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 Politicalmurder.com 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 HHS.gov 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.

 

Pardon me! Trump obsesses on his new favorite mania

Donald Trump is toying with pardoning Muhammad Ali, but the late boxer’s conviction was already overturned. A history lesson might help for the guy many refer to as “Cadet Bone Spurs” because of his multiple deferrals during the Vietnam War.

When it comes to pardons and other acts of clemency, Donald Trump is at seven and counting. But by all accounts, he’s just getting started with his new hobby.

Trump’s latest action is actually good news — Trump commuted the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old great-grandmother who received a life sentence after a 1996 conviction for a first-time, nonviolent drug-related offense. (Johnson served 21 years of her sentence.) That’s two good moves, the other being the posthumous pardon for African American boxer Jack Johnson. He served 10 months in prison for a 1913 conviction of violating a Jim Crow law of transporting a white woman across state lines.

Others on the complete clemency list from Newsweek don’t pass the smell test, unless you’re considering how Trump is issuing pardons or commuting sentences for the same kinds of crimes that Trump cronies could be charged with in the investigation of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Joe Arpaio, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and Dinesh D’Souza all committed crimes against the government, and they didn’t even need Trump’s “Get Out of Jail Free” cards. Arpaio, the Arizona sheriff who gained notoriety for (among other things) housing and humiliating prisoners in an outdoor Tent City in Arizona heat, was found guilty of criminal contempt for continuing to racially profile Latinos in violation of a court order that told him to stop. He never spent a day in jail. Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, outed a covert CIA agent, but his sentence already had been commuted by George W. Bush, so he never spent a day behind bars, either. D’Souza, the conservative commentator and filmmaker who pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign donations, received probation and community service.

A lesser-known pardon from Trump was for Kristian Saucier, who was convicted of taking photos of classified areas inside a submarine in 2009 while he served in the Navy (care about national security much?). He pleaded guilty in 2016. Another lucky winner was Sholom Rubashkin, the executive of a kosher meatpacking company in Iowa who was convicted of money laundering in 2009. He “sent banks fake invoices to make his company seem more lucrative than it was, therefore allowing him to borrow more money,” according to the Newsweek story. He was sentenced to 27 years and had served eight before Trump commuted his sentence.

These other beneficiaries of Trump’s favors do not exactly represent the best of America. But those currently under Robert Mueller’s magnifying glass are getting Trump’s message loud and clear — don’t turn on me, and I may save you.

Trump is reportedly “fixated” with exercising his pardon powers, according to many reports that quote anonymous White House sources, including this story from The Washington Post:

A White House official who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity said Trump is “obsessed” with pardons, describing them as the president’s new “favorite thing” to talk about. He may sign a dozen or more in the next two months, this person added.

“It’s all part of the show,” said veteran Republican consultant Ed Rollins, a former strategist for a pro-Trump super PAC. “It’s not a rational or traditional process but about celebrity or who they know, or who he sees on ‘Fox & Friends.’ He’s sending the message, ‘I can do whatever I want, and I could certainly pardon someone down the line on the Russia probe.’ ” …

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally, said the implications for the special counsel investigation are obvious: a sign to witnesses and others tangled in the probe that “help is on the way.”

“If you’re being squeezed by Mueller, [the president is] sending a signal that he’s in an all-out war with Mueller and people should know [he] is willing to issue pardons,” Gingrich said.

The U.S. Constitution gives presidents the authority to grant pardons without any oversight or interference from any other branch of government. In a normal administration, requests for pardons go through the Office of the Pardon Attorney in the Department of Justice. (Of course, that office has only an acting head, Larry Kupers, senior counsel in the office since 2014. It’s just one of the many offices that Trump hasn’t bothered to nominate anyone for or that people have been fleeing in droves.) Another Washington Post analysis describes what usually happens when people apply to that office for clemency: There is a review process, a 28-page form to fill out, interviews with character witnesses, and background checks.

Not for the Orange Pardoner. He picks up ideas from (where else?) watching Fox News or meeting with esteemed legal scholar Kim Kardashian West, who championed Alice Johnson’s cause in an Oval Office meeting with Trump that was arranged by Jared Kushner.

Trump can check his old guest lists from The Apprentice to see who needs a little legal help, such as cooking and decorating maven Martha Stewart, who served five months in prison after her conviction on charges of obstruction of justice and lying to investigators, or disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted on multiple corruption charges for trying to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat and is currently serving a 14-year sentence.

The Post analysis offers a new Trumpian flowchart for pardon requests, with these questions:

  • Are you a darling of conservative politics?
  • Are you a celebrity?
  • Do you know a celebrity?
  • Can you get on Fox News anyway?
  • Do you have any friends who are friends with Trump?
  • Have you been indicted by Robert Mueller?

Trump’s “latest discovery is how his pardon power can be a big news-cycle hit, especially when a celebrity is blended in,” wrote columnist E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

Of course, there are lots of other people in prison who need pardons or at least need their sentences commuted. According to a 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union, there are over 3,200 people serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for convictions of nonviolent crimes, mostly through mandatory minimum sentences. Sometimes the offenses were for crimes as simple as possessing a crack pipe, sharing several grams of LSD with Grateful Dead concertgoers or selling a single rock of crack.

“About 79 percent of the 3,278 prisoners serving life without parole were sentenced to die in prison for nonviolent drug crimes,” the report said. Roughly 65 percent of these prisoners are African American. Many had mental illnesses or drug addictions, or were in severe financial straits when they committed these crimes, such as the man who sold methamphetamine to pay for a bone marrow transplant for his son. If these sentences were commuted, the report estimates, the savings for U.S. taxpayers who wouldn’t have to foot the bill for these prison housing costs would be $1.784 billion.

That’s a lot of people receiving obviously lopsided punishment for nonviolent offenses, and that’s a lot of money being spent to house them all. Alice Johnson fell into that category and shared her thoughts about her imprisonment in a CNN opinion piece.

On his final day in office, President Barack Obama issued 330 sentence commutations to nonviolent drug offenders, bringing the clemency total for his two terms in office to 1,715, including commutations to 568 inmates with life sentences. Maybe someone on Trump’s crack legal team should explore the possibility of issuing pardons or commuting sentences for prisoners in that category.

HA! Just kidding. Trump doesn’t care about any of them. Except when a celebrity like Kim Kardashian West argues their case.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on June 10, 2018.

 

Hey, media: Real news doesn’t always start with Trump tweets

Remember when Donald Trump was banned from Twitter for 11 minutes? If only that were permanent.

The nation’s media made a collective decision after the 2016 election on how to cover Donald Trump’s tweets. Too bad it was the wrong decision.

Yes, he’s the president, and the media are obliged to cover what he says and does. They are not, however, obliged to regurgitate in full the growing number of lies that fit into 280 characters or less. Yet that’s what they’ve chosen to do.

A Trump tweet is not necessarily “breaking news,” and it’s lazy, irresponsible, and shallow for news media to treat all of his tweets that way. But why should Trump change? He tweets, and the media fall over each other to report that. Trump’s tweets drive every news cycle. Trump is playing the media like Nero played the fiddle.

As president, Trump has told more than 3,000 lies, according to both The Washington Post and CNN. The number grows daily. Yet not a day goes by when a Trump tweet — lies and all — isn’t repeated or printed in full by a newspaper, radio station, or broadcast or cable news station.

Although most news media are getting better at pointing out afterward when Trump isn’t telling the truth (Is he breathing? Then he’s not telling the truth), they’re giving him an open platform to sell his lies. And that’s the problem.

Just like during the 2016 campaign, when cable stations ran lengthy Trump speeches in full, without commentary, these days the media breathlessly report every misspelled, ungrammatical, and incorrectly capitalized missive thumbed into his unsecured mobile phone, either written by him or typed from a tweet prewritten by an aide. The viewer, listener, or reader is left with his or her first impression: the tweeted lie.

Often, that’s where the impression ends. And that’s the problem.

Many media outlets are doing an excellent job uncovering the truth about corruption in the Trump administration. But when too many start each news cycle with “President Trump tweeted today,” then Trump has defined the narrative once again. Trump deliberately sends out tweets in the morning to lead the news cycle, and the media comply without giving any context or pointing out his obvious lies.

“Trump is winning his effort to demonize Mueller,” declared the front-page headline on a CNN analysis by Z. Byron Wolf, on a blog usually written by Chris Cillizza, which claimed that Trump’s mantra of repeatedly tweeting “WITCH HUNT” and “NO COLLUSION” and “SPYGATE” was turning at least some Americans against special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence on the Trump campaign. “In large part, he’s winning it because he’s the only one arguing right now,” the analysis claimed.

Actually, if Trump is “winning,” it’s because CNN and all other media give him a free and open platform to repeat his lies.

If the Mueller investigation is viewed as a partisan witch hunt — and there’s no evidence that’s what it is — then Trump has won the political argument. … Republicans, Trump’s base, have responded. … Republicans are souring on the investigation.

Not just Republicans: A shrinking number of Americans think the Mueller investigation should continue — only 54 percent, compared with 60 percent in March and 62 percent in July 2017. A growing number — 43 percent, versus 33 percent last summer — think it’s time for the special counsel to wrap things up.

And the tweeted repetition of NO COLLUSION NO COLLUSION NO COLLUSION has had an effect: Other polling shows that 59 percent of Americans don’t know that Mueller and his team have uncovered any crimes, despite the five guilty pleas and 17 indictments.

In response, Raw Story pointed out the obvious. “Trump was likely in search of headlines when he embarked on the campaign to undermine Mueller. With the article on Cillizza’s blog, Trump has already achieved part of his goal.”

It’s been more than a year since Trump has held a solo news conference (Feb. 16, 2017 — The Washington Post keeps a running count), and that was the only formal news conference he has held as president. (He answers some informal questions from gaggles of reporters, although he usually ignores shouted queries, and answers a few questions alongside other world leaders.) In their first years in office, other presidents were more available: Barack Obama held 11 solo news conferences, George W. Bush held four, Bill Clinton held 14, and George H.W. Bush held 26.

Trump knows he doesn’t need to hold the kind of news conference that every other president did. Why should he, when he’s got the media to deliver a one-sided view — his — of his message? When the media spout the exact wording of his tweets, he can avoid answering hard questions and bypass any media filters.

“The media seems just as addicted to Trump’s tweets as he is to Twitter,” said an analysis in Medium, giving some reasons why such über-coverage is so harmful.

  • The tweets exploit the media to spread his message beyond his loyal Twitter following and his core base.
  • Trump’s tweets divert our attention away from the real issues (tax reform, health care act, abolishing net neutrality, corruption) that should matter.
  • Concentrating on tweets leads to a mental fatigue on the part of the audience, which is long beyond the point of being properly outraged by every new tweet typed out on Trump’s phone.

Medium offered several reasons why media should turn off their Trump Twitter obsession.

  • The tweets help to legitimize fringe views and push them into the mainstream.
  • They allow Trump to set the agenda, or at least shape it.
  • His tweets often serve as a means of distraction.
  • They crowd out more important issues.

The analysis also offered some solutions in the form of questions that news media need to answer before spewing out a Trump tweet in knee-jerk fashion.

  • Is his tweet news? If the answer is “no,” then why should it still be covered?
  • What are the risks? What is at stake if a Trump tweet which promotes fringe or extreme views is being covered?
  • Establish context. Why is Trump tweeting about this right now? It may be just a distraction.
  • Add context to coverage. “If you have to report, try to phrase headlines differently. Don’t say ‘Donald Trump retweets racist anti-Muslim videos.’ Do say: ‘Donald Trump retweets racist anti-Muslim videos in an attempt to distract from Russia probe.’ ”

This tweet summed it up:

Nicolle Wallace of MSNBC had the right reaction when she recently stopped reading Trump’s tweets on the air in the middle of a sentence. According to an account in The Hill:

“I’m not reading any more of this,” Wallace said with a laugh. “These are boldface lies and as his audacity and his sort of fantasies expand, I wonder what role you think the truth plays in this for any of them.”

What role does truth play? Very little, if any at all.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on June 3, 2018.

Democratic women are kicking some serious electoral butt

Who wins a primary by 50 points? She did.

The media have been slow to cover the obvious, but they can’t ignore the fact any more: Democratic women are winning.

The biggest primary win so far may have been Stacey Abrams winning the Democratic nomination for governor in Georgia by 50 percentage points. The former state House Democratic leader won statewide, becoming the first black woman in the nation to clinch a major party’s nomination for governor. But that’s far from the whole story.

A few states away, Lupe Valdez, a former Dallas County sheriff, won a runoff to become the first openly gay Latina to win a major-party nomination for governor in Texas. In Idaho, Paulette Jordan, a two-term state lawmaker, is the first Native American candidate for governor, having won the Democratic nomination.

Democratic women also are having major victories in primaries for House seats. While many states have yet to hold primaries, women are racking up victories, often against male Democratic establishment candidates. The winners include combat veterans, political newcomers, women with years of government experience, progressives, socialists, gun safety activists, and more. The candidates also represent more diversity.

All in all, these candidates could very well be the key to major victories on Nov. 6.

There is no one factor as to why so many Democratic women are running—and winning—in races this year. David Hopkins, an associate professor of political science at Boston College, offers this assessment about the huge growth in the number of women candidates:

But it’s apparent enough by now that we are witnessing a dramatic and historic change in the gender distribution among Democratic congressional nominees, caused by a rise in the supply of, and demand for, female candidates within the party in the wake of Trump’s election (and Hillary Clinton’s defeat). It’s equally clear that this development is not occurring in parallel on the Republican side. In fact, the GOP is drifting the other way—so far, only 7 percent of the party’s House nominees this year are women (compared to 12 percent in 2016), the lowest share for the party since the election of 1988. The proportion of female Republican nominees isn’t much bigger when incumbents are excluded (9 percent).

With more women running (Emily’s List reported interest from 36,000 women this election cycle, vs. 920 in 2016), there are bound to be more victories. More than two-thirds of women won races in the May 22 primaries alone. Women make up more than 40 percent of all House nominees so far. The total number of Democratic women nominated for House seats is now up to 62, with a few more women, such as gun safety activist Lucy McBath in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, still facing runoffs.

Only the blue team shows a rising tide.

Election primary victories by Democratic women in 2018 follow the overwhelming number of seats in state legislatures across the country that flipped from red to blue over the last year—41 at last count. Many were won by women.

The media usually follow the reports of victories by Democratic women candidates with the caveat that many of these wins are in red states and red districts, and the women will face uphill battles in November. But more and more people are casting votes in Democratic primaries. Consider these primary voting numbers in Georgia:

Looks like the odds of winning have improved considerably.

In the 2016 election, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright raised a lot of hackles when she introduced Hillary Clinton at a New Hampshire campaign event with her quote: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” It wasn’t the first time Albright used that line, but it rubbed many voters the wrong way—Clinton lost to Bernie Sanders in the New Hampshire primary by more than 22 percentage points.

Albright had to backtrack and apologize afterward, but her point is well taken. We shouldn’t pick our candidates based on gender alone, but support for ground-breaking women candidates is crucial, just to make sure that women’s voices are heard.

The presence of so many women on the political trail also is shaping the Democratic message nationwide, both in 2018 and likely in 2020. According to a piece in Politico:

The prospect of a record number of female candidates on the November ballot — and running for president in 2020 — has Democratic leaders leaning into increasingly explicit, gender-based appeals and focusing renewed attention on education, health care, sexual harassment, and other issues perceived as critical to women.

The party itself is casting women as a focal point of the pre-presidential campaign, ahead of a presidential primary season in which women are expected to prove critical — as volunteers, donors, and, most important, as a bulk of voters.

The emphasis on supporting women is equally true inside and outside the political arena. Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens quoted a commencement speech that soccer star Abby Wambach delivered at Barnard College in New York with a message about women’s empowerment. Wambach is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and a Women’s World Cup champion. She’s also a leading activist for pay equity and LGBTQ rights.

“You will not always be the goal scorer. And when you are not — you better be rushing toward her.

“Women must champion each other. This can be difficult for us. Women have been pitted against each other since the beginning of time for that one seat at the table. Scarcity has been planted inside of us and among us. This scarcity is not our fault. But it is our problem. And it is within our power to create abundance for women where scarcity used to live.

“As you go out into the world: Amplify each others’ voices. Demand seats for women, people of color, and all marginalized people at every table where decisions are made. Call out each other’s wins and just like we do on the field: claim the success of one woman, as a collective success for all women.”

Yes, 2018 is turning into the Year of the Woman. And it’s about time the media noticed.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 27, 2018.

Meet the law enforcement allies in the fight for gun safety

Retired ATF agent Mark Jones explains to a Democratic group in suburban Chicago about the importance of state-level gun dealer licensing. (Photo by Todd Bannor/bannorbannor.com)

When it comes to common-sense gun safety laws, at least some major players in law enforcement are on the same page as the rest of the country.

The National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence is made up of nine different police leadership organizations, including groups representing African-American, Hispanic, and women command officers. Its website lists several solutions that a growing number of Americans agree should be enacted:

  • Requiring universal background checks for all gun purchasers.
  • Strengthening NICS, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
  • Limiting the size of high-capacity ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.
  • Opposing federal preemption of state laws governing the carry of concealed weapons.
  • Strengthening the penalties for straw purchases of guns.
  • Making firearms trafficking a federal crime.
  • Banning or regulating firearms accessories designed to circumvent federal law, such as bump stocks, trigger activators, suppressors/silencers, and similar products.

In addition, seven of the nine groups also support banning the sale of new semi-automatic assault-style weapons and passing “red flag” laws, which allow officials to temporarily remove guns from people who threaten to commit violence against themselves or others.

There are approximately 900,000 sworn police officers (meaning those with powers to make an arrest) in 18,000 police agencies in the United States, and they’ve got a variety of opinions on gun laws. Polling on what police think about gun safety laws specifically is spotty and varied.

One poll reports that 82 percent of police chiefs favor background checks before any weapons purchase. Other polls say that 86 percent of police chiefs favor concealed carry, and that large numbers of rank-and-file police officers oppose bans on sales of high-capacity magazines. The most recent polling from the Pew Research Center shows that two-thirds of police oppose a ban on assault-style weapons, contrasted with a similar number of the public in favor of such a ban.

What the National Law Enforcement Partnership group does, as its website says, is to “inform elected officials and the public of the policies we need to better protect our nation.” The partnership, which covers the majority of police command groups representing chiefs, executives, and command staff, supports progressive gun violence and firearm safety proposals. And although the partnership itself is nonpartisan, those proposals are coming from Democrats.

Mark Jones is project director for the National Law Enforcement Partnership group. He spent 31 years in law enforcement, including serving on a local police department in suburban Chicago, five years working in the diplomatic security service for the State Department, and 21 years with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, including a stint as a regional firearms adviser to fight firearms trafficking in Central America. He retired from the ATF in 2011. Then he turned his attention to fighting gun violence. “There’s a cadre of retired ATF guys working with gun [safety] groups,” he said.

Jones spent the next few years as an expert witness testifying in favor of several gun safety laws that were challenged in court, all of which won; as a law enforcement adviser at the University of Chicago Crime Lab, which does research on reducing crime and violence; and at SST Inc., whose ShotSpotter technology uses acoustic sensors to provide police in nearly 90 cities around the country with pinpointed geographic data on where guns have been fired. He joined the National Law Enforcement Partnership group two years ago.

The partnership is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) organization. Its operations are run through the Police Foundation, mostly through grants. While small, it has a big job in working against gun violence.

Jones said he often is solicited by gun safety groups because “they want to know what law enforcement thinks.” These are chapters of groups such as Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and Giffords, the organization run by former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was severely injured in 2011 when she was shot in the head during a constituent event near Tucson. A big part of his job is teaching about strategy and about firearms themselves.

“We call it a guns 101 presentation,” Jones said. “We do a very basic overview on what kinds of guns exist, what obstacles they’re likely to face in the fight against gun violence.” Often, he said, Second Amendment advocates fire “gotcha” questions at gun safety advocates in hopes of proving that gun safety groups are too ignorant to be taken seriously. “It’s not a clip; it’s a magazine,” is one such example.

“We’re educating people who otherwise have no such knowledge,” Jones said. He likened getting into those kinds of “gotcha” arguments with gun rights backers to “wresting with a pig in the mud.”

“We want policy decisions that will keep our families safe,” he added. “We want to arm advocates with facts,” such as information about the numbers of women who are shot each year by domestic abusers.

Jones is not against gun ownership. “I’ve been shooting since I was 9 years old,” he said. What he does object to is the lack of standards on the issuance of concealed-carry permits to people without any safety training. That lack of regulation is why the partnership objects to proposals for national reciprocity on concealed-carry laws.

Jones’ current focus is passing the Combating Illegal Gun Trafficking Act in Illinois, which would require all gun dealers to have state licenses. The bill passed easily in the Illinois Senate this week on a 35-18 vote and now heads to the Illinois House. The legislation is about gun dealers’ licenses, but the intent of the bill is to make sure legally-sold guns don’t get re-sold in a straw purchase to criminals who otherwise aren’t able to buy a gun.

A similar bill was passed in the Illinois Legislature earlier this year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner was in a close GOP primary race for renomination—his primary opponent voted against the bill, and Rauner bowed to pressure and refused to sign it. Instead of holding a vote to override the veto, the bill’s sponsors, including State Sen. Don Harmon, who has been working on this issue since 2003, chose to tweak the bill to answer some concerns and to increase bipartisan support.

One big reason the bill finally moved ahead at all was because of Jones’ testimony last year in front of state House and Senate Judiciary committees. His expertise on guns convinced enough lawmakers that such gun dealer licensure was necessary so that the bill moved ahead after 15 years of non-movement.

Although it’s true that gun dealers must have federal licenses, the ATF lacks the money and personnel to oversee them all. The production of guns more than doubled during the eight years of the Obama administration, and 9,000 new gun dealers went into business. Last year, Jones said, ATF agents were able to perform checks on only 11 percent of gun dealers nationally, and only 6 percent of gun dealers in Illinois. Some gun dealers have never been inspected at all. According to a story on Huffington Post:

The ATF’s budget, which includes funds for monitoring the network of gun manufacturers, wholesalers, and dealers, has increased only slightly amid the recent boom, and it has remained unchanged at $1.25 billion over the last few years. The agency hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed director since 2015, and, as The New York Times reported, the National Rifle Association has been part of a campaign to ensure that the ATF remains a small agency grappling with a wide-reaching set of duties, including prosecuting gun crimes, combating gun violence and trafficking, and regulating firearm commerce in the U.S.

“The ATF gets hobbled by Congress,” Jones said. “There are giant holes in the system right now. About 22 percent of all transactions receive no official scrutiny.

“The firearms industry has convinced Congress that ATF shouldn’t share data,” he added. “We need to do it at the state level. We need our own state ATF so that if lots of guns used in crimes are traced back to a specific dealer, we can say, ‘We’re pulling your certificate now.’ With ATF, it could take up to five years.”

Jones said the National Law Enforcement Partnership group hopes to get more police rank-and-file organizations to back its gun-safety proposals, but there is opposition. For instance, the Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed Trump in 2016, is definitely not on board.

“Police need to take a more clear-eyed view of the firearms industry than what the industry shows them,” he said, adding that most police officers don’t really want a heavily armed populace. “I don’t think most cops actually think that. We don’t want armed civilians to stick their noses in police business.

“The bottom line is, we don’t want the firearms industry making policy for American citizens, which is what’s happening now,” Jones said.

Originally posted on Daily Kos, May 20, 2018.

%d bloggers like this: