Tuesday, April 25, 2017

State Department: Visit Mar-a-Lago!

So now we’re pimping out the “winter White House”?

Over on ShareAmerica.gov, a website intended to be forward-facing to foreign countries about issues of mutual concern, there’s a big fat promo for Mar-a-Lago. This promo not only appears on the ShareAmerica United States website, but also the sites for other countries.

The text of the promo reads in part, “Trump is not the first president to have access to Mar-a-Lago as a Florida retreat, but he is the first one to use it. By visiting this “winter White House,” Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago’s original owner and designer.”

The site has all sorts of historical tidbits about the property, but leaves out the fact that it is owned by Trump and membership costs $200,000 to join.

Your tax dollars are at work enriching this guy.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tax Day

Today is officially the day your federal income tax return is due.  That’s because April 15 was a Saturday and Monday is a holiday in Massachusetts, and as the Bay State goes, so goes America as far as filing goes.

I don’t mind paying taxes.  You want to fly first class, you have to pay the fare (unless, of course, you’re a big corporation or stinking rich and then you get some shlub to pay it for you).  As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes noted, taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.  Some (ahem) are still learning that.

I did my taxes the day I got my W-2 and my refund was in the bank before Valentines Day.  So there.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Right Person For The Job

Via TPM:

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ choice to help lead the department’s Office for Civil Rights once complained that in college she had experienced discrimination for being white, ProPublica reported Friday.

Candice Jackson was tapped to serve as the deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Civil Rights, a position that does not require Senate confirmation. But she will serve as the interim head of the office until the assistant secretary has been named. At the office, Jackson will be charged with helping protect students from discrimination.

She once recounted her experience in a class at Stanford University in the 1990s, where she was an undergraduate student, in a piece for the Stanford Review. She complained that she was unable to join a section of a math class that offered minority students additional help with tough problems, according to ProPublica.

“I am especially disappointed that the University encourages these and other discriminatory programs,” Jackson wrote, per ProPublica. “We need to allow each person to define his or her own achievements instead of assuming competence or incompetence based on race.”

The lady has a point… if you assume that the ability to define his or her own achievements is based on how much money you give to the party.  That’s how Ms. DeVos got her job.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Doing Anything This Weekend?

For some it’s a holiday weekend (a lot of companies give their employees Good Friday off), but if you’d rather show your concern about taxes and who pays them and who doesn’t share their information, you could join some folks who are marching about it.

An idea that sprung from a law professor’s tweet after President Trump’s inauguration will unfold Saturday on the Mall, where thousands of protesters plan to call on Trump to release his personal tax returns. The demonstration is expected to be the largest of more than 100 affiliated protests planned across the country.

The Tax March, which falls on the nation’s traditional April 15 deadline to file taxes, is expected to be one of the most high-profile demonstrations of the Trump era since protesters around the world participated in women’s marches — marches that served as an unprecedented rebuke to Trump’s presidency on his first full day in office. Presidents are not required to release their tax returns but have done so voluntarily dating to the 1970s.

Jennifer Taub, a law professor specializing in business at Vermont Law School, said that after she attended a Women’s March protest on Jan. 21 in Boston, she felt optimistic about the power of organized resistance. It spurred her to action the next day when she heard counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway say on national television that Trump wouldn’t release his tax returns because people don’t care.

Taub tweeted that the nation should plan a march on Tax Day to show the White House that the public does care. At the same time, comedian Frank Lesser made a similar plea on Twitter. The tweets caught on, and now Taub and Lesser are co-founders of the march, which has garnered the support of nearly 70 progressive organizations.

They’re marching in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.  Go the the official website and see where you can join in.

The Search Is Over

We have found the most arrogant and ill-informed member of Congress.

A Republican congressman said at a town hall that it was “bullcrap” that his constituents paid his salary, because he had paid enough federal taxes to have effectively paid his own way.

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) made that claim, and a similar one about effectively paying for his own health care, in two town hall events, recordings of which were later posted online.

“You said you pay for me to do this,” he said in one recorded exchange, posted online Monday. “Bull crap, I paid for myself. I paid enough taxes before I ever got here and continue to through my company to pay my own salary. This is a service. No one here pays me to do it. I do it as an honor and a service.”

[…]

The congressman’s communications director, Amy Lawrence, has not responded to TPM’s request to confirm that Mullin actually refuses a congressional salary, or otherwise pays it back in some way.

Lawrence said in a statement to the Tulsa World that “the congressman is referencing the federal taxes that he and his businesses have paid to the government over the years, prior to his being in office. Like all business owners, Congressman Mullin pays his taxes, which contribute to congressional salaries.”

Someone needs to teach this little pipsqueak about how the tax system works, and preferably how collecting unemployment works, too.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Pulled Out By The Grassroots

Over the past few weeks I’ve been inundated on social media and e-mail by lots of groups asking me to call my local representative in Congress to vote against the Trump attempt to repeal Obamacare.  I did my bit; I had a very nice albeit brief chat with whom I assume was an intern who recorded my concerns (and noted my ZIP code).  I also responded to various requests for letters and e-mails with my usual pithiness, and of course there was this effort in the blogosphere.  Throughout it all I was pretty sure that while we’d make a strong effort, it would be for naught.  I was, like everyone, stunned when the bill failed to even get a vote in the GOP-controlled House.

So how did we do it?  Dave Weigel at the Washington Post looks at what killed it.

On Friday afternoon, as congressional Democrats learned that the GOP had essentially given up on repealing the Affordable Care Act, none of them took the credit. They had never really cohered around an anti-AHCA message. (As recently as Wednesday, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi was still using the phrase “make America sick again,” which most Democrats had abandoned.) They’d been sidelined legislatively, as Republicans tried to pass a bill on party lines. They’d never called supporters to the Capitol for a show of force, as Republicans had done, several times, during the 2009-2010 fight to pass the Affordable Care Act.

Instead, Democrats watched as a roiling, well-organized “resistance” bombarded Republicans with calls and filled their town hall meetings with skeptics. The Indivisible coalition, founded after the 2016 election by former congressional aides who knew how to lobby their old bosses, was the newest and flashiest. But it was joined by MoveOn, which reported 40,000 calls to congressional offices from its members; by Planned Parenthood, directly under the AHCA’s gun; by the Democratic National Committee, fresh off a divisive leadership race; and by the AARP, which branded the bill as an “age tax” before Democrats had come up with a counterattack.

Congressional Democrats did prime the pump. After their surprise 2016 defeat, they made Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) the outreach director of the Senate caucus. Sanders’s first project was “Our First Stand,” a series of rallies around the country, organized by local Democrats and following a simple format. Elected officials would speak; they would then pass the microphone to constituents who had positive stories to tell about the ACA.

[…]

The turnout for the rallies exceeded expectations, though their aggregate total, over 70-odd cities, would be dwarfed by the Women’s March one week later. More importantly, they proved that there was a previously untapped well of goodwill for the ACA — which had polled negatively for seven years — and it smoothed over divisions inside the party. Days after Barack Obama had blamed “Bernie Sanders supporters” for undermining support for the ACA, Sanders was using his campaign mailing list to save the law.

“It was the town halls, and the stories, that convinced me that people might actually stop this bill,” said Tom Perriello, a former Democratic congressman now running an insurgent campaign for governor of Virginia, with his career-ending vote for the ACA front and center.

My surprise comes not from the fact that it worked — we saw what that misshapen band of misspellers that made up the Tea Party could do — but that the Democrats actually pulled it off in a way that prior to this has not been all that effective.  Yes, of course we’ve seen Facebook and Twitter and e-mail blasts urging support for this or that cause, but they have always come up short on substance because, frankly, a lot of people pay lip service to the effort but when it comes to getting out the vote or the voice, it was always more Astroturf than the real thing.  But this time the real stuff showed up.

Beltway groups were helping organize the opposition, and did not pretend otherwise. But they were effective because they had actual grass-roots buy-in. Elizabeth Juviler co-founded an Indivisible group in the district of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.). “He’d never taken a position against the party,” Juviler said in an interview. “By all accounts, he’s an affable person, but he wasn’t accessible.”

The group, NJ11th for Change, birddogged the Republican congressman with two tactics. First, it held mock town hall events in all four of the counties he represented. “Thousands” of people showed, according to Juviler; all were informed of how to call his office. When the health-care bill was dropped, Frelinghuysen was besieged with calls. And on Friday, he announced that he would oppose AHCA. According to Joe Dinkin, a spokesman for the Working Families Party, there were dozens of stories like that.

“For the first time in a long time, a pretty sizable number of Republicans were more scared of grass-roots energy of the left than of primaries on the right,” said Dinkin.

It also didn’t hurt that a number of Republicans were against the bill not because they loved Obamacare but because they didn’t think the Trump/Ryan bill went far enough; there wasn’t a provision in it for pushing Granny off the end of the dock to reduce the cost of healthcare.  Be that as it may; the bill died and now Trump has moved on to some other squirrel to chase.

The only downside is that we’re all going to be getting tons of e-mails from the DCCC and the state parties to send in money before midnight tonight to keep on fighting.  It’s a small annoyance to pay for a very big win.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sunday Reading

Sesame Street Isn’t Just For Affluent Kids — Gene B. Sperling and Danielle Lazarowitz in The Atlantic.

When the Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney suggested that parents in struggling rural and urban areas might not consider funding public television through the Corporation for Public Broadcast a good use of taxpayer dollars during an appearance on Morning Joe on Thursday, he may have thought his statements reflected their feelings and were backed by up evidence. He was wrong on both accounts.Mulvaney was likely parroting the long-held conservative belief that PBS – with cultural programming like Masterpiece Theater and Antiques Roadshow – is too highbrow, and geared solely towards “coastal elites.”  Yet he may have seemed woefully out of touch with the needs and desires of economically struggling families to Vicenta Medina, an immigrant mother from Mexico. While she and her husband Gilbert struggled to raise their family on the South Side of Chicago forty years ago, she says Sesame Street helped teach English to their young son David. They watched him go on to collect degrees from both Harvard and the University of Chicago, and then work in the Obama White House—where I first heard his story from a mutual friend.

 The Medina’s story of a hard-pressed family benefiting from public television is hardly anecdotal. Strong research shows that PBS programs such as Sesame Street have proven academic benefits for young audiences — especially those from more underprivileged households. According to a 2015 National Bureau of Economic Research study by University of Maryland’s Melissa Kearney and Wellesley College’s Phillip Levine, exposure to Sesame Street is an extremely low-cost intervention that has increased grade readiness for children living in economically disadvantaged areas. The effect is especially pronounced for boys and minority children, who have seen their likelihood of being below grade level decrease by as much as 16 percent.
A number of earlier studies have also discovered positive academic impacts. One study found that children who watched Sesame Street frequently in pre-school earned high-school grade point averages almost 16 percent higher than those of children who didn’t grow up watching the show. Another from the University of Wisconsin concluded that children who watch international versions of the program gain nearly 12 percentile points on learning outcomes, as compared to those who don’t watch the show. In Bangladesh, 4-year-old viewers of the local version of Sesame Street were found to have 67 percent higher literacy scores, as compared to those who don’t watch.And the benefits of programs like Sesame Street are not limited to academic achievement. A report from the Future of Children, a collaborative effort from Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, indicated that kids who watched Sesame Street formed more positive attitudes toward people from different backgrounds. That finding was replicated in Ireland, where exposure to the show promoted an increased propensity toward inclusiveness among Catholic- and Protestant-raised children. A study that examined Israeli and Palestinian children had similar conclusions. This is no small deal at a time when the country is seeing the number of hate incidents rising.

 If there is an out of touch or elitist attitude toward PBS, it is the one implied by the OMB Director: The notion that lower income parents don’t value this free educational television in the way suburban parents do, or that they and their families cannot appreciate the historical and educational documentaries that appear on PBS—covering topics from Lewis and Clark to the Civil War to Jackie Robinson—just doesn’t match up with the facts. Surveys found that nearly two-thirds of poorer families reported that PBS KIDS “helps a lot” to prepare their children for school. PBS stations reach more kids ages two to five, more moms with young children, and more children from low-income families—9 million in fact—than any other kids TV network. And parents have confidence in PBS, with 66 percent saying they completely trust PBS KIDS to provide high quality programming—that’s 12 percent higher than the next closest competitor.
The trade-off proposed in the budget is a dubious one. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting cost the federal government just $445 million last year—approximately one hundredth of one percent of the entire federal budget, and only about one-seventh of the $2.8 billion in annual health care tax cuts the current Republican plan gives to the top 400 families alone—a group with average incomes of $300 million.In a nation divided by inequality in income, schools, and neighborhoods, PBS is one equalizer—providing all kids, regardless of economic background, the chance to watch and learn for free from the likes of Elmo, Bob the Builder, and the impressive show, Sid the Science Kid. Families with a lower household income report having fewer resources for school preparedness, and PBS can help fill that gap by providing free, academically-proven educational experiences.

It is difficult to imagine that the White House can defend the deep and painful cuts to programs that are vital to middle class and working poor families. But one way they can’t defend the elimination of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is by suggesting that its efficacy lacks evidence, and has no support from working parents in hard-hit urban and rural areas who rely on this educational programming to improve their children’s future.

Seriously Funny Al Franken — Karen Tumulty profiles the junior senator from Minnesota.

It was a half-hour before one of the sparsely attended committee hearings that take place almost every day on Capitol Hill — in this case, a session on energy infrastructure so dry it would not merit even the presence of a C-SPAN camera.

But in Al Franken’s suite of offices in the Hart Senate Office Building, the man still known best as one of the early stars of “Saturday Night Live” was going through an intense rehearsal with four aides.

How much, Franken wanted to know, are the Chinese spending on clean technology research? Where do things stand on the University of Minnesota’s study of torrefaction, a roasting process that produces better fuel for biomass energy production? And might there be a chance to ask a question about one of his favorite causes, loan guarantees for Native American reservations?

“I just want to keep bringing it up, so they keep hearing it,” Franken said, with a trace of a sigh.

Everyone is hearing a lot more from Minnesota’s junior senator these days.

At the dawn of a presidency that stretches the limits of late-night parody, and at a moment when an out-of-power Democratic Party is trying to find its voice, the former comedian and satirist may be having a breakout moment as a political star.

He is also finding it safe to be funny again.

Franken, now 65, barely made it to the Senate, taking his oath in July, 2009, after a ballot recount that took eight months to resolve. So he spent his first term trying to prove he was not a joke — buttoning up his wit, buckling down on esoteric issues and sidestepping all but his home-state media.

“I won by 312 votes, right?” he said in an interview. “I had to show people that I was taking the job seriously, and I had come here for serious purposes, and I am still here for serious purposes. So I think I just felt like I was on probation.”

That diligence paid off in 2014, a disastrous year for Democrats nationally, when Franken was reelected with a double-digit margin.

In between, he developed a reputation on Capitol Hill for policy chops and penetrating questions — skills that have been on display during confirmation hearings of President Trump’s Cabinet nominees.

Franken “had an instinct for the legislative process, but the one talent that surprised me a little bit beyond that was his talent for cross-examination,” said political scientist Norman Ornstein, a close friend. “He has that Perry Mason quality.”

An exchange with Franken tripped up Jeff Sessions, then a fellow senator and now the attorney general, during his appearance before the Judiciary Committee.

Franken inquired what Sessions would do if he learned that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign had communicated with the Russian government in 2016.

He was trying to nudge Sessions into recusing himself, and he was startled when the Alabama senator offered information he had not asked for.

“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I did not have communications with the Russians,” Sessions said.

After The Washington Post revealed that Sessions had met with the Russian ambassador twice last year, the attorney general did indeed have to promise to step aside from any Justice Department investigations of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Franken later declared it “one the most embarrassing performances by a nominee in the history of the United States Senate.”

“We wouldn’t accept a secretary of defense who couldn’t name the branches of the military,” he argued as the Senate prepared to vote. “We wouldn’t accept a secretary of state who couldn’t find Europe on a map. We wouldn’t accept a treasury secretary who doesn’t understand multiplication.”

Although one had to withdraw (Andrew Puzder, Trump’s first nominee for labor secretary), all of Trump’s other nominees have been approved by the Senate, a reflection of two realities: Republicans have 52 votes, and Democrats, when they had the majority in 2013, did away with the power to filibuster Cabinet picks, a procedure that requires 60 votes to surmount.

But Franken’s questions have left a mark. He will be at it again starting Monday, when Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch goes before the Judiciary Committee.

When he met privately with Gorsuch, Franken said, the nominee “seemed evasive, on pretty much everything I asked him.”

So given the chance to grill Gorsuch publicly, “I’m really going to be going to certain areas that serve what I consider his pro-corporate bias, which I think has been the bias of the court, the Roberts court,” Franken said.

The Minnesota senator spent the last eight years proving that he’s good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like him. (Don’t groan. Reporters who write about him should be allowed the indulgence of using at least one of his signature lines from SNL.)

Nearing the halfway mark of his second term, Franken said, he feels “a little freer to be myself, and so every once in awhile, something comes out.”

At the end of May, Franken has a book coming out — part memoir, part policy prescriptive — that he has wryly titled: “Al Franken, Giant of the Senate.”

Franken has a laugh that bursts like a Tommy gun, and it does not take much to get it going. His staff keeps track of him on the Senate floor by listening for eruptions on their office televisions.

But the best stage to see Franken-style legislative improv is the hearing room. One recent exchange went viral.

“Governor, thank you so much for coming into my office. Did you enjoy meeting me?” he asked former Texas governor Rick Perry, who was up for confirmation as energy secretary.

“I hope you are as much fun on that dais as you were on your couch,” Perry replied. In the awkward laughter that followed, Perry added: “May I rephrase that?”

“Please,” Franken said, shuddering. “Oh my lord.”

Those moments aside, and with Donald Trump in the White House, “I don’t think my role to play here has anything to do with humor,” Franken said. “I don’t think humor is the tool I’m supposed to be using.”

By one measure, Franken’s career has come full circle. In a 1991 “Saturday Night Live” skit, he played a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. A week ago, on an episode of SNL’s “Weekend Update,” cast member Alex Moffat portrayed Franken in what is now a real-life role on that panel.He has many sides. During slow periods in committee hearings, Franken sometimes sketches elaborate portraits on a notepad. If he does not take them when he leaves, Senate staffers scoop up the Franken doodles as collector’s items.

But celebrity is a tricky thing in the Senate chamber, a place already well stocked with ego and ambition.

Franken said he found an early mentor in Tamera Luzzatto, who was Hillary Clinton’s Senate chief of staff at the time. Luzzatto had previously worked for Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), another famous name.

Luzzatto advised Franken to keep a low profile, take care of his state and always show up well prepared.

“What we really talked about is, there is still an opportunity in the Senate to get to know each other, and impress one another with your work ethic,” Luzzatto recalled. “The way one handles fame as an elected official — senators in particular — can help or harm you.”

When Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), then the minority leader, made a speech on the Senate floor in 2010 opposing the confirmation of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, he noticed Franken rolling his eyes. The impropriety was made worse by the fact that Franken was presiding over the Senate at the time.

“This isn’t ‘Saturday Night Live,’ Al,” McConnell said.

Franken apologized.

As it happens, Franken’s arrival in Washington marked the very moment that Democratic power reached a pinnacle.

His belated arrival in 2009 gave the party its 60th vote in the Senate, the one that made their agenda filibuster-proof and opened, among other things, the possibility of passing President Obama’s health-care law on Democratic support alone.

But that dominance did not last long. The following January, Republicans picked up a Massachusetts Senate seat and began a long march back to the majority, which they won in 2014, the year Franken was reelected.

And with Trump’s election, the party is shut out of power at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Franken brings a set of skills for navigating the wilderness they are in, Ornstein said. “It’s clear they need focused champions who can use the tools available to the minority to make points and frame issues and put people on the defensive and unmask things that need to be unmasked.”

Where it took Franken nearly six years to agree to his first Sunday show appearance as a senator, he now shows up on them frequently. There has even been talk of his potential as a presidential candidate.

“No. No,” he said. “I like this job. I really like this job. I like representing the people of Minnesota. I feel like I’m really beginning to know this job.”

Voters in Minnesota — a traditionally Democratic state that Trump lost by only a point and a half — also are paying attention to Franken’s emergence.

With another celebrity in the White House, “the context has completely changed,” said Kathryn L. Pearson, a political-science professor at the University of Minnesota. “There’s no question that his Democratic constituents are enthusiastic about his high-level role at the national level, but it certainly is riskier [with] Republicans in Minnesota, and even independents.”

The night before a hearing, Franken takes the prepared testimony of witnesses home and pores over it for weaknesses and inaccuracies. If a study is cited in a footnote, he will read that too, he said.

“Very often, when I think someone isn’t being truthful, that gets my ire up,” Franken said. He cited a skirmish in the Sessions confirmation hearing over a questionnaire in which the Alabama senator claimed to have “personally” litigated several important civil rights cases when he was a U.S. attorney. Other lawyers involved said Sessions’ role had actually been minimal.

Pressing Sessions on the discrepancy, Franken got him to admit that his role in some of the cases had consisted of “assistance and guidance” and that he “had been supportive of them.”

Republican senators objected to such rough treatment of one of their own. “It is unfortunate to see members of this body impugn the integrity of a fellow senator with whom we have served for years,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) said.

But for Franken, the moment was sweet: “That was fun for me.”

But he is also part of the club. When the bells rang for a vote on a recent afternoon, Franken and four colleagues crowded onto a Senate subway car.

“We have Franken here to make us laugh!” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) announced.

Which they all did.

“The first time Franken presided,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told them, “I was sitting and looking at his profile, and all I could think was ‘Saturday Night Live.’ ”

Franken smiled. All that seemed like a long time ago.

Words Matter — John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

As a Presidential candidate, Donald Trump led a charmed existence. Whatever he said, no matter how outrageous, it didn’t seem to hurt him. He could insult his Republican opponents, make misogynistic comments about female journalists, call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, describe Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers, trot out blatant falsehoods by the dozen, encourage the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s e-mail account—none of it proved damaging to his candidacy. As he famously remarked, it was as if he could go out and shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue “and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

Now things have changed. He might never admit it, but Trump has belatedly discovered a basic principle of politics: words matter. They matter so much, in fact, that they can make or break a Presidency. That’s why every one of his predecessors—during the modern era, at least—has chosen his words carefully. It took a few weeks for it to become clear that President Trump, as opposed to candidate Trump, would be subject to this principle. But, at this stage, there can be no doubt about it. Virtually every day brings a fresh example of his own loose words coming back to hurt him.

Take the legal setback to the Administration’s revised travel ban, which was supposed to go into effect on Thursday. Derrick Kahala Watson, the federal judge in Hawaii who, on Wednesday, halted the measure on constitutional grounds, said that the public record “includes significant and unrebutted evidence of religious animus driving the promulgation of the Executive Order.” Among other things, Watson cited a Trump campaign document that said, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” On Thursday, another federal judge, Theodore D. Chuang, of Maryland, issued a separate injunction against the revised ban. Citing statements from Trump and his advisers, Chuang said that they indicated the new executive order represented “the realization of the long-envisioned Muslim ban.” (My colleagues Benjamin Wallace-Wells and Jeffrey Toobin have more about both judges’ orders.)

It doesn’t stop there. As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern has pointed out, even a staunchly conservative judge who has taken the Administration’s side in the fight over the travel bans has criticized some of Trump’s public statements. Earlier this week, in a dissent from a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the original ban, Judge Jay Bybee strongly condemned the President’s attacks on James Robart, the district-court judge in Seattle who originally halted the ban. (On Twitter, Trump had referred to Robart as “a so-called judge” and called his ruling “ridiculous.”)

“The personal attacks on the distinguished district judge and our colleagues were out of all bounds of civic and persuasive discourse—particularly when they came from the parties,” Bybee, who worked in the George W. Bush Administration, wrote. “Such personal attacks treat the court as though it were merely a political forum in which bargaining, compromise, and even intimidation are acceptable principles. The courts of law must be more than that, or we are not governed by law at all.”

So far, then, the words that Trump has used to bully and berate the judiciary have succeeded only in encouraging judges to display their independence, with disastrous results for his Administration. And something similar has happened in response to his effort to divert attention from his Russia woes by accusing his predecessor, Barack Obama, of bugging Trump Tower.

Two weeks ago, in a series of early morning tweets, Trump declared that “President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!” Perhaps he thought that no one would interrogate his words. Or perhaps he wasn’t thinking at all. In any case, the White House spokesman Sean Spicer later compounded the error by calling on Congress to investigate Trump’s charges. The House and Senate intelligence committees did what Spicer asked, and on Thursday the heads of the Senate committee—the Republican Richard Burr and the Democrat Mark Warner—issued a joint statement that said, “Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.”

After that, you might have thought that Trump and his aides would decide to exercise a bit more caution in what they said. Not a bit of it. At his daily briefing on Thursday afternoon, Spicer said that the President “stands by” his bugging accusations. By way of trying to prove that these accusations were reasonable, Spicer also read out some comments made by Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News commentator, in which Napolitano claimed, without citing any evidence, that Obama had asked G.C.H.Q., Britain’s version of the National Security Agency, to bug Trump.

Spicer’s briefing created yet more embarrassment for the White House. G.C.H.Q. issued a rare public statement, in which it said that Napolitano’s claims were “utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.” In response to reporters’ inquiries, a spokesman for Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, repeated the word “nonsense,” and added, “We have made this clear to the administration, and have received assurances that these allegations will not be repeated.” On Friday morning, there were reports, subsequently denied by Trump aides, that the United States had issued a formal apology to Britain.

What can’t be denied is that, yet again, the White House is in the soup. The President and his aides now know that words and truth do matter. Yet they continue to act as if they are oblivious. At a press conference with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, on Friday afternoon, a German reporter asked Trump, “Why do you keep saying things you know are not true?” Trump didn’t answer directly. When another German reporter asked Trump about the White House citing claims that the British government bugged him, he refused to take responsibility. “We said nothing,” he said. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it.” And, once again, Trump refused to back off the discredited claim that Obama bugged him. Looking at Merkel, whose phone the N.S.A. reportedly tapped for years, he said, jokingly, “At least we have something in common, perhaps.”

Of course, it’s no joke. But will he ever learn?

Doonesbury — What a job.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Showing Their Hand

Trump’s budget proposals are just that: proposals.  They’re not law, they’re not actually in place, and if history is any guide, the chances of what OMB director Mike Mulvaney and his minions came up with have as much chance of becoming reality as do I of flying to the moon on gossamer wings.

But it does tell us a lot about the mindset of Trump and what they really think of America.  For one thing, they have a really strange concept of “compassion.”

Via Mother Jones:

At a press briefing on Thursday afternoon, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney did little to alleviate the impression that the most vulnerable would suffer under these budget cuts. “You described this as a ‘hard power budget.’ Is it also a hard-hearted budget?” asked CNN’s Jim Acosta. “No, I don’t think so,” Mulvaney responded. “I think it’s probably one of the most compassionate things we can do.”

Yet compassion was in short supply as Mulvaney tried to explain the administration’s budget priorities. Here are four of his most heartless statements:

Meals on Wheels doesn’t work. A reporter asked Mulvaney about proposed cuts to the Community Development Block Grant Program, which would lead to cuts on Meals on Wheels in some states. He responded that the program, which feeds elderly people, and ones like it are “just not showing results” and “don’t work.”

Afterschool programs for hungry kids don’t work. Mulvaney said that afterschool programs that feed low-income kids don’t help them do better in school. “There is no demonstrable evidence they are actually doing that,” he claimed.

Fighting climate change is a rip-off. “We’re not spending money on that anymore,” Mulvaney said. “We consider that to be a waste of your money.”

Starvation and famine? Yawn. Another reporter asked Mulvaney about the administration’s plans to reduce spending on the United Nations and foreign aid, despite famine and starvation facing 20 million people—a “humanitarian crisis,” according to the UN. “Are you worried that some of the most vulnerable people on earth will suffer?” the reporter asked. “We’re absolutely reducing funding to the UN and to the various foreign aid programs,” Mulvaney said. “That should come as a surprise to no one who watched the campaign.”

I never doubted that these were the kind of people we are dealing with.

I honestly don’t know what kind of “results” he expected with a program like Meals on Wheels.  The elderly and disabled aren’t starving, but since they’re being fed by a government program, they’re “takers”?  Better that they die and decrease the surplus population?

Meanwhile, we’re paying how much to fly Trump back and forth to Palm Beach every weekend while the city of New York pays how much to protect his wife and son?

Historical footnote: This month marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the Russian revolution.  It began when the people rose up to demand the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II who lived a life of incomparable luxury in Moscow and St. Petersburg with his foreign-born wife and children while the poor were starving.  (Digby compares Trump to Saddam Hussein.  Okay, whatever works; they were both authoritarian nationalists who came to a bad end.)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Worse Numbers

The White House disputed the CBO scoring of the GOP tax cut masquerading as a healthcare bill, saying that the headline of 24 million people losing their health insurance is way wrong.

They’re right; their own estimates are that even more people will lose out.

A White House analysis of the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare shows even steeper coverage losses than the projections by the Congressional Budget Office, according to a document viewed by POLITICO on Monday.

[…]

White House officials late Monday night disputed that the document is an analysis of the bill’s coverage effects. Instead, they say it was an attempt by the OMB to predict what CBO’s scorekeepers would conclude about the GOP repeal plan.

“This is not an analysis of the bill in any way whatsoever,” White House Communications Director Michael Dubke told POLITICO. “This is OMB trying to project what CBO’s score will be using CBO’s methodology.”

According to documents viewed by POLITICO, the OMB analysis intended to assess the coverage and spending outcomes of the legislation.

The analysis found that under the American Health Care Act, the coverage losses would include 17 million for Medicaid, 6 million in the individual market and 3 million in employer-based plans.

A total of 54 million individuals would be uninsured in 2026 under the GOP plan, according to this White House analysis. That’s nearly double the number projected under current law.

So when the White House ran the numbers using the CBO methods, it made it worse.  Oops.

At some point even they will have to admit that this attempt at repeal-and-replace for Obamacare is a bomb that won’t make it through Congress.

The much-maligned Obamacare replacement bill will face its biggest test so far on Thursday, as a House of Representatives committee filled with conservatives could derail the legislation backed by Speaker Paul Ryan before it gets to the House floor.

If four Republicans join Democrats in voting against the bill in the House Budget Committee, the legislation will fail.

Okay, fellas, what’s Plan B?

No News Taxes

After a big build-up and a long lead-in, Rachel Maddow released two pages of Trump’s 2005 federal tax return.  The White House actually scooped her by releasing it first.  It shows he made a lot of money and paid 25% in taxes after a bunch of write-offs, which anyone with a lot of money and a decent accountant would do.

Trump’s defenders are saying “nothing to see here, move along,” and they’re probably right.  But if Trump had followed the lead of every other president in the last forty years and released all of his taxes without making up flimsy excuses like “I’m under audit” or “the dog ate them,” then there would be no news about no-news taxes from twelve years ago in the first place.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

24 Million

That’s a big number no matter how you slice it.  It’s about 90% of the population of Canada.  It’s also the number of people who are estimated to lose healthcare coverage if the GOP has their way.  (Not to worry, Canada; you have a real healthcare system that works.)

The Congressional Budget Office on Monday released its long-awaited analysis of the Republican plan to replace Obamacare — and it contains some very bad news for supporters of the American Health Care Act.

CBO projects that the Republican plan would cause 24 million Americans to lose coverage by 2026. This is a much bigger drop in coverage than experts had expected. Republican legislators will now be forced to answer questions about why tens of millions of Americans will lose coverage and how those people will fare under the new system.

The CBO projections also show that a promise President Trump and his advisers have made multiple times — that Trump would draft a bill that covered everyone, or that no one would lose coverage under his plan — to be flatly false.

Just this weekend, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said, “We don’t believe that individuals will lose coverage at all.” CBO says this is not the case whatsoever.

The Republican bill offers less help to people who buy their own insurance than Obamacare currently does. It also hugely pares back the Medicaid expansion, which covers millions of low-income Americans.

The CBO report lays bare that, taken together, those changes mean million fewer Americans would have coverage.

Or, to paint a picture of it:

The initial response to this news from the GOP is “well, everybody knows that the CBO is partisan.”  Except it’s not; and the head of the CBO is a Republican appointed by Tom Price, the Secretary of HHS.

The next thing that will happen is that the Republicans will come out and tell us how much money this will save the country by getting rid of Obamacare, especially by giving tax cuts to rich people because we all know that they will invest it in jobs to hire people.  Except they never do, and the people that they say they’re going to hire will either be too sick to get a job or dead.

I thoroughly expect Trump to go around the country saying how wonderful this new plan is and telling his base that this is why they voted for him; to free them from the tyranny of having affordable healthcare and that no one within the sound of his voice will be burdened with freedom-crushing Obamacare, and only the other guy will be sick, but then he deserves it because he voted for Hillary.

The sad part — aside from the 24 million people who will lose their healthcare insurance — is that no matter what happens, the Republican base will still keep churning out the votes for the Republicans.  Because that is the most important thing to them.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Monday, February 27, 2017

Friday, February 3, 2017

Be Careful What You Wish For

At the National Prayer Breakfast yesterday Trump called for the repeal of the Johnson amendment, the law that prohibits churches from supporting individual political candidates and still be exempt from paying taxes.

The logic behind the amendment is clear: If a church wishes to be a tax-exempt entity which can receive tax-exempt contributions, then it also must steer clear of participation in partisan politics. Not that it doesn’t already. It clearly does, as can be easily seen just by the list of church-backed organizations supporting the Gorsuch nomination. But by and large, it separates the political activity by carved-out nonprofit organizations which are separate from the church entity itself.

Churches should be careful about what they wish for, because gutting this amendment would put their tax-exempt status at risk. The Catholic Church would be ponying up a lot of money if this amendment was gutted, and that would be the beginning.

I am totally in favor of churches paying taxes.  And that means all of them, from St. Patrick’s Cathedral to that little brown church in the vale.  At the very least pay property taxes on the land they own that isn’t used specifically for worship services or non-partisan church business.

If they want to go around telling people about mythical history and warning of retribution from some mean magical sky faerie if we don’t vote for their favorites, they should have to pony up for the privilege.