Thursday, November 16, 2017

That’s The Matter With Kansas

What Sam Brownback has done in Kansas, Trump would like to do with America.

The statement was simple. Factual.

A Kansas spokesperson was acknowledging that the state highway department didn’t have the money to rebuild a dangerous stretch of Interstate 70 that had been the scene of multiple wrecks and a grisly motorcycle fatality caught on video.

“KDOT has lost a lot of money over the last few years,” the spokesperson said. “There’s just no funding at this point.”

Simple, yes. But in Gov. Sam Brownback’s cash-strapped administration, those were fighting words. Days later, the spokesperson was fired.

“Your article was the nail in my coffin for being the face of KDOT,” the spokesperson said in an email to The Kansas City Star.

The terminated employee, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, had learned what it meant to cross the line — the one where the state of Kansas doesn’t discuss public business with Kansans.

Kansas runs one of the most secretive state governments in the nation, and its secrecy permeates nearly every aspect of service, The Star found in a months-long investigation.

From the governor’s office to state agencies, from police departments to business relationships to health care, on the floors of the House and Senate, a veil has descended over the years and through administrations on both sides of the political aisle.

“My No. 1 question to anybody who opts in favor of nondisclosure is, ‘What are you trying to hide from us?’  ” said former Rep. John Rubin, a Johnson County Republican, calling Kansas “one of the most secretive, dark states in the country in many of these areas.”

What’s hidden are stories of regular Kansans who have suffered inside the silence.

In the course of its investigation, The Star found that:

▪ Children known to the state’s Department for Children and Families suffer horrific abuse, while the agency cloaks its involvement with their cases, even shredding notes after meetings where children’s deaths are discussed, according to a former high-ranking DCF official. One grieving father told The Star he was pressured to sign a “gag order” days after his son was killed that would prevent him from discussing DCF’s role in the case. Even lawmakers trying to fix the troubled system say they cannot trust information coming from agency officials.

▪ In the past decade, more than 90 percent of the laws passed by the Kansas Legislature have come from anonymous authors. Kansans often had no way of knowing who was pushing which legislation and why, and the topics have included abortion, concealed weapons and school funding. Kansas is one of only a few states that allow the practice.

▪ When Kansas police shoot and kill someone, law enforcement agencies often escape scrutiny because they are allowed to provide scant details to the public. The release of body-cam video has become common practice around the country after several high-profile, police-involved shootings. But in Kansas, a new state law is one of the most restrictive in the nation, allowing agencies to shelve footage that could shed more light on controversial cases.

▪ Kansas became the first state to fully privatize Medicaid services in 2013, and now some caregivers for people with disabilities say they have been asked to sign off on blank treatment plans — without knowing what’s being provided. In some of those cases, caregivers later discovered their services had been dramatically cut.

The examples, when stitched together, form a quilt of secrecy that envelops much of state government.

“Damn,” said Bob Stephan, a Republican and four-time Kansas attorney general. “That causes me concern. It’s very disheartening. … It’s gone crazy.”

This is what conservatives believe is the model of how a state should be run: into the ground and in the dark.

Plotting Soil

Two more women have come forward saying that Roy Moore hit on them when they were teens and he was not.  He is of course denying all of it and deflecting it by saying it’s all a conspiracy by the liberal media and Mitch McConnell — an odd combination to say the least — to keep God out of America.

But if the Democrats and all the forces who are aligning against a creepy pedophile running for the Senate were just making it all up and hiring actors to act it all out, they’re really good because it takes a lot of hard work and creativity to come up with such fiction.  It’s on the level of “Game of Thrones.”

The question then naturally arises that if they are that good at destroying one Republican senate candidate in Alabama, why couldn’t they do it on a national level?  If the forces of liberalism and the left-wing media were so crafty, how come Trump is in the White House and Hillary Clinton is on a book tour?  If the conspiracy truly worked, she would have won in a landslide, and if the dark forces that haunt the dreams of Alex Jones and Infowars were really in place, Trump would have become that old guy who sells reverse mortgages on late-night TV.

No, this is just reality, and you can’t make that up.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The First Line Of Their Obituary

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III remembers that lying to Congress comes with a penalty phase.

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday denied, again, lying to Congress about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. He said he had forgotten about a campaign round-table in which an aide played up his Russian connections and suggested arranging a meeting for Donald J. Trump in Moscow.

But even as Mr. Sessions remained hazy on the details, he was adamant that he had swiftly rejected the aide’s suggestion.

“I have always told the truth,” Mr. Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee, adding that he stood by his previous testimony because “I had no recollection of this meeting until I saw these news reports.”

Translation: “I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known I’d get caught.”

I seriously wonder if Mr. Sessions and the rest of the people who work for Trump have thought beyond next week and realize that the first line of their obituary is going to include the notation that they devoted a part of their life to working for a scandal-plagued authoritarian regime that will remain a stain not just on their lives but on the nation.  That these years, no matter how many, will be seen by historians as one of the darkest times in our democracy; where accused pedophiles have a real shot at being in the Senate because they’re a member of a political party.  That’s the stuff of tinpot dictatorships, not Western civilization.  (I was going to say “banana republics” but even they don’t want to be associated with a cut-rate narcissist.)

When this is all over, how many of them are going to tearfully beg for forgiveness for their gob-smacking attempts to normalize serial lying and demonization of entire populations and genders for the sake of winning an election and riding on a tricked-up 747?  And for what?  Trying to wipe out the memory of America’s first black president as if he was the aberration and what they seek is the real white straight Anglo-Saxon Christian nation that never existed in the first place?

Mr. Sessions and the rest know what they’re doing.  They know full well that they’re going to be remembered as part of this blatant attempt to obliterate the past.  And without any tinge of self-awareness, they will be proud of it.

Here We Go Again With Obamacare Repeal

They keep trying and trying

On Tuesday, after weeks of agitation from President Trump and hard-right lawmakers, Senate GOP leadership signaled for the first time that it is amenable to inserting a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate into their tax overhaul bill.

“We’re optimistic that inserting the individual mandate repeal would be helpful, and that’s obviously the view of the Senate Finance Committee Republicans as well,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters, indicating that the policy could be inserted during the committee markup process as early as this week.

The office of Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a member of the Senate leadership team, confirmed to TPM that the final Senate tax bill would include the mandate’s repeal.

Yet rank-and-file lawmakers said a final decision has not yet been reached, and cited concerns that mixing health policy into an already controversial tax reform process would lose the votes Republicans need to pass the bill.

Adding to the confusion, minutes after McConnell’s declaration, the Republican chair of the Senate Finance Committee marking up the tax bill refused to acknowledge the news.

“No one needs to be talking about the individual mandate at this point,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said in the hearing, adding that he thought discussion of the policy was a “distraction” and “a waste of time.”

Which means that 13 million people would lose their subsidies for buying health insurance and no longer be able to afford it, but hey, if that means a few billionaires get a tax cut, it’s worth it, right?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Good Luck With That

Roy Moore is threatening to sue the Washington Post.

Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore said Sunday that he planned to sue The Washington Post over a report that he pursued teenage girls, including a 14-year-old, when he was an assistant prosecutor in his 30s.

At a Christian Citizen Task Force forum here, Moore said the newspaper published false allegations — “for which they will be sued.”

He provided no details about what type of suit he planned to file or when he planned to file it.

Yeah, that’s not gonna happen, and if he does file suit, he’ll lose even if he’s lucky enough to find a judge that will let the suit go forward.  Moore is a public figure and a senate candidate, and that makes the bar of proving libel very high.

As they teach in Journalism 101, to succeed in a libel suit he would have to prove that the Post published the story with malice; i.e. they knew the allegations were false but ran with them anyway.  I can’t believe Moore doesn’t know this; for all his flaunting of the law as a judge he had to have studied torts at some point.

So it’s got to be a bluff or just red meat for the folks who will be voting for him no matter what.

Besides, if the Post really wanted to tank his campaign, they would have cooked up a story where he was hitting on a 14-year-old boy.

Intended Consequences

Some people forget that when you vote for a president — or don’t vote for the opponent because of a fit of pique — things like this happen.

Brett Talley, a 36-year-old lawyer whom President Trump nominated for a lifetime federal judgeship, has practiced law for only three years and has yet to try a case.

Before his nomination in September, he had been unequivocal about his political views. “Hillary Rotten Clinton might be the best Trumpism yet,” says a tweet from his account, which has since been made private. “A Call to Arms: It’s Time to Join the National Rifle Association” was the title of a blog post he wrote in January 2013, a month after a gunman in Newtown, Conn., killed 27 people before taking his own life.

Talley, who also writes horror novels on the side, moved a step closer to becoming a federal district judge in his home state of Alabama on Thursday. Voting along party lines, the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Republicans outnumber Democrats, approved Talley’s nomination, which now goes to the Senate for a full vote.

Talley is the latest federal judicial nominee to draw scrutiny for what some say is his limited experience in practicing law and the level of partisanship he had shown on social media, on his political blog and on several opinion pieces he had written for CNN. He has also received a “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association, which vets federal judicial nominees.

The vote on Talley’s nomination comes as Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) continue to intensify efforts to place conservative jurists, some of whom are young, on the federal bench. As Trump said as he stood next to McConnell during a news conference in October, the judicial nominations are the “untold” success stories of his presidency.

“Nobody wants to talk about it. But when you think about it, Mitch and I were saying, that has consequences 40 years out, depending on the age of the judge, but 40 years out,” Trump said. “So numerous have been approved. Many, many are in the pipeline. The level of quality is extraordinary.”

Which means that Trump could be out of office next year, if not sooner, but the consequences of electing him will still be felt when my three-year-old grand-nephew is watching his child get married.

Talley isn’t the only one.  As the article points out, the Republicans are whooping through a whole slew of right-wing youngsters to populate the judiciary into the middle of the century, and given the actuarial tables and the natural progression of life, they could infect the Supreme Court as well.

So all of you who voted for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson or held out for one more shot from Bernie because Hillary was too much of a centrist or whatever, thank you so much for having a pure conscience.  See how that works for you when the NRA and “religious liberty” are calling the shots from the federal bench and it’s easier to carry a gun into a school than it is to get a PAP smear.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday Reading

Consciousness of Guilt — David Frum in The Atlantic.

“Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that.”—Donald Trump on Vladimir Putin, en route to Hanoi, November 11, 2017.

So, to put it bluntly: At this point in the proceedings, there can be no innocent explanation for Donald Trump’s rejection of the truth about Russian meddling in last year’s elections. Earlier, it may have been suggested, sympathetically, that the case had not yet been proven. That Trump’s vanity blocked him from acknowledging embarrassing facts. Or—more hopefully—that he was inspired by some Kissingerian grand design for a diplomatic breakthrough. Or that he was lazy. Or stubborn. Or uninformed. Or something, anything, other than … complicit. Not anymore.

As yet, it remains unproven whether Trump himself was personally complicit in Putin’s attack on U.S. democracy as it happened during last year’s presidential campaign. What is becoming ever-more undeniable is Trump’s complicity in the attack after the fact—and his willingness to smash the intelligence and counter-intelligence agencies in order to protect Putin, Russia, and evidently himself. Consider what the president said to reporters on Saturday: Then you hear it’s 17 agencies [who agree that Russia meddled in the elections], whoa, it’s three. And one is [former CIA Director John] Brennan, and one is whatever. I mean give me a break, they’re political hacks. … So you look at that and you have President Putin very strongly, vehemently says he had nothing to do with that.”

A year after the 2016 election, the Trump administration has done nothing to harden U.S. election systems against future interference. It refuses to implement the sanctions voted by Congress to punish Russia for election meddling. The president fired the director of the FBI, confessedly to halt an investigation into Russia’s actions—and his allies in Congress and the media malign the special counsel appointed to continue the investigation.  These are not the actions of an innocent man, however vain, stubborn, or uniformed.“Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the standard for criminal justice. It’s not the standard for counter-intelligence determinations. The preponderance of the evidence ever-more clearly indicates: In ways we cannot yet fully reckon—but can no longer safely deny—the man in the Oval Office has a guilty connection to the Russian government. That connection would bar him from literally any other job in national security except that of head of the executive branch and commander- in-chief of the armed forces of the United States.

At any time, this situation would be dire and ominous. It’s graver still at a time when this president seems determined to lead the United States into a preventive war in the Korean peninsula. President Trump may soon demand that this country incur terrible risks and accept heavy sacrifices—even as he leaves Americans in darkening doubt over whose interests he is serving, and why.

Roy Moore Is The GOP — Charles P. Pierce.

The fact is that Roy Moore is very much who the Republicans are. He is representative of a fanatical splinter of American Protestantism that has accounted for a great deal of the success enjoyed by modern conservatism and the Republican Party for over four decades, and there always has been dark sin at the heart of that success.

The rise of what used to be known as “the religious right” did not begin with the legalization of abortion. That’s a nice story that the various Bible-banging charlatans would like you to believe. No, the institutions that would nurture and produce the religious right were the white-only Christian academies and universities that sprang up in the South as part of the massive resistance to desegregation—the churchgoing end of that strategy. The religious right was not born out of opposition to Roe v. Wade. It was born out of opposition to Brown v. Board.

There was always something wretched in its founding that invariably asserted itself in our politics. Dishonesty and camouflage were its primary sacraments. As part of their bargain with these people, Republicans and conservatives agreed tacitly to overlook these things, and so they became accustomed to overlooking everything until, today, alleged pedophilia of the most grotesque sort is the latest thing to be overlooked in the cause of tax-cuts and the restriction of women’s reproductive rights.

Without fastening itself to the enthusiastic remnants of American apartheid, modern conservatism and the modern Republican party never would have become the juggernaut they became, and the religious right was one of the more enthusiastic of those remnants. Small wonder, then, that so many Good Christian Men are either lining up behind Roy Moore, or if-then’ing themselves into incoherence trying not to talk about him. He has all the right positions on all the right issues that discomfort all the right people, and, given that, these people would vote for Satan himself.

He is you. He is all of you. Another monster out of the lab.

Fighting Deportation — Kanyakrit Vongkiatkajorn in Mother Jones.

Eleven cities and counties across the United States announced on Thursday that they will provide free legal representation to immigrants facing deportation, part of a new initiative called the Safety and Fairness for Everyone (SAFE) Cities Network. The initiative, launched in collaboration with the Vera Institute of Justice, a national nonprofit and research organization, helps cities with funding and resources to help train legal service providers and share best practices.

Unlike in criminal court cases, immigrants generally do not have the right to a free court-appointed attorney during removal proceedings, and often have to bear the costs on their own.  Nationally, only 37 percent of immigrants facing deportation proceedings get access to a lawyer, and only 14 percent of immigrants in detention do, according to a report from the American Immigration Council, a nonprofit and advocacy group. As Mother Jones has reported previously, studies have shown that access to legal representation can drastically improve an immigrant’s chances of winning relief from deportation or release from detention. Without it, often immigrants and families are quickly deported.

Vera started soliciting competitive applications from cities and counties to be part of the network earlier this summer. Local governments had to commit some public cash, which Vera would then supplement with additional funding. Atlanta, GA, Austin and San Antonio, TX, Baltimore and Prince George’s County, MD; Chicago, IL; Columbus, OH; Dane County, WI, and Oakland/Alameda County, Sacramento, and Santa Ana, CA were selected.

Vera’s project comes at a time when cities and states are ramping up their efforts to protect undocumented immigrants against a potential crackdown. A Reutersanalysis found that arrests of undocumented immigrants with no criminal history increased by more than 200 percent in the first half of the year. Though deportations have slowed, ICE agents have made 43 percent more arrests since Trump has been in office, compared to the same time last year, according to the Washington PostAttorney General Jeff Sessions has also attempted to speed up deportations and reduce immigration court backlogs, though to seemingly little effect.

For cities like Atlanta, it will be the first time the city has ever provided legal defense for those facing deportation. “This support is needed now more than ever,” Mayor Kasim Reed said.

“Immigrants are our friends, neighbors, and co-workers, but new enforcement tactics are breaking up families and weakening our neighborhoods and our city,” Elizabeth Brown, council member for the City of Columbus, stated in a press release. The city will provide $185,000 to three groups, and received $100,000 in additional funding from Vera.

Providing universal representation is an approach that Vera has tested before. In 2013, the group helped start a pilot project called the New York Immigrant Family Unit Project (NYIFUP) that provided free legal defense services to immigrants detained at the Varick Street Immigration Court. A new report evaluating the program found that immigrants who participated were able to able improve their chances of remaining in the US. Before the project began, only 4 percent of immigrants who had no legal representation at the court were able to win their cases. With the help of the free legal defense, NYIFUP estimates that 48 percent of its cases will end successfully. The program has represented more than 1,770 people and also helped reunite more than 750 people with their families, according to the report.

Outside of the SAFE Cities Network, other cities have taken on their own efforts to provide funds for legal defense. In April, Seattle’s city council unanimously passed a resolution to allocate $1 million to a defense fund for immigrants and refugees, and increased that fund to $1.5 million with the inclusion of King County in August. Earlier this summer, Los Angeles city and county officials also approved an L.A. Justice Fund that, with help from outside donors, would provide up to $10 million for legal defense to immigrants.

“It’s inhumane for people to go to court with no lawyer,” Omar Siagha, a green card holder who was able to win his case through the NYIFP, said in a press release. “Everyone deserves a chance to explain their case to the judge.”

Doonesbury — Humor me.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Why She Won

There’s been a lot of talk about the election of Danica Roem to the Virginia House of Delegates because she’s the first transgender person elected to statewide office in the country.  Not only that, she did it by beating Republican Bob Marshall, one of the state’s most conservative delegates who proudly labeled himself as “chief homophobe” and authored an anti-transgender “bathroom bill” that thankfully died in committee earlier this year.

I’d like to think that the reason Ms. Roem won had nothing to do with her gender or how she identifies herself on her driver’s license.  I’d like to think that it had to do with the fact that she ran a campaign about doing things in her district that needed doing.  There are potholes that need to be filled.  There are schools that need to be funded.  There is healthcare that needs to be provided, and the rest of the day-to-day problems that crop up that need to be dealt with and then moving forward.  What was Bob Marshall doing?  Freaking out about where people urinate.

I’d also like to think that the people in her district have grown up enough to realize that the abstract worries about things such as LGBTQ issues and walls in Texas are less important than taking care of the potholes and schoolrooms.  It doesn’t matter what bathroom you go into as long as you are ready and willing to do the job when you come out.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sunday Reading

The Trolls of St. Petersburg — Masha Gessen in The New Yorker.

“Seen any of these before?” a headline blared on CNN’s Web site this week. “You may have been targeted by Russian ads on Facebook.” One half expected a toll-free number of a law firm to flash across the screen, or perhaps the name of a medicine to take post-exposure to Russian ads. Among other revelations of the past few days: Russian ads may have reached a third of Americans! And some of them were paid for with rubles! The very thought seemed to be enough to make Senator Al Franken cradle his head in distress on Tuesday, during congressional hearings in which representatives from Google, Facebook, and Twitter were questioned about Russian influence in the 2016 Presidential campaign.

In the past few weeks, we have learned a fair amount about the Russian online presence during the election. What matters, though, is not that Russian interference reached a third of Americans—that, in fact, is a significant exaggeration of the testimony by Facebook’s general counsel, Colin Stretch, who said that a hundred and twenty-six million people, not necessarily Americans, “may have been served” content associated with Russian accounts sometime between 2015 and 2017, with a majority of impressions landing after the election. He also mentioned that “this equals about four-thousandths of one per cent of content in News Feed, or approximately one out of twenty-three thousand pieces of content.” Nor is it significant that, as a “CNN exclusive” headline announced, “Russian-linked Facebook ads targeted Michigan and Wisconsin.” The story that followed actually said nothing of the sort. The real revelation is this: Russian online interference was a god-awful mess, a cacophony.

The Times published some of the ads that Facebook has traced to Russian accounts. Among them: a superhero figure with a green leg and a fuchsia leg, red trunks, and a head vaguely reminiscent of Bernie Sanders, all of which is apparently meant to read as pro-L.G.B.T.Q.; a Jesus figure arm-wrestling Satan, with a caption indicating that Satan is Hillary; an ad reminding us that “Black Panthers, group formed to protect black people from the KKK, was dismantled by us govt but the KKK exists today”; and an anti-immigrant ad featuring a sign that says “No invaders allowed!,” among others.

Several former staff members of a St. Petersburg company widely known as the Kremlin’s “troll factory” gave interviews to different Russian-language media outlets last month. One told TV Rain, an independent Web-based television channel, that hired trolls were obligated to watch “House of Cards,” presumably to gain an understanding of American politics. At the same time, trolls took English classes and classes on American politics. In the former, they learned the difference between the present-perfect and past-simple tenses (“I have done” versus “I did,” for example); in the latter they learned that if the subject concerned L.G.B.T. rights, then the troll should use religious rhetoric: “You should always write that sodomy is a sin, and that will bring you a couple of dozen ‘likes.’ ”

Another Russian outlet, RBC, published the most detailed investigative report yet on the “troll factory.” RBC found that the company had a budget of roughly $2.2 million and employed between eight hundred and nine hundred people, about ten per cent of whom worked on American politics. The trolls’ job was not so much to aid a particular Presidential candidate as to wreak havoc by posting on controversial subjects. Their success was measured by the number of times a post was shared, retweeted, or liked. RBC calculated that, at most, two dozen of the trolls’ posts scored audiences of a million or more; the vast majority had less than a thousand page views. On at least a couple of occasions, the trolls organized protests in the U.S. simply by strategically posting the dates and times on Facebook. In Charlotte, South Carolina, an entity calling itself BlackMattersUS scheduled a protest and reached out to an actual local activist who ended up organizing it—and a BlackMattersUS contact gave him a bank card to pay for sound equipment.

These reports don’t exactly support the assumption that the Russian effort was designed to get Donald Trump elected President. In fact, as The Hill reported on Tuesday, a Russian account announced plans for an anti-Trump march in New York City four days after the election—and thousands attended.

Why did Russian trolls, funded at least in part by the Kremlin, work to incite protests against Trump and an ersatz Black Lives Matter protest, and, at least in one offline case, work to pit American protesters against one another? “We were just having fun,” one of the troll-factory employees interviewed by RBC explained. They were also making money—not a lot, but more than most college students and recent graduates, who comprised most of the troll-factory staff, would have earned elsewhere. In exchange, they had to show that they could meddle effectively in American politics.

Russians have long been convinced that their own politics are infiltrated by Americans. During the mass protests of 2011 and 2012, Putin famously accused Hillary Clinton personally of inciting the unrest. At the time, I was involved in organizing the protests. In advance of a large protest in February, 2012, I helped a particularly generous donor, who had shown up out of the blue volunteering to provide snacks, to connect with the hot-tea coördinator. A few weeks later, state-controlled television aired a propaganda film that used footage of protesters eating donated cookies and drinking tea, which was intended to expose the U.S. State Department’s sponsorship of the Moscow protests; the voice-over claimed that America had lured protesters out with cookies. A few months later, we learned that the generous donor had been an undercover agent who had used Kremlin rubles to purchase the cookies. In the end, protesters got tea and cookies, and millions of Russians became convinced that the anti-Putin protests were an American conspiracy.

The cookie story is not a perfect analogy, but it is an antecedent of sorts to the narrative of Russian meddling in the American election, and it is instructive. Was the Moscow protest made any less real because a fake donor had brought cookies? Was the protest in New York in November of last year any less real, or any less opposed to Trump, because a Russia-linked account originally called for it? Is Trump any less President because Russians paid for some ads on Facebook? Is there any reason, at this point, to think that a tiny drop in the sea of Facebook ads changed any American votes? The answer to all of these questions is: no, not really.

The most interesting question is: What were the Russians doing? In the weeks leading up to the election, Putin made it clear that he expected Hillary Clinton to become President. There is every indication that Moscow was as surprised as New York when the vote results came in. Indeed, in Russia, where election results are always known ahead of time, the Trump victory might have been even more difficult to absorb. So what, then, was the point of Russian meddling—what was the vision behind the multicolored Bernie superhero and the “No invaders” ad?

All of us, including the trolls of St. Petersburg, want the world to make sense. Given the opportunity, we want to show that it works the way we think it does. Russians generally believe that politics are a cacophonous mess with foreign interference but a fixed outcome, so they invested in affirming that vision. In the aftermath, and following a perfectly symmetrical impulse, a great many Americans want to prove that the Russians elected Trump, and Americans did not.

Rainbows and Unicorns — Charles P. Pierce on the GOP tax plan.

With Sudden Sam Clovis suddenly cleared out, there was room for the House Republicans to uncrate their long-awaited tax plan and it was pretty much as disastrous as you thought it would be.

(And I should point out how stunned I am that the administration would not want a guy already under FBI investigation to go under oath in a completely separate proceeding in which would be examined his credentials to do a job for which he was completely unqualified. ‘Ees a puzzlement.)

One good way to understand what’s going on with this latest exercise in financial misdirection is to notice that this plan will tax the interest payment on one student’s loans, but that it may no longer tax another student’s multibillion-dollar inheritance. Of course, the estate tax will go away entirely in six years, probably when nobody’s watching. It also will cap the mortgage-interest deduction, probably in the interest of eliminating it entirely when nobody’s watching. So that’s what all that “middle-class” bafflegab is really all about.

Brownback’s catastrophic imbibing of straight supply-side Sterno crippled his state, and the Center for American Progress immediately pointed out the similarities between what Brownback did in his state and what the Republican plan proposes to do to the country. Otherwise, the Republican plan is pretty much the same thing as David Stockman long ago said the first Reagan budget was: a Trojan horse to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthiest among us. From The Washington Post:

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and collapse the seven tax brackets paid by families and individuals down to four. It would create giant new benefits for the wealthy by cutting business taxes, eliminating the estate tax, and ending the alternative minimum tax.

The elimination of the deduction for state and local taxes seems to be based in an entirely new riff that’s become popular among congresscritters who are tired of seeing their laissez-faire hellholes called moochers because the hellholes take in more money from the federal government than they send back to it in taxes. Now, believe it or not, and you will believe it because these people will say anything, the argument is being made that the high-tax states are somehow luxuriating on the backs of Good Country People in places like Alabama and, yes, Kansas. In any event, this provision of the bill has put Republicans from places like New York and New Jersey in a considerable bind, so much so that insisting upon it may be enough to sink the bill entirely.

And, finally, of course, we have the most spavined old nag in this entire herd of unicorns.

The bill would add $1.5 trillion to the debt over 10 years, but Republicans believe the changes would trigger a surge in economic growth, higher wages, and job creation.

Clap as hard as you want, America. This is not going to happen because it never has happened in all the years that Republicans have been running this con on the country. It never has happened because it can’t happen. In the immortal words of Rocket J. Squirrel:

“But that trick never works.”

Time Was… Michael S. Rosenwald on the chaotic history of timekeeping in America.

One of the crazier facts about life in America is this: For roughly two decades, nobody had any clue what time it was.

In office buildings, it could be 4 p.m. on one floor and 5 p.m. on another — an important matter for several reasons, including who punched out first to get to happy hour. People would step off airplanes with no idea how to set their watches. Ponder this head-scratcher:

“A short trip from Steubenville, Ohio, to Moundsville, West Virginia became a symbol of the deteriorating situation. A bus ride down this thirty-five-mile stretch of highway took less than an hour. But along that route, the local time changed seven times.”

That “deteriorating situation,” as historian Michael Downing put it in his book “Spring Forward,” is the reason millions of Americans will set their clocks back this weekend for Daylight Saving. (And it is daylight saving, not savings. You’re welcome.) Those who forget are going to be very early for Sunday brunch.

Before 1966, when President Lyndon B. Johnson solved the craziness over America’s clocks two years after passing the Civil Rights Act, time was essentially anything governments or businesses wanted it to be. Though laws mandating daylight saving — to save fuel, to give shoppers extra time in the light — passed in 1918, by the end of World War II the system had become fractured and was ultimately dismantled.

These were nutty times, Downing writes, with some localities observing daylight saving, some not:

Left to their own devices, private enterprise and local governments — which had repeatedly demanded the right not to alter their clocks — took to changing the time as often as they changed their socks, setting off a nationwide frenzy of time tampering …

Especially in Iowa, which had 23 different Daylight Saving dates. “If you wanted to get out of Iowa, you had to time your departure carefully,” Downing writes. “Motorists driving west through the 5 p.m. rush hour in Council Bluffs, Iowa, found themselves tied up in the 5 p.m. rush hour in Omaha, Nebraska, an hour later.”

The historian also offers this truly astonishing fact: “By 1963, no federal agency of commission was even attempting to keep track of timekeeping practices in the United States.”

When the government did finally get involved, a committee was, of course, established.

It was called, “The Committee for Time Uniformity.”

Congressional hearings were held. Legislation was proposed. Editorials were written.

The measure “is a bid for the termination of chaos,” this newspaper opined. To those who would oppose such a sensible idea, the Post editorial page said, “It is better for them to adjust to the will of the majority than to tolerate the Babel of contradictory clocks.”

The Uniform Time Act of 1966 — designed “to promote the observance of a uniform system of time throughout the United States” — was signed into law by Johnson on April 13, 1966.

Six months later it became the law of the land, though one wonders: Did it go into effect at the very same time in New York and Chicago, which is one hour behind?

Actually, never mind.

Doonesbury — Rhyme time.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Nuts & Bolts

Here’s the details of the Republican tax package, but to cut to the chase, it’s basically a huge gift to rich people and corporations and a stinking turd to the middle class folks who have mortgages and pay state income taxes.

Families would also no longer be able to deduct their state income taxes from their federal taxable income, another change that would have a particular impact on places like New Jersey and New York, where state taxes are higher than in other areas. Taxpayers will be able to deduct their property taxes up to $10,000.

Americans would no longer be able to deduct their medical expenses or property and casualty losses, according to a document outlining the plan.

Okay, so all of you who voted for Trump because Her E-mails and you fell for the line about getting rich quick…  Well, to quote that old chant after a bad call by the ref: “Nuts and bolts!  Nuts and bolts! We got screwed!”

The chances of this bill passing are slim, but at least we know where the Republicans’ hearts lie in terms of the middle class and those without means to lobby: Screw you.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Background Radiation

The clue that there’s nothing to the story about Hillary Clinton and Russian uranium is that Trump is making a big deal about it.  Remember that he did that same thing about Barack Obama’s birth certificate and Muslims celebrating the September 11 attacks.  It’s crap.

But if you want to know the background on the story, here it is.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Monday, October 23, 2017

It’s Not The Hats

Via the New York Times:

Blame it on these bitter political times.

The feud over President Trump’s call to the widow of a fallen soldier might never have escalated had Mr. Trump done what any of his predecessors almost certainly would have done: quickly apologize for words that failed to bring comfort.

Likewise, the nasty back-and-forth with Frederica S. Wilson, a Democratic congresswoman who is close to the soldier’s family, might have dissipated had she not repeatedly disparaged Mr. Trump’s intentions on national television, failing to extend him the benefit of the doubt that previous presidents had received.

And the public relations disaster that engulfed the White House might have been less intense if John F. Kelly, the president’s chief of staff, had not publicly vented his anger at Ms. Wilson, calling her an “empty barrel” and incorrectly asserting that she had boasted about herself during a ceremony for a building named for fallen F.B.I. agents.

But the political guardrails that once could have prevented a soldier’s death from spiraling into a weeklong, made-for-TV spectacle have been wiped out by a mistrust that has deepened on all sides with the rise of Mr. Trump.

In this acid political climate, “argument turns too easily into animosity,” former President George W. Bush observed on Thursday, in a speech that seemed tailor-made for the week in which he delivered it. “Disagreement escalates into dehumanization.”

Indeed, the quarrel between the president and the congresswoman only grew on Saturday, with Mr. Trump again calling Ms. Wilson “wacky” on Twitter and saying she was “killing the Democrat Party.” His comments came just hours before the soldier’s family and friends gathered in Florida for his funeral.

Trump’s defenders have gone after Rep. Wilson for her hats (apparently with an extreme lack of self-awareness).  She has a lot of them and she wears them with pride.  But her style statements are a distraction.  What’s really bugging Trump and the rest of his minions is that she’s a black woman calling him out.

I doubt the Times will point that out, but it’s been the history of this gang that they don’t tolerate challenges well, especially from people they feel superior to, such as women and minorities.

Pretty In Pink Triangles

A Georgia state representative — and coincidentally the wife of the former Secretary of HHS — wants to quarantine HIV patients.

State Rep. Betty Price, a Republican from Roswell, suggested quarantining people living with HIV during a House study committee meeting addressing the barriers HIV-positive people face.

Price’s suggestion came Tuesday during a two-hour meeting of the House Study Committee on Georgians’ Barriers to Access to Adequate Health Care. Price – a medical doctor and wife of Dr. Tom Price, the former Secretary of Health & Human Services – asked Pascale Wortley if quarantining people was an option given how much the state spends on care for people with HIV. Wortley, director of the HIV Epidemiology Section for Georgia Department of Health, was discussing HIV treatment with the committee.

“My thinking sometimes goes in strange directions, but before you proceed if you wouldn’t mind commenting on the surveillance of partners, tracking of contacts, that sort of thing. What are we legally able to do,” Price said.

“And I don’t want to say the quarantine word, but I guess I just said it. Is there an ability, since I would guess that public dollars are expended heavily in prophylaxis and treatment of this condition. So we have a public interest in curtailing the spread. What would you advise or are there any methods legally that we could do that would curtail the spread,” Price added.

As Hunter suggested, what’s next, put them all in camps?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

That Was Then

It was just about two years ago when Hillary Clinton spent 11 hours in front of a congressional committee getting grilled about her role in Benghazi! and what about her e-mails and her private accounts and state secrets and ohmigod?

My, how times have changed.

The White House brushed off a bipartisan request from House investigators for details of senior administration officials’ use of private email and encrypted messaging apps for government work, including possible violations of federal record-keeping laws, a letter obtained by POLITICO shows.

In a terse letter to Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) — leaders of the House oversight committee — President Donald Trump’s congressional liaison Marc Short declined to indicate whether any administration officials had used personal email accounts or messaging services, despite reports suggesting such communications were common in the West Wing.

“The White House and covered employees endeavor to comply with all relevant laws,” Short wrote in a two-page reply delivered late last week and obtained Monday by POLITICO.

Short’s statement comes despite recent revelations that several senior aides to President Donald Trump routinely used private email addresses and personal devices for government business. Among the current and former aides who POLITICO found at least occasionally relied on private email addresses were Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Gary Cohn and Reince Priebus.

In a similarly brief letter, Short also declined to provide records in response to a separate inquiry by Gowdy and Cummings into the use of costly private air travel by top administration officials.

If this had come from the Obama administration — or any Democrat, for that matter — there would be Tiki torches mounted atop the Rascal scooters of the Tea Party — hey, remember them? — until MSNBC stopped live coverage.

But now it’s *shrug* and “Whatever….”  Like it should have been the first time.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Random Thought

Conservatives and Christian zealots applauded when a county clerk in Kentucky defied the law based on her religious beliefs, and they’re about to elect a senator in Alabama who ordered judges in that state to also defy the law based on his religious beliefs. But they got their tits in an uproar about a silent protest that breaks no law and is in keeping with various religious traditions including Mennonite, Quaker, and Amish.

What am I missing here?

Call It Something Else

You can’t call it Obamacare anymore.

The twin hits to the Affordable Care Act could unravel President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement, sending insurance premiums soaring and insurance companies fleeing from the health law’s online marketplaces. After Republicans failed to repeal the health law in Congress, Mr. Trump appears determined to dismantle it on his own.

Without the subsidies, insurance markets could quickly unravel. Insurers have said they will need much higher premiums and may pull out of the insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act if the subsidies were cut off. Known as cost-sharing reduction payments, the subsidies were expected to total $9 billion in the coming year and nearly $100 billion in the coming decade.

It wasn’t perfect, mainly because Republican governors, including Florida’s Rick Scott, refused to go along with the Medicaid expansion, and the rest of the GOP did everything they could to destroy it as it was being implemented.  But even with their best — or worst — efforts the law was providing health insurance to more people and making it more affordable.

But now it’s the Republicans’ problem.  Trump did their bidding, and while he has his own infantile reasons for trying to destroy it, the turd of what’s left of healthcare insurance now lands squarely on the shoes of the Republicans.  If the Democrats have any smarts about how to win an election — a dubious proposition — they will make the Republicans own it from now on.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Repeal By Other Means

Trump is killing off Obamacare via executive order since he couldn’t get Congress to do it.

…Trump will end Obamacare’s cost-sharing reduction payments. This move, in combination with the executive order Trump signed earlier in the day, threatens to begin the unraveling of the Obamacare marketplaces.

CBO projects cutting off the payments will make premiums 20 percent higher by 2018 and 25 percent higher by 2020, while raising the budget deficit by nearly $200 billion by 2026.

Two questions: When President Obama couldn’t get Congress to do what he wanted, he issued executive orders, which set off the Republicans into screaming fits of “dictatorship!”  So why doesn’t this execution of healthcare get the same reaction from the same people?  (Gee, I wonder.)  And why is it okay for them to let a lot of people lose affordable health insurance and end up costing a lot more money?