Democrats’ mantra for #Midterms2018: No days off

If Democrats want to win, we all need to keep up the pressure. On all races, at all levels, all the time.

My take-home message from Netroots Nation in New Orleans came from the very first session I attended. The message was crystal clear: We can’t take any days off in the fight for Democrats to win elections.

A panel consisting of people from various Democratic organizations, from the Democratic National Committee to grassroots groups that sprung up after the 2016 election, stressed the need to work together, share information, and get involved at all election levels. The panel was “Navigating Partnerships with a New Democratic Party and the New Grassroots,” and panel members stressed how all groups needed to reach out to one another if we want to achieve success.

The panel was moderated by Irene Shin, political director for Crowdpac, who has worked on various campaigns and for several progressive organizations. Also on hand were Jamie Perrapato, executive director of Turn PA Blue, a group dedicated to flipping the Pennsylvania Legislature; Lala Wu, co-founder and director of engagement and partnerships at the Sister District Project, which is focused on electing more Democrats in state legislatures; and Allison Zelman, director of states and deputy political and organizing director at the DNC, who works with state parties to build up Democratic state infrastructures and elect Democrats up and down the ballot in each state.

But the line that really hit me came from the fifth member of the panel, North Carolina State Rep. Graig Meyer, a Democrat who has served in the North Carolina House of Representatives since 2013. He created and still leads a grassroots effort called Our Shot to elect Democrats to the North Carolina House. He described his message to those working on campaigns to elect Democrats as one of “tough love.”

His message? There are no days off. “It’s too important,” Meyer told the crowd.

“The people we are doing this for get no days off,” said Meyer, who worked as a social worker in North Carolina public schools for 16 years before he was elected to the North Carolina Legislature. “Children living in poverty get no days off from poverty. The people who go to work every day and don’t have health care get no days off from work because they’re sick. The people who are drinking bottled water because their water is polluted, whether that’s in Flint or the Cape Fear River in North Carolina, they get no days off of having an environment that is trying to poison them.

“And none of us get any days off right now from a horrible Republican government all over the country. And so no days off between now and Election Day. If we win, then we have work to do. Still no days off. But between now and then, no days off for the people that we care about. I do not want to be in Virginia’s position, where we lose control of a legislature by the flip of a coin.”

(Meyer was referring to the 2017 race between Democrat Shelly Simonds and incumbent Republican David Yancey in Virginia’s 94th District in the House of Delegates. Simonds led by one vote, until a three-judge panel accepted a mismarked ballot, which originally had been tossed, as a vote for Yancey, making the race a tie. Instead of a coin flip to break the tie, it was decided to pull a name out of a bowl to decide the winner. Yancey’s name was drawn from the bowl, he was declared the winner, and Republicans kept control of the Virginia House of Delegates, 51-49.)

Meyer drove home his point. “And so anybody who leaves any last sense or bit of energy on the field will feel my wrath if we lose by the flip of a coin!”

The crowd laughed and applauded. Of course, he was kidding about the “wrath” part. I think.

Taking “no days off” is a tall order. We all have lives to lead. Many of us have loved ones to care for, jobs to go to each day to pay the rent and put food on the table, classes to attend, and responsibilities that must be met just to survive. All of that is on top of the fact that the vast majority of us are putting in time on election efforts as volunteers, and also are contributing money to various candidates’ campaigns and political campaign groups.

But in the push to elect more Democrats, we can never forget that every vote counts, a message that was emphasized by every panel member. They all stressed the need for organizing and engaging volunteers, harnessing the new wave of energy that has been growing since November of 2016. It means working at state and local levels to elect Democrats in those races as well as those at national levels. Success depends on every door you knock on, every phone call you make.

How many races are coming down to razor-thin margins, such as the special election for the House seat in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District? Every vote counts.

Here’s an example of a campaign taking no time off, ready to jump from a primary win to a general election race:

Okay, so we’re not all Jason Kander. We still need to take early opportunities to get involved and for campaigns to accept help, early and often.

After the 2018 midterm elections come the 2020 elections. But that’s not just a presidential election; it also means electing state legislatures that will redraw legislative district boundaries. The main reason we’re in this gerrymandered mess is that Republicans were wildly successful in the 2010 elections with the help of their Redmap project, when Republicans flipped 19 legislative bodies to GOP control. They will keep that legislative advantage until more Democrats can take over more state legislatures to redraw those boundaries.

So let’s make that two mantras. No days off and every vote counts.

A video of this panel is available to watch online. Details about all of the events at Netroots Nation also are still available online. Videos of speeches from Netroots’ keynote sessions are available on the Netroots Facebook page.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Aug. 12, 2018.

2018 is the year of Democratic women, but not only candidates (UPDATE)

The millions of people who took part in the Women’s Marches in 2017 and 2018 are among those who will have the most important roles of all in the midterms: Voters.

The elections in 2018 are turning out to be the Year of the Woman, but it’s not just women candidates running as Democrats. It’s women voting in big numbers. It’s women donating money to candidates — lots of money. More than anything else, it’s about women having their voices heard.

No longer are women candidates afraid to speak out on all issues. They’re proud of touting their military service. And they’re also not afraid to talk about a double standard for women candidates.

Suddenly the media are full of stories about the number of Democratic women running and winning primaries. About how the midterms could feature a record gender gap between men and women voters. About how women are establishing “giving circles” to make sure candidates are funded and to give more interested women a way to get involved.

Philip Bump of The Washington Post suspects that the driving force for this year’s predicted Blue Wave might turn out to be pink.

It was women who launched the first massive protest of the Trump era, marching the day after his inauguration in the millions to express opposition to his election. It was women who led the anti-Trump effort at the outset; it’s women who lead it still. Even the advent of the #MeToo movement has roots in opposition to Trump, both given the outstanding accusations against him and given the fuel that his triumph in 2016 added to the push to hold powerful men accountable.

Perhaps because this has been a constant undercurrent since early last year, it often goes unremarked upon. But it shouldn’t, particularly in the context of electoral politics. As the midterms near, there are signs that an energized base of women will play a significant — and probably defining — role in the outcome.

What factors are contributing to all of this predicted success for a Blue Wave?

Democratic turnout is up — bigly. Turnout in this year’s primaries is high on both sides, but particularly on the Democratic side. According to new figures from the Pew Research Center:

Turnout has surged in the 31 states that already have held their congressional primaries — particularly among Democrats.

In those states, nearly 13.6 million people — or 10.1% of registered voters — have voted in Democratic primaries for the U.S. House of Representatives, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of state election returns. By this point in the 2014 midterm election cycle, fewer than 7.4 million people — or 6% of registered voters — had cast ballots in Democratic House primaries. (The same 31 states have held primaries as by this date in 2014.)

The total number of votes cast in Democratic House primaries so far this year is 84% higher than the total for the equivalent point in 2014.

Pew adds that Republican turnout in House primaries also is up, from a combined 8.6 million votes at this point in 2014 (7 percent of registered voters) to 10.7 million (7.9 percent) so far this year. But the increase is smaller, and the total number of votes cast in Democratic House primaries is considerably higher.

Women are donating money in record numbers to Democrats and to women candidates. An NBC News story reported on the surge of money fueling Democratic women’s chances. It described “giving circles,” informal organizations in which mostly upscale members pledge a minimum amount of cash toward candidates for an election cycle.

As of July 23, 329,000 women had donated at least $200 to a federal campaign or PAC in the 2018 cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, far outpacing the 198,000 women who donated similar amounts over the entire 2014 midterms.

Men still make up close to two-thirds of donors, with women’s share up slightly from 2014, but women’s contributions are becoming more concentrated on one side: 61 percent of donations to candidates or parties have gone to Democrats this cycle. In the last midterms, a 51 percent majority went to Republicans.

The data suggests these Democratic women are more eager to support women with their dollars as well. As of March, 44 percent of contributions to Democratic women running for Congress came from women, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the highest share yet and a five-point jump from 2014. By comparison, they made up 34 percent of contributions to male Democratic House candidates, which also was a new high.

When good and viable candidates run, dollars will follow. Especially, it seems, for a candidate with two X chromosomes.

Women vets are running — and winning. Some of the women running in the fall are military veterans — and they’re putting their service front and center in their races, often running ads with photos or video of them in uniform, in the pilot’s seat of a fighter jet, or at the helm of a Navy helicopter. At least 28 female veterans filed to run as candidates in U.S. House races, and four ran for the Senate. Most of them — 24 — are Democrats, and many have been winning their primary contests. Four female veterans currently serve in Congress.

One such candidate is Amy McGrath, running in Kentucky’s Sixth Congressional District. The retired marine lieutenant colonel launched her campaign with a video that quickly went viral and has been described as one of the most effective campaign launch ads ever.

But as much as I love this ad, I also love what McGrath tweeted in response to a story (that also went viral) about author Lauren Groff. In an interview with the Harvard Gazette about her latest story collection, called Florida, Groff was asked a sexist question about work-life balance. Here’s that exchange, as run on ABC News:

GAZETTE: You are a mother of two. In 10 years you have produced three novels and two short-story collections. Can you talk about your process and how you manage work and family?

GROFF: I understand that this is a question of vital importance to many people, particularly to other mothers who are artists trying to get their work done, and know that I feel for everyone in the struggle. But until I see a male writer asked this question, I’m going to respectfully decline to answer it.

That’s the way to shut them down — politely, yet. Here’s what McGrath said in her tweet: “Bold answer. I like it. When I’m asked how I’d manage as a congresswoman with small children, I respond by reminding the person asking that my opponent (the current congressman), a man, also has small children the same ages as mine. Does he get asked that same question?”

Indeed, no one is surprised that male candidates don’t get this question, even as they love to use their adorable offspring as props in campaign ads.

Women voters are voting for Democrats and Democratic women. There’s usually a gender gap in voting, with more women voting for Democrats and more men voting for Republicans. But the gap this year could be historic. According to a CNN story:

In the average poll since June, Democrats are leading among women by an average 20-percentage point margin compared to trailing among men by 6 points. If this holds, this would be the largest margin that Democrats would win women by in a midterm election since at least 1958. …

One clear advantage of doing better among women voters though is that they almost always represent a larger percentage of the electorate than men do. Historically that hasn’t made much of a difference because the gender gap hasn’t been as large as it is today. With a gender gap of 26 points, however, it could matter.

A recent Washington Post-Schar School of Government poll also showed that women voters have an edge in voting enthusiasm. Even more important, Democratic women have an edge over Republican women voters.

There are wide differences by party, though. Democratic women are more likely to say that it’s “extremely” or “very” important to vote than are Republican men — and much more so than Republican women. This may help explain that campaign-contributions graphic: Republican women aren’t as energized as Democrats.

You want to see a stark gap? According to the same poll, there’s a 47-point gap in favor of Democrats among white women with college degrees. “Support for the Republicans among white women with a college degree drops off a cliff after 2016,” wrote Philip Bump in another Washington Post analysis.

It wasn’t until 2011 that a single women’s restroom was finally installed near the Speaker’s Lobby in the U.S. House of Representatives (a woman’s restroom was installed near the Senate floor in 1993). Before that, congresswomen had to walk a long way past tourists in Statuary Hall to find available facilities.

After this fall’s midterm elections, the House may have to install at least one more women’s room. Maybe it’s time that the House chamber should be considered an inclusive kind of women’s room, all by itself.

UPDATE: A record number of women have now advanced through primaries and will be on the ballot in November. At least 185 women have captured a Democratic or Republican nomination for the House (most of them are Democrats). Women also have won 11 primaries for governor.

And there are a dozen more primaries to go.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Aug. 6, 2018.

Global heat wave another sign of #ClimateChange

A Philadelphia man tried to cool off in the spray of a fire hydrant when temperatures soared in early July.

You might have noticed that it’s been hot outside lately. Really hot.

In early July, all-time heat records were set all over the world. The Algerian city of Ouargla set a new recorded high for the entire continent of Africa: 124.3 degrees Fahrenheit, or 51.3 degrees Celsius, on July 6. But that’s far from the only place where — to quote Cole Porter — it’s too darn hot.

  • In Texas, the extreme heat is widespread. Multiple cities are reporting runs of five or six days in a row with temperatures over 100. The record-breaking heat is overwhelming the state’s electric power grid. One day was so hot that the grid set a new system-wide all-time peak demand record.
  • An “unprecedented” heat wave in Japan has been declared a natural disaster. Kumagaya, a city near Tokyo, recorded the highest-ever temperature in Japan —4 1.1 degrees Celsius, or 105.98 degrees Fahrenheit. At least 80 people have died of the heat so far, but some weather officials say the death toll is more likely in the hundreds. More than 30,000 people have been hospitalized for heatstroke. The extreme weather also is forcing officials to postpone construction of venues for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
  • In Sweden, high temperatures and persistent drought are being blamed for the spread of some 44 wildfires. Sweden has asked other European countries for assistance in fighting the fires. These wildfires are reaching as far north as the Arctic Circle.
  • Heat records are being broken all over: Denver; Los Angeles and several other California cities; Montreal; Glasgow, Scotland; Shannon, Ireland; Belfast, Northern Ireland; and many locations in Russia, including Siberia. In the U.S. alone, nine all-time temperature records have been broken and 10 have tied records.
  • In Ireland’s Boyne Valley north of Dublin, the extreme heat and an accompanying drought, with the help of a drone camera, uncovered the footprint of an ancient Stonehenge-like structure on land that is usually green with crops.

There are many, many more examples, including boiled bats in Australia. All of this follows 2017, which also had record-breaking heat. As a matter of fact, the five warmest years on record all have occurred since 2010.

This is weather, not climate, but the two are linked: Multiple studies have already tied weather extremes such as heat waves to climate change due to increased greenhouse gases produced by human activities. Heat waves are predicted to become hotter, longer, and more frequent.

If only the dim bulbs currently running environmental policy in the U.S. would stop denying the obvious just to protect fossil fuel companies.

Extreme heat is not just an inconvenient truth: It causes people to die, especially the elderly, young children, and those who already have health issues. There are reports of an estimated 70 people dead in Canada; more than 75 dead from wildfires in Greece; and 65 dead from a May heat wave in Pakistan. The National Climate Assessment reports that, on average, more people in the United States die each year from heat-related illness than from any other weather disaster.

At least in India, where extreme heat takes a large toll on human life each year, the death count is lower in 2018 since the government instituted policies such as distributing free water and painting roofs white to reflect rather than absorb extreme heat. Several European countries that had high death tolls in a 2003 heat wave, which killed up to 70,000 people across Europe over three months, also are instituting new policies, such as shipping air conditioners to hospitals that never needed them before and sending leaflets to older residents with tips on how to manage the heat. Of course, while air conditioning saves lives, it also contributes to climate change, using lots of electricity and emitting hydrofluorocarbons into the atmosphere. It’s been described as a vicious cycle.

Then there are other consequences, such as health effects. According to the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, extreme heat due to climate change is making Americans in every part of the country sicker. Some of the outcomes are increased air pollution, higher risks of infectious diseases, more food contamination in hotter weather, and more widespread presence of disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks, which now can thrive in areas that were once too cold for them.

The leaked final draft of the new U.N. climate report, the “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C,” delivers the news that the world temperatures are on track to rise in excess of the original predicted target of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by about 2040. The current projection is a rise of 2 degrees Celsius.

This draft is being circulated to governments who are part of the Paris climate agreement, a group that includes every country in the world except the United States, after Donald Trump withdrew from the pact. A final report will be released in October.

A story at FiveThirtyEight described the report draft and its ominous predictions.

“The red alert is on,” Laurent Fabius, who was president of the 2015 international climate change negotiations in Paris, told an audience last week at the EuroScience Open Forum, Europe’s largest interdisciplinary science meeting. As of 2015, global temperatures had risen about 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. “It’s a race against time,” Fabius said, and the political challenge is to avoid acting too late.

We recently took a trip to Colorado and northern New Mexico. Of course there were hot days, which you expect in the summer, especially in the Southwest. But temperatures hit 100 several times in multiple places. A waitress in Taos, New Mexico, explained to us that the town usually gets a handful of days that hot all summer. They already had hit temperatures in the high 90s and 100 and over for several days in a row. And it was still June.

The entire area is suffering from drought. The owner of the B&B where we stayed in Manitou Springs, Colorado, near Pike’s Peak, explained that the area had received only around half of its usual snowfall the past winter. Drought conditions in Colorado are the worst since 2002, with 80 percent of the state experiencing some level of drought. There’s even the possibility of triggering a “call” as part of the Colorado River Compact. States in the Upper Basin of the Colorado River Basin such as Colorado and Utah would be required to pump even more water from the overallocated river to Lower Basin states like Arizona and California. So none of those states will have enough water, and agriculture will take the biggest hit.

The drought is so bad in New Mexico that signs everywhere proclaimed the fire danger as “extreme.” Campsites everywhere banned open fires, and even hiking was banned in many places because of the dangerous possibility of wildfires.

The temperatures will only continue to climb. According to a story in the Santa Fe New Mexican:

Environment New Mexico’s Albuquerque office said research conducted by the group in 2015 showed summers in New Mexico have warmed 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit since the 1970s.

“Without action to eliminate global warming pollution, summer temperatures here in New Mexico could rise by nearly 10 degrees by the end of the century,” the group said.

The idea of a 2 degree Celsius change by 2040 is scary enough. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which includes more than 1,300 scientists from around the world, also predicts a temperature rise of 2.5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century.

Despite efforts by the Trump administration to delete climate change information from government websites (such as this NASA site), there’s still a wealth of material outlining the predicted effects of climate change.

Droughts in the Southwest and heat waves (periods of abnormally hot weather lasting days to weeks) everywhere are projected to become more intense, and cold waves less intense everywhere.

Summer temperatures are projected to continue rising, and a reduction of soil moisture, which exacerbates heat waves, is projected for much of the western and central U.S. in summer. By the end of this century, what have been once-in-20-year extreme heat days (one-day events) are projected to occur every two or three years over most of the nation.

It’s way past time to heed the warning from leading climatologist and geophysicist Michael E. Mann, author of many books on climate change:

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 29, 2018.

How deep are ties between Russia and the GOP?

Donald Trump isn’t the only Republican Russian President Vladimir Putin has his hands on.

Recent events have driven home the point that Russian influence in American Republican politics is more prevalent than previously thought.

The examples are numerous — and very serious:

  • Donald Trump’s rejection of the conclusion of U.S. intelligence services about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and Trump’s embrace of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial of that interference (and no, the “would/wouldn’t” attempt at a take-back doesn’t cut it).
  • The arrest of Russian agent Maria Butina, who is facing multiple charges and is being held without bail. The details of story and the reports of her offering sex to infiltrate groups like the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party read like a bad spy novel.
  • Threats of Russian prosecution against — or “interrogation” of — 11 U.S. citizens. They include longtime Kremlin critic and financier Bill Browder, who was born in the U.S. but is now a British citizen and whose Russian lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died in Russian custody; Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, who, of course, had diplomatic immunity; and Kyle Parker, a congressional staffer who wrote most of the Magnitsky Act imposing sanctions on Russia, which has been a thorn in Putin’s side for years. Trump officials pointedly failed to deny that they might cooperate in such prosecution, saying only that it was “discussed” by the two leaders when they met in Helsinki. They have since backed down.
  • The report that Russians were asked for and sent stolen documents about the Democratic opponent of a sitting Republican U.S. congressman during the 2016 election. Some reports identify that congressman as California’s Dana Rohrabacher, who met with Butina in Russia in 2015 and is sometimes described as “Putin’s favorite congressman.”
  • Evidence that Carter Page, foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, was a Russian agent, which he continues to deny. The FBI’s wiretap application said Page had engaged in “clandestine intelligence activities” on behalf of Russia. Yet Page admitted that he was an “informal adviser” to Russia in a 2013 letter. “There may have been a loose conversation” with Russian officials about U.S. sanctions, and that “a few people might have brought it up in passing,” Page told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Condemnation of Trump’s behavior during the Helsinki news conference was swift and severe, by media, Democrats, and many Republicans. Trump has made it crystal clear that he has no problem sucking up to Putin, described as his KGBFF by comedian Jimmy Kimmel on his late-night show on ABC. But exactly how deep are the claws of the Russian bear dug into the GOP?

The threats against Americans — especially the former ambassador — are beyond outrageous, and for any member of the Trump administration to play coy about cooperating with such a plan is despicable. Here’s what California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell tweeted about it:

The U.S. State Department was quick to label the Russian claims against the Americans as absurd. Given the strong backlash by the diplomatic and intelligence community, Trump officials abandoned the idea, and the U.S. Senate voted 98-0 on a resolution condemning the proposal.

But the damage has been done. The Daily Beast compiled comments from several current and former U.S. diplomats, who were all horrified at the prospect of turning over a former ambassador to Putin, even quoting one current diplomat who chose to remain anonymous but said he was “at a fucking loss.” From the story:

David Wade, who was Secretary of State John Kerry’s chief of staff, said that the White House refusal to disavow Putin on McFaul crossed a line “from demoralizing to dangerous” for American diplomats.

“To even hint that there’s some element of credibility to Russian disruptions and distractions puts a bullseye on the back of any diplomat and invites authoritarian regimes to bully and threaten American public servants for the crime of doing their job. No administration should require a lesson or reminder in why this is reprehensible,” Wade said.

What Trump is willing to admit about Russian interference into the 2016 election is anyone’s guess on any given day, depending on whether he’s standing on a stage in Putin’s shadow or whether he’s half a world away, trying to sound tough with laughable damage control. Trump has made more conflicting claims on the charges of Russian cyberhacking than there are ingredients in borscht.

But there’s no question about what’s true—and that Trump knew it was true. The New York Times reports that, two weeks before his inauguration in January 2017, Trump was shown detailed, highly-classified intelligence reports that Putin personally ordered cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns to sway the election. All along, Trump knew it wasn’t China or some 400-pound guy sitting on his bed.

The story of Maria Butina gets more bizarre with each new set of details. And it’s a tale that reaches further into the GOP, touching many GOP officials, many of whom had photos taken with Butina at NRA conventions, the National Prayer Breakfast, and other instances, which she posted on social media.

Butina faces two charges: conspiracy and acting as a covert agent for Russia’s FSB spy agency. According to a story in The Washington Post:

Butina is accused of trying to cultivate relationships with American politicians to establish “back channel” lines of communication and seeking to infiltrate U.S. political groups, including an unnamed “gun rights organization,” to advance Russia’s agenda. Descriptions in court papers match published reports about Butina’s interactions with the NRA. …

Butina was allegedly assisted in her efforts by a U.S. political operative who helped introduce her to influential political figures. That person was not charged and is not named in court papers, but the description matches that of Paul Erickson, a GOP consultant who sought to organize a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Alexander Torshin, Butina’s Russian colleague and a former Russian senator, at a May 2016 NRA convention.

Butina is described as “a former furniture store owner from Siberia and gun-rights activist.” She questioned Trump during a 2015 town hall meeting (no coincidence, I’m sure) about his plans for Russia; met with Donald Trump Jr. at the 2016 NRA convention; and met with many Republican officials at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Deemed a flight risk, she is being held in custody before her trial.

And speaking of the NRA, the gun industry’s reported ties to Russia also are documented. According to a story from Newsweek:

The National Rifle Association has accepted contributions from at least 23 Russia-linked donors since 2015, the gun rights group revealed in a letter addressed to Congress. The admission came after Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, prodded the NRA as part of an investigation into what political organizations may have been used by Russia to influence the 2016 election in favor of Donald Trump.

The money totaled $2,500, with most of it coming from subscriptions or membership dues, according to the letter, which was … first reported on by NPR. About $525 of that money came from “two individuals who made contributions to the NRA,” wrote John Frazer, the general counsel for the gun rights group. The 23 people “may include U.S. citizens living in Russia,” the NRA said.

Sure, $2,500 sounds like chump change when you consider the fact that the NRA gave more than $30 million to the Trump campaign and other Republicans. But it goes deeper than that. According to reporting by NPR, Alexander Torshin, now deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank and someone who is currently barred from entering the U.S., has spent six years building relationships with multiple NRA officials and past presidents, trying to gain greater access to GOP politicians.

Top GOP officials know all this and don’t care. According to an analysis in The Nation:

Russiagate isn’t just the narrow story of a few corrupt officials. It isn’t even the story of a corrupt president. It’s the story of a corrupt political party, the one currently holding all the levers of power in Washington. After Trump groveled before Putin in Helsinki, many Republicans in Washington proclaimed their solemn concern, just as they did when the president expressed his sympathy for the white supremacists in Charlottesville last year. But all of them are fully aware that they are abetting a criminal conspiracy, and probably more than one. …

[Special Counsel Robert] Mueller, who knows more than anyone in the media about the extent of the Russiagate scandal and never leaks, isn’t telling us that Trump colluded and obstructed justice — we already know that, because we literally saw Trump request on camera, in the summer of 2016, that Russia hack the Clinton campaign, just as we later saw him bluntly admit to the world that he fired James Comey to end the Russia investigation.

Instead, we are being told something much more frightening: that Russiagate doesn’t end with Trump and his inner circle, that some members of Congress may be implicated, and that the Republican leadership therefore has a personal stake in preventing anyone beyond [former Trump campaign Chair Paul] Manafort and a few other flunkies from being held accountable.

So Donnie, I hope you enjoy your friendship with Vlad, however one-sided it might be. This satire of a Facebook clip, made a few months after the 2016 election by the comedy filmmaker team of Evan and Adam Nix (the Nix Bros.), sums it up perfectly:

KGBFF, indeed.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 22, 2018.

Trump-Putin summit: Vladimir gives Donald a performance review

On a 5-point scale, Putin may give Trump a 2 for overall effectiveness but a 4 for destroying global alliances.

Donald Trump had a one-on-one summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, after Trump met with NATO allies (at least they used to be) and after a visit to the United Kingdom.

Instead of the conventional approach with interpreters on both sides and a written record of what’s discussed, the talk reportedly did not have an official record. Before leaving on his foreign trip, Trump bragged that, of all of his meetings, the interchange with Putin might be “the easiest of them all.” Despite the news reports, here is what might have been discussed by the two men, which likely resemble more of a performance evaluation of Trump by the Russian leader than an actual summit talk.

Vladimir Putin: Ah, Donald! Zdravstvujtye, my friend.

Donald Trump: Gesundheit.

Putin: No, no, I was merely greeting you. That’s how we say “hello” in Russian. Better get used to it.

Trump: Oh.

Putin: How has your trip gone so far?

Trump: Pretty awful, but I’m making inroads. Those NATO freeloaders whined that they couldn’t pay any more for defense, but I made ‘em. That Angela Merkel thinks she’s so tough, but like I told ‘em at the NATO breakfast, Germany is totally a captive of Russia because of that energy pipeline.

Putin: (Chuckles) Donald, you shouldn’t make it so obvious. Germany might buy less oil and gas from us. Besides, the amount European members of NATO will pay for defense is the same amount they promised before.

Trump: Yeah, but I took credit for it, like I always do. They learned it’s easier just to let me scream and then nod their heads.

Putin: Shake their heads is more like it. And how was the trip to the U.K.?

Trump: The people were very rude to me. But I created the same kind of chaos as in the NATO meeting. My Sun interview said Theresa May was awful, but then I called it fake news. No one knows what to think. Those Brexit agreements could be dead in the water—this could be killing European trade. All just like you wanted.

Putin: So you’re blowing up the Brexit talks and your NATO friends aren’t so friendly anymore? Good, good. But your U.S. Congress passed resolutions supporting the U.S. role in NATO. And against your action on tariffs, too.

Trump: Yeah, but those were non-binding and only advisory. I just ignore all that stuff. Just like I did the law on sanctions against Russia for so long. And did you like the way I called the European Union a foe against the U.S.? And how I blamed any bad relationship between our two countries on Obama and U.S. stupidity?

Putin: Whatever. Well, Donald, let’s get to it. Before we do your performance evaluation, let’s review the goals we set up last year. You’ve done well on some areas but not so well on others.

Trump: (Whines) I’m doing the best I can! It takes work to destroy the world order. And it takes away from golf, plus my TV and tweeting time.

Putin: Fine, fine. First, let’s talk about some of your successes. This year’s top goal was to destroy U.S. alliances and pretend to build new ones. You successfully insulted almost all of the U.S. allies in NATO and the G7.

Trump: Yeah, I almost slipped and told that French Macaroon guy that he was fired. But I wanted to do it on live TV, and he wouldn’t agree to go on Fox & Friends.

Putin: Now let’s talk about North Korea. Donald, you got totally played at that meeting. Did you really think a single sheet of paper was going to fool anybody that it was an actual nuclear disarmament agreement?

Trump: I didn’t have enough time to do anything else.

Putin: And then you sent Mike Pompeo in afterward to negotiate something specific without prep work beforehand? These things take months of research and preparation. Everyone agrees that the meeting was a disaster. Donald, just drop it. Kim Jong Un isn’t going to agree to anything.

Trump: Not even if I give him a “Rocket Man” CD?

Putin: No. And you’re not getting a Nobel Peace Prize, either.

Trump: NO FAIR. Obama got one …

Putin: Now let’s talk about lifting sanctions against Russia. This was your job from day one. Why is it taking so long? You were supposed to send us the sharpest Republican members of Congress during your Independence Day holiday so we could convince them to get rid of sanctions. So we had to wait for a year and a half, and instead we got Ron Johnson.

Trump: Well, Louie Gohmert wasn’t available. Hey, how about if we send Devin Nunes next time?

Putin: Too obvious. Next on your list was electing more spineless Republicans, to make sure Congress does our—excuse me, I meant your—bidding. (Wags finger) You haven’t been doing so well there.

Trump: I can’t help it if Republicans keep nominating losers.

Putin: Donald, we destroyed Hillary Clinton and arranged for you to get elected in 2016 so we wouldn’t have to worry about sanctions. Why are so many Democratic candidates winning now? Why is Democratic voter turnout so high?

Trump: I keep talking about how awful immigrants are so my people will vote. Isn’t that enough?

Putin: No. Taking away babies made you look heartless. Even more heartless than me. (The two men chuckle.) But some of the Republican candidates are actual Nazis and white supremacists. They haven’t learned to keep that kind of talk under the radar.

Trump: You say that like it’s a bad thing.

Putin: Subtlety, Donald, subtlety. Now let’s talk about the economy. When you pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, that helped our oil business and oil prices, as we planned. You keep adding more tariffs against all of your allies and China. Do you really know what you’re doing? No, forget I even asked that.

Trump: It makes me look tough!

Putin: No, it makes you look stupid. But I’m not complaining. After all, China has to buy soybeans from somewhere. They’re not buying them from U.S. farmers, so they’re buying them from Russia. Nice work. So let’s recap: You’ve been successful at poking holes in U.S. alliances, all to Europe’s disadvantage. But you totally blew the Singapore summit with Kim. You’ve increased our business in oil and soybeans. I’ll give you a high rating there. It’s taking you way too long to get our sanctions lifted. Let’s make this a priority, eh?

Trump: (Sighs) Okay.

Putin: Donald, we’re doing the best we can to meddle in your midterm elections. But unless Republicans figure out more ways to repress the vote, there’s a good chance they’ll lose the House, and the Senate could be up for grabs. And did you really have to support Joe Arpaio?

Trump: Well, I pardoned him, so don’t I have to support him?

Putin: No. Stay out of that race. Just have the primary winners keep going on Fox.

Trump: So what are we going to tell people that we talked about at our summit?

Putin: Just have that Huckleberry woman tell the media that we “had a frank meeting at the highest level, and that our two nations are working on a constructive relationship.”

Trump: What if anyone asks if we discussed anything substantive, like Ukraine, Crimea, Syria, or nuclear threats?

Putin: Just tell her to say what she always does: “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

Trump: Yeah. And if there are any leaks and if the media say anything else, I’ll just say it’s fake news.

Putin: Right. And Donald, remember, you can always call me. Or I’ll call you—after all, I’ve got your number.

(Chuckles) In more ways than one. Don’t forget the money you owe us. And the fact that a Trump Hotel is Moscow is still on the line.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 15, 2018.

More signs point to #BlueWave in midterms

With the midterm elections less than four months away, it’s time to note the growing number of signals showing evidence of likely Democratic victories on Nov. 6.

More and more estranged Republican pundits are calling on voters to reject Republicans and vote for Democrats in this year’s midterms, including Steve Schmidt, Max Boot, George F. Will, and Joe Scarborough and friends on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. The list is only likely to get longer, even if those GOP pundits end up returning to the fold post-Donald Trump.

Yet their influence is likely limited and is being dismissed as sour grapes by many Republicans. It’s also seen as a case of “what took you so long” by Democrats.

A deeper look at polls showing who has been voting in special elections since Trump took office and in 2018 primaries gives a clearer picture — 43 state legislative seats have flipped from red to blue, and Democratic turnout in primaries is up overall, even while Republicans in some states also are energized.

There’s still a lot of time until Nov. 6, and given the ever-changing news events and wild unpredictability of what Trump will do or tweet about on any given day, who knows what we’ll be talking about on Election Day? The Senate is still an uphill battle, but many say a Democratic takeover of the House could be likely.

It all depends on which story you read, even on the same day. Is it Democrats strengthen hand in seeking control of House or Is the blue wave crashing? The Cook Political Report still counts way more Republican-held House seats than Democratic ones as being in the toss-up category, and ratings keep moving seats in Democrats’ direction.

A new analysis from CNN’s Harry Enten ran with the encouraging headline, “Why some polls may be underestimating Democrats.” Enten uses results of recent Monmouth University polls that went from polling registered voters to polling likely voters. In its “likely voter” definition, Monmouth switched from using only past voting history, which would have a definite Republican lean, to voters with a high level of interest, even if they haven’t historically voted in past midterms. The polling showed a small but still significant Democratic tilt.

The turnout advantage Republicans enjoyed during the Obama years may no longer exist as we head into 2018, and in fact, there are some signs that Democrats may be the ones with a decisive turnout advantage this cycle. …

In five of the seven races polled, the Democratic candidate either did better or no worse when Monmouth switched from registered voters to likely voters. And in the two races where the Republican candidate does better with the switch to likely voters, the change was 2 points or less.

The average shift has been 2 points in favor of the Democratic candidate.

A 2-point shift may not seem like a lot but it could be huge if it holds across the board. Democrats right now hold roughly a 7-percentage point edge on the generic congressional ballot. That’s right in the area where they need it to be to have a net gain of 23 seats to take control. …

In a hypothetical scenario, 2 points could mean the difference from a net gain of 21 seats for the Democrats and a Republican majority to a net gain of 27 seats for the Democrats and a Democratic majority.

There’s also some heartening news when it comes to talking to actual voters (beyond the omnipresent interviews with loyal Trumpsters). Consider what Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes, normally nonpartisan senior fellows of the Brookings Institution, wrote in The Atlantic. In a piece headlined “Boycott the Republican Party,” they recounted what a Virginia voter told The Washington Post after the 2017 Democratic sweep:

“It could have been Dr. Seuss or the Berenstain Bears on the ballot and I would have voted for them if they were a Democrat,” he said. “I might do more analyses in other years. But in this case, no. No one else gets any consideration because what’s going on with the Republicans—I’m talking about Trump and his cast of characters — is stupid, stupid, stupid. I can’t say stupid enough times.”

Demographics also are working in Democrats’ favor. As Pew Research noted, younger voters — generation X, millennials, and the post-millennial generation — now outnumber their elders.

As of April 2018 (the most recent data available), 59% of adults who are eligible to vote are Gen Xers, Millennials or “post-Millennials.” … Meanwhile, the electoral potential of Baby Boomers and older generations has declined since the last midterm. Driven mainly by deaths, there are now 10 million fewer eligible voters among the Boomer and older generations than there were in 2014.

That’s the good news. But historical models show low turnout by younger voters in midterm elections. Pew noted that only 36 percent of millennials and gen Xers voted in 2014, compared with 57 percent of their elders.

Yet the laser-like focus of the students in the March for Our Lives movement in registering young voters could change that. The Road to Change bus tour, led by survivors of the Valentine’s Day mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, is hitting the road in cities across the country to spread the word about voter registration, emphasizing the campaign issue of gun safety. Multiple polls show that stricter gun laws are a leading issue for young voters, and that 37 percent of voters under 30 say they “definitely” will vote in November, compared with 23 percent in past midterms.

As David Hogg, now a graduate of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who is taking a gap year before college to focus on the midterm elections and educate new voters, always tweets, “The young people will win.”

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 8, 2018.

What will happen to Scott Pruitt’s soundproof booth and tactical pants?

The $43,000 soundproof phone booth may not have looked like the Cone of Silence from “Get Smart,” but who knows?

Now that swamp creature Scott Pruitt is oozing his way out of Washington — hopefully on a coach flight — America needs answers about all of the ill-gotten gains the now-former Environmental Protection Agency administrator wasted taxpayer money on.

Pruitt, arguably the most freeloading and corrupt Cabinet member in history — and he had a lot of competition among Donald Trump’s gang of thieves — was finally forced to resign after publicity about his wasteful ways became even too much for Trump.

There was the exorbitant travel, the unneeded 24/7 security detail, for a total cost of $4.6 million; the $50-a-night sweetheart condo deal from a lobbyist’s wife; demands that aides do personal chores such as procure Ritz Carlton Hotel moisturizing lotion, pick up Pruitt’s dry cleaning, get a used mattress from the D.C. Trump hotel (eww), and find a $200,000-a-year job for his wife; and so much more. It turns out there are 18 investigations into Pruitt’s nefarious ways.

Fortune magazine has a comprehensive list of all the Pruitt scandals. Besides those already listed, there was the practice of asking aides to change records of past meetings and the use of secret email accounts to avoid Freedom of Information Act rules. LOCK HIM UP! LOCK HIM UP!

Then there was the nearly $2,800 for tactical pants and tactical polo shirts.

What, you may ask, are tactical pants? Turns out they are military-style trousers with lots of pockets that were presumably worn by Pruitt’s 24/7 security detail so they would look — I don’t know, cool? Tough? Rugged? Or maybe Pruitt just liked the way they fit. Still — $2,800?

The investigations into Pruitt’s malfeasance will continue, even if the Republican House of Representatives apparently isn’t interested in probing Pruitt’s profligate practices. They’re too busy demanding another investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of the State Department and into the Clinton Foundation (I am not making that up).

So Pruitt will slink back to Oklahoma, where no doubt he’ll land a lucrative job with a fossil fuel energy company. Although taxpayers will never recoup the millions that Pruitt wasted, at least he was incompetent enough at his job that he never really understood how to undo environmental regulations set by President Barack Obama. Setting up those kinds of rules and systems within a federal department is painstaking and can take months, if not years.

Pruitt’s successor is Andrew Wheeler, the current No. 2 at the EPA who will serve as acting administrator. Wheeler is a former lobbyist for the coal industry and was on the staff of climate science denier and Republican Sen. James Inhofe (R, Stone Age). But he’s been in Washington long enough that he knows how to rework regulations, and he won’t have the baggage of Pruitt’s ethical scandals. Fossil fuel industry groups are confident that Wheeler will continue Pruitt’s deregulatory policies.

So although Pruitt may be gone, the fight for sane climate science policy continues. Democrats and environmental groups are ready for round two in the Trump administration’s war on the planet.

And for the $43,000 soundproof booth and the tactical pants: Maybe a garage sale?

A declaration of independence from Donald Trump

Donald Trump and King George III have more in common than you think.

When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, which was adopted on July 4, 1776, by the nation’s founders in Philadelphia, he included a list of 27 grievances against the British King George III. Who knew that 242 years later, the U.S. would be facing another despotic ruler?

“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States,” Jefferson wrote. Trump’s not there yet, but it’s not for lack of trying.

The parallels between the actions of George III and Trump are uncanny. The cover of Time magazine with Trump looking into a reflection of himself wearing a crown wasn’t far off.

Others, too, have noticed: There are multiple pieces noting the similarities, in Salon (“Inexperienced authoritarian with a habit of blasting out his opinions in the wee hours of the morn. Sound familiar?”) and USA Today (“President Trump, with his increasingly outlandish ideas about the sweep of his presidential powers, keeps channeling the 18th century royal. … These assertions come on top of others that show a man who would be monarch rather than a man who was elected president.”).

A piece in Quora, however, disagrees: “I find that parallel greatly insulting … to King George III. … One is a decent person who has been unfairly hated due to his colonies needing a scapegoat and a mental illness that set in in the last ten years of his life and wasn’t his fault, and the other is a complete Git.”

Many of Jefferson’s grievances against the British ruler don’t apply in modern times to the internal workings of a country. Here is a partial list of Jefferson’s complaints. Let’s see how they stack up to grievances against Trump.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

Check. When Trump doesn’t like a rule or law, he just ignores it. Examples: He ignored a 1967 anti-nepotism law, passed to disallow presidents to appoint the likes of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. He didn’t bother to impose the sanctions on Russia passed by Congress. He ignores the emoluments clause of the Constitution and rakes in money from foreign governments when such officials stay or hold events at his Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C.

But the most egregious example is the refusal to support the one law that is really “the most wholesome and necessary for the public good” — the Affordable Care Act. They couldn’t repeal it outright, but Trump and Republicans are killing it with a thousand cuts, such as the action getting rid of the individual insurance mandate. The Justice Department is refusing to defend the ACA in a lawsuits by GOP-led states challenging the insurer mandate on preexisting conditions.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

Check. There are likely enough votes in both houses of Congress to pass some version of immigration reform, even one with protections of Dreamers covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, but Republicans refuse to allow votes on anything Trump says he won’t sign.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

Check. Well, not really a check, but Trump loves the idea that other world leaders are making themselves, in effect, presidents for life, such as China’s Xi Jinping. “Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot one day,” said Trump, the would-be dictator. And one poll showed that 52 percent of Republicans think postponing the 2020 election is a swell idea.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

Check. His words and actions demonizing immigrants started the day he descended that gold escalator in Trump Tower in 2015, and they’ve only gotten worse. Here are just a few: A decision to end DACA, executive orders for a Muslim travel ban, his references to immigrants as “animals,” especially those in the gang MS-13 (and putting the blame on Democrats), and, most recently, a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy that separates children and parents of asylum-seeking families at the border.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

Check. Trump, his minions on Fox News, and his ever-changing legal team are constantly making threats about and arguing the legality of the investigation into the ties between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. That’s on top of the constant drumbeat trying to weaken American confidence in the FBI, the intelligence services, and the justice system as a whole.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

Check. The ultra-conservative Federalist Society keeps sending Trump names of conservatives for judicial vacancies, and Trump keeps nominating them.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

Check. To beef up Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Trump vowed to hire 26,000 new ICE agents to round up those who might be in the U.S. illegally, even though many of those being harassed are legal residents.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

Check. Ordering a larger number of of National Guard troops at the border with Mexico fills that bill.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

Check. Judges may have blocked Trump’s order banning transgender people from serving in the military, but that doesn’t mean Trump won’t keep trying.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

Check. Hello? Trade wars? Trump is alienating allies (his behavior at the recent G7 meeting was just the most recent example) all over the world with his policies of imposing tariffs.

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

Check. What are tariffs but hidden taxes on consumers?

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

Check. Trump signed an executive order to keep the prison at Guantanamo Bay open indefinitely, and he has declared it open to new prisoners.

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

Check. Gitmo prison once again — the prisoners are locked up without a trial.

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

Check. The Trump administration might not be suspending legislatures, but it is suing states and otherwise fighting state rules, challenging state laws on such matters as sanctuary cities, the legalization of marijuana, land transfers, emission standards, and many other issues.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

Check. Trump has ordered the expansion of offshore drilling, risking the health of wildlife and the oceans themselves, not to mention the coasts and the economies of states bordering oceans. The Trump administration is not giving enough resources to western towns ravaged by wildfires. Trump continues to ignore the plight of American citizens in Puerto Rico, many of whom are still without power as the hurricane season ramps up again.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

Check. Don’t forget that Erik Prince, brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and founder of the private military contractor Blackwater (or whatever its latest name is now), is still peddling a plan to the Trump administration to use private mercenaries to fight the Afghanistan War. Trump & co. are listening, but luckily, no one has bought was Prince is selling. Yet.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes, and conditions.

Check. After Trump’s election, the number of hate crimes in the U.S. against Muslims, Hispanics, African-Americans, and immigrants surged and is still rising steadily.

Donald Trump is his own kind of tyrant — dishonest, selfish, amoral, cruel, and childish. No matter how unseemly and illegal Trump’s behavior, no one is advocating an overthrow of our government. But we do need a revolution.

At the ballot box.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 1, 2018.

Political murder is on a Rocky Mountain high

We don’t mean that literally, of course, even though marijuana is legal in Colorado. But we’re off to explore the beautiful vistas of Colorado and northern New Mexico, so is taking a break for a few weeks.

So you will see no new posts at this site. But I’ll try to update the Political murder of the day every day (unless we’re having too much fun or we’re out of Wi-Fi range), so look over to the column on the right to see who died on this day in history, then click the link above.

If you missed some posts from the past, click above on Complete list of posts. You can revisit past opinions on the still-relevant news of the day, such as the issue of gun safety: Watch out, NRA: There’s new momentum in gun reform fight. Posts on the upcoming midterm elections are definitely newsworthy, such as Democratic women are kicking some serious electoral butt and 2018 midterm success hinges on Democratic determination — and wild cards. I’m always surprised to see what posts continue to be popular, like Black Lives Matter offers 10-point plan to curb police killing. And here’s a look at why the media can’t seem to get enough of Trumpland: 6 reasons for media’s obsession with Trump voters.

Posts about corruption in the Trump administration are high on the list, too. Probably the best example of a swamp creature is EPA chief Scott Pruitt is one hot mess of corruption. Or just read about them all in Trump’s crooked Cabinet: Liars, thieves, & scoundrels edition. There are several pieces looking at Russian influence on Trump, such as Donald Trump and Russia: Like Watergate and Iran-Contra — only worse, and What will be the Trump-Russia equivalent of Watergate’s smoking gun?

Finally, don’t forget about reading both books in the political murder series. The Political Blogging Murder, a funny mystery set at a Netroots Nation-type of convention, and Off With His Talking Head, in which murder infiltrates the world of Sunday morning talk shows, are both available at this site for a mere $2.99. You can read the initial chapters of both books by clicking the Book excerpts link above. Or check out how to order the books in a variety of electronic formats by clicking the Books: How to order link above.

So, go ahead. Read. We’ll be back with a new post in July.

Trump may try to demonize food stamps even further

If the Trump administration has its way, count on cuts to benefit programs like food stamps.

In an attempt to find new ways to make life worse for people receiving any government benefits, the Trump administration is seeking to lump together all government benefit programs into a renamed and reorganized Department of Health and Human Services. And you can be sure that the word “welfare” will be emphasized in any new organization.

According to a story that ran first in Politico, the White House Office of Management and Budget soon will release a new report outlining a plan to move all safety-net programs into HHS and to give the federal department a new name, emphasizing the “welfare” moniker that used to be part of the department’s name. A big reason for this recommendation is to lump the $70 billion Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps, in with Medicare and Medicaid. SNAP would move out of the Department of Agriculture, where it is now housed.

The reasoning is likely that once these benefits are combined under one departmental roof, it will be easier to cut them all.

The Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was created in 1953 and became the Department of Health and Human Services in May 1980, splitting off the “education” part into a new Cabinet-level department. Part of the reason for dropping the “welfare” name in the first place when Congress established HHS and the Department of Education in the late 1970s was to emphasize the health and service part. Even during the Trump administration, the department’s mission statement at reads:

The mission of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is to enhance the health and well-being of all Americans, by providing for effective health and human services and by fostering sound, sustained advances in the sciences underlying medicine, public health, and social services.

“Health and well-being”? “Sound, sustained advances in sciences”? No doubt people in Trumpworld overlooked this wording. Otherwise, they would have taken out the humanity and intelligence implicit in the definition.

Any change in federal departments would have to be passed by Congress, but Republicans seem all too willing to push through changes that trim benefits and add more conditions for recipients.

In March 2017, Donald Trump issued an executive order directing OMB to overhaul the federal government, and the budget office’s report is predicted to recommend retooling many departments and agencies. The reorganization proposal on safety-net programs originally came from recommendations by the conservative group the Heritage Foundation. According to the Politico story:

Heritage recommended that all nutrition functions at USDA — including food stamps, nutrition education, and school meal programs that serve some 30 million children each day — be transferred to HHS.

“[T]he USDA has veered off of its mission by working extensively on issues unrelated to agriculture. This is mostly due to the nutrition programs,” Heritage wrote in last year’s report about reorganizing the government. “By moving this welfare function to HHS, the USDA will be better able to work on agricultural issues impacting all Americans.”

In other words, once you remove the food stamps, they can concentrate more on farm subsidies, because that’s what their voters like. Because in that way of thinking, agriculture — growing food — has nothing to do with nutrition, right?

House Republicans might have failed in their latest attempt at a farm bill, but only because of internal fights within the GOP over immigration. Even that failed bill included draconian work requirements for food stamp recipients and was opposed by Democrats. The bill would have required adults to spend 20 hours per week either working or participating in a state-run training program as a condition of receiving benefits, according to a story in The Washington Post:

Democrats argue that a million or more people would end up losing benefits, because most states do not have the capacity to set up the training programs required.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) described the legislation as “cruel” and argued that with the proposed changes to food stamps, “Republicans are taking food out of the mouths of families struggling to make ends meet.”

But cutting aid and adding work requirements is part of the plan. Those work requirements that likely would have taken about 1 million people off food stamps also would save about $20 billion over 10 years. That’s a drop in the bucket compared with the massive hole that the GOP tax cuts are digging in the federal budget, but House Speaker Paul Ryan has no qualms about taking away benefits from the poor.

The rationale behind those cuts is based on the usual misconception about exactly which Americans are on food stamps. Here are facts about food stamp recipients from a USDA website, using the most recent data available from fiscal year 2016 and published in January 2018. In that year, the program served some 44.2 million people, a slight decrease from previous years.

  • Nearly two-thirds of SNAP participants were children, elderly, or had disabilities.
  • One-third of all SNAP participants already have jobs, and over half of families with children on food stamps have jobs.
  • Eighty-two percent of SNAP beneficiaries live in or near major cities, while 10 percent live in or near smaller cities and seven percent live in rural areas.
  • When food stamps are added to a family’s gross income, 10 percent of SNAP families move above the poverty line.
  • The average monthly benefit for SNAP households was $249.

That amount of money doesn’t go too far in paying for groceries. Instead, cuts would take food money away from the working poor or those unable to work.

Despite the stereotype of Ronald Reagan’s “welfare queen,” the biggest beneficiaries of government safety-net programs are working-class whites. A 2017 study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed that whites without a college degree were the largest group of people lifted out of poverty because of government programs. Here’s how The Washington Post described some of the study’s data:

Government assistance and tax credits lifted 6.2 million working-class whites out of poverty in 2014, more than any other racial or ethnic demographic. Half of all working-age adults without college degrees lifted out of poverty by safety-net programs are white; nearly a quarter are black and a fifth are Hispanic.

The result does not simply reflect the fact that there are more white people in the country. The percentage of otherwise poor whites lifted from poverty by government safety-net programs is higher, at 44 percent, compared to 35 percent of otherwise poor minorities, the study concluded.

The saving grace might be that such a massive overhaul of the federal government would have a hard time getting through Congress. If you think congressional Republicans can’t get anything done now, just imagine how ineffective they would be trying to restructure such large programs. The danger is that, just as they’re doing to the Affordable Care Act, they will take a simplistic approach and slash funding without developing the needed plans and details of making a new program work.

Too bad son-in-law Jared Kushner is too busy trying to create peace in the Middle East to handle this task, right? Actually, overhauling government bureaucracy was on Kushner’s original to-do list — just another job he didn’t get done.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on June 17, 2018.


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