Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Last Call For Vote Like Your Country Depends On It, Con't

Big wins tonight in Wisconsin and Chicago.

Wisconsin roundly rejected Dan Kelly for state Supreme Court justice, and elected Janet Protasiewicz to swing the court over to a 4-3 liberal bent.

Janet Protasiewicz, a judge on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, has won a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, NBC News projects, giving liberals their first majority on the state’s highest court in 15 years.

Protasiewicz defeated conservative Dan Kelly, a former state Supreme Court justice, on Tuesday in what became the most expensive state Supreme Court race in U.S. history and one of the most closely watched elections of 2023.

Protasiewicz’s victory will allow the court’s new liberal majority to determine the future of several pivotal issues the bench is likely to decide in the coming years, including abortion rights, the state’s gerrymandered legislative maps and election administration — including, possibly, the outcome of the 2024 presidential race in the battleground state.

With 77% of the expected vote counted, Protasiewicz had the support of 56% percent of voters, while Kelly had 45% percent.

Conservative-leaning justices currently hold a 4-3 majority on the court. Protasiewicz will fill the seat being vacated by retiring conservative Justice Patience Roggensack, giving liberals the majority for the first time since 2008. Protasiewicz was elected to a 10-year term.

Throughout her campaign, Protasiewicz made clear that her positions on many issues — most prominently abortions rights — aligned with those of the Democratic Party. She was endorsed in the race by the Democratic abortion rights group Emily’s List, Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Eric Holder and several other prominent Democrats.

Democrats in the state, and nationally, described the race as the most important one in the country this year and focused their messaging on emphasizing abortion rights and fair elections — extending a strategy the national party employed last year to fend off a red wave in the House and keep the Senate. The win by Protasiewicz suggests that the strategy continues to pay off for the party — a data point national Democrats will be all but certain to rely on heading into next year’s presidential election.

Another unabashedly liberal ran on abortion rights in purple Wisconsin and won handily. 

Brandon Johnson, a union organizer and former teacher, was elected Chicago mayor on Tuesday, a major victory for the party's progressive wing as the nation's third-largest city grapples with high crime and financial challenges.

Johnson, a Cook County commissioner endorsed by the Chicago Teachers Union, won a close race over former Chicago schools CEO Paul Vallas, who was backed by the police union. Johnson, 47, will succeed Lori Lightfoot, the first Black woman and first openly gay person to be the city's mayor.

Lightfoot became the first Chicago mayor in 40 years to lose her reelection bid when she finished third in a crowded February contest. The top two vote-getters, Vallas and Johnson, advanced to Tuesday's runoff after no candidate was able to secure over 50% to win outright.

Johnson's victory topped a remarkable trajectory for a candidate who was little known when he entered the race. He climbed to the top of the field with organizing and financial help from the politically influential Chicago Teachers Union and high-profile endorsements from progressive Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Sanders appeared at a rally for Johnson in the final days of the race.

It was a momentous win for progressive organizations such as the teachers union, with Johnson winning the highest office of any active teachers union member in recent history, leaders say. It comes as groups such as Our Revolution, a powerful progressive advocacy organization, push to win more offices in local and state office, including in upcoming mayoral elections in Philadelphia and elsewhere.

The contest surfaced longstanding tensions among Democrats, with Johnson and his supporters blasting Vallas — who was endorsed by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber's second-ranking Democrat — as too conservative and a Republican in disguise.

Among the biggest disputes between Johnson and Vallas was how to address crime. Like many U.S. cities, Chicago saw violent crime increase during the COVID-19 pandemic, hitting a 25-year high of 797 homicides in 2021, though the number decreased last year and the city has a lower murder rate than others in the Midwest, such as St. Louis.

Vallas, 69, said he would hire hundreds more police officers, while Johnson said he didn't plan to cut the number of officers, but that the current system of policing isn't working. Johnson was forced to defend past statements expressing support for "defunding" police — something he insisted he would not do as mayor.

Instead, he said, he planned to allocate more money to areas such as mental health treatment and youth jobs.
Vallas lost because of his decades-long history of school privatization, having left New Orleans' schools post-Katrina in a privatized charter school disaster area, resulting in the city's schools being placed under a federal consent decree for over a decade because of shameful treatment of special needs students, where it remains to this day. Entire schools have shut down and remain vacant as a result, and Vallas vowing to do to Chicago schools what he did to NOLA got his ass handed to him.

So yeah, big, big wins tonight.

People voted like their country depended on it.

Orange Meltdown: Merry Indictmas!

Largely consistent with original anonymously sourced accounts, the 34-count indictment charges former President Donald Trump with falsifying business records related to payoffs to — and compensation for — hush money to pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels.

Trump, who appeared in a Manhattan courtroom to face the charges, pleaded not guilty.

“The defendant repeatedly made false statements on business records,” Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg said at a press conference following the arraignment. “These are felony crimes in New York state, no matter who you are. We cannot and will not normalize serious criminal conduct”

Under New York law, falsifying business records is a misdemeanor that only becomes a felony when an alleged violator acts “with intent to defraud” in the commission of another crime. Bragg called it the “bread and butter” of his office’s white collar crime work.

“We have charged falsifying business records for those receiving to cover up sex crimes,” he told reporters. “And we have brought this charge for those who committed tax violations. At its core, this case today is one with allegations like so many of our white-collar cases. Allegations that someone lied again and again, to protect their interests and evade the laws to which we are all held accountable.”

The $130,000 that Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen funneled to Daniels wasn’t a simple check.

In the weeks before the 2020 presidential election, Cohen took out a home equity line of credit from First Republic Bank and steered it through his then-newly formed shell company Essential Consultants LLC, which in turn paid Daniels’ lawyer Keith Davidson, according to federal records. Federal prosecutors said that Trump Organization executives devised an equally convoluted system of making Cohen whole: Cohen tacked on $60,000 for “tech services” and an equivalent amount for a bonus, then the Trump Organization grossed up that amount to $420,000, paid out in monthly intervals of $35,000. The difference accounted for what Cohen would have to pay in taxes on the original payment.

Cohen produced checks signed by the former president and his son Donald Trump Jr. to Congress.

In early February 2017, Trump and Cohen met in the Oval Office to confirm this repayment arrangement, prosecutors say.

The federal investigation didn’t answer Trump’s bookkeeping for those payments, whether he was compensated by his company for them, and if so, how he reported them.

Manhattan prosecutors’ charges provide some clarity from the company’s side, saying that the Trump Organization recorded the $35,000 checks as a “legal expense.” The check stubs were allegedly falsely marked as “Retainer” payments. Trump allegedly paid nine of the checks personally.

Needless to say, Bragg's case is depending heavily on the Trump camp deliberately misleading tax officials, and then deliberately creating false records in order to cover up the crime. A cinvicted former CFO on fraud charges isn't going to help. And again, note that nobody's disputing the facts of the case, we've gone immediately to "does this count as felony fraud by deliberately misleading?"

Of course, as I've said, it'll be well into 2024 before this goes to trial.

By then, Trump will most likely have bigger issues.

Ron's Gone Wrong, Con't

Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis, having been outsmarted by Disney last week in his fascist efforts to punish the company for defying him on "wokeness", is now trying to retroactively rewrite the rules once again in order to find a way to bring the company down.
Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida and the Walt Disney Company clashed anew on Monday, with the governor requesting an investigation into Disney’s effort to sidestep state oversight of its theme parks and Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, blasting Mr. DeSantis as “anti-business” and “anti-Florida.”

Mr. DeSantis and Disney, Florida’s largest private employer and corporate taxpayer, have been sparring for more than a year over a special tax district, enacted in 1967, that has effectively allowed the company to self-govern Disney World as a de facto county. Disney has long been able to control fire protection, policing, road maintenance — and, crucially, development planning — at the 25,000-acre resort.

Mr. DeSantis and the Florida Legislature restricted Disney’s autonomy in February by appointing a handpicked oversight board for the tax district. Previously, Disney selected the board members. But the new appointees — and, apparently, the governor — only realized last week that the Disney-controlled board, as one of its final actions, pushed through a development agreement with the company that would limit the new board’s power for decades to come.

Outraged, the new board hired four law firms to scrutinize the matter and, potentially, take Disney to court.

On Monday morning, shortly before Disney’s annual shareholder meeting, Mr. DeSantis sent a letter to Melinda Miguel, Florida’s chief inspector general, asking for “a thorough review and investigation” into Disney’s effort to circumvent his authority.

“These collusive and self-dealing arrangements aim to nullify the recently passed legislation, undercut Florida’s legislative process and defy the will of Floridians,” Mr. DeSantis wrote. “Any legal or ethical violations should be referred to the proper authorities.” A spokesman for Mr. DeSantis added that “Disney is again fighting to keep its special corporate benefits and dodge Florida law. We are not going to let that happen.”

Speaking at the shareholder meeting, Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, denounced Mr. DeSantis for moving to restrict Disney’s tax district autonomy — noting that the governor took action only after the company halted political donations in Florida and criticized a contentious state education law. The legislation, labeled “Don’t Say Gay” by opponents, prohibits classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity for students through the third grade and limits it for older ones.

“A company has a right to freedom of speech just like individuals do,” Mr. Iger said. “The governor got very angry over the position Disney took and seems like he’s decided to retaliate against us, including the naming of a new board to oversee the property, in effect to seek to punish a company for its exercise of a constitutional right. And that just seems really wrong to me.”
It does seem wrong because it is. It's a classic fascist strongman move, to threaten private entities with fines or worse for daring to have an opinion that differs from the local tin pot dictator.
Again, Disney is a pretty awful company and controls far too much of the American news and entertainment sector and like several US companies, needs to be broken up and divested of much of its values.
But there's a process for that, and this is just DeSantis being a fascist asshole.  

We know that part's true because DeSantis signed a 6-week abortion ban into law, and had the chair of the Florida Dems, Nikki Fried, arrested for protesting it peacefully last night.
Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried and Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book were among about a dozen demonstrators who were handcuffed and arrested at an evening protest for abortion rights outside Tallahassee City Hall.

The protesters, condemning the state's proposed six-week abortion ban, were taken away by police while sitting in a circle and singing "Lean on Me" inside a barricaded area of a park that was closed at sunset.

They were warned by police that if they didn't leave the area, they would be subject to arrest. As a large contingent of police approached, protesters yelled "shame, shame" as everyone was cuffed and walked to the parking garage beneath City Hall and loaded into a Tallahassee Police Department van.
In a press release, a police spokesperson wrote that "TPD assisted in ensuring a safe environment" for demonstrators as they "peacefully protested."

"After multiple warnings throughout the day, protestors acknowledged they understood that anyone refusing to leave the premises at sundown would be subject to arrest," the spokesperson wrote. "This evening, after sunset, the majority of the crowd left the property while 11 people refused to leave despite numerous requests. They were subsequently arrested for trespass after warning."

"TPD encourages individuals exercising their First Amendment right of peaceful assembly to do so in accordance with the law. TPD supports non-disruptive demonstrations and works diligently to protect and uphold the rights of citizens every day." 
Sure they do.
Meanwhile, DeSantis is removing his political enemies left and right.

It's fascism, folks.

Pay attention.

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