Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Last Call For Orange Meltdown, Con't

The mountain of evidence against Donald Trump that the intelligence information contained in the classified documents he took and kept after he left office were shown to foreign nationals continues to grow exponentially.
 
Federal prosecutors have obtained an audio recording of a summer 2021 meeting in which former President Donald Trump acknowledges he held onto a classified Pentagon document about a potential attack on Iran, multiple sources told CNN, undercutting his argument that he declassified everything.

The recording indicates Trump understood he retained classified material after leaving the White House, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation. On the recording, Trump’s comments suggest he would like to share the information but he’s aware of limitations on his ability post-presidency to declassify records, two of the sources said.

CNN has not listened to the recording, but multiple sources described it. One source said the relevant portion on the Iran document is about two minutes long, and another source said the discussion is a small part of a much longer meeting.

Special counsel Jack Smith, who is leading the Justice Department investigation into Trump, has focused on the meeting as part of the criminal investigation into Trump’s handling of national security secrets. Sources describe the recording as an “important” piece of evidence in a possible case against Trump, who has repeatedly asserted he could retain presidential records and “automatically” declassify documents.

Prosecutors have asked witnesses about the recording and the document before a federal grand jury. The episode has generated enough interest for investigators to have questioned Gen. Mark Milley, one of the highest-ranking Trump-era national security officials, about the incident.

The July 2021 meeting was held at Trump’s golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, with two people working on the autobiography of Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows as well as aides employed by the former president, including communications specialist Margo Martin. The attendees, sources said, did not have security clearances that would allow them access to classified information. Meadows didn’t attend the meeting, sources said.

Meadows’ autobiography includes an account of what appears to be the same meeting, during which Trump “recalls a four-page report typed up by (Trump’s former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) Mark Milley himself. It contained the general’s own plan to attack Iran, deploying massive numbers of troops, something he urged President Trump to do more than once during his presidency.”
 
 
The tape was made during a meeting Mr. Trump held in July 2021 with people helping his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows, write a memoir of his 10 months in the White House, according to the people briefed on the matter. The meeting was held at Mr. Trump’s club at Bedminster, N.J., where he spends summers.

Until now, the focus of the documents investigation has been largely on material Mr. Trump kept with him at Mar-a-Lago, his private club and residence in Florida, rather than in New Jersey.

Mr. Meadows did not attend the meeting, but at least two of Mr. Trump’s aides did. One, Margo Martin, routinely taped the interviews he gave for books being written about him that year.

On the recording, Mr. Trump began railing about his handpicked chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, who was described in media accounts at the time as having guarded against Mr. Trump’s striking Iran in the final days of the presidency, according to the people briefed on the matter.

Mr. Trump then began referencing a document that he had with him, saying that it had been compiled by General Milley and was related to attacking Iran, the people briefed on the matter said. Among other comments, he mentioned his classification abilities during the discussion, one person briefed on the matter said. Mr. Trump can be heard handling paper on the tape, though it is not clear whether it was the document in question.


The Justice Department obtained the recording in recent months, a potentially key piece in a mountain of evidence that prosecutors have amassed under the special counsel, Jack Smith, since he was appointed in November to oversee the federal investigations into Mr. Trump.

Ms. Martin was asked about the recording during a grand jury appearance, according to two of the people briefed on the matter.
 
This alone, in a just world, would be the end of Trump.  We do not live in anything close to a just world, but we do live in one where Trump cannot keep his damned mouth shut.

Hopefully we'll see charges soon. We have to maintain that hope, or we're lost.

Space Cases, Con't

NASA will be holding a public meeting on UFOs ahead of an official report later this summer.
 
A NASA panel formed last year to study what the government calls “unidentified aerial phenomena,” commonly termed UFOs, was due to hold its first public meeting on Wednesday, ahead of a report expected in coming weeks.

The 16-member body, assembling experts from fields ranging from physics to astrobiology, was formed last June to examine unclassified UFO sightings and other data collected from civilian government and commercial sectors.

The focus of Wednesday’s four-hour public session “is to hold final deliberations before the agency’s independent study team publishes a report this summer,” NASA said in announcing the meeting.

The panel represents the first such inquiry ever conducted under the auspices of the U.S. space agency for a subject the government once consigned to the exclusive and secretive purview of military and national security officials.

The NASA study is separate from a newly formalized Pentagon-based investigation of unidentified aerial phenomena, or UAPs, documented in recent years by military aviators and analyzed by U.S. defense and intelligence officials.

The parallel NASA and Pentagon efforts — both undertaken with some semblance of public scrutiny — highlight a turning point for the government after decades spent deflecting, debunking and discrediting sightings of unidentified flying objects, or UFOs, dating back to the 1940s.

The term UFOs, long associated with notions of flying saucers and aliens, has been replaced in government parlance by “UAP.”

While NASA’s science mission was seen by some as promising a more open-minded approach to a topic long treated as taboo by the defense establishment, the U.S. space agency made it known from the start that it was hardly leaping to any conclusions.

“There is no evidence UAPs are extraterrestrial in origin,” NASA said in announcing the panel’s formation last June.

In its more recent statements, the agency presented a new potential wrinkle to the UAP acronym itself, referring to it as an abbreviation for “unidentified anomalous phenomena.” This suggested that sightings other than those that appeared airborne may be included.
 
Too much out there in the universe to discount the notion of life on other words, but as a man much smarter than I am once said:
 
“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”
― Arthur C. Clarke 
  
We'll see what the NASA panel has to say.

One GOP Chris Out, One GOP Chris In

Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart will resign from the House, citing health issues with his wife, Evie.
 
U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart plans to resign his seat in Congress. That announcement could come as early as Wednesday morning.

Multiple sources have confirmed to The Salt Lake Tribune that Stewart announced his plan to resign, citing ongoing health issues with his wife. It was unclear what those health issues may be.

First elected by Utahns in 2012, Stewart is serving his 6th term in Congress. In 2022, he won reelection over Democrat Nick Mitchell by over 30 percentage points.

Stewart will be the second member of Utah’s Congressional delegation to resign mid-term in the past six years. Former Rep. Jason Chaffetz gave up his seat in Congress in 2017 to become a pundit on Fox News Channel.

Picking a replacement for the remainder of Stewart’s term will require a special election. Once Stewart officially announces he’s resigning, Gov. Spencer Cox has seven days to set the primary and special election schedule. Under state law, those dates will be the same as this year’s municipal primary and general elections, unless the Legislature appropriates money to hold an election on a different date.

Utah’s 2nd congressional district stretches along the state’s western and southern borders, dissecting Great Salt Lake and running south to St. George. The district includes Utah’s southern portion of the Interstate 15 corridor and Zion National Park. It’s also the state’s largest district, covering more than 40,000 square miles — bigger than the entire state of Indiana.

Stewart’s resignation would temporarily reduce the GOP’s already slim majority in the House until his replacement is selected. There are currently 222 Republicans and 213 Democrats in the House. As it stands, Republicans can only afford to lose four votes when voting on legislation opposed by every Democrat. Stewart’s impending departure drops that number to three.

The congressman holds seats on the House Appropriations Committee and the House Intelligence Committee.

Stewart was widely believed to be preparing to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Mitt Romney. His forthcoming announcement, adding an open House seat to the mix, will likely scramble that calculation.
 
The more immediate result of this resignation means Kevin McCarthy's lifeline holding on to the House Speaker job just got that much shorter. It's unclear whether or not Stewart will stick around long enough to vote on the debt ceiling package. It's possible he may not, especially if he has any future political plans.
 

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is expected to announce his 2024 Republican candidacy for president next Tuesday in New Hampshire, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Christie, 60, is a former close Trump ally who now calls the former president a "coward" and "puppet of Putin." He gives traditional Republicans a horse — but seems to have a narrow market in today's GOP.

Driving the news: Christie is expected to make the announcement at a town hall at Saint Anselm College at 6:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

Here's what to expect from a Christie candidacy, per his team:
Being joyful and hitting a more hopeful note aimed at America's "exhausted majority.
Being authentic — a happy warrior who speaks his mind, takes risks and is happy to punch Donald Trump in the nose. Christie's recent interviews and New Hampshire town halls aim to recapture the brio of his 2009 governor's race.
Running a national race — "a non-traditional campaign that is highly focused on earned media, mixing it up in the news cycle and engaging Trump," an adviser said. "Will not be geographic dependent, but nimble."
 
We'll need to add "has no chance in hell even if Trump goes to jail."  
 
2024 Republican primary voters don't want a joyful, hopeful candidate who represents the "exhausted majority". They want one who will tirelessly wreak bloody vengeance against their perceived enemies in the Obama/Biden coalition, reducing us to powerless non-entities who won't dare raise a hand or a voice against their white supremacist theocratic "utopia" and couldn't if we wanted to.

They want war. Christie is about at threatening as a Jersey pork roll sammich.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Trump Cards, Con't

Donald Trump is not only promising to fire FBI Director Chris Wray (whom Trump himself appointed to the position) but he wants the identities of all the FBI agents and analysts who worked on his investigations so they too can be "purged" from the agency.
 
In recent months, the former president has asked close advisers, including at least one of his personal attorneys, if “we know” all the names of senior FBI agents and Justice Department personnel who have worked on the federal probes into him. That’s according to two sources with direct knowledge of the matter and another person briefed on it.

The former president has then privately discussed that should he return to the White House, it is imperative his new Department of Justice “quickly” and “immediately” purge the FBI and DOJ’s ranks of these officials and agents who’ve led the Trump-related criminal investigations, the sources recount. The ex-president has of course dubbed all such probes as illegitimate “witch hunts,” and is now campaigning for the White House on a platform of “retribution” and cleaning house.

Separately, the twice-impeached former president has been saying for many months that on “day one” of his potential second term, he wants FBI director Christopher Wray “out” of the bureau, according to another source familiar with the matter and two people close to Trump. It’s an ironic turn, given that Trump appointed Wray in 2017.

(Florida governor Ron DeSantis, Trump’s 2024 primary rival, has also pledged to fire Wray, telling Fox News last week that he’d do so on “day one.”)

But in the years since, Trump came to deeply distrust Wray. By the end of 2020, Trump was venting to senior administration officials that he would make it a top priority to replace Wray “next year,” blasting the director for not wholesale purging the FBI of non-Trump-loyalists. Trump lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden, and thus didn’t get his chance to fire Wray in 2021.

During some of the conversations this year, including at Trump’s Florida club Mar-a-Lago, some of Trump’s close political allies told him that they are working on figuring out the identities of the FBI and DOJ staff and forming lists, two of the sources relay to Rolling Stone.
 
Specifically, Trump wants the names of everyone in the FBI attached to the ongoing investigation of his classified document mess, and he wants to put them on notice that their careers are over (or worse) once he's reelected. It's overt intimidation, of course. 


The NYT did a 3-byline 1,700-word story describing how the number of minor Republican candidates joining the race serves Trump’s purpose.

Its analysis of the numbers and Ron DeSantis’ early failures isn’t bad. But because it is silent about how the expanding field might play in the likelihood of Trump indictments, it is entirely worthless.
 
You would be forgiven, after seven damn years, to think that Trump will not face federal indictments. But the analysis of Trump's political future rests on those potential indictments, and pretending that the investigations are already over is also pretty ludicrous. 

And Trump keeps doing things that add to his record of wrongdoing, like openly threatening to fire the entire investigation team once he's elected.

Food For Thought

The real reason why grocery prices are up 25%-50% since 2020 isn't inflation or supply chain issues, it's good old fashioned corporate greed in the food industry.
 
A level playing field was long a tenet of U.S. antitrust policy. In the 19th century, Congress barred railroads from favoring some shippers over others. It applied this principle to retailing in 1936 with the Robinson-Patman Act, which mandates that suppliers offer the same terms to all retailers. The act allows large retailers to claim discounts based on actual volume efficiencies but blocks them from extracting deals that aren’t also made available to their competitors. For roughly four decades, the Federal Trade Commission vigorously enforced the act. From 1954 to 1965, the agency issued 81 cease-and-desist orders to stop suppliers of milk, tea, oatmeal, candy and other foods from giving preferential prices to the largest grocery chains.

As a result, the grocery retailing sector was enviable by today’s standards. Independent grocery stores flourished, accounting for more than half of food sales in 1958. Supermarket chains like Safeway and Kroger also thrived. This dynamism fed a broad prosperity. Even the smallest towns and poorest neighborhoods could generally count on having a grocery store. And the industry’s diffuse structure ensured that its fruits were widely distributed. Of the nearly nine million people working in retailing overall in the mid-1950s, nearly two million owned or co-owned the store where they worked. There were more Black-owned grocery stores in 1969 than there are today.

Then, amid the economic chaos and inflation of the late 1970s, the law fell into disfavor with regulators, who had come to believe that allowing large retailers to flex more muscle over suppliers would lower consumer prices. For the most part, the law hasn’t been enforced since. As a top Reagan administration official explained in 1981, antitrust was no longer “concerned with fairness to smaller competitors.”

This was a serious miscalculation. Walmart, which seized the opening and soon became notorious for strong-arming suppliers and undercutting local businesses, now captures one in four dollars Americans spend on groceries. Its rise spurred a cascade of supermarket mergers, as other chains sought to match its leverage over suppliers. If the latest of these mergers — Kroger’s bid to buy Albertsons — goes through, just five retailers will control about 55 percent of grocery sales. Food processors in turn sought to counterbalance the retailers by merging. Supermarket aisles may seem to brim with variety, but most of the brands you see are made by just a few conglomerates.

These food giants are now the dominant buyers of crops and livestock. The lack of competition has contributed to the decline in farmers’ share of the consumer grocery dollar, which has fallen by more than half since the 1980s. In the absence of rivals, food conglomerates have over time increasingly been able to raise prices and as a result have reported soaring profits over the past two years. Inflation gives them a cover story, but it’s the lack of competition that allows them to get away with it. Meat prices surged last year among the four companies that control most pork, beef and poultry processing. Companies like PepsiCo and General Mills have also jacked up prices without seeing any loss of sales — a sure sign of uncontested market power.

This has resulted in an ever-worsening cycle: As a system dominated by a few retailers lifts prices across the board — even at Walmart — consumers head to those retailers because of their ability to wrest relatively lower prices or simply because they’re the only options left. Walmart’s share of grocery sales swelled last year as more people flocked to its stores.

Meanwhile, the decline of independent grocers, which disproportionately serve rural small towns and Black and Latino neighborhoods, has left debilitating gaps in our food system. If Food Fresh were to close, residents of Evans County, where the store is, would have to subsist on the limited range of packaged foods sold at a local dollar store or drive about 25 minutes to reach a Walmart. (Nearly a quarter of Evans County residents live in poverty.) Living without a grocery store nearby imposes a daily hardship on people and could lead to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and other diet-related illnesses.

Losing small retailers also stifles innovation. New food companies rely on independent retailers to introduce products. But as this diversity of retailers gives way to a monocrop of big chains, start-ups have fewer avenues to success. This results in diminished selection for shoppers, who find store shelves stocked with only what the big food conglomerates choose to produce.

We need to stop big retailers from using their enormous financial leverage over suppliers to tilt the playing field. By resurrecting the Robinson-Patman Act, we could begin to put an end to decades of misguided antitrust policy in which regulators abandoned fair competition in favor of ever-greater corporate scale. There is promising momentum. Last year an unusual coalition of Democratic and Republican lawmakers sent a letter to the F.T.C. urging it to dust off Robinson-Patman. The agency began a broad inquiry in late 2021 into grocery supply issues, which could uncover evidence of price discrimination. This year the agency opened investigations into soft drink and alcohol suppliers for possible violations of the act.

 

So yes, it turns out that America has long had a solution to runaway grocery inflation, it's just that it stopped being enforced (and once again, the culprit was Reagan, the genesis of the modern GOP we see today.) Getting the Robinson-Patman Act retooled for 2023 would be a powerful solution to lower food prices for families across the country.

Of course, as with guns, pharma, housing and basically every other sector of the American economy, it's corporations telling lawmakers how things will be, and the Roberts Court making sure that remains the case. No doubt that the second this act gets used, the Supremes will dismantle the law as unconstitutional against the free speech of Kroger, Walmart, and General Mills.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Last Call For Nobody's Business But The Turks, Con't

Turkey has once again elected Tayyip Erdogan as president, as his relentless two-decade rule continues.


President Tayyip Erdogan extended his two decades in power in elections on Sunday, winning a mandate to pursue increasingly authoritarian policies which have polarised Turkey and strengthened its position as a regional military power.

His challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, called it "the most unfair election in years" but did not dispute the outcome.

Official results showed Kilicdaroglu won 47.9% of the votes to Erdogan's 52.1%, pointing to a deeply divided nation.

The election had been seen as one of the most consequential yet for Turkey, with the opposition believing it had a strong chance of unseating Erdogan and reversing his policies after his popularity was hit by a cost-of-living crisis.

Instead, victory reinforced his image of invincibility, after he had already redrawn domestic, economic, security and foreign policy in the NATO member country of 85 million people.

The prospect of five more years of his rule was a major blow to opponents who accused him of undermining democracy as he amassed ever more power - a charge he denies.

In a victory speech in Ankara, Erdogan pledged to leave all disputes behind and unite behind national values and dreams but then switched gears, lashing out at the opposition and accusing Kilicdaroglu of siding with terrorists without providing evidence.

He said releasing former pro-Kurdish party leader Selahattin Demirtas, whom he branded a "terrorist," would not be possible under his governance.

Erdogan said inflation was Turkey's most urgent issue.

Kilicdaroglu's defeat will likely be mourned by Turkey's NATO allies which have been alarmed by Erdogan's ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who congratulated his "dear friend" on his victory.
 
At this point, Turkey walking away from NATO, Ukraine, and the EU seems more likely than not. Putin has been wanting to peel off Ankara from NATO for a while now, and with Erdogan having secured power for a fifth term, that's the immediate issue.

Turkey is the second-largest NATO military, behind the US. If they decide to pull the plug on arming Ukraine, it's going to be a bloody summer.

Meanwhile, domestically, Erdogan won based on promises to fix inflation. The world markets don't believe him for a moment.

The Turkish lira sank to a fresh record low Monday as incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured his victory in the 2023 presidential election, extending his rule into a third decade in power.

The currency briefly touched 20.0608 against the greenback at around 11 a.m. Monday morning local time, surpassing a low seen last week. It was at 20.0913 against the dollar near 12:45 London time.

“We have a pretty pessimistic outlook on the Turkish Lira as a result of Erdogan retaining office after the election,” Wells Fargo’s Emerging Markets Economist and FX Strategist Brendan McKenna told CNBC.

McKenna forecasts that the lira will reach a new record low of 23 against the dollar by end of the second quarter, and then 25 as early as next year. It has lost some 77% of its value against the dollar over the last five years. He expects Turkey’s unorthodox monetary and economic policy frameworks to remain in place going forward.

Turkey’s monetary policy places an emphasis on the pursuit of growth and export competition rather than taming inflation, and Erdogan endorses the unconventional view that raising interest rates increases inflation.

“The current set up is just not sustainable,” said BlueBay Asset Management’s Senior EM Sovereign Strategist Timothy Ash via email.

“With limited FX reserves and massively negative real interest rates the pressure on the lira is heavy,” Ash continued.

Istanbul’s main index, the Turkey ISE National 100 gained roughly 4.31%.

Credit default swaps, which measure the cost of insuring exposure to Turkish debt, also spiked.

Five-year CDS were trading at around 664.18 basis points, marking a 20% climb from the 550 basis point level prior to the run-offs, according to Refinitiv data.

These developments reflect market participants’ belief that orthodox policies, which were promised by the political opposition, were the only way to get the Turkish economy out of a potential crisis, said Selva Demiralp, a professor of economics at KoƧ University.

Meanwhile, MarketVector’s CEO Steven Schoenfeld wrote in an e-mail. “If the Lira continues to plunge and inflation surges again due to the policy of inappropriately-low interest rates, we could see a repeat of the ‘flight to safety’ allocation to Turkish equities by local investors which moved the market sharply higher in 2022.”
 
So nobody's happy in Turkey right now except, of course, for Erdogan.

The Manchin On The Hill, Con't

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia will get his pipeline through the state after all, stuffed into the debt ceiling deal so that he doesn't scuttle it.
 
The text of the debt ceiling bill released on Sunday would approve all the remaining permits to complete the stalled Mountain Valley Pipeline, delivering a big win for West Virginia Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito.

But the backing of the pipeline that would deliver gas from West Virginia into the Southeast is sure to set off bitter complaints from the environmental groups that have fought its construction for years and turned the project into a symbol of their struggle against fossil fuels.

Manchin hailed the bill’s language, saying finishing the pipeline would lower energy costs for the United States and West Virginia.

“I am proud to have fought for this critical project and to have secured the bipartisan support necessary to get it across the finish line,” he said in a statement.

The bill agreed by the White House and House Republicans must still be approved by both chambers of Congress, which is expected to happen in the coming week.
 
This of course will bring Manchin plenty of money after he leaves the Senate. As for the people of WV who will lose their lands and environment in the Wild and Wonderful state, well...you made Manchin a lot of money, so shut up.

 
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) will take steps to strip a new natural gas pipeline project from a bipartisan bill to raise the debt ceiling, his office said Monday—one of several scenarios that could derail the newly announced legislation as party leaders scramble to secure votes to pass it before the country defaults on its debt as soon as June 5.

Kaine’s office said Monday he would file an amendment to remove federal permits for the Mountain Valley Pipeline project from the debt ceiling bill, calling the provision “completely unrelated to the debt ceiling matter,” NBC News reported Monday.

Kaine has long opposed the project backed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), which would transport gas to East Coast markets via a 300-mile pipeline through West Virginia and Virginia and has faced repeated delays prompted by legal challenges from environmentalists.

Kaine’s push for an amendment is one of several hurdles that could complicate, delay or even change the math for the bill in the Democratic-controlled Senate—where it needs 60 votes to clear a filibuster threshold—before it heads to President Joe Biden’s desk for final approval.

GOP Sens. Mike Lee (Utah) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) have also vowed to take measures that could stall the legislation in the upper chamber, with Lee taking issue with what he said is an inadequate reduction in overall federal spending and Graham raising concerns about a provision that caps defense spending at the $886 billion Biden requested in his fiscal year 2024 budget.

The Republican-controlled House Rules Committee is expected to vote as soon as Tuesday on the guidelines for debate, including whether the bill will be subject to amendments, but three of the nine Republican members have publicly criticized the bill, meaning their votes against the legislation could stall it in committee if the four Democrats on the panel also oppose. 

So the whole thing could still come undone.

Vote Like Your Country Depends On It, Con't

Texas Republicans have removed election functions from Harris County, home of Houston and 4.8 million Texans, and granted those powers to Secretary of State Jane Nelson, setting the county and one-sixth of the state's citizens to be disenfranchised in future elections.



Texas Republicans wound down their regular legislative session Sunday by changing election policies for a single populous Democratic stronghold but not other parts of the state.

The measure gives the secretary of state under certain conditions the power to run elections in Harris County, home to Houston and 4.8 million residents. It follows a bill approved days earlier that shifts the oversight of elections from its appointed elections administrator to the county clerk and county assessor.

Harris County officials at a news conference last week said they would bring a lawsuit challenging the measures as soon as Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signs them into law.

“These bills are not about election reform,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, the county’s chief executive. “They’re not about improving voters’ experience. They are entirely about suppressing voters’ voices. The reasoning behind these bills is nothing but a cynical charade.”

Also over recent days, the Republican-controlled legislature passed bills increasing penalties for illegal voting and likely setting the stage for the state to withdraw from the Electronic Registration Information Center. The center was formed in 2012 to help states maintain accurate voter rolls, identify instances of potential fraud and contact people so they can register to vote. More than half the states belong to the consortium, but some Republican-run states have bolted from it over the last year as election deniers have spread false information about its work.

Critics are concerned about how the two bills affecting Harris County will interact with one another. One bill requires the county to change who oversees its elections starting Sept. 1, just weeks before Houston holds its election for mayor.

The quick transition could easily lead to problems, opponents of the measure say. If problems do occur, Secretary of State Jane Nelson could use the provisions of the other newly passed bill to oversee elections in Harris County. That would mean Nelson, a former state senator appointed as secretary of state by Abbott, would be in charge of the 2024 presidential election for the county.

And if Nelson did not believe that the new officials in charge of elections — Harris County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth and County Assessor Ann Harris Bennett — had rectified problems, she could initiate legal proceedings to remove them from office under the legislation. Local officials said it would be unjust to allow the secretary of state the power to take action against two Black women but not those who hold equivalent positions in the state’s 253 other counties.

Under the bill, Nelson could oversee elections in Harris County if she found “good cause to believe that a recurring pattern of problems with election administration or voter registration exists in the county.” She would get to sign off on all of the county’s election procedures and could install members of her staff in Harris County offices.
 
The bill is of course designed to make Harris County elections fail so that Republicans can simply remove county elected officials (who just happen to be Democrats) and to replace them with Republican state officials. Of course, this only applies to Texas's most populous county, setting up a situation where the Secretary of State can annul and overturn any elections in the county because of "irregularities" and disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters without anything more than a whim. 

Near-permanent one-party rule is the goal, where any Democrats elected in Harris County would have their elections thrown out. It's what fascist states like Texas do.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Shutdown Countdown, Armageddon Edition, Con't

With House Republican Circus of the Damned Ringmaster Kevin McCarthy and President Biden reaching a tentative debt ceiling deal last night, it's now up to Republicans in the House and Senate to pass it, and there's no guarantee at all that McCarthy has the votes.
 
To get the legislation through a fractious and closely divided Congress, Mr. McCarthy and top Democratic leaders must cobble together a coalition of Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate willing to back it. Members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus have already declared war on the plan, which they say fails to impose meaningful spending cuts, and warned that they would seek to block it.

So after spending late nights and early mornings in recent days in feverish negotiations to strike the deal, proponents have turned their energies to ensuring it can pass in time to avert a default now projected on June 5.

“This is the most conservative spending package in my service in Congress, and this is my 10th term,” Representative Patrick T. McHenry, Republican of North Carolina and a lead member of Mr. McCarthy’s negotiating team, said at a news conference on Capitol Hill on Sunday morning.

House Republicans circulated a one-page memo with 10 talking points about the conservative benefits of the deal, which was still being finalized and written into legislative text on Sunday, hours before it was expected to be released. The G.O.P. memo asserted that the plan would cap government spending at 1 percent annually for six years — though the measure is only binding for two years — and noted that it would impose stricter work requirements for Americans receiving government benefits, cut $400 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for global health funding and eliminate funding for hiring new I.R.S. agents in 2023.

“It doesn’t get everything everybody wanted,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters on Capitol Hill. “But, in divided government, that’s where we end up. I think it’s a very positive bill.”

Mr. Biden told reporters that he was confident the deal would reach his desk and that he would speak with Mr. McCarthy on Sunday afternoon “to make sure all the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted.”

“I think we’re in good shape,” the president said. Asked what sticking points were left, he said, “None.”

Still, the deal, which would raise the debt ceiling for two years while cutting and capping some federal programs over the same period, was facing harsh criticism from the wings of both political parties.

“Terrible policy, absolutely terrible policy,” Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, said on CNN’s “State of the Union,” referring to the work requirements for food stamps and other public benefit programs. “I told the president that directly when he called me last week on Wednesday that this is saying to poor people and people who are in need that we don’t trust them.”

Ms. Jayapal, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she wanted to read the bill before she decided whether to support it.

Some on the right had already ruled out doing so before seeing the details.

“No one claiming to be a conservative could justify a YES vote,” Representative Bob Good, Republican of Virginia and a member of the House Freedom Caucus, wrote on Twitter. Representative Dan Bishop, Republican of North Carolina, posted his reaction to news of the deal: a vomit emoji.

Russell T. Vought, President Trump’s influential former budget director who now runs the Center for Renewing America, encouraged right-wing Republicans to use their seats on the House Rules Committee — which Mr. McCarthy granted them as he toiled to win their votes to become speaker — to block the deal. “Conservatives should fight it with all their might,” he said.

Some Senate Republicans, who under that chamber’s rules have more tools to slow consideration of legislation, were also up in arms.

“No real cuts to see here,” Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, said on Twitter. “Conservatives have been sold out once again!”

“With Republicans like these, who needs Democrats?” asked Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, who has vowed to delay the debt limit deal.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, was also critical — though for a much different reason. He called the deal too stingy, demanding more robust military funding, particularly for the Navy.

“I am not going to do a deal that marginally reduces the number of I.R.S. agents in the future at the expense of sinking the Navy,” Mr. Graham said on “Fox News Sunday."


So, a huge pile of sausage being made, Republicans get their Medicaid work requirements expansion, and get hundreds of millions in IRS, CDC, and Covid funding cuts, and yes, Biden's student loan forgiveness program remains all but dead after SCOTUS killed it.

Worse, Student loan repayments are going to have to restart later this year, and that's going to hurt millions of Americans, period.

But Biden is getting 98% of the funding passed last year in the Infrastructure and Green New Deal bills too, so...nobody's going to be happy with this bill.

Will it pass?

We'll see. I remind everyone who is complaining about this bill that you elected Republicans to run the House, and this is the direct result.

Maybe stop electing them?

Sunday Long Read: Record Breaking

Like everything else in the internet age, the Guinness Book of World Records has had to make some adjustments over the years, and while the record-keeping keeps on keeping on, not everyone is happy with the new official record of superlatives, as The Guardian's Imogen West-Knights records for us in this week's Sunday Long Read.
 
A couple of summers ago, I went to the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin. I’d spent a lot of time in the city before, but I’d never visited the brewery. The tour is good. You can learn about how barrels are made, get your face printed in the head of a pint and, at the end, have a drink in a bar with a 360-degree view of the city. But what stayed with me most was something I saw there by accident.

One of the exhibit rooms was closed off, but only partially. Curiosity got the better of me, and behind the door, I found a room that was empty but for a table. On the table, there were a handful of editions of the Guinness Book of Records. I hadn’t thought about this book since I was in primary school. Back then, the Guinness Book of Records meant a big, brightly coloured, hardback volume containing 500-odd pages of pictures of people doing things like growing their hair very long or juggling knives. These were books that children gleefully unwrapped on Christmas Day and argued over with their siblings. As I flicked through the old editions – 1994, 2005, 2012 – I thought about the connection between Guinness the stout and Guinness the book for the first time, as well as a hundred questions I hadn’t thought to ask as an eight-year-old marvelling at the man with the stretchiest skin or the most needles inserted into his head.

Even now, in the age of YouTube and TikTok, when you can catapult yourself into fame, riches and recognition for feats of all kinds with nothing more complicated than your phone, the Guinness Book of Records continues, somewhat incredibly, to exist. The book, which since 1999 has gone by Guinness World Records, is still an overwhelming blizzard of wacky pictures and hard data.

But the company that publishes the book, also called Guinness World Records, is not the same as when I held my first annual, the green and silver 2002 edition. Sales of the book have declined in recent times, and the company has had to find new ways to make money – not all of which have met with the approval of the GWR old guard. When I spoke to Anna Nicholas, who worked as the head of PR for the book in the 80s and 90s, she lamented how things had changed: records are now more sensationalist, she said, to meet the demand of an audience that can see extraordinary things whenever they like on social media. “Guinness seemed to have had no issues with shamelessly and unapologetically selling out its devoted audience,” claimed one once-ardent fan in a 2020 blogpost.

It is strange to think of Guinness World Records – a business named after a beer company, which catalogues humanity’s most batshit endeavours – as the kind of entity that could sell out. At first glance, it seems like accusing Alton Towers or Pizza Express of selling out. But the deeper I delved into the world of record breaking, the more sense it made. In spite of its absurdity, or maybe because of it, record breaking is a reflection of our deepest interests and desires. Look deeply enough at a man attempting to break the record for most spoons on a human body, or the woman seeking to become the oldest salsa dancer in the world, and you can find yourself starting to believe that you’re peering into humanity’s soul.
 
I certainly remember having a copy of the GBWR as a kid picked up at a Scholastic Book Fair and man I wore that thing out, fascinated by the trivia and pictures of the bizarre, but fame, even obscure Guinness records fame, still comes at a price.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Paxton Faces The Lone Star Law, Con't

The Texas House has overwhelmingly voted to impeach GOP state AG Ken Paxton on all 20 charges brought forth by the legislature committee investigating his years of wrongdoing.
 
Defying a last-minute appeal by former President Donald Trump, the Texas House voted overwhelmingly Saturday to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton, temporarily removing him from office over allegations of misconduct that included bribery and abuse of office.

The vote to adopt the 20 articles of impeachment was 121-23.

The stunning vote came two days after an investigative committee unveiled the articles — and two days before the close of a biennial legislative session that saw significant right-wing victories, including a ban on transgender health care for minors and new restrictions on public universities’ diversity efforts.

The vote revealed substantial divisions within the Republican Party of Texas — the largest, richest and most powerful state GOP party in the United States. Although the party has won every statewide election for a quarter-century and has controlled both houses of the Legislature since 2003, it has deep underlying fissures, many of them exacerbated by Trump’s rise.

Few attorneys general have been as prominent as Paxton, who made a career of suing the Obama and Biden administrations. One of Trump’s closest allies in Texas, along with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Paxton unsuccessfully sued to challenge the 2020 presidential election results in four states.

Attention next shifts to the Texas Senate, which will conduct a trial with senators acting as jurors and designated House members presenting their case as impeachment managers.

Permanently removing Paxton from office and barring him from holding future elected office in Texas would require the support of two-thirds of senators.
Impeachment was supported by 60 Republicans, including Speaker Dade Phelan. All votes in opposition came from Republicans.

The move to impeach came less than a week after the House General Investigating Committee revealed that it was investigating Paxton for what members described as a yearslong pattern of misconduct and questionable actions that include bribery, dereliction of duty and obstruction of justice. They presented the case against him Saturday, acknowledging the weight of their actions.

“Today is a very grim and difficult day for this House and for the state of Texas,” Rep. David Spiller, R-Jacksboro, a committee member, told House members.

“We have a duty and an obligation to protect the citizens of Texas from elected officials who abuse their office and their powers for personal gain,” Spiller said. “As a body, we should not be complicit in allowing that behavior.”

Paxton supporters criticized the impeachment proceedings as rushed, secretive and based on hearsay accounts of actions taken by Paxton, who was not given the opportunity to defend himself to the investigating committee. 
 
That's because Paxton will get his defense at his Senate trial, which presents its own set of problems: Paxton's wife Angela is in fact a Texas state senator. 

The good news is that the law prevailed, despite open and repeated threats by Paxton, GOP US Sen. Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump. Naturally, I expect those threats to be repeated against the Texas senate, which in this case would jury tampering, what Trump does best.

We'll see if Paxton survives this. There's got to be heavy pressure for him to resign, and let's not forget that the reason Paxton was impeached now is that by not doing so, Texas Republicans, who were asked by Paxton for millions in taxpayer dollars to pay off his whistleblowers, would have been culpable in the federal investigation into Paxton's bribery, still ongoing.

Stay tuned.
 
 

Orange Meltdown, Con't

As word is coming in that Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith is wrapping up his investigation and that AG Merrick Garland is nearing a decision on charges with the Trump team bracing for impact, the Washington Post is reporting that the Mar-a-Lago classified document shuffle was a song and dance number that was planned, practiced, and executed by members of Trump's staff.

Two of Donald Trump’s employees moved boxes of papers the day before FBI agents and a prosecutor visited the former president’s Florida home to retrieve classified documents in response to a subpoena — timing that investigators have come to view as suspicious and an indication of possible obstruction, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trump and his aides also allegedly carried out a “dress rehearsal” for moving sensitive papers even before his office received the May 2022 subpoena, according to the people familiar with the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a sensitive ongoing investigation.

Prosecutors in addition have gathered evidence indicating that Trump at times kept classified documents in his office in a place where they were visible and sometimes showed them to others, these people said.

Taken together, the new details of the classified-documents investigation suggest a greater breadth and specificity to the instances of possible obstruction found by the FBI and Justice Department than has been previously reported. It also broadens the timeline of possible obstruction episodes that investigators are examining — a period stretching from events at Mar-a-Lago before the subpoena to the period after the FBI raid there on Aug. 8.

That timeline may prove crucial as prosecutors seek to determine Trump’s intent in keeping hundreds of classified documents after he left the White House, a key factor in deciding whether to file charges of obstruction of justice or of mishandling national security secrets. The Washington Post has previously reported that the boxes were moved out of the storage area after Trump’s office received a subpoena. But the precise timing of that activity is a significant element in the investigation, the people familiar with the matter said.

Grand jury activity in the case has slowed in recent weeks, and Trump’s attorneys have taken steps — including outlining his potential defense to members of Congress and seeking a meeting with the attorney general — that suggest they believe a charging decision is getting closer. The grand jury working on the investigation apparently has not met since May 5, after months of frenetic activity at the federal courthouse in Washington. That is the panel’s longest hiatus since December, shortly after Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to lead the probe and coinciding with the year-end holidays.
 
The obstruction of justice charges are coming, but I think a lot more will be unveiled in the months ahead. As it stands, Team Trump is making the same kind of preparations that they did when Alvin Bragg's cards were about to be played.

This month, several legal and political counselors to Trump have bluntly informed him that they expect the Justice Department to charge him in the criminal investigation into his hoarding of highly classified documents following the end of his presidency, two sources familiar with the matter tell Rolling Stone. The feds have also been probing whether or not Trump tried to obstruct the investigation prior to last year’s FBI raid of the ex-president’s Florida estate.

This, of course, comes on the heels of Trump’s indictment by local prosecutors in Manhattan in April for falsifying business records. Later this summer, officials in Fulton County, Georgia, are expected to decide whether or not to indict Trump on election fraud charges.

Trump’s attorneys and confidants have told Trump that though they view the federal investigation as “bullshit,” they would be surprised at this point if he wasn’t charged — particularly for alleged obstruction of justice — and have urged Trump to prepare for yet another historic fight. “Looks like they’re going for it,” one of the sources says. “People close to the [former] president have discussed with him what we think is going to happen soon, and how he and everyone else needs to be ready for it … it would be crazy not to.”

In at least one of these recent conversations, the former president angrily complained in response to these predictions that if the Department of Justice is going to charge him for keeping classified documents, then “what about Joe Biden?” according to the other person familiar with the matter. (A small number of classified documents have been discovered at a number of locations connected to Biden, including his garage; the Department of Justice has named a second special counsel to look into the matter.)

It is still unclear if the Justice Department will ultimately bring charges against Trump, though there are signs that this particular investigation is nearing its final phase. Some in the broader conservative movement have also braced for the possibility that Trump — currently the front-runner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination — will face indictment across a range of investigations. These potential indictments stem from the Georgia probe into election interference to the Mar-a-Lago documents probe.

“I would just presume indictments in all the jurisdictions,” Tom Fitton, president of the conservative group Judicial Watch and a close ally of Trump, said in a brief interview on Wednesday. “The Democrats are so nervous about Trump running, they’ll do anything.”

Trump’s own former attorney general, Bill Barr, also said in a recent interview that the documents case is the one Trump should be “most concerned about.”

“He wouldn’t get in trouble probably just for taking them. … The problem is what did he do after the government asked for them back and subpoenaed them,” Barr told CBS News. “And if there’s any games being played there, he’s going to be very exposed.”
 
You'll know it's actually coming when Trump screams about his impending arrest and tells his terrorists to go after federal law enforcement officers in order to save him. 

Until then, I expect Smith -- and Merrick Garland -- will keep his own schedule.

Friday, May 26, 2023

Last Call For Shutdown Countdown, Armageddon Edition, Con't

With Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen putting a hard date on June 5th for when the US can't pay the bills, House Republicans are trying to scuttle any notion of a reported deal as they want Biden's economy to pay the same price Trump did for Covid, only worse.




In response to reports about the details of the agreement, leading conservative lawmakers and budget experts raised strong objections, arguing that McCarthy had failed to extract sufficient concessions from the Biden administration in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. McCarthy pushed back in remarks to reporters on Friday, saying the criticisms were being leveled by people unaware of the substance of the deal.

Negotiators are closing in on an agreement that would raise the debt ceiling by two years — a key priority of the Biden administration — while also essentially freezing government spending on domestic programs and slightly increasing funding for the military and veterans affairs, said three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect private deliberations. Although the deal is expected to include key GOP priorities, such as partially clawing back new funding for the Internal Revenue Service, a growing chorus of conservatives has balked at how little the deal appears to cut government spending overall — especially because it would also give up their party’s leverage on the debt ceiling until after the 2024 presidential election.

Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), a top member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, described what he has learned so far of the emerging deal as “watered down.” Norman urged McCarthy to hew closely to the legislation that conservatives helped craft and pass last month, which raised the debt ceiling only into next year and coupled the increase with larger spending cuts than the two parties are now discussing.

“This is totally unacceptable, and it’s not what we agreed to,” Norman said.

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), another House conservative, complained about reports that the deal would raise the debt ceiling by more money than the bill approved by the House. Good said the emerging deal would do so “for a whole lot less in return that we need from a policy standpoint, from a fiscal standpoint.” He added: “And if that were true, that would absolutely collapse the Republican majority for this debt ceiling increase.”

Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.), another House conservative, added of the longer debt ceiling increase: “You’ve got to add things into it, not compromise things away.” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), a key conservative leader, downplayed the idea that the deal would lead to McCarthy losing his speakership but added of the deal: “I think it’s an exit ramp about five exits too early.”

Asked by reporters about the criticisms on Friday, McCarthy said: “I’m not concerned about anybody making any comments right now about what they think is in or not it. Whenever we come to an agreement, we’ll make sure we will first brief our entire conference.”

The extent and ferocity of the conservative revolt could prove crucial to the ongoing debt ceiling standoff, as well as McCarthy’s future. But it was not exactly clear how many GOP lawmakers shared the objections voiced by Norman and Good. Since the beginning of the negotiations, McCarthy has been widely assumed to be able to lose the roughly three dozen members of the far-right House Freedom Caucus and still manage to pass the debt ceiling increase and retain his position as speaker. If he loses several dozen additional House Republican lawmakers, though, both the deal — and his grip on power — could be on shaky ground.

“These guys were never going to vote for it, so the question becomes how many of them you lose,” one GOP strategist said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe internal dynamics.
 
A deal was always going to require Democratic votes. McCarthy's issue is of course that if the deal is a majority Democratic one, he gets removed as House Speaker. A bill that a majority of the House GOP was going to accept and has enough Democrats on board to actually pass it, well, that's McCarthy's real problem, because it doesn't exist.
 
So now we watch as the circus ringmaster puts himself through the flaming hoops, and if he fails, the entire tent burns down and America along with it.

 

 

Ron's Gone Wrong (And Greedy)

The Authoritarian Dictatorship of Ron DeSantis is telling Florida lobbyists that in order to continue doing business with the state, that it's time to fork over millions in cash to DeSantis's presidential campaign or be shut out of operating in the Sunshine State.
 
Officials who work for Gov. Ron DeSantis' administration — not his campaign — have been sending text messages to Florida lobbyists soliciting political contributions for DeSantis' presidential bid, a breach of traditional norms that has raised ethical and legal questions and left many here in the state capital shocked.

NBC News reviewed text messages from four DeSantis administration officials, including those directly in the governor's office and with leadership positions in state agencies. They requested the recipient of the message contribute to the governor’s campaign through a specific link that appeared to track who is giving as part of a “bundle” program.

“The bottom line is that the administration appears to be keeping tabs on who is giving, and are doing it using state staff,” a longtime Florida lobbyist said. “You are in a prisoner’s dilemma. They are going to remain in power. We all understand that.”

NBC News is not naming the specific staffers who sent the text messages because it could out the lobbyists who received the messages and shared them.

DeSantis’ office did not return a request seeking comment, but one administration official acknowledged that they were fundraising for the campaign.

"I’m not sure what every EOG staffer does on their free time and after hours, with their first amendment rights, but I wouldn’t be shocked if team eog somehow raised more money than lobbyists," the administration official said in a text message, referring to an acronym for the governor's office. "I can confirm I (and many other staff) personally donated."

Generally, political staffers are charged with raising money for political campaigns, and aides on the official side are walled off from those operations.

The legality of the solicitations depends on a series of factors, including whether they were sent on state-owned phones, or if they were sent on state property. A longtime Florida election law attorney said that even if the DeSantis aides are fundraising for the campaign in their personal capacity, off the government clock, it still raised ethical questions.

“At a minimum, even if they are sitting in their home at 9 p.m. using their personal phone and contacting lobbyists that they somehow magically met in their personal capacity and not through their role in the governor’s office, it still smells yucky,” the attorney said. “There’s a misuse of public position issue here that is obvious to anyone paying attention.”

But the practice was still jaw-dropping for those who have long been involved in Florida politics.

NBC News spoke with 10 Republican lobbyists in Florida, all of whom said they couldn't remember being solicited for donations so overtly by administration officials — especially at a time when the governor still has to act on the state budget.

That process that involves DeSantis using his line-item veto pen to slash funding for projects that the same lobbyists whom they are asking for political cash have a professional stake in. Most of the lobbyists said they felt pressure to give to the governor's campaign.
 
I almost have to laugh at these lobbyist groups feeling sorry for themselves.
 
You got into bed with an authoritarian dictator in a single-party state where he has 100% control of politics and spending. Of course he's going to extort millions for his presidential campaign from you, and no matter how you feel about DeSantis's decreasing chances against Trump in the GOP primary, the fact is DeSantis still controls the state lock, stock and barrel.

So you'll pay up or be driven out by new legislation. What DeSantis can do to Disney, he can do to any business group operating in Florida. It's perfectly legal because DeSantis and crew made it so.
 
And everyone knows it. So these industry groups will be directly funding DeSantis's already failed campaign...
 
...or else.

Paxton Faces The Lone Star Law

Republicans in Texas's House heard the results of the investigation into corruption and abuse of power by Attorney General Ken Paxton this week, and it's bad enough that Paxton may actually face impeachment.
 
A Texas House committee heard stunning testimony from investigators Wednesday over allegations of a yearslong pattern of misconduct and questionable actions by Attorney General Ken Paxton, the result of a probe the committee had secretly authorized in March.

In painstaking and methodical detail in a rare public forum, four investigators for the House General Investigating Committee testified that they believe Paxton broke numerous state laws, misspent office funds and misused his power to benefit a friend and political donor.

Their inquiry focused first on a proposed $3.3 million agreement to settle a whistleblower lawsuit filed by four high-ranking deputies who were fired after accusing Paxton of accepting bribes and other misconduct.

Committee Chair Andrew Murr said the payout, which the Legislature would have to authorize, would also prevent a trial at which evidence of Paxton’s alleged misdeeds would be presented publicly. Committee members questioned, in essence, if lawmakers were being asked to participate in a cover-up.

“It is alarming and very serious having this discussion when millions of taxpayer dollars have been asked to remedy what is alleged to be some wrongs,” Murr said. “That’s something we have to grapple with. It’s challenging.”

Many of the allegations detailed Wednesday were already known, but the public airing of them revealed the wide scope of the committee’s investigation into the state’s top lawyer and a member of the ruling Republican Party. The investigative committee has broad power to investigate state officials for wrongdoing, and three weeks ago the House expelled Bryan Slaton, R-Royse City, on its recommendation.

In this case, it could recommend the House censure or impeach Paxton — a new threat to an attorney general who has for years survived scandals and been reelected twice despite securities fraud charges in 2015 and news of a federal investigation into the whistleblowers’ claims in 2020.

Erin Epley, lead counsel for the investigating committee, said the inquiry also delved into the whistleblowers’ allegations by conducting multiple interviews with employees of Paxton’s agency — many of whom expressed fears of retaliation by Paxton if their testimony were to be revealed — as well as the whistleblowers and others with pertinent information.

According to state law, Epley told the committee in a hearing at the Capitol, a government official cannot fire or retaliate against “a public employee who in good faith reports a violation of law … to an appropriate law enforcement authority.”

The four whistleblowers, however, were fired months after telling federal and state investigators about their concerns over Paxton’s actions on behalf of Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor and a friend and political donor to Paxton.

“Each of these four men is a conservative Republican civil servant,” Epley said. “Interviews show that they wanted to be loyal to General Paxton and they tried to advise him well, often and strongly, and when that failed each was fired after reporting General Paxton to law enforcement
.”
 
Imagine being so utterly, thoroughly corrupt that Texas Republicans are even considering a recommendation to remove another Texas Republican from office. Indeed, the committee's recommendation is that Paxton has to go.
 
In an unanimous decision, a Republican-led House investigative committee that spent months quietly looking into Paxton recommended impeaching the state’s top lawyer. The House could vote on the recommendation as soon as Friday. If it impeaches Paxton, he would be forced to leave office immediately.

The move sets set up what could be a remarkably sudden downfall for one of the GOP’s most prominent legal combatants, who in 2020 asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory. Only two officials in Texas’ nearly 200-year history have been impeached.

Paxton has been under FBI investigation for years over accusations that he used his office to help a donor and was separately indicted on securities fraud charges in 2015, but has yet to stand trial.
 
 
In an unprecedented move, a Texas House committee voted Thursday to recommend that Attorney General Ken Paxton be impeached and removed from office, citing 20 accusations that include bribery, retaliating against whistleblowers and obstruction of justice.

Around 8 p.m., the House General Investigating Committee filed its impeachment resolution with the House clerk. It included the 20 articles listing a yearslong pattern of alleged misconduct and lawbreaking that investigators detailed one day earlier. On the House floor, some lawmakers could be heard yelling the number of the newly filed articles, and several could be seen reading the document minutes after it was filed.

The House will next decide whether to approve the articles against Paxton, which could lead to the attorney general’s removal from office pending the outcome of a trial to be conducted by the Senate.

State Rep. Andrew Murr, chair of the investigating committee, followed by telling House members that the impeachment resolution alleged “grave offenses,” justifying the committee’s action.

“After a period of time for your review and reflection, I intend to call up the resolution adopting the articles of impeachment. If you have any questions at all, please come visit with me or any other member of our committee,” said Murr, R-Junction.

During a specially called meeting earlier Thursday afternoon, the committee voted unanimously to refer the 20 articles of impeachment to the full chamber.
 
If Paxton is impeached, he'll be removed from office pending the state Senate trial.
 
So maybe Paxton will finally fall.  We'll see.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

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

The leader of one of America's worst white supremacist domestic terrorist organizations has just been sentenced to 18 years in federal prison for his role in the January 6th terrorist attack.
 
The founder of the far-right Oath Keepers has been sentenced to 18 years in federal prison in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol following his conviction on seditious conspiracy.

The sentence for Stewart Rhodes is the longest imposed on a Jan. 6 defendant to date. “You, sir, present an ongoing threat and a peril to this country and to the republic and to the very fabric of this democracy," Judge Amit Mehta said before handing down the sentence.

Rhodes was convicted of seditious conspiracy in November along with Kelly Meggs, a fellow Oath Keepers member who will be sentenced later Thursday afternoon.

"They won't fear us until we come with rifles in hand," Rhodes wrote in a message ahead of the Jan. 6 attack. After the attack, in a recording that was played in court during his trial, he said his only regret was that they “should have brought rifles.”

When given the chance to speak before sentencing, Rhodes, wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, called himself a "political prisoner" and said he believes the only crime he committed was opposing those who are “destroying our country.” He added that he hopes former President Donald Trump wins in 2024.

Mehta told Rhodes that he was found guilty of seditious conspiracy “not because of your beliefs, not because you supported the other guy, not because Joe Biden is president right now,” but because of the facts of the case, and his actions before, during and after Jan. 6.

“You are not a political prisoner, Mr. Rhodes,” Mehta said.


Rhodes and Meggs were put on trial alongside Jessica Watkins, Kenneth Harrelson and Thomas Caldwell, fellow Oath Keepers who were convicted of obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting, but not seditious conspiracy. Watkins and Harrelson will be sentenced on Friday.
 
Rhodes is hoping Trump wins because Trump has already promised to pardon and other January 6th terrorists as soon as he takes office, and has made that promise on multiple occasions. Whether or not Trump would actually do that is up in the air, Trump's view of other people is 100% transactional in nature, but I suspect Trump would employ Rhodes and his crew as armed enforcers if he did.
 
Ron DeSantis says he'd consider pardoning all the January 6th terrorists as well, so it's not just Trump. Any Republican presidential winner would be under heavy pressure to do so.

Hopefully Rhodes stays in his new home until 2041 or so, or he leaves early in a bag, I'm fine with either...

Another Supreme Disaster For The Environment

As we close in on the last six weeks of this year's US Supreme Court session, we get to the major rulings that chance the face of America as the Roberts Curt continues to reshape the country into a Christian conservative corporatocracy, and today's Sackett v. EPA ruling is as bad as critics of the court's conservative bloc expected, if not worse.
 
The Supreme Court on Thursday ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency in a dispute over its authority to regulate certain wetlands under the Clean Water Act, long seen as a key tool to protect waterways from pollution.

In an opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito in the case known as Sackett v. EPA, the high court found that the agency's interpretation of the wetlands covered under the Clean Water Act is "inconsistent" with the law's text and structure, and the law extends only to "wetlands with a continuous surface connection to bodies of water that are 'waters of the United States' in their own right."

Five justices joined the majority opinion by Alito, while the remaining four — Justices Brett Kavanaugh, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson — concurred in the judgment.

The decision from the conservative court is the latest to target the authority of the EPA to police pollution. On the final day of its term last year, the high court limited the agency's power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, dealing a blow to efforts to combat climate change.

That dispute involved the Clean Air Act, and the Supreme Court now has addressed the EPA's authority under the Clean Water Act, which regulates discharges of pollutants into what the law defines as "waters of the United States." Under regulations issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, "waters of the United States" is defined to include "wetlands" that are "adjacent" to traditional navigable waters.

The long-running case dates back to 2007, when Michael and Chantell Sackett began building a home on a lot in a residential neighborhood near Priest Lake, Idaho. After the Sacketts obtained local building permits and started placing sand and gravel fill on the lot, the EPA ordered the work to stop and directed the couple to restore the property to its natural state, asserting the land contained wetlands subject to protection under the Clean Water Act.
 
In other words, millions of acres of wetlands whose waters feed into America's rivers and lakes are no longer under EPA protection, and corporations can do whatever they want with the land as far as building, pollution and environmental damage that will almost certainly end up in our water supplies.

So far this term the Roberts Court has gutted the Clear Air Act, and now it has gutted the Clean Water Act.
 
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