A Boy Scout Jamboree or a Hitler Youth rally?

Donald Trump used a 35-minute speech at a Boy Scout Jamboree to slam his opponents, the media, and a former president. “Trustworthy” it was not.

Just as many other presidents have before him, Donald Trump addressed the Boy Scouts of America National Scout Jamboree. Unlike any other president, Trump turned what could — and should — have been a speech about Boy Scout values into a shameless and partisan political attack.

“Who the hell wants to talk about politics when I am in front of the Boy Scouts?” Sure, let’s get things started by swearing. As it turns out, Trump wanted to talk about politics, in ways bizarre, infuriating, embarrassing, and downright dangerous. Nearly everything he said went against every value in the Boy Scout Law.

The law says a Scout is:

  • Trustworthy,
  • Loyal,
  • Helpful,
  • Friendly,
  • Courteous,
  • Kind,
  • Obedient,
  • Cheerful,
  • Thrifty,
  • Brave,
  • Clean,
  • and Reverent.

Are those the words that come to mind when describing Donald Trump and his words and behavior in Glen Jean, West Virginia? Let’s look at the ways he dishonored the Boy Scouts in his Jamboree speech.

Was it Trustworthy to lie? To talk about politics when you just said you wouldn’t? To claim that the latest jobs numbers are the “best in 16 years,” when job growth was better under President Obama?

Is it appropriate to ask that Loyalty be directed mainly to yourself? Loyalty is directed to the country, not just one man.

Was Trump being Helpful in dividing the Jamboree into camps of Scouts who went to see him and those who went to an alternate event because they objected to what was bound to be the political nature of his address? Of course, they turned out to be right.

Was it Friendly to brag and dwell about your election victory over your political opponent? He just can’t get over the fact that he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million. And these Scouts were too young to vote, but not too young to be indoctrinated.

Is it Courteous to carp repeatedly about the “fake news” media? To a group of boys who have been camping for a week, not watching news?

Was it Kind to get the crowd to boo the nation’s first African-American president? Barack Obama addressed the 2010 Jamboree in a taped message; Trump falsely claimed Obama had never spoken to them. By the way, Obama was a Scout. Trump wasn’t.

Was it Obedient to ignore the Boy Scout law to keep the event nonpartisan? BSA guidelines say Scouts in uniform can attend a political event as part of a flag ceremony but may not take part in anything overtly political. Because this speech was as political and partisan as it gets, and some Scouts went against their own guidelines to wear “Make America Great Again” caps.

Was Trump being Cheerful when he threatened to fire a Cabinet member if the Affordable Care Act wasn’t repealed?

Did Trump demonstrate elements of being Thrifty with a bizarre story about a friend who sold his company for “a tremendous amount of money” and then had “a very interesting life” on board a yacht?

Is Trump being a Brave man when all he can stir up is self-adulation and hatred of others?

Was his language Clean when he swore in front of a crowd of Scouts?

Was it Reverent to revive the false “War on Christmas” meme, especially when there are Scouts of other faiths? Not to mention the fact that Christmas has nothing to do with a Scout Jamboree.

Trump did praise “the moms and the dads and troop leaders” and thanked the Scouts for upholding “the sacred values of our nation.” But those words pale in comparison with his partisan attacks.

A Washington Post story contrasted Trump’s address with that of past presidents:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the occasion to talk about good citizenship. Harry S. Truman extolled fellowship: “When you work and live together, and exchange ideas around the campfire, you get to know what the other fellow is like,” he said.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower invoked the “bonds of common purpose and common ideals.” And President George H.W. Bush spoke of “serving others.” …

Standing before all 40,000 of them, [Trump] bragged about the “record” crowd size, bashed President Barack Obama, criticized the “fake media” and trashed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

New York Magazine ran a list of the 14 most “inappropriate moments” of Trump’s Jamboree speech. Perhaps the oddest and most inappropriate was the meandering story of real estate developer William Levitt, which hinted at sexual escapades aboard a yacht and described meeting him at a “hot” New York party:

“[Levitt] he sold his company for a tremendous amount of money. At the time especially — this was a long time ago — [he] sold his company for a tremendous amount of money. And he went out and bought a big yacht, and he had a very interesting life. I won’t go on any more than that because you’re Boy Scouts, so I’m not going to tell you what he did.”

[Audience boos.]

“Should I tell you? Should I tell you?”

[Audience shouts, “Yes!”]

“Oh, you’re Boy Scouts, but you know life. You know life. So — look at you. Who would think this is the Boy Scouts, right?”

“So, he had a very, very interesting life, and the company that bought his company was a big conglomerate …” [Trump explains that years later Levitt bought his company back.]

“He so badly wanted it, he got bored with this life of yachts and sailing and all of the things he did in the south of France and other places. You won’t get bored, right? You know, truthfully, you’re workers. You’ll get bored, too. Believe me. Of course, having a few good years like that isn’t so bad.”

Many current and former Boy Scouts nationwide are disgusted with the political nature of Trump’s speech, and how he took advantage of the address to turn it into a political moment to bolster his ego. It really was more like a Hitler Youth rally than a Jamboree. Tweets from many former Eagle Scouts and comments from parents and leaders on the BSA Facebook page show the outrage.

Boy Scouts of America needs to apologize for the embarrassment at the jamboree that goes by Trump. His speech was completely inappropriate and totally contrary to the scout values my boys have learned. I will be withholding donations and will not perform any fundraising for Boy Scouts until an apology is issued.

I’ll leave it up to my boys, but I don’t know if we as a family can continue with the Scouts after this. It breaks my heart. My 11 year old boy was upset about Trump long before I was paying attention, and he knows what comments he has made about women and minorities. How can he continue? Are my husband and I supposed to hide this from our kids? How could the Boy Scouts of America let this happen?

My father was an Eagle Scout and later a troop leader. He has supported scouting throughout his life, donating to fundraising every year. You’ll not see another dime of support from him or myself after today. The Trump “rally” today – and that’s exactly what it was- violates what scouting is suppose to stand for, on many levels! Trump’s speech was totally inappropriate- but, of course, that’s to be expected. The booing of a former president, a former scout, was Deplorable.

“The Boy Scouts of America must not, through its governing body or through any of its officers, chartered councils, Scouters, or members, involve Scouting in political matters.” (Rules and Regulations of the BSA, Section II, “Policies”)

The Boy Scouts of America organization, which embraces an awful lot of what’s right about growing up, has a poor record in areas like homophobia, although in recent years it is trying to correct that. The church we attend has a “Scouts for Equality” troop that was at the Jamboree but chose to attend the alternate event.

Personally, I’m a life member of the Girls Scouts, having spent time as a Girl Scout as a youth and nine years as an adult leader. Somehow, if Hillary Clinton (also a former Scout) had been president and addressed the Girl Scouts, I highly doubt that she would have turned her address into a partisan hate-fest.

If you’re a current or former Boy Scout, you can let BSA know how you feel. Call 972-580-2000 or 972-580-2489 or send an email to myscouting@scouting.org.

Democrats honing an economic battle cry for 2018

Democrats in Congress are rolling out a rallying call for the midterm elections that focuses on the middle class.

As Democrats gear up for the midterm elections in 16 months, the party has been working on a new “core message” that they hope will align them with ordinary Americans. Democrats in both the House and Senate will deliver a unified message of populism that they hope will carry them to electoral victory in 2018.

Before the official rollout of the new strategy on July 24, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi offered some details of the three-pronged attack in The Washington Post: “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future.”

First, Democrats are pledging ourselves to the goal of creating good-paying, full-time jobs for 10 million more Americans in the next five years.

It is time to ignite a new era of investment in America’s workers, empowering all Americans with the skills they need to compete in the modern economy. We are calling for a new tax credit for employers to train and hire workers at a good wage, and a massive new national commitment to expanding apprenticeships and paid on-the-job training that advances their skills and careers. …

Democrats’ pledge ourselves to breaking the grip of the special interests and confronting the rising everyday costs that families have endured for too long.

That is the impetus behind our second proposal, to put economic power back into the hands of the American people, cracking down on the monopolies and big corporate mergers that harm consumers, workers and competition. We will demand that proposed mergers meet tough new standards to protect competition before approval, and will institute post-merger reviews to ensure that consolidated companies keep their promises to American consumers.

Third, Democrats will take unprecedented aggressive action to lower the cost of prescription drugs — the single largest factor driving increasing health costs in the United States today. We will leverage the power of Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices, force drug manufacturers to open their books and justify cost increases, and create a strong, independent enforcement agency empowered to end outrageous and unjustified prescription drug price-gouging.

In crafting a new message, several Democrats have said publicly that they’ve got to be more than the anti-Trump party. According to a story on Yahoo News quoting New York Rep. Joe Crowley, the No. 4 House Democrat:

“I recognize that waiting for Trump to implode … will not work,” Crowley said. “What will work is Democrats having a message that appeals to the average American.”

The complete rundown of the new legislative agenda has yet to be released, but it reportedly will be kept simple: No identity politics. No foreign policy. No social issues.

Um … haven’t Democrats had a lot of success fighting for health care lately?

Part of the reason for the impetus — besides the need to win elections — may be seen in the results of a recent Washington Post-ABC News Poll. While Donald Trump’s numbers are historically bad, with an approval rating of 36 percent and a disapproval rating of 58 percent, including 48 percent who “disapproved strongly” of Trump’s performance as president, poll respondents said they saw the Democratic Party as more anti-Trump than anything else.

Whatever Trump’s struggles, the poll shows clear risks of Democrats’ opposition to Trump. Some 37 percent say the party currently stands for something, while 52 percent say it mainly stands against Trump. Even among Democrats, over one-quarter say their party primarily stands in opposition to Trump rather than for their own agenda.

Democrats have been getting lots of advice — some of it useful, some of it bad — about which direction the party needs to be headed. Pollster Mark Penn, long tied to Bill and Hillary Clinton, was heavily derided for his New York Times op-ed telling Democrats that they should head “back to the center.” Bernie Sanders favors pushing Democrats to the left and concentrating on winning independents. Comedian Seth Meyers contends that Democrats need to be more “authentic,” saying that, although Trump may be dishonest, at least he is perceived as authentic — by his supporters, anyway.

In a recent speech, Joe Biden’s advice was that Democrats can “promote progressive values and reach out to economically embattled voters, including Trump voters, at the same time.” The New Republic suggested that Democrats offer a federal jobs guarantee: the promise of “a good job for every American who wants one.” Politicians and pundits alike aren’t shy about delivering pronouncements on what Democrats need to do in the next electoral cycle.

But apparently Democrats have been working for months on their midterm strategy. Here’s how Dana Milbank of The Washington Post described the new Democratic message:

Titled “A Better Deal,” it is expected to have many Democratic staples — tax increases on the rich, affordable college, infrastructure spending, higher wages, job training, paid family leave and the like — and a few new ones.

Hashed out over several months by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján (N.M.), it will be outlined Monday with a few sample proposals, to be followed in the coming weeks by more proposals, some to be introduced as legislation and some to be offered as Contract With America-style promises that a Democratic Congress would implement. Schumer told me in December that Democrats would have “five, six sharp-edged [policies] that can be described in five words,” although it sounds as if the plan hasn’t come out quite so lean.

In other words, even before the new strategy is rolled out, it already sounds complicated. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard Chuck Schumer limit himself to five words about anything. Even the slogan of “A Better Deal” already is being mocked as being reminiscent of a Papa John’s Pizza ad campaign.

And you can’t dismiss anger against Trump as a motivating factor in driving Democrats to the polls. Democrats narrowed gaps in several special elections even if they didn’t win the ultimate prize. There have been Democratic pickups at state levels. Resistance movements are active throughout the country. The sleeping giant on the left has been startled awake, and it’s not going to take a nap anytime soon.

Don’t buy the argument that Hillary Clinton lost because she didn’t have an economic message, or that she had so many messages that they all got muddled. We don’t need to rehash the media’s email obsession, the James Comey effect 11 days before the election, Trump’s blatant lying, Russian meddling, and sexism, just to name a few factors.

But simplifying an electoral message is always a winning strategy, especially when it’s about pocketbook issues. Here’s how a few lawmakers described the Democratic dilemma in the Yahoo News story:

Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., the vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus, said Democrats have plenty of policies they stand for, but communicating them effectively is a challenge. She told reporters that Democrats have a tendency to get lost in the nuances.

“We’re not good at giving the headlines. We want to get into the weeds,” she said. “On these issues, we know that we’re fighting for what the majority of Americans want, we just haven’t convinced them of that because we’re too detail-oriented.” …

Part of that is the Democrats’ resistance to simple slogans. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez told Yahoo News in February that the party’s message can’t fit on a bumper sticker as easily as the Republicans’ can.

“One of the challenges of the Democratic Party is that our message hasn’t been reduced to a bumper sticker,” he said. “We live in a bumper sticker world. Republicans? Lower taxes, less government. Easy bumper sticker. Democrats? We’re the party of the middle class, the party of opportunity, the party of inclusion. It’s often been difficult for people to distill it to a bumper sticker.”

Actually, President Harry Truman, in his plainspoken way, once gave a pretty good description of what Democrats stand for:

Democrats work to help people who need help. That other party, they work for people who don’t need help. That’s all there is to it.

You can’t get more basic than that.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 23, 2017.

Donald Trump Jr. ‘can’t wait for 4 years to be over.’ How do you think the rest of us feel?

If your dad’s presidency is such a hardship, Junior, we’ve got a perfect solution.

Donald Trump Jr. — the poor little rich guy.

A personality piece in People magazine on the president’s eldest son (actually, on the whole Trump family) paints a portrait of young Donnie as being unhappy and wishing he had his private life back.

Anonymous friends quoted in the story say that Don Jr. and Eric both “hate their roles as first sons.” It seems that they’re being over-scrutinized, as if we weren’t supposed to pay attention to the meeting Donnie had during the campaign with a passel of Russians, waiting for a delivery of dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Pardon me while I barf.

No doubt reading about these grifters will be an acceptable, if maddening, way to pass the time while you’re glancing at People while waiting for the dentist. But if the members of Family von Trump think they’re going to garner any sympathy from the majority of the country, they’ve got another thing coming.

Some tweets in reaction to Junior’s comments in the People story didn’t cut him much slack.

  • We can’t wait either.
  • I imagine his prison term will be longer than that.

Let’s hear exactly what is making Trump’s No. 1 son — the 39-year-old “good boy,” as his father put it — so “miserable,” according to the account in People:

These days, the child most in Trump’s “realm” is his daughter Ivanka, 35, who, by all accounts, has always been his favorite.

Long outshone by his sister — first at the Trump Organization and now in the White House, where she and her husband, Jared Kushner, have West Wing offices and White House titles — Don Jr. has had a harder time adapting to life after the election.

For all his campaign rallies last year and bellicose tweets this year, Trump Jr., who along with his brother Eric, 33, remained in N.Y.C. to run the family business, still relishes the quiet of his lifelong loves of hunting and fishing.

Most weekends, he escapes Trump Tower Manhattan to a rustic cabin upstate with his wife, Vanessa, and their five children. He’s a regular at the Riverside Café in Roscoe, New York, where the manager says Trump Jr. is “good people,” doesn’t seek attention, and “never has his hair slicked back like he does on TV.”

He’s just a regular guy, amirite? Despite his lying and insulting tweets, despite the fact that the Trump re-election campaign is paying Junior’s legal bills, despite his whole family’s jet-setting ways (accompanied by Secret Service agents paid for by taxpayers, of course), despite the new hotels Donnie has been flying around the world to open, and despite a new line of hotels the family is planning? The Boston Globe described the new hotel chain as a plan to “Make America stay in Trump hotels again.”

Friends of Don Jr. say he “can’t do any deals, because he’ll be overly scrutinized. He just goes to work every day and is miserable.” Yet brother Eric bragged in March about how the Trump family business is booming. According to a report from Talking Points Memo, incorporating reporting from The New York Times:

“The stars have all aligned,” Trump told the paper. “I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been.”

While he didn’t say exactly what had aligned, one can only assume that his father, and the namesake of the brand and its many facets, being President surely helps, as The New York Times noted.

The Times noted a plethora of golf tournaments that will be held on Trump properties in the coming months, properties that Trump himself has golfed on seven times since he was inaugurated. The Trump hotel in Washington, D.C. is becoming a hub in the nation’s capital, so much so that a local wine bar is suing, citing “unfair competition.”

Ivanka Trump, too, seems to be cleaning up. Trump fans are buying her clothes as if she were the fashion design equivalent of the second coming. Fortune magazine reports that sales of Ivanka’s lines rose 61 percent in 2016 for an annual sales total of $47.3 million. “The election campaign, and subsequent win by her father, President Donald Trump, exponentially increased the niche brand’s visibility to the broader public,” according to Fortune.

Actually, there’s a simple solution to Trump Jr.’s woes. Have your freeloading, popular-vote-loser father resign, since he doesn’t seem to like the job, and he’s obviously not very good at it. But that would mean the rest of you wouldn’t make as much money, wouldn’t it?

I’m sure that die-hard Trumpinistas will buy the Trump People issue in droves, eager to devour any and all words about their White House savior and his offspring. “THE TRUMP FAMILY SECRETS & LIES” screams the banner across People.

Actually, it might be better to skip those stories and focus on “Royal Tots on Tour!” Those are bound to be adorable photos of George and Charlotte, the two royal youngsters of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, aka Prince William and his wife, Catherine.

There, I covered everything you needed to know about the People report. Now go get your teeth cleaned.

What will be the Trump-Russia equivalent of Watergate’s smoking gun?

Former White House official Alexander Butterfield blew the Watergate investigation wide open when he revealed Richard Nixon’s hidden tape recording system. Is the Trump White House in a similar spot — yet?

The turning point of the Watergate scandal happened exactly 44 years ago today. On July 16, 1973, Alexander Butterfield, the former White House deputy chief of staff, publicly dropped a dime on Richard Nixon.

With TV cameras broadcasting the images live across the nation, Butterfield told the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, better known as the Senate Watergate Committee, that Nixon had a hidden tape recording system in the Oval Office that he used to record conversations. The immediate realization was that the tapes of those conversations likely would have definitive proof, in Nixon’s own voice, that he knew about the cover-up of the 1972 burglary of the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex.

Rather than connecting a dotted line, the committee now was barreling down a six-lane highway.

Butterfield didn’t want to reveal the taping system, which he actually had been directed to install as a means of making recordings for a future Nixon Presidential Library. But he got called before the committee, and years later, he told The Washington Post that “when Don Sanders, the deputy minority counsel … asked the $64,000 question, clearly and directly, I felt I had no choice but to respond in a like manner.”

Do the revelations in Donald Trump Jr.’s emails about the June 2016 meeting between Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties, and Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort to hear “dirt” on Hillary Clinton meet the same standard of culpability as the Nixon “smoking-gun” tape recordings?

Butterfield had left the Nixon White House by the time the Senate Watergate investigation started. In 1972, he had become the head of the Federal Aviation Administration and thought he had dodged a bullet in not being called before the committee. According to the Post account by Alicia Shepard, author of Woodward and Bernstein: Life in the Shadow of Watergate:

When the committee list was published, he thought he was safe. He knew he possessed a valuable secret, but he was also a loyal Republican with no intention of squealing.

Then came a phone call. Senate investigators wanted to know what, if anything, he knew. He was invited to a standard pre-interview on Friday, July 13. …

“Were there ever any recording devices other than the Dictaphone system you mentioned,” he recalled being asked.

Butterfield froze. This was a direct question. He hesitated, took a deep breath and answered, “Yes.” …

The room fell silent. The tension was palpable. “They were young,” Butterfield told me. “They were ecstatic. I said, ‘Wait a minute. Let’s be serious. I know this information I gave you is monumental. Let’s think this through.’ ”

But it was too late. The investigators instantly understood the significance of Butterfield’s answer.

He would tell the world the same information a few days later.

After the Butterfield bombshell went public, Nixon basically became dead meat, although he fought every step of the way and it took a year for him to leave office. Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox subpoenaed the secret recordings and Nixon refused to turn them over, claiming executive privilege. A federal court ordered him to comply, and Nixon tried to get around that order by working out a deal to deliver only partial details in transcripts. Cox said no dice. Nixon did all he could to stop the tapes from being released, even ordering Cox’s firing in October 1973 — the infamous Saturday Night Massacre, which led to the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who refused to follow Nixon’s orders.

Partial transcripts of the tapes were released. There was an 18½-minute gap in one tape that was recorded at a time when Nixon and his aides would have been discussing the Watergate break-in. Chief of staff Alexander Haig chalked up the erasure to “some sinister force.”

Ultimately, Nixon lost. A year after Butterfield’s testimony, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Nixon must turn over all of the tapes. The president, facing the growing likelihood of impeachment and conviction, resigned 15 days later.

If you were around during Watergate, you might remember that as detail after detail about the scandal emerged, it was hard to keep track of all the revelations. That same head-spinning sensation is occurring today, as more and more of the extent of the Russian involvement in the 2016 election is revealed, along with the extent of the Trump campaign’s collusion, and who exactly is involved. This time, it’s just being revealed more quickly. A lot more quickly. Because Don Jr. doesn’t know enough to keep his mouth — or his emails — shut.

When The New York Times broke the story of the June 2016 meeting between Team Trump and the Russian lawyer, Don Jr. changed his story about the meeting more often than Donald Trump Sr. changed stories about why he fired FBI Director James Comey. As a subhead in a Politico story put it, Trump’s lawyers “are trying to remind the president and his aides that small indiscretions can spell big trouble.”

Trump’s legal team is attempting to separate the president from Donald Trump Jr. and the son’s legal team on Russia matters, as well from Jared Kushner and his legal team, over concerns that the blurred lines could create unnecessary problems, according to these sources. They have tried to block Trump’s warring band of aides from joining meetings with his lawyers, warning that they could become witnesses or be forced to hire lawyers if they attend. …

“I’m not sure what the issues would be from a legal sense, but their conduct is definitely problematic and raises many issues,” said Matthew Miller, a former Department of Justice spokesman under the Obama administration. “If they’re all talking together and trying to get their stories straight, that’s a problem.” …

Many of the problems come from Trump, who assures his legal team that he understands their advice but then disregards it, several White House officials and advisers said. “They say, don’t do this, don’t do that, and he then he tweets,” one White House adviser said. “And then the conversation happens again.”

There’s no doubt that the now-infamous meeting in Trump Tower (and how could candidate Trump not have known about it?) is a game changer in the growing Trump-Russia scandal. Every media outlet seems to be interviewing legal experts about the repercussions of Don Jr.’s big adventure, basically asking, “Was it Illegal? And if so, what laws were broken?” In a separate story, Politico surveyed a range of lawyers about who might be liable and for what. Politico got a range of answers, from a list of laws that may have been broken (from former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean, who served four months for his Watergate role) to “a nothing burger with some secret sauce” (from Saikrishna Prakash, James Monroe distinguished professor of law at the University of Virginia) to “Donald Trump Jr. has helped the prosecution by establishing motive” (from Peter Zeidenberg, who served as an assistant special counsel in the prosecution of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby).

Many suggest that early use of the term “smoking gun” to describe conclusive evidence of a crime came from a Sherlock Holmes short story, The Adventure of the Gloria Scott (a false clergyman was holding a smoking pistol). As the Watergate story and scandal grew, the term “smoking gun” was used frequently, as pundits wondered what would be the smoking gun that finally sealed Nixon’s fate.

Maybe the analogy has outlived its usefulness. Kathleen Parker of The Washington Post suggested that Don Jr.’s idiocy was “the mother of all tipping points.” (Although she also said the emails weren’t a smoking gun, they were a blazing gun.) At New York Magazine, Frank Rich, who already reminded us that “Watergate didn’t become Watergate overnight, either,” has a new, different take:

There will be no single smoking gun that will bring down this White House. It will be death by firing squad — or perhaps a sequence of firing squads — as the whole story inexorably pours out of the administration’s smoldering ruins.

So do we have our smoking gun yet in the Trump-Russia scandal? Maybe not — but the weapons are locked and loaded.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 16, 2017.


Trump’s ‘voter integrity’ panel is a joke — and a serious threat (UPDATE)

In this staged photo op from November 2016, the papers visible under Kris Kobach’s arm are a deportation plan from the Department of Homeland Security. Yeah, let’s trust this guy with sensitive information about voters.

No doubt Donald Trump thought he had a winning issue for Republicans when he launched an idea for a bogus voter fraud panel.

After all, Republicans have been pushing false notions about voter fraud for years, using it as an excuse to pass voter ID laws and other forms of voter suppression that disproportionately affect minorities and other voters more inclined to vote for Democrats. And since Trump still can’t bring himself to admit that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes, all of those extra votes just had to be illegal, right?

Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach are heading what is billed as the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The commission is asking states for voters’ full names and addresses, political party registration, the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers, and voting history back to 2006.

Some officials say the request itself might be illegal, since it didn’t follow federal requirements governing requests for information from states. But there are consequential fears:

  • Such a large database of voter information could be ripe for hacking, with such data attractive both to criminals looking for easier access to identity theft and to foreign governments seeking large amounts of information for counterintelligence.
  • A recent letter from the Department of Justice demanding information about how and when voters are removed from voting rolls, coming on top of the voter panel request, is being interpreted as intimidation.
  • The plan to store the collected voter data on White House computers through Pence’s office, with aims to cross-check voter rolls, is almost guaranteed to reduce the number of voters. What could be a bigger conflict of interest for candidates running for re-election in 2020?
  • The panel itself, especially with incomplete data from states, will cherry-pick its way to developing policies with the aim of suppressing voting even more.

The DOJ letter is the latest wrinkle in the Trump administration’s war on voting. Veterans of the Obama administration’s Justice Department say the intent of the letter, asking 44 states to describe compliance with a section of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 specifying when voters are to be purged, might be to disenfranchise voters. According to a story by Huffington Post:

Former Justice Department officials say that while there’s nothing notable about seeking information about compliance with the NVRA, it is unusual for the department to send out such a broad inquiry to so many states seeking information. Such a wide probe could signal the department is broadly fishing for cases of non-compliance to bring suits aimed at purging the voter rolls.

“These two letters, sent on the same day, are highly suspect, and seem to confirm that the Trump administration is laying the groundwork to suppress the right to vote,” said Vanita Gupta, the CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and former head of DOJ’s civil rights division under President Barack Obama. “It is not normal for the Department of Justice to ask for voting data from all states covered by the National Voter Registration Act. It’s likely that this is instead the beginning of an effort to force unwarranted voter purges.”

The real possibility of hacking into voter rolls is just as serious. Russian cyberattacks on voter databases and software systems reached at least 39 states. As former Homeland Security Sec. Michael Chertoff wrote in The Washington Post:

That’s why the commission’s call to assemble all this voter data in federal hands raises the question: What is the plan to protect it? We know that a database of personal information from all voting Americans would be attractive not only to adversaries seeking to affect voting but to criminals who could use the identifying information as a wedge into identity theft. We also know that foreign intelligence agencies seek large databases on Americans for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes. …

Would it be encrypted? Who would have administrative access to the data, and what restrictions would be placed on its use? Would those granted access be subject to security background investigations, and would their behavior be supervised to prevent the kind of insider theft that we saw with Edward Snowden or others who have released or sold sensitive data? What kinds of audit procedures would be in place? Finally, can the security risk of assembling so much tempting data in one place be mitigated by reducing and anonymizing the individual voter information being sought?

Of course, putting Kris Kobach in charge of election integrity is like leaving Bernie Madoff in charge of retiree investment accounts. The anti-immigration activist Kobach gained infamy trying to disenfranchise Kansas voters in his crusade against what he sees as voter fraud and “illegals voting.” You can see why he’s the sort of official after Donald Trump’s heart.

The Kansas Legislature gave Kobach’s office the power to prosecute voter fraud directly. Given his years of dubious claims, you’d think Kobach would be taking hundreds to court. In the end, there were only six prosecutions and exactly four successful cases, all against elderly voters, mostly involving voters who owned homes in two states (and voted in both), and none involving non-citizens.

The bogus charge about voter fraud is FAKE NEWS. Investigation after investigation of claims of voter fraud show that the problem is nearly nonexistent. A recent compilation of multiple investigations by The Washington Post determined that:

In general, there’s also a whole mountain of academic research into voter fraud, which is largely in agreement that it’s essentially a nonissue, and that isolated cases that may appear to be “fraud” are often attributable to mistakes, clerical errors or carelessness.

The current count of states refusing to comply or complying only partially with the commission’s request stands at 45. Pence’s home state of Indiana and Kobach’s home state of Kansas are on that list. Exactly TWO states, Missouri and Colorado, are fully complying with the request (both states have Republicans as the officials in charge of voter data). Some states have agreed to share the same information that is publicly available but will leave out identifying details such as the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers.

Many Republican officials in charge of state voter data point out that elections are the purview of the states, not the federal government. A Washington Post roundup of states’ reactions to the Kobach commission’s request showed that many cited the 10th Amendment is refusing to turn over the data. Some said the feds could have the data—for a fee. This came from Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler, a Republican:

“The President’s Commission has quickly politicized its work by asking states for an incredible amount of voter data that I have, time and time again, refused to release,” Schedler explained in his statement. “My response to the Commission is, you’re not going to play politics with Louisiana’s voter data, and if you are, then you can purchase the limited public information available by law, to any candidate running for office. That’s it.”

Some states were diplomatic and polite in their refusal.

“While we remain committed to ensuring the integrity of and confidence in our electoral process, providing all of the information requested is not in the best interest of Arkansas voters. I continue to have confidence in the Secretary of State’s efforts to ensure that Arkansas’ elections are free and fair,” was the statement by Arkansas’ conservative Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, one of the latest to refuse the honor the complete request. The state did send some partial voter data.

Of course, some states’ answers were the equivalent of “Bite me.”

Mississippi Sec. of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, delivered his answer before he received the official request. He issued a statement saying, “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from.” Hosemann won a 2014 case against True the Vote—the group claiming to work on voting integrity but in reality seeking more ways to purge voters—on the grounds that state voter file information should be kept private and not shared with the federal government.

In Kentucky, Sec. of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat, said the commission had been formed on a “sham premise” and told MSNBC: “There’s not enough bourbon here in Kentucky to make this request seem sensible. Not on my watch are we going to be releasing sensitive information that relates to the privacy of individuals.”

Trump harrumphed his way into a tweet, demanding that states comply. Grimes tweeted back:

If Donald Trump really wants information on American voters, maybe he should just ask the Russians.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 9, 2017.

UPDATE: Because of the numerous lawsuits filed against the voter panel, now the commission is asking states to hold off on sending any sensitive voter data while it awaits a ruling from a federal judge. According to a story in The Washington Post:

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a watchdog group, has asked U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to block the commission’s data request, arguing that the panel had not conducted the full privacy impact statement required by federal law for new government electronic data-collection systems.

Separately, two civil liberties groups filed lawsuits to prevent the commission from holding its first scheduled meeting, alleging that the panel had been working in secret and in violation of government regulations on public transparency.

So stay tuned.

Paul Ryan and the right to bare arms (UPDATE)

Paul Ryan is not as concerned about sleeveless dresses when he’s on Fox & Friends.

A business dress code is one thing. Summer weather in Washington, D.C, is another. But apparently House Speaker Paul Ryan thinks he has to right to crack down on women reporters wearing dresses without sleeves.

In June, Ryan announced the dress code — the rule is not new, it just hasn’t always been enforced — that only business attire is acceptable in the House itself and the area known as the Speaker’s lobby, a corridor across from the House chamber where journalists often interview lawmakers. This bars women from wearing sleeveless dresses and open-toed shoes, and requires men to wear jackets and ties. It applies to lawmakers as well as reporters.

A young, female reporter was denied entrance to the area because she was wearing a sleeveless dress. According to many stories about the incident, the reporter, Haley Byrd of the Independent Journal Review, took some papers and tried to stuff them into the dress’s shoulders, but that didn’t pass the sleeve test.

Many on social media started slamming Ryan, calling the arm crackdown a case of “Handmaids in the House,” referring to the popular Hulu show of red-robed women forced into submissive roles. “It really is truly something that the House wants to deny essential health benefits to women, including prenatal care, while simultaneously worrying themselves over the appropriateness of shoulders and toes,” commented a story on Jezebel.

Looking professional is a way of life in Washington. We once flew into airports in Washington and Seattle in the same week, and the difference in modes of dress is the difference between a lawyer arguing a case before the U.S. Supreme Court and Eddie Vedder.

But lighten up, Mr. Speaker. It’s 2017. Washington is a Southern city, after all, and the weather is nearly always hot and humid. The average high is 88 degrees in Washington in July, and nearly half the days have temps in the 90s. That’s not a time to dress in layers.

Paul Ryan is a supporter of the Second Amendment, which gives people the right to bear arms. But he must never have read about Amendment 2A, which got struck by the founders when they passed the Bill of Rights only days after voting on the Constitution itself in September of 1789.

Amendment 2A: When temperatures rise above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the right of the people to display bare Arms shall not be infringed.

Ryan just missed a little-known history lesson.

UPDATE: Apparently the bad publicity (and the comparisons to Sharia law) got to the House speaker. Now he grudgingly says he will work to “modernize” the dress code. And perhaps it was the women in Congress who got his attention.

Sorry, Trumpsters: NPR’s Declaration of Independence tweets were not a call for revolution

Of course this called for a revolution — in 1776, you dim bulbs.

In moving to the modern era, National Public Radio tweeted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, and some Trump supporters lost their minds.

On Independence Day, just as it has for 29 years, the voices familiar to NPR’s listeners read the document, a few lines at a time. It has been an almost nostalgic practice, prompting listeners to remember their history lessons and to get them in a patriotic mood for a day of celebrating the nation’s freedoms. We listened for the lines most Americans learned in school.

I say “most Americans,” because apparently some supporters of Donald Trump must have flunked American history or at least cut class the day those words from Thomas Jefferson were discussed.

NPR sent out tweet after tweet, whatever would fit into 140 characters or less. There were 100 tweets in all, with lines that should be familiar to most of us.

Unfortunately, some Trumpinistas didn’t see it that way. They saw the exercise as a call for revolution by liberal journalists — the “fake news,” “lamestream” media.

@JohnLemos11: Propaganda is that all that you know how? Try supporting a man who wants to do something about the injustice in this country #drainingtheswamp.

@JustEsrafel: So NPR is calling for revolution. Interesting way to condone the violence while trying to sound “patriotic.” Your implications are clear.

@darren_mills: Seriously, this is the dumbest idea I have ever seen on twitter. Literally no one is going to read 5000 tweets about this trash.

@darren_mills: This is why you’re going to get defunded

@cavecreekdeb: Please. This is not the right place.

This may be my favorite:

We’re not talking about class valedictorians here. This guy couldn’t even spell “horseshit” correctly.

NPR listeners familiar with the tradition likely enjoyed listening to the annual radio recitation and reading the tweets. But I bet most Trumpsters don’t listen to NPR.

A Huffiington Post story about this brouhaha reported that many of these ignorant tweets have since been deleted, and that at least one user has deleted an entire account, suggesting once again that these instant-reaction tweets are from bots more than from real people. Still, the level of ignorance is stunning, something noted by others on Twitter.

@matthewebel: It is SO telling that @npr is tweeting our Declaration Independence … and Trump supporters think it’s an anti-Trump tirade.

When the Tea Party gained prominence in 2009 and 2010, those conservatives loved to brag about how much they “loved the Constitution” and that they were so much more knowledgeable about what the founding fathers would have wanted. Somehow, given that Tea Partiers and Trump backers are cut from the same cloth, I’m skeptical about that level of knowledge from either group.

Here’s some advice for Trump supporters. Take a field trip to Washington, D.C., and visit the National Archives. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are on display in the building’s rotunda. Lights are kept low, so as not to damage the historic documents, often referred to as the “Charters of Freedom.”

It’s free. And you might actually learn something.

How to improve Obamacare: If Republicans were smart, they’d listen

Just think how much better the ACA could be with bipartisan fixes and buy-in. Yeah, I know; it’s a fantasy.

Imagine an alternate universe in which members of both parties work together to develop changes to the Affordable Care Act to make the law work more efficiently, cover more Americans, and cost the government less.

I know it’s ludicrous to even propose this in these embattled times, especially with Republican lawmakers’ heads stuck firmly in the sand, but ideas on how to improve the ACA are out there. Democratic lawmakers would be wise to push them publicly in easy sound bites, if for no other reason than to reinforce the notion of how stubborn Republicans are and how hard the GOP is working against the interests of the American people while Democrats are trying to help.

When he couldn’t get 50 GOP votes for the Senate version of Trumpcare, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had no choice but to delay action. He bemoaned the fact that—horrors—he might have to work with Democrats on health care legislation. According to a Politico story:

Failing to repeal the law would mean the GOP would lose its opportunity to do a partisan rewrite of the law that could scale back Medicaid spending, cut Obamacare’s taxes and repeal a host of industry mandates.

Instead, Republicans would be forced to enter into bipartisan negotiations with Democrats to save failing insurance markets.

McConnell delivered a similar warning Monday to Republican senators at his leadership meeting and to top GOP staffers, warning that Democrats will want to retain as much of Obamacare as possible in a bipartisan negotiation, according to Republican aides.

“If we fail, we’re going to be negotiating with [Democratic Leader] Chuck Schumer,” said one Republican staffer.

Schumer has made an offer to do just that, and so have Democrats in the House. As Schumer said in the Senate this week, according to a story on Morning Consult:

“So, I’d make my friends on the Republican side and President Trump an offer: Let’s turn over a new leaf. Let’s start over,” the New York Democrat said on the Senate floor as he called on GOP leaders to drop their push to repeal the taxes that help fund the Affordable Care Act, along with their proposed $772 billion cut to Medicaid.

Instead, Schumer said, all senators and Trump should come together for a “new bipartisan way forward on health care in front of all the American people” to discuss what the country is “really concerned about: premiums, deductibles, the costs and quality of health care.”

There may be little reason to believe the sincerity of Republican senators such as Susan Collins of Maine, who keeps floating the idea of working across the aisle to improve the ACA. Nevertheless, let’s see where such a fanciful approach might take us.

Republicans have spent seven years screaming the mantra of “REPEAL AND REPLACE” even though they had no legislation waiting in the wings. Both the House and Senate versions of Obamacare replacement are so toxic that the bills’ approval ratings hover between 12 percent and 17 percent. They’re so bad that they’ve pushed ACA approval into positive territory, and support for Trumpcare has dropped even among Republicans. Polls commissioned by the American Medical Association, hardly a bastion of liberalism, show that key aspects of both bills are deeply unpopular in seven battleground states. Medicaid now has widespread support, and a majority want Medicaid funding increased or at least maintained, not drastically cut, as both Trumpcare bills would do.

It’s obvious why both pieces of legislation are so unpopular—the bills are crap. They’re tax-cut bills masquerading as health care bills. They would take us back to the bad old days of lifetime benefit caps and the ability to deny coverage for preexisting conditions. They would raise premiums. They would take 22 million to 24 million people off the insurance rolls within 10 years and would gut Medicaid.

Polling by Morning Consult shows that the country wants a bipartisan solution.

Morning Consult surveys from the past few months show a strong appetite for bipartisan reform to former President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law, with an increasing share of Republican voters embracing that view. A mid-June survey found that 65 percent of registered voters prefer that Republicans in Congress compromise with Democrats to reach bipartisan reforms on health care, while just 18 percent said Senate and House Republicans should handle the overhaul on their own.

And working with Democrats to upgrade and enhance the Affordable Care Act could be Republicans’ salvation. Working in a bipartisan manner would have the benefit of improving the current law while giving them political cover. According to a story from New York Magazine:

Obviously, a bipartisan bill would have very different parameters. Democrats are not going to support a huge tax cut for the affluent or a plan to cut insurance subsidies by a trillion dollars. On the other hand, the thing Democrats would happily do also happens to offer enormous political benefits for the majority party.

If Donald Trump’s candidacy has made nothing else clear, it’s that Republican voters have little attachment to right-wing economic doctrine. They hate “Obamacare,” but they favor many of its specific elements, especially Medicaid. What they want is a bigger plan, not a smaller one. Republicans have denounced high premiums and deductibles, and Trump ran promising to make sure everybody had better coverage than they get under Obamacare.

A dozen or so Republican senators who are potential “no” votes have been trooping in and out of Mitch McConnell’s office as the majority leader is desperate to promise them something—anything—to get to 50 votes. But the constant barrage of bad news about Trumpcare polling and the even worse optics of arresting disabled protestors is taking a toll. After the Fourth of July weekend, when constituents across the country won’t be shy about loudly criticizing the proposed inhumane cuts to their elected officials, what’s McConnell going to do then? Wait for Donald Trump’s “big surprise”? Despite Vice President Mike Pence’s optimism about passing a bill by the end of the summer, others say the divide among Republican senators is too great for anything to pass.

So assuming that Republicans are forced to hold their noses and talk to Chuck Schumer, as McConnell seems loath to do, why should Democrats cooperate with them? Here’s the reason, again from New York Magazine:

From a pure political standpoint, the Democrats have a win-win choice. They’ll gain if Trumpcare fails in Congress, and they’ll gain even more if it is signed into law. The only way they won’t score political points off the issue is if they join with Republicans to patch up the system. And yet many and perhaps most Democrats are probably willing to make this sacrifice for the same reason they took the risk of voting for Obamacare in the first place: They care a lot about health-care policy outcomes, and are willing to sacrifice seats to pursue them.

Sen. Collins and Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana are two Republicans who have taken baby steps in talking to Democrats about changes to the ACA. Another Politico story described the beginnings of those efforts back in May. But once the House tweaked its way into passing the American Health Care Act, making an already bad bill worse, the bipartisan talk cooled, even though several senators from both parties still say it would be a more successful route to take.

Though Republicans guarantee there will be a partisan repeal vote at some point this year, some senators and aides believe the chances of failure are greater than success. Crafting a Plan B, they say, is wise.

“The stakes are high, and the possibility for failure is high,” one Republican senator said of the partisan repeal effort. The senator said it would not be surprising if Republicans are ultimately forced to seek a deal with Democrats. …

Collins said much the same in a recent interview.

“I really want us to have a bipartisan bill. I just think will be so much better. And we have better ideas,” she said. “So that’s my goal. You end up with a better bill, you end up with better acceptance by the public.”

There’s no shortage of ideas on how to improve the ACA. Let’s look at a few possible areas of change. Here are some often-recommended ones, coming from sources as varied as the New Yorker and The Wall Street Journal.

  • Payment system changes. The existing fee-for-service system rewards the wrong behavior, making care less, rather than more efficient. There are other approaches, such as bundled payments and accountable care organizations.
  • Public reporting of quality performance data. Scoring systems for hospitals and physicians would give patients real data to choose providers.
  • Increased and fairer subsidies. Subsidize insurers to enter unattractive markets. Raise the level of subsidies for plans bought on the exchanges or raise the income thresholds at which the subsidies phase out.
  • Pricing transparency. Consumers need information to make the best choices about their care.
  • A simplified ACA bureaucracy. The new structures in the ACA may have been written into the law for the right reasons, but they have forced medical practices and hospitals to hire more staff to meet the new regulations, not to deliver care. That forces costs up, without helping patients.
  • A public option for insurance. Well, DUH.

Ideas on reforming the ACA are all over the political and economic spectrum:

Let’s look at two proposals from two very different sources: Paul Krugman of The New York Times and the AMA. You’ll find that there’s overlap, with obvious differences. First, Krugman:

One important answer would be to spend a bit more money. Obamacare has turned out to be remarkably cheap; the Congressional Budget Office now projects its cost to be about a third lower than it originally expected, around 0.7 percent of G.D.P. In fact, it’s probably too cheap. A report from the nonpartisan Urban Institute argues that the A.C.A. is “essentially underfunded,” and would work much better — in particular, it could offer policies with much lower deductibles — if it provided somewhat more generous subsidies. The report’s recommendations would cost around 0.2 percent of G.D.P.; or to put it another way, would be around half as expensive as the tax cuts for the wealthy Republicans just tried and failed to ram through as part of Trumpcare.

What about the problem of inadequate insurance industry competition? Better subsidies would help enrollments, which in turn would probably bring in more insurers. But just in case, why not revive the idea of a public option — insurance sold directly by the government, for those who choose it? At the very least, there ought to be public plans available in areas no private insurer wants to serve.

There are other more technical things we should do too, like extending reinsurance: compensation for insurers whose risk pool turned out worse than expected. Some analysts also argue that there would be big gains from moving “off-exchange” plans onto the government-administered marketplaces.

Here’s a health reform laundry list from the AMA, which strongly disagrees with both the House and Senate versions of Trumpcare:

  • Ensure that individuals currently covered do not become uninsured and take steps toward coverage and access for all Americans.
  • Maintain key insurance market reforms, such as preexisting conditions, guaranteed issue and parental coverage for young adults.
  • Stabilize and strengthen the individual insurance market.
  • Ensure that low/moderate income patients are able to secure affordable and adequate coverage.
  • Ensure that Medicaid, CHIP and other safety net programs are adequately funded.
  • Reduce regulatory burdens that detract from patient care and increase costs.
  • Provide greater cost transparency throughout the health care system.
  • Incorporate common sense medical liability reforms.
  • Continue the advancement of delivery reforms and new physician-led payment models to achieve better outcomes, higher quality and lower spending trends.

So why won’t Republicans do the smart thing and work with Democrats? For Donald Trump, it’s all about “winning” and sticking it to his predecessor. For McConnell, it’s purity of party over what’s good for the country. And there are no bigger ideologues than tribal Republican voters. But when polls show that even they are starting to abandon Trumpcare, maybe it’s time for McConnell to bite the bullet and take another look.

Remember Democrats’ response when the first attempt to pass Trumpcare in the House failed? They said they were willing to help fix the Affordable Care Act, for the sake of the American people. Remember this tweet from Democratic Rep. Sean Maloney of New York?

Medicare first passed in 1965 and has undergone changes throughout its 50-year history. The first expansion came under President Richard Nixon in 1972, and it has been tweaked when necessary ever since. Assuming (and I know it’s a lot to assume) that some version of the ACA survives this partisan onslaught, any changes made to President Obama’s signature achievement will only make it stronger.

At the end of The Princess Bride, after Inigo Montoya finally dispatches the six-fingered man who killed his father, he says, “You know, I’ve been in the revenge business so long, I don’t know what to do with myself.”

That’s the fix Republicans are in right now. They’ve run so long and so hard against Obamacare without any ideas of how to replace it that they don’t know what to do now that they’re in power with nothing to offer but ideas that the American people find repulsive.

Maybe McConnell and co. should take the suggestion from Westley: “Have you ever considered piracy? You’d make an excellent Dread Pirate Roberts.” Of course, some would suggest that Republicans act like pirates already. I wonder if Mitch McConnell has a boat…

Originally posted on Daily Kos on July 2, 2017.

Jason Chaffetz thinks lawmakers need a 17 percent raise

You think congress-critters need $30,000 more a year for working 138 days a year? You’d better hide.

On-his-way-out-the-door GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who just officially signed on as a contributor to Fox News and the Fox Business Network, thinks members of Congress should get a $2,500-a-month housing allowance on top of their $174,000-a-year salaries.

Let’s do the math for the Utah Republican: 12 X 2,500 equals 30,000. So he thinks lawmakers need a $30,000 raise so they can live in D.C.

“I really do believe Congress would be much better served if there was a housing allowance for members of Congress,” Chaffetz told The Hill in an interview in his Capitol office, where he sleeps whenever he’s in Washington. “In today’s climate, nobody’s going to suggest or vote for a pay raise. But you shouldn’t have to be among the wealthiest of Americans to serve properly in Congress.”

Chaffetz goes on to complain that if he had a nice home to live in somewhere in Washington, he wouldn’t need to fly home every weekend on the taxpayers’ dime to see his wife. “If I wasn’t buying as many airline tickets, it would ultimately be less expensive,” he told The Hill.

He also complained how expensive it is to have two kids in college (son at University of Virginia Law School, daughter in college in Utah). He further complained how hard it was to make ends meet while also having a mortgage back in Utah.

(You know, my parents sent two kids to college while making a lot less than $100,000 a year on two combined salaries. My husband and I sent our two kids to college, and our combined salaries never totaled anywhere near $174,000. And we paid off our mortgage, too. But I digress.)

Yes, housing costs are high in Washington. But you can find something for a lot less than $2,500 per month. Perhaps Congress might consider a congressional dorm for adults, like this one in Syracuse, N.Y.

Here’s some more math for Chaffetz, who loved to go on TV as one of the leaders of the Hillary Clinton Benghazi witch hunt. All of those combined investigations cost nearly $7 million of taxpayer money.

“A $2,500 monthly allowance would cost taxpayers about $30,000 a year per lawmaker, or roughly $16 million a year for all 535 members,” the Hill article says. Why, that’s enough to investigate Clinton all over again — twice!

Oh, and $30,000 on a $174,000 salary is a 17.25 percent raise. But you’ll be getting lots more than that in your new role “offering political analysis” at Fox, won’t you, @jasoninthehouse? Thank goodness he won’t be in the House much longer.

Hot enough for you? Deadly heat waves likely to get worse

This was an unofficial temperature in Phoenix, where the official number stayed just shy of 120 degrees. But it was hot enough to cancel flights.

Individual daily heat records are being matched and shattered across the country and around the world. And new research predicts that by the year 2100, climate change means that such heat could expose three-fourths of the world’s population to deadly temperatures.

Individual daily heat records are being matched and shattered across the country and around the world. And new research predicts that by the year 2100, climate change means that such heat could expose three-fourths of the world’s population to deadly temperatures.

Temperatures in the Southwest are climbing to more than 120 degrees—it was so hot in Phoenix last week that some planes weren’t able to take off or land. Now, weather is not climate, and one day’s soaring heat is just that—one day. But what used to be a few-days-a-summer event of horrific heat in some locations will become more common and have deadly consequences, according to a new study from Nature Climate Change.

An international research team did a global analysis of “lethal heat events,” or occasions when extreme heat caused deaths, looking at nearly 2,000 academic papers published between 1980 and 2014. The researchers identified “783 cases of excess human mortality associated with heat from 164 cities in 36 countries.” According to the researchers’ abstract:

Based on the climatic conditions of those lethal heat events, we identified a global threshold beyond which daily mean surface air temperature and relative humidity become deadly. Around 30% of the world’s population is currently exposed to climatic conditions exceeding this deadly threshold for at least 20 days a year. … An increasing threat to human life from excess heat now seems almost inevitable, but will be greatly aggravated if greenhouse gases are not considerably reduced.

Here’s the researchers’ frightening forecast: If climate change continues along current trends, without a lowering of carbon emissions, that 30 percent figure will rise to 74 percent of the global population by the year 2100. In other words, three in four people could face the threat of dying from extreme heat by the end of the century.

Even with drastic carbon emission cutbacks, 48 percent of the world’s population will still face risks from deadly heat waves because of the amount of heat-trapping gases that already have accumulated in the atmosphere.

“The human body can only function within a narrow range of core body temperatures around 37°C,” or 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, wrote biogeographer Camilo Mora, head of the multi-person research team that produced the Nature Climate Change study. “Heat waves pose a considerable risk to human life because hot weather, aggravated with high humidity, can raise body temperature, leading to life-threatening conditions.”

National Geographic explains the research.

“Lethal heat waves are very common. I don’t know why we as a society are not more concerned about the dangers,” says Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the study’s lead author. “The 2003 European heat wave killed approximately 70,000 people—that’s more than 20 times the number of people who died in the September 11 attacks.”

Dangerous heat waves are far more common than anyone realized, killing people in more than 60 different parts of the world every year. Notable deadly heat waves include the 2010 Moscow event that killed at least 10,000 people and the 1995 Chicago heat wave, where 700 people died of heat-related causes.

(A personal note: I remember vividly the 1995 Chicago heat wave. Temperatures hovered around 105 degrees for several days in a row. A trip to a community swimming pool brought no relief, as the usually cool water turned tepid in the baking heat. People without air conditioning were urged to go to city cooling centers. Drivers were advised to stay off the roads to avoid creating even higher ozone-alert levels. There were “brown-outs”—loss of electricity during certain times of the day in certain neighborhoods—exactly the same thing more temperate areas of California are going through right now. And the death toll from the deadly heat rose daily.)

Back to the study:

“Our attitude towards the environment has been so reckless that we are running out of good choices for the future,” says Mora of the University of Hawaii.

“For heat waves, our options are now between bad or terrible,” he adds. “Many people around the world are already paying the ultimate price of heat waves.”

An equally frightening new study in Science Advances, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, concentrates on heat waves in India but extrapolates its conclusions to show the effect of rising temperatures worldwide.

The impact of these heat waves on human and natural systems include decreased air quality, diminished crop yields, increased energy consumption, increased evapotranspiration, intensification of droughts, and—perhaps most concerning of all—direct effects on human health. Heat stress during periods of high temperatures may also exacerbate health problems, such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, and cause life-threatening crises. Certain segments of the population, such as the young, elderly, and poor, may therefore be especially susceptible to this health impact due to existing health conditions and lack of basic resources, such as clean drinking water, shelter, access to air conditioning, and health care. Populations without central air conditioning tend to have higher heat-related mortality rates. …

Our results suggest that even moderate and practically unavoidable increases in mean temperatures, such as 0.5°C, may lead to large increases in heat-related mortality, unless measures are taken to substantially improve the resilience of vulnerable populations.

The Nature Climate Change study is gaining widespread attention, and other scientists are agreeing with its conclusions. As Inside Climate News says in its report on the research:

By the time children born today are in their 80s, New York will have 50 days per year with temperatures and humidity exceeding the threshold beyond which people have previously died due to hyperthermia, if no steps are taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Sydney would face 20 deadly heat days a year by 2100, and Los Angeles would face 30 under a “business as usual” scenario. The study notes that the consequences of exposure to deadly climatic conditions will be aggravated by an aging population, since elderly people are more vulnerable to heat mortality, and by increasing urbanization, because of the heat-trapping effect of asphalt surfaces, building materials, and reduced vegetation.

For Orlando and Houston, deadly heat would last the entire summer by 2100 without steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the study projects. Indeed, even though the degree of future warming is projected to be greater in temperate zones and at the poles, the greatest risk to people from deadly heat events will be at zones closer to the equator, because of the additional impact of humidity. …

The study bolsters previous research projecting increasing risk to humanity due to heat waves because of climate change.

It’s not just in the United States—look at the extreme heat around the world. The World Meteorological Association reports that this year’s heat waves have arrived “unusually early.” The United Nations News Centre reports record-high heat in May and June in Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and the U.S. It’s no surprise that many leaving the Middle East are being called “climate refugees” or “environmental migrants.” Military leaders in the U.S. and elsewhere are already saying that climate change could cause a refugee crisis on an “unimaginable scale.”

The big difference is that many places in the U.S. have air conditioning, which, while providing relief, also adds to greenhouse gas emissions. Many places in Europe don’t, especially the further north you go. As Sandy Anderson, an American friend who has lived in Paris most of her life, described it:

A few métros have AC, some cinemas, a few museums (for the art), but the people get to take advantage of it. Most office buildings and stores don’t. No private residences that I know of—even in the south, where it’s hotter more often. It’s been so hot for the last few days that ozone is getting high, and older diesel-burning cars won’t be allowed on the roads tomorrow—which impacts more people here than it would in the U.S. They’re giving a special one-day commuter ticket for the subway tomorrow and making the public bikes and some of the public cars free. Air temp was 98°F today, and with humidity factored in, 107°F. That’s HOT for a big city.

Here are examples of the extreme temperatures around the world and their consequences:

  • In recent weeks, dozens have died in India and Pakistan’s current heat wave. Temperatures spiked to a record 128 degrees F (53.5 degrees C).
  • A wildfire in Portugal in the forested Pedrógão Grande region northeast of Lisbon has killed at least 62 people. Temperatures there of 104 F (40 C) and above contributed to the wildfires.
  • The southern United Kingdom is experiencing temperatures in the 90s (34 C)—the hottest days in 40 years. The heat is causing roads to melt, as car tires were “literally ripping the tarmac off the road.”

“Heat is recognized as the most deadly form of extreme weather—more deadly than hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods,” wrote Chicago meteorologist and climate expert Tom Skilling on his Facebook page.

The high number of heat-related flight cancellations in Phoenix was unprecedented. A story in Forbes, also quoting Business Insider, explains the science of how high temperatures can stop air travel.

Believe it or not, it is unsafe to operate many of the airplanes currently in use by major airlines when temperatures are this hot, and science explains why. …

Hot air is less dense. This affects the output of the engines as well as aerodynamic capabilities, increasing the required runway distance and reducing climb performance. Therefore the amount of passengers and cargo a plane can carry are often restricted when temps are very high … How much so depends on the temperature, airport elevation and the length of the available runways. And getting off the ground is only part of it: once airborne, planes have to meet specific, engine-out climb criterion, so nearby obstructions like hills and towers are another complication.

The Arizona Republic reported that nearly 50 regional flights were canceled as mercury neared 120 degrees. The smaller planes used by American Airlines’ American Eagle regional flights, the Bombardier CRJ aircraft, have a maximum operating temperature of 118 degrees. Larger planes, such as those made by Boeing and Airbus, have maximum operating temperatures of 126 and 127 degrees. At the same time, record-tying temperatures in Las Vegas (117) were enough to cancel or delay flights.

Such inconveniences as flight cancellations might drive home the point that global warming is real. As Stephen Colbert said on The Late Show: “Maybe what will finally convince climate skeptics will be a layover in Phoenix.”

Obviously, there will be no help on climate issues from the Trump administration, which has decided to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement. Energy Secretary Rick Perry denies that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are the primary cause of climate change. “Most likely the primary control knob is the ocean waters and this environment that we live in,” he said. Whatever the heck that is supposed to mean.

Of course, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is also a climate denier.

“I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

Perry’s and Pruitt’s views are at odds with nearly everyone in the scientific community and the conclusions of NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which point out that 2016 was the warmest year on record worldwide. The average global surface temperatures over land and sea in the first five months of 2017 are the second highest on record.

Both the Nature Climate Change and the Science Advances studies were done either at public universities or with public funds. With the Trump administration purging scientists from the EPA’s scientific advisory board and proposing to slash research money and funds for the EPA in general, another question becomes: Who’s going to do this important research in the future?

Originally posted on Daily Kos on June 25, 2017.

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