, they're doing it in broad daylight, and little is being done to stop them.  If we don't, well....

From long before Election Day 2020, Trump and Republicans planned to overturn the presidential election by exploiting the Electors and Elections Clauses of the Constitution, the Electoral College, the Electoral Count Act of 1877, and the 12th Amendment, if Trump lost the popular and Electoral College vote.

The cornerstone of the plan was to have the Supreme Court embrace the little known "independent state legislature" doctrine, which, in turn, would pave the way for exploitation of the Electoral College process and the Electoral Count Act, and finally for Vice President Mike Pence to reject enough swing state electoral votes to overturn the election using Pence's ceremonial power under the 12th Amendment and award the presidency to Donald Trump. 
The independent state legislature doctrine says that, under the Elections and the Electors Clauses of the Constitution, state legislatures possess plenary and exclusive power over the conduct of federal presidential elections and the selection of state presidential electors. Not even a state supreme court, let alone other state elections officials, can alter the legislatively written election rules or interfere with the appointment of state electors by the legislatures, under this theory.

The Supreme Court has never decided whether to embrace the independent state legislature doctrine. But then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in separate concurring opinions said they would embrace that doctrine in Bush v. Gore, 20 years earlier, and Republicans had every reason to believe there were at least five votes on the Supreme Court for the doctrine in November 2020, with Amy Coney Barrett having just been confirmed in the eleventh hour before the election. 
Trump and the Republicans began executing this first stage of their plan months before November 3, by challenging as violative of the independent state legislature doctrine election rules relating to early- and late-voting, extensions of voting days and times, mail-in ballots, and other election law changes that Republicans contended had been unlawfully altered by state officials and state courts in swing states such as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Michigan.

These cases eventually wound their way to the Supreme Court in the fall of 2020, and by December, the Supreme Court had decided all of these cases, but only by orders, either disallowing federal court intervention to change an election rule that had been promulgated by a state legislature, allowing legislatively promulgated rules to be changed by state officials and state courts, or deadlocking 4-4, because Justice Barrett was not sworn in until after those cases were briefed and ready for decision by the Court. In none of these cases did the Supreme Court decide the all-important independent state legislature doctrine.

Thwarted by the Supreme Court's indecision on that doctrine, Trump and the Republicans turned their efforts to the second stage of their plan, exploitation of the Electoral College and the Electoral Count Act.

The Electoral College is the process by which Americans choose their presidents, a process that can lead to the election as president of a candidate who does not receive a majority of votes cast by the American voters. Republicans have grown increasingly wary of the Electoral College with the new census and political demographics of the nation's shifting population. 
The Electoral Count Act empowers Congress to decide the presidency in a host of circumstances where Congress determines that state electoral votes were not "regularly given" by electors who were "lawfully certified," terms that are undefined and ambiguous. In this second stage of the plan, the Republicans needed to generate state-certified alternative slates of electors from swing states where Biden won the popular vote who would cast their electoral votes for Trump instead. Congress would then count the votes of these alternative electoral slates on January 6, rather than the votes of the certified electoral slates for Biden, and Trump would be declared the reelected president.

The Republicans' plan failed at this stage when they were unable to secure a single legitimate, alternative slate of electors from any state because the various state officials refused to officially certify these Trump-urged slates.

Thwarted by the Supreme Court in the first stage, foiled by their inability to come up with alternative state electoral slates in the second stage, and with time running out, Trump and the Republicans began executing the final option in their plan, which was to scare up illegitimate alternative electoral slates in various swing states to be transmitted to Congress. Whereupon, on January 6, Vice President Pence would count only the votes of the illegitimate electors from the swing states, and not the votes of the legitimate, certified electors that were cast for Biden, and declare Donald Trump's reelection as President of the United States.
All three of those tactics failed in 2020. In 2024, they  may very well succeed.
Unless we stop them.

Bragging Wrongs, Con't

As I've said now for weeks, the Manhattan DA's case against Donald Trump for possible criminal fraud is dead and buried, and Trump will walk.

A special grand jury that had been hearing evidence in the criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump expires at the end of the week and will not be extended, sources familiar with the matter confirmed to ABC News.

The special grand jury was empaneled last fall, but had stopped hearing evidence once Alvin Bragg became district attorney in Manhattan in January, raising questions about the strength of the case and whether prosecutors had amassed all the elements required to prove it.
MORE: Manhattan DA insists Trump criminal probe remains active

The two senior prosecutors who had been leading the investigation, Mark Pomerantz and Cary Dunne, resigned in February. Pomerantz said in his resignation letter he believed Trump "is guilty of numerous felony violations."

Trump has denied wrongdoing.

The district attorney's office declined to confirm or deny the decision not to extend the special grand jury, which was first reported by CNN. Grand juries can always be called upon to hear evidence and weigh the return of an indictment and a new special grand jury could always be empaneled.

A spokeswoman for Bragg declined to comment and instead pointed to a statement the district attorney issued earlier this month that insisted the criminal investigation remained active.

"The team working on this investigation is comprised of dedicated, experienced career prosecutors. They are going through documents, interviewing witnesses, and exploring evidence not previously explored," Bragg said in a statement said earlier this month. "In the long and proud tradition of white-collar prosecutions at the Manhattan D.A.'s Office, we are investigating thoroughly and following the facts without fear or favor."
No grand jury, no charges, no case. It's over on this front. Alvin Bragg killed this case, and eventually we'll find out why. 

But not until it's too late. It's now up to the state cases against Trump and AG Tish James.


Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Ron's Gone Wrong, Con't

The problem with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis's new election police force isn't that they are his personal gestapo, although they would be under the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, whose head would be selected by DeSantis. No, the problem is that Florida has added greatly to what constitutes as an "election crime" and has made the penalties into felonies, which would cost those convicted the right to vote.

Well, Secretary of State Laurel Lee can officially hang up the "help wanted" sign.

Does that come with a badge? — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday signed a bill into law creating a new election police — officially called the “Office of Election Crimes and Security" — that will be responsible for looking into voter fraud accusations and other violations of election law. DeSantis signed the bill at a sports bar called “Rookies” in Pasco County amid a receptive crowd and lots of fellow Republicans. The budget he will sign (let’s assume sometime in late May) includes enough money ($2.6 million) to pay for 25 positions with the new effort.

Some context — DeSantis proposed this new election crimes unit at a time when he — as well as Lee — were coming under pressure from corners of the Republican Party in the state who wanted the same kind of full-blown “forensic” audit that had occurred in Arizona in response to the false stolen-election claims coming from former President Donald Trump. Lee and DeSantis said such an audit wasn’t needed, but Lee herself became the target of threats. (Her office has declined to go into much detail about this but has acknowledged them.)

Tweaked — The governor did not get exactly what he wanted from the Legislature. In the end, the GOP-controlled Legislature declined to place sworn law enforcement investigators directly under Lee’s control and instead put ten of the new positions in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. (Which is about to get new management… an ambitious former U.S. attorney???) The governor gets to select the head of FDLE, but the choice also requires approval from two of the three members of the Florida Cabinet.

Not on board — That hasn’t assuaged Democrats who debated in opposition to this year’s election bill and remain skeptical about the need for the new election unit. They're also fearful it will be used to target political opponents of the governor. Parts of the new law are not going to be enforced by the state due to a recent ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker. But it does increase the criminal penalties for some election law violations, including “ballot harvesting” or the collection of more than two mail-in ballots by non-family members. “No Floridian should fear reprisal from an unaccountable agency with a nebulous mission simply because they wanted to register their fellow citizens to vote or help a neighbor turn in their mail ballot,” said Rep. Susan Valdes, a Tampa Democrat.

Background — Florida did not have any reports of widespread fraud in the last election, although there are now investigations in several counties about whether several dozen people with felony convictions were allowed to register and vote in 2020. (Some of this appears connected to the bumpy way that state and local election officials tried to implement Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to some felons, but not all of them.) Supervisors have also reported lots of problems with petitions submitted late last year in connection to a proposed gambling citizen initiative.
In other words, DeSantis can use this force to run that "forensic audit" that will not find anything, but they will find all kinds of reasons to harass voting rights activists in the state and keep the "investigation" in the news heading into November. 

Meanwhile, DeSantis's other major punishment project, destroying Disney's Reedy Creek development zone after more than 50 years, is running into the reality of tax law.

Reedy Creek, like other special districts, can borrow money by issuing bonds, which can then be purchased by investors looking for fixed payments. Just like any other debt, the terms of the bond are based on the specific bond contract at issue. Reedy Creek is authorized to issue a few different kinds of bonds, but the most important ones are those that promise to pay from the property taxes collected by the district and those that pay from utility system revenue.

Reedy Creek’s bond offerings very much rely on the district’s unique powers. Its property-tax-based bonds discuss that the district can tax up to 30 mills and promise to tax at a rate high enough to pay the bonds. Its utility revenue bonds discuss the district’s various powers to generate utility revenue and promises to fix fees and charges sufficient to generate sufficient revenue to pay the bonds.

In authorizing Reedy Creek to issue bonds, the Florida legislature included a remarkable statement—included in Reedy Creek’s bond offerings—regarding its own promise to bondholders: “The State of Florida pledges to the holders of any bonds issued under this Act that it will not limit or alter the rights of the District to own, acquire, construct, reconstruct, improve, maintain, operate or furnish the projects or to levy and collect the taxes, assessments, rentals, rates, fees, tolls, fares and other charges provided for herein … until all such bonds together with interest thereon, and all costs and expenses in connection with any action or proceeding by or on behalf of such holders, are fully met and discharged.”

The bill dissolving Reedy Creek doesn’t say what should happen to these debts, but another statute does: By default, the local general-purpose government—the county—assumes the district’s debt, along with all of its assets. This means that theoretically, Orange and Osceola counties will inherit upward of $1 billion in bond debt.

In case it was not obvious, dissolving Reedy Creek “limited” and “altered” its ability to improve and maintain its project and collect its various charges and taxes, and thus Florida would be violating its pledge to bondholders by dissolving Reedy Creek. However, even without that explicit language, the bill dissolving Reedy Creek would have problems under contracts clauses of the Florida and U.S. constitutions.

Stating that the county assumes the debt is simple enough—actually figuring out what that means is a different story. Reedy Creek spans both Orange and Osceola counties, so how will the debt be divided? Would it be by taxable value of property or by the properties themselves? And how would that apply to the utility revenue bonds when there is no easy way to divide which county the utilities rest in?

These difficult questions point to the basic contractual issue. By dissolving Reedy Creek, the legislature essentially rewrote the promises made in the district’s bond offerings. Instead of bonds backed by a special district with the power to levy up to 30 mills in taxes, the property tax bonds will be backed jointly by two governments that can only generate a maximum of 10 mills in taxes. Instead of a unified utility system with special powers to charge various fees, supported by special taxing powers, utility revenue bonds will be jointly managed by two counties subject to additional taxing and spending restrictions.

Both the U.S. and Florida constitutions place strict limitations on the government’s ability to impair its own contracts. Under the U.S. Constitution, a state can only impair an existing contract if the impairment is reasonable and necessary to serve an important government purpose. As early as 1866, the U.S. Supreme Court held that once a local government issues a bond based on an authorized taxing power, the state is contract-bound and cannot eliminate the taxing power supporting the bond. The Florida Constitution provides even greater protection from impairment of contracts.

With this law, the state of Florida has eliminated the government entity that backed the various bonds while violating its own explicit promise not to do so. It is hard to imagine a way that the state could successfully argue that this did not violate its own contractual obligations or unconstitutionally impair the contract between Reedy Creek and the bondholders. Florida could theoretically get rid of some of these contractual issues by writing a giant check to prepay or “redeem” the bonds, but that’s prevented by at least one of the outstanding bonds—2018’s utility revenue bond prohibits redemption until October of 2029.

Florida simply cannot promise to prospective bondholders that it won’t interfere with Reedy Creek, and then dissolve Reedy Creek. If Reedy Creek is ever dissolved, it would be a monumental and complicated enterprise even on a years-long timeline. The district has a nine-figure annual budget for expenditures, and even ignoring its various debts, it has a plethora of other contracts that somehow would have to be assigned to and divided between Orange and Osceola counties. However, the dissolution will have to wait until all of its bonds are paid in full.
Which is why you'll want a long-lasting supply of popcorn, because by the time Disney's lawyers get done with DeSantis, he's going to wish he never had this idea.

The Manchin On The Hill, Con't

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin continues to jerk President Biden around on the Build Back Better plan, but the fact of the matter is that being the Democrat that has stopped much of Biden's agenda has now made him wildly popular in his home state of West Virginia.

Sen. Joe Manchin has faced the wrath of progressives nationwide during Joe Biden’s presidency for killing a range of domestic agenda items on voting rights, social spending programs and climate change. But at home in West Virginia, Morning Consult Political Intelligence data suggests the moderate Democrat knows exactly what he’s doing.

In surveys conducted Jan. 1-March 31, 57% of West Virginia voters approved of Manchin’s job performance, up from 40% during the first quarter of 2021 — the biggest increase of any senator over that time frame.

Manchin’s double-digit approval rating improvement over the course of Biden’s tenure is a rarity when compared with other incumbents: Just three of them — John Thune (R-S.D.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) — have seen comparable improvement in their standing.

Where Murkowski saw upticks among independents and Republicans, Thune received improved marks across the board and Padilla’s standing got better due to more voters becoming aware of him, Manchin’s boost stands out due to the dramatic shift in the coalition supporting him, which has reddened to a staggering extent.

Manchin’s increased popularity is driven primarily by Republican voters: 69% now approve of his job performance, doubling his rating from the first quarter of last year, when 35% approved. Most of that improvement has come since the third quarter of 2021 — before he killed the Democrats’ “Build Back Better” domestic policy legislation.

While Manchin has made up ground on the right, he’s angered West Virginia Democrats, 54% of whom now disapprove of him, up from 32% around this time last year. However, he’s also made large gains with independents over that time frame, with an approval rating rising from 31% to 50%.

“It turns out that Joe Manchin knows more about West Virginia voters than D.C. strategists,” said former Manchin aide Jonathan Kott. “The amount of interactions he has with his voters I don’t think can be paralleled by other members.”

Manchin’s numbers in West Virginia stand in contrast to those of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the Arizona Democrat who has joined Manchin in blocking key pieces of Biden’s agenda. Despite a similar coalitional shift, her approval rating has dropped to 46% to 44%, while the share who disapprove increased from 35% to 42%, due to souring among Democrats and a lack of bounce among independents.

For Manchin, the increased support from the other side of the aisle could come in handy as he is said to be plotting a 2024 re-election campaign in a state Biden lost by nearly 39 points to former President Donald Trump.

According to Morning Consult tracking conducted in each state, Manchin’s high marks place him among America’s 10 most popular senators for the first time since Biden took office.
Manchin is a whole lot smarter than he lets on, and he knows West VIrginia voters better than anyone. A Democratic senator with 69% approval in his own state in this day and age of hyperpartisanship is an accomplishment.
A bipartisan group of senators met Monday evening to discuss a potential climate and energy bill that can garner 60 votes in the Senate and revive the barest elements of President Biden's Build Back Better agenda, senators and aides told Axios.

Why it matters: By aiming for 60 votes in a 50-50 Senate, some members of the group are trying to recreate the dynamic that led last year to the passage of $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.The group’s Democrats are hopeful they can rescue a portion of the $550 billion in climate spending included in the president’s BBB proposal.
Its Republicans are open to exploring ways to open up more federal land to drill for natural gas drilling, reform the permitting process and invest in nuclear energy.

Driving the news: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are spearheading the effort.

Some 16 senators — eight from each party — were invited to attend the meeting Monday evening, Axios learned.“Joe [Manchin], not surprisingly, likes to be proactive and he wants to see what's possible,” Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) told Axios. 
“What's acceptable to them has got to be something that can get 10 of us,” said Cramer. “And that's going to be pretty tough.” 
“It’s an opportunity to talk about a path forward,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.). 
“I just think [President] Kennedy used to say, 'Never negotiate out of fear but never be afraid to negotiate,'” he said. “We are going to have a good conversation and we'll see where it goes."

Between the lines: Manchin, who killed Biden’s more ambitious, $1.75 trillion bill last December, has been privately hinting he prefers to pass any legislation outside of the partisan budget reconciliation process.

That means it had to clear a higher bar: 60 votes — with at least 10 coming from the Republicans.Some of his preferred policy prescriptions for energy independence, like approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline, were always in danger of being washed out of a reconciliation bill by a so-called Byrd Bath. 
It allows the Senate parliamentarian to rule if a specific piece of legislation can be considered via the process reserved for budget reconciliation. 
“[Monday's] meeting was an effort to gauge bipartisan interest in a path forward that addresses our nation’s climate and energy security needs head on," said Manchin spokesperson Sam Runyon.
So yes, of course Manchin is going to be wildly popular in West Virginia. He's assuring that Republicans craft our climate policy
By the way, the Senator most hated by their own constituents?
Mitch McConnell, with an approval rating of 30% and a disapproval rating of 60%.
It's not even close.


Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Last Call For Weathering The Storm

The AP's Adrian Sainz and Bruce Schreiner report on Eastern Kentucky's recovery from the devastating night of December tornadoes that claimed 81 lives, dozens in the town of Mayfield alone.
Audible evidence of rebuilding in Mayfield has been difficult to miss: the cracking and crashing of excavators breaking apart wood and glass, the beep-beep-beep of heavy machinery reversing, the popping of roofers’ nail guns.

In an AP interview, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said removing debris and finding temporary housing were early priorities after the tornado. More recently, attention has turned to keeping residents in Kentucky.

“These are towns that have almost been wiped off the map,” Beshear said. “We will continue to be concerned about getting people back on their feet and concerned about not losing the population of these towns.”

Some have moved to more permanent shelter, including travel trailers, the governor said. In Graves County, tiny homes were approved for displaced residents, and several larger homes are being built in Mayfield, emergency management Director Tracy Warner said.

“We really hold the future of Mayfield and Graves County in our hands,” Warner said. “And that is scary, yet exciting.”

Although there’s cause for optimism, progress remains slow in places. In Dawson Springs, where Bullock and her family now live in a camper, the 54-year-old registered nurse said she has seen just a few houses being rebuilt, and some friends say they won’t stay.

Bullock and her husband had paid off their home but didn’t have insurance. A disaster-response charity is helping them build a new house on their property, and Bullock hopes to see a day when their family gatherings resume.

“Sundays were fun days. ... I just want to have that again,” she said.

Beshear, a Democrat, said millions in housing assistance payments from a state relief fund are being distributed. About $64 million in federal assistance has been approved for storm victims in Kentucky, with some aid targeting temporary housing, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.

Recovery will take “a couple of years, but it shouldn’t take any longer,” Beshear said. “There are days that it’s a little more frustrating, ... but we are going to get this done.”
The recovery effort in Eastern Kentucky has been arguably the one thing Kentucky Republicans haven't heavily politicized as a weapon against Beshear, mainly because the damage was so widespread in areas that are heavily rural and Republican.  But as Beshear said, the recovery will still take years to complete.

The bigger problem is that more nights like this are coming as climate change revs up storm fronts into tornado-spawning nightmare fuel across the country, with more damage, more devastation, and more deaths. It will only get worse in the months and years ahead.

The Buckeye Purge, Con't

As Joshua Douglas in Washington Monthly points out, the deliberate plot by the Ohio GOP to continue to put forth unconstitutional 2022 redistricting maps has now resulted in Trump federal judges declaring that Ohio is now out of time and that the state must be forced to accept an unconstitutional, highly gerrymandered map that will give Ohio Republicans 12 of 15 districts with 51 percent of the vote.

Since this redistricting cycle began, the commission has adopted maps on a party line vote no fewer than four times. And each time, the Ohio Supreme Court, on a 4–3 vote (with Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor joining three Democratic justices), has ruled the maps unlawful under the state constitution because of their partisan tilt. The maps, the court found, violated the simple command of the Ohio Constitution: “No general assembly district plan shall be drawn primarily to favor or disfavor a political party.” The remedy is for the commission to produce a map that does not enable the Republican Party to win more seats than its share of support in the state.

But instead of calling for the commission to do its job and create a lawful map, last week a federal court intervened to impose an extraordinary remedy: Unless the commission passes a new, legal map by May 28, the state must use one of the discarded maps for the 2022 election. Essentially, the federal court required the state to use an unconstitutional map.

The federal court’s 2–1 ruling—with two judges appointed by President Donald Trump in the majority—expressed concern that, if the redistricting dispute continued, the state would not hold a primary for state legislative races, depriving Ohio voters of their constitutional right to vote. To remedy that concern, the court said it was choosing the best option it could: a map that the state’s election machinery had begun to implement before the Ohio Supreme Court ruled it unlawful. The court decided that the commission’s third map was the best option, even though the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that one—and the subsequent fourth map—was in violation of the state constitution’s command to avoid excessive partisanship.

There was no reason for the federal court to step in here. The Ohio Supreme Court had ordered the commission to produce a new map by May 6, a deadline it could still meet. The idea that the Ohio Supreme Court or the commission would leave Ohio voters without a primary is pure speculation. The federal judges paid lip service to state’s rights, overreaching to impose a map that the state’s highest court determined violates the state constitution.

The federal court’s decision produces perverse incentives for the Republican members of the Ohio Redistricting Commission. They know that if they run out the clock, they can use a gerrymandered map they like. Why would they draw a lawful map now? This same cycle of judicial activism will likely repeat itself in 2024: Republicans will enact an illegal map, the Ohio Supreme Court will order them to produce a lawful one, and, eventually, a federal court can allow the state to use the unconstitutional map anyway.

The dissent, in this case, agreed that the federal court should step in but thought the court should require the state to implement a different map produced by redistricting experts that is consistent with the Ohio Constitution. But that solution still presumes that the federal court has a role in this case. At this stage—with no true threat of a fully canceled election—it simply doesn’t. Although the state already had to delay the primary for state legislative races until August because of this redistricting impasse, there is no evidence that further delays are imminent. The dissent also failed to recognize that the Ohio Supreme Court had already ordered the commission to produce a lawful map by May 6, which is enough time for the August primary.

The federal court’s decision is baffling on many levels. The concern that Ohio will not have a primary is based on conjecture, nothing more. And to fix that supposed problem, the court ordered the state to use an unlawful map. The decision defies the will of the voters, who passed a state constitutional amendment in 2015 to thwart gerrymandering and gamesmanship in redistricting—in the name of protecting the constitutional right to vote. But voters aren’t the ones protected here. Incumbent politicians are the actual beneficiaries of the federal courts’ overreach because they can run in districts that will help them win reelection.

The decision is appealable to the U.S. Supreme Court, but we know how that would likely go, given the current Court’s extreme deference to those in power. The federal courts in 2022 are no friends of everyday voters. Apparently, using an unconstitutional map is better than ordering the commission to produce a fair one or letting the state court manage this issue of state law. So much for federalism. For federal courts considering voting rights, once again, up is down.

The best case scenario is a new map that only gives Republican 11 of 15 House seats in the state. The worst case is an even more gerrymandered map that gives 12 or 13 of 15 of Ohio's US House seats to the GOP with 50% of the popular vote.

Democracies don't survive that, folks.

The Trans-Siberian Railroading

If you thought for a microsecond that Republicans would stop at criminalizing gender affirming healthcare for teens, I regret I have to inform you that the straights are going after trans adults now.
Missouri lawmakers this week while debating a bill seeking to restrict access to gender-affirming care for minors suggested access to medical interventions like hormones be withheld from transgender and nonbinary individuals until at least their 25th birthday.

During a public hearing Thursday for Missouri’s House Bill 2649, Laurie Haynes, a psychologist, testified that she believes young adults under the age of 25 are unable to fully comprehend the “dramatic and drastic and irreparable” changes their bodies will undergo if they receive gender-affirming medical treatments like puberty blockers or hormone therapies.

Haynes on Thursday also said she supported conversion therapy.

Medical research has suggested that the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for executive functions like decision making – is not fully developed until roughly the age of 25.

Currently, the bill, which is officially titled the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, only applies to individuals younger than 18 years old. Missouri physicians and health care providers under the bill would be prevented from providing or recommending gender-affirming care to patients who are minors.

On Thursday Rep. Nick Schroer (R) argued that the legislature had previously invoked brain maturity in deciding whether the state should raise the age for being charged as an adult in criminal cases from 17 to 18.

“The brains of especially males are still developing into their twenties and I don’t understand why that’s not part of the discussion here,” he said.

It’s an argument made by lawmakers and officials in other conservative states, and Florida’s Health Department this week said gender-affirming care in any form – including social transition – should not be made available to children younger than 18 years old, citing brain maturity.
At 18 you can vote, join the military and shoot people in the name of your country, but "brain maturity".
That's not the salient point though, first of all bringing in a conversion therapist to testify as an expert witness is abhorrent. Second of all, using that testimony to justify withholding healthcare from adults across the board is horrific. "You can't be trans until 25" will become 30, 35, never, and even 25 means trans kids will suffer for years, and that suffering will be codified into law.

Every one of these monsters deserves to be tossed out of office if not tossed into the sun.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Last Call For Tech Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself, Con't

The Elon Musk purchase of Twitter is a done deal.

Twitter, Inc. (NYSE: TWTR) today announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to be acquired by an entity wholly owned by Elon Musk, for $54.20 per share in cash in a transaction valued at approximately $44 billion. Upon completion of the transaction, Twitter will become a privately held company.

Under the terms of the agreement, Twitter stockholders will receive $54.20 in cash for each share of Twitter common stock that they own upon closing of the proposed transaction. The purchase price represents a 38% premium to Twitter's closing stock price on April 1, 2022, which was the last trading day before Mr. Musk disclosed his approximately 9% stake in Twitter.

Bret Taylor, Twitter's Independent Board Chair, said, "The Twitter Board conducted a thoughtful and comprehensive process to assess Elon's proposal with a deliberate focus on value, certainty, and financing. The proposed transaction will deliver a substantial cash premium, and we believe it is the best path forward for Twitter's stockholders."

Parag Agrawal, Twitter's CEO, said, "Twitter has a purpose and relevance that impacts the entire world. Deeply proud of our teams and inspired by the work that has never been more important."

"Free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy, and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated," said Mr. Musk. "I also want to make Twitter better than ever by enhancing the product with new features, making the algorithms open source to increase trust, defeating the spam bots, and authenticating all humans. Twitter has tremendous potential – I look forward to working with the company and the community of users to unlock it."
Which raises the question of what happened to make Twitter's Board of Directors pull a 180 and all, as the deal was off as of late last week.
What happened was Republican thuggery.

A group of 18 House Republicans is asking Twitter’s board to preserve all records related to Elon Musk’s offer to buy the company, setting up a potential congressional probe should the party win back the majority this fall.

In letters shared exclusively with CNBC, Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee asked Twitter Board Chairman Bret Taylor and other members of the board to preserve any messages from official or personal accounts, including through encryption software, that relate to Twitter’s consideration of Musk’s offer.

“As Congress continues to examine Big Tech and how to best protect Americans’ free speech rights, this letter serves as a formal request that you preserve all records and materials relating to Musk’s offer to purchase Twitter, including Twitter’s consideration and response to this offer, and Twitter’s evaluation of its shareholder interests with respect to Musk’s offer,” said the letter, led by ranking member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.

“You should construe this preservation notice as an instruction to take all reasonable steps to prevent the destruction or alteration, whether intentionally or negligently, of all documents, communications, and other information, including electronic information and metadata, that is or may be potentially responsive to this congressional inquiry,” the letter continued.

The request signals that should Republicans take back the majority in the House in the 2022 midterm elections, they may launch an investigation into Twitter, especially if the company declines to take the offer from Musk, who’s CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. Under Republican control, the House Judiciary Committee could decide to subpoena records about the board’s internal deliberations.

It’s not the first time Twitter has caught the attention of Republican lawmakers.

The platform has become a focal point for some conservative members who’ve charged that Twitter unfairly removes or moderates posts on ideological grounds. Twitter has denied doing so and says it enforces standards based on its community guidelines.

In the letter to Taylor dated Friday, the lawmakers wrote: “Decisions regarding Twitter’s future governance will undoubtedly be consequential for public discourse in the United States and could give rise to renewed efforts to legislate in furtherance of preserving free expression online. Among other things, the Board’s reactions to Elon Musk’s offer to purchase Twitter, and outsider opposition to Musk’s role in Twitter’s future are concerning.” 
In other words, House Republicans told Twitter on Friday that if they didn't sell to Musk, they would face a congressional investigation when the GOP took the House back next year.
So they sold to Musk. 

Here endeth the lesson.

If It Brings Me To My Knees...

Joseph Kennedy, who used to be an assistant coach for a high school football team near Seattle, pointed to the spot on the 50-yard line where he would take a knee and offer prayers after games.

He was wearing a Bremerton Knights jacket and squinting in the drizzling morning rain, and he repeated a promise he had made to God when he became a coach.

“I will give you the glory after every game, win or lose,” he said, adding that the setting mattered: “It just made sense to do it on the field of battle.”

Coaching was his calling, he said. But after the school board in Bremerton, Wash., told him to stop mixing football and faith on the field, he left the job and sued, with lower courts rejecting his argument that the board had violated his First Amendment rights.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case on Monday, and there is good reason to think that its newly expanded conservative majority will not only rule in Mr. Kennedy’s favor but also make a major statement about the role religion may play in public life. The court’s decision, expected by June, could revise earlier understandings about when prayer is permitted in public schools, the rights of government employees and what counts as pressuring students to participate in religious activities.

The two sides offer starkly different accounts of what happened and what is at stake. To hear Mr. Kennedy tell it, he sought only to offer a brief, silent and solitary prayer little different from saying grace before a meal in the school cafeteria. From the school board’s perspective, the public nature of his prayers and his stature as a leader and role model meant that students felt forced to participate, whatever their religion and whether they wanted to or not.

The community in Bremerton appeared to be largely sympathetic to Mr. Kennedy, who is gregarious, playful and popular. But the school board’s Supreme Court brief suggested that some residents opposed to prayer on the football field may have hesitated to speak out given the strong feelings the issue has produced.

“District administrators received threats and hate mail,” the brief said. “Strangers confronted and screamed obscenities at the head coach, who feared for his safety.”

Rachel Laser, the president of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which represents the school board, said, “What we’re focused on is the religious freedom of students.”

“Going to the 50-yard line directly after the game when you’re the coach, with the students assuming they’re supposed to gather with the coach, and praying at that time puts pressure on kids to join,” she said.

Mr. Kennedy acknowledged that, as time went on, students did join him.

“I started out praying by myself,” he said. “I guarantee it was no longer than 10 seconds.”

When athletes asked to participate, he said he told them that America was a free country.

“It was,” he added, “never any kind of thing where it was a mandatory thing.”

Asked whether some athletes might have felt compelled to join in, he gave a stock response. “I coached for about eight years and there were about 60 kids on the team each year,” he said. “I challenged every news reporter and said: ‘Find somebody.’”

Unfortunately, I agree with Vox's Ian Millihiser: the fact that this case is even being heard with the law clearly favoring the school district makes it clear that in a post Hobby Lobby world, both public and private sector employees are going to be forced by SCOTUS to have to directly accommodate "religious freedoms" of the individual at the direct expense of greater good. 
Given that existing law so clearly favors the school district in the Kennedy case, the Supreme Court’s decision to hear this case at all suggests that a majority of the justices are eager to change the law to make it more favorable to government-sanctioned religious activity.

For one thing, when the case reached the Supreme Court in 2019, a total of four justices signed on to Alito’s opinion claiming that a lower court that ruled against Kennedy demonstrated an “understanding of the free speech rights of public school teachers [that] is troubling and may justify review in the future.”

Alito appeared unconcerned that a school official might wield his authority to pressure students into religious exercise. Instead, he fretted that coaches should not be told that their “duty to serve as a good role model requires the coach to refrain from any manifestation of religious faith.”

Less than two years after Alito wrote these words, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, and she was replaced by conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett. Almost immediately after Barrett’s confirmation gave Republicans a supermajority on the Supreme Court, the Court’s new majority started handing down transformative new religion decisions granting broad new rights to the religious right.

Thus, while the weight of established law should crush Kennedy’s case, the biggest open question in Kennedy is most likely to be just how much leeway the Court will give public school teachers and coaches to preach their religious beliefs to their students.
I expect that leeway to be near absolute.

Le Pen, French Pressed

Emmanuel Macron has easily been re-elected in France, staving off right-wing French nationalist Marine Le Pen in Sunday's election.
Emmanuel Macron won a second term as president of France, triumphing on Sunday over Marine Le Pen, his far-right challenger, after a campaign where his promise of stability prevailed over the temptation of an extremist lurch.

Projections at the close of voting, which are generally reliable, showed Mr. Macron, a centrist, gaining 58.5 percent of the vote to Ms. Le Pen’s 41.5 percent. His victory was much narrower than in 2017, when the margin was 66.1 percent to 33.9 percent for Ms. Le Pen, but wider than appeared likely two weeks ago.

Speaking to a crowd massed on the Champ de Mars in front of a twinkling Eiffel Tower, a solemn Mr. Macron said his was a victory for “a more independent France and a stronger Europe.” At the same time he acknowledged “the anger that has been expressed” during a bitter campaign and that he had duty to “respond effectively.”

Ms. Le Pen conceded defeat in her third attempt to become president, but bitterly criticized the “brutal and violent methods” of Mr. Macron. She vowed to fight on to secure a large number of representatives in legislative elections in June, declaring that “French people have this evening shown their desire for a strong counter power to Emmanuel Macron.”

At a critical moment in Europe, with fighting raging in Ukraine after the Russian invasion, France rejected a candidate hostile to NATO, to the European Union, to the United States, and to its fundamental values that hold that no French citizens should be discriminated against because they are Muslim.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the foreign minister, said the result reflected “the mobilization of French people for the maintenance of their values and against a narrow vision of France.”

The French do not generally love their presidents, and none had succeeded in being re-elected since 2002. Mr. Macron’s unusual achievement in securing five more years in power reflects his effective stewardship over the Covid-19 crisis, his rekindling of the economy, and his political agility in occupying the entire center of the political spectrum.

Ms. Le Pen, softening her image if not her anti-immigrant nationalist program, rode a wave of alienation and disenchantment to bring the extreme right closer to power than at any time since 1944. Her National Rally party has joined the mainstream, even if at the last minute many French people seem to have voted for Mr. Macron to ensure that France not succumb to the xenophobic vitriol of the darker passages of its history.

Ms. Le Pen is a longtime sympathizer with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whom she visited at the Kremlin during her last campaign in 2017. She would almost certainly have pursued policies that weakened the united allied front to save Ukraine from Russia’s assault, offered Mr. Putin a breach to exploit in Europe, and undermined the European Union, whose engine has always been a joint Franco-German commitment to it.

If Brexit was a blow to unity, a French nationalist quasi-exit, as set out in Ms. Le Pen’s proposals, would have left the European Union on life support. That, in turn, would have crippled an essential guarantor of peace on the continent in a volatile moment.
The Gallic Republic endures, if only just. If Brexit was the beginning of the end of the EU, a Le Pen win would have been the end of that beginning and would have immediately signaled to the world that the transition into nationalist Europe at war was inevitable, not to mention the end of NATO and the rise of Putinism across the continent.

That still may very well happen in the future, but for now, the stoic and overly pragmatic French have decided that the crook they know if better than the devil they don't, a lesson we Americans had to learn the hard way and are still paying for.

By the way, If Biden had gotten 58% of the popular vote, along with 58 Dem Senate seats and 58% of the House, we'd still be hearing about how Biden had to work with Senate Republicans partners to "pass anything lasting" and that he "must go out of his way to include the views of his opponents" in bill after bill. If Trump had won, his opponents would be jailed.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Last Call For Tech Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself, Con't

Twitter shareholders when into revolt this weekend over the company not selling the whole enchilada of the social media platform to billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk for $43 billion so that he could take it private and turn the company into another of his very expensive toys and are now openly forcing the company to reconsider the offer.

Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) is coming under increasing pressure from its shareholders to negotiate with Elon Musk even though the world's richest person has called his $43 billion bid for the social media platform his best and final offer, people familiar with the matter said on Sunday.

While the views of Twitter shareholders vary over what a fair price for a deal would be, many reached out to the company after Musk outlined his acquisition financing plan on Thursday and urged it not to let the opportunity for a deal slip away, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity. read more

Twitter's board is expected to find that Musk's all-cash $54.20 per share offer for the company is too low by the time it reports quarterly earnings on Thursday. Nonetheless, some shareholders who agree with that stance still want Twitter to seek a better offer from Musk, whose net worth is pegged by Forbes at $270 billion, the sources told Reuters.

One option available to Twitter's board is to open its books to Musk to try to coax him to sweeten his bid. Another would be to solicit offers from other potential bidders. While it is not yet clear which path Twitter will take, it is increasingly likely that its board will attempt to solicit a better offer from Musk even as it rebuffs the current one, the sources said.

"I wouldn't be surprised to wake up next week and see Musk raise what he called his best and final offer to possibly $64.20 per share," one of the fund managers who is invested in Twitter said on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations with the company.

"He could also drop the whole thing entirely. Anything is possible," the fund manager said about Musk's offer.

Twitter shares closed at $48.93 on Friday, a significant discount to Musk's offer that reflects the uncertainty over his bid's fate.

Twitter Inc. TWTR 3.93% is re-examining Elon Musk’s $43 billion takeover offer after the billionaire lined up financing for the bid, in a sign the social-media company could be more receptive to a deal.

Twitter had been expected to rebuff the offer, which Mr. Musk made earlier this month without saying how he would pay for it. But after he disclosed last week that he now has $46.5 billion in financing, Twitter is taking a fresh look at the offer and is more likely than before to seek to negotiate, people familiar with the matter said. The situation is fast-moving and it is still far from guaranteed Twitter will do so.

Twitter is still working on an all-important estimate of its own value, which would need to come in close to Mr. Musk’s offer, and it could also insist on sweeteners such as Mr. Musk agreeing to cover breakup protections should the deal fall apart, some of the people said.

The two sides are meeting Sunday to discuss Mr. Musk’s proposal, the people said.

Twitter is expected to weigh in on the bid when it reports first-quarter earnings Thursday, if not sooner, the people said. Twitter’s response won’t necessarily be black-and-white, and could leave the door open for inviting other bidders or negotiating with Mr. Musk on terms other than price. Mr. Musk reiterated to Twitter’s chairman Bret Taylor in recent days that he won’t budge from his offer of $54.20-a-share, the people said.

The potential turnabout on Twitter’s part comes after Mr. Musk met privately Friday with several shareholders of the company to extol the virtues of his proposal while repeating that the board has a “yes-or-no” decision to make, according to people familiar with the matter. He also pledged to solve the free-speech issues he sees as plaguing the platform and the country more broadly, whether his bid succeeds or not, they said.
We'll see where this goes, but odds are in Musk's favor. If he does pull this off, Twitter is going to be a very different place very quickly, and the changes are not going to be for the better.

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