The risk Democrats take in not impeaching Trump

Trump basically admitted, “Of course I’d break the law to win.”

Every day, Donald Trump shows the American people why he’s not fit to be president, and his most recent remarks about his willingness to accept help from a foreign adversary to win an election is just the latest example.

In an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Trump said he wouldn’t bother to call the FBI if China or Russia came to him with dirt on an electoral opponent. “It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” Trump said.

Just like he did in 2016.

Look, House Democrats. Let’s get real. This is what the Mueller report was all about. It’s past time to begin an impeachment inquiry into this charlatan.

The whole reason Robert Mueller was appointed as a special counsel was to investigate the ties between Russia and the Trump campaign in the 2016 election, and to see how Trump had obstructed the investigation of those ties. Despite the constant whining about “no collusion, no obstruction” from Trump, other Republicans, and Fox News, Trump admitted in this ABC interview that he would love to collude with a foreign power.

“Somebody comes up and says, ‘hey, I have information on your opponent,’ do you call the FBI?” Trump said in the interview. “You don’t call the FBI. … Oh, give me a break — life doesn’t work that way.”

The Liar-in-chief is either being ignorant or disingenuous, but that’s exactly the way life works. And it’s past time that the Democrats exposed this illegal behavior by starting an impeachment inquiry.

Experts in the intelligence community were appalled by Trump’s remarks.

Even Trump’s toadies on Fox News admitted that he had gone too far.

Brian Kilmeade, a “Fox and Friends” host, called on Trump to clean up the comments.

“You don’t want a foreign government or foreign entity giving you information because they will want something back,” he said Thursday morning. “If anybody knows that it is the President. There is no free lunch. If someone wants information they want influence. I think the President’s got to to clarify that…He opened himself wide up to attacks.”

Just to make it clear: It’s a crime for a campaign to knowingly solicit or accept items of value from foreign nationals. That includes “dirt” on election opponents.

Democratic presidential hopefuls weren’t shy about labeling Trump’s remarks for what they were: a threat to national security. At least 15 hit back hard immediately, and several renewed calls for impeachment proceedings: Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, California Sen. Kamala Harris, and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

What about House Democrats? Well, they all were stunned and labeled Trump’s remarks illegal, outrageous, etc. But where’s the “I” word — impeachment? From CNN, reporting on remarks by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

“The President gave us once again evidence that he does not know right from wrong,” she said at her weekly press conference. “It’s a very sad thing, a very sad thing that he does not know right from wrong.”

She repeated her belief that Trump has participated in “a criminal cover up.” And she mentioned legislation that will mandate campaigns to report foreign offers of assistance. …

Pelosi said Trump’s comments to ABC were “appalling” but suggested it would not trigger any sudden impeachment push.

Look, Madam Speaker: It’s great to hear you using words like “criminal.” But proposing legislation is a nothing response. You know the Senate would never pass it anyway.

Listen to advice from lawyer George T. Conway III, husband of presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway (how the heck do they still get along), and Neal Katyal, former U.S. acting solicitor general, in their The Washington Post op-ed: Trump just invited Congress to begin impeachment proceedings.

For the past three decades, many constitutional law classes have begun with Nixon’s breathtaking statement to David Frost in May 1977: “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.” Generations of students have gasped, shocked that a former president could say such a thing. This time, it’s not a former president but a sitting one. Every principle behind the rule of law requires the commencement of a process now to make this president a former one.

The 2018 midterm elections showed an energized Democratic voter base. A record number of women ran for office and won. Voter turnout for a midterm election was higher than it had been for decades, and younger voters turned out in droves. Democratic voters said they cared most about issues such as health care, gun violence, and more, but they wanted to vote for candidates willing to fight back against Trump.

House Democrats, are you really willing to tamp down all that enthusiasm as we face a presidential election next year? Do you want to give the impression that you’re more worried about the politics of an impeachment fight than doing the right thing?

The Mueller report listed Trump’s 10 instances of obstruction of justice. If the many, many criminal actions and statements of Donald Trump aren’t worth investigating, what will be?

Start an impeachment inquiry NOW.

Is the rise in tornadoes tied to climate change? Scientists aren’t sure — yet

Tornadoes are moving eastward. A man gathers his belongings from his damaged home in Trotwood, Ohio, on May 28 after powerful tornadoes ripped through the Dayton area.

This spring has seen outbreaks of tornadoes and storms throughout much of the country that are almost unheard of.

The sheer number of tornadoes is mind-boggling, and the growing area affected by the twisters is even worse. Since mid-May, there have been 225 confirmed tornadoes in 12 days, with 400 individual tornado reports also logged by the National Weather Service. The matter that climate scientists are now studying is whether the increase in tornadoes is related to the human-made climate crisis. Yes, there is evidence that moist, warm air can exacerbate conditions that spawn tornadoes. But the very nature of tornadoes means that the scientific jury is still out.

Many of us who didn’t live in areas where tornadoes are prevalent grew up thinking of tornadoes as something from The Wizard of Oz. As we grew older, we realized that every spring, tornadoes were common across what is known as Tornado Alley, the area of the Great Plains and Midwest that contains the states of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, eastern Colorado, and South Dakota. Also affected are Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Iowa, Illinois, Tennessee, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Now, however, climate scientists and meteorologists are more frequently using a different term: Dixie Alley. These are the states in the Southeast that have seen an increased number of deadly tornadoes in recent years. There is some overlap in the two “alleys,” as the states that make up Dixie Alley are eastern Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, upstate South Carolina, and western North Carolina.

It’s not that states in Dixie Alley never had tornadoes before. It’s just that the whole onslaught of tornadoes is spreading east and south, growing more frequent, and getting worse.

It should be a no-brainer, right? Higher temperatures and warmer air, all tied to global warming, should be the reason for more tornadoes when warmer air and cooler air collide. But here’s why those who are experts in climate science say that more study is needed. This is from a PBS News Hour story:

“Whether this is climate change or not, what all the studies have shown is that this particular part of the U.S. has been having more tornado activity and more tornado outbreaks than it has had in decades before,” said Mike Tippett, a Columbia University applied mathematician who studies the climate.

Tippett is among a group of scientists trying to dissect why the South has become a hotbed for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms.

Some signs point to human-made climate change, but those conclusions are mixed at best. Weather and climate scientists have confidence, for instance, in the parallels between tornadoes creeping east and global warming — but are less convinced that climate change is increasing the number of tornadoes overall.

Most of all, their research highlights the barriers in forecasting that keep us from predicting where and when tornadoes might strike. …

Given that these tornado trends coincided with those of warming oceans, there might be a link to climate change — except no one knows for sure.

There’s no such uncertainty for other weather catastrophes. We know definitively that hurricanes are exacerbated by the climate crisis. Warmer ocean temperatures and higher sea levels intensify the effects and the size of hurricanes. Besides the hurricane that devastated Galveston, Texas, in 1900, which remains the deadliest storm in U.S. history, the worst hurricanes have occurred more recently: Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Hurricane Maria in 2017, and Hurricane Michael in 2018. It doesn’t take a scientist to see how those storms caused the most deaths and property damage — we need only to look at the pictures and read the reports.

But tornadoes? That’s a different story that’s still developing. Records on tornadoes have been kept only since about 1950, and there are few records of tornadoes in unpopulated areas. Also, compared with hurricanes, tornadoes are tiny, even when they’re a mile wide.

“They happen in small areas, and they don’t last that long,” Tippett said. “It’s hard for us to use our scientific tools — whether they are physics models or other statistical tools — to have a good, clear idea of what’s going to happen.”

This limited resolution explains why weather forecasts cannot typically predict where a tornado will strike until 13 minutes before it hits — and that hampers climate change predictions, too.

Scientists expect climate change to increase America’s propensity for warm moist air, which should mean more thunderstorms and tornadoes. As far as anyone knows, wind speeds should stay the same.

But tornado patterns are too small to explore deeply in the global computer models meant to simulate huge sections of the planet.

The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions also says whether a link exists between tornadoes and climate change is currently unclear.

Researchers are working to better understand how the building blocks for tornadoes — atmospheric instability and wind shear — will respond to global warming. It is likely that a warmer, moister world would allow for more frequent instability. However, it is also likely that a warmer world would lessen chances for wind shear. Climate change also could shift the timing of tornadoes or the regions that are most likely to be hit, with less of an impact on the total number of tornadoes.

A bigger problem is that, as more and more tornadoes develop and move southward and eastward, they hit areas that are more populated, causing more property damages and killing more people. “We get caught up on the climate aspect, but the real issue going forward with tornadoes — and hail storms and hurricanes and insert your favorite natural disaster — is the fact that we have more human exposure,” Victor Gensini, lead author of a study on tornado frequency that appeared in Nature, told Pacific Standard in March.

We all believe that we should listen to scientists when it comes to interpreting the climate crisis and resulting weather patterns. We know that there’s a 97 percent consensus of scientists that global warming is caused by human action. Even when scientists say it’s likely that the number of tornadoes is growing because of climate change, they know that more study needs to be done.

Unfortunately, more study is what the Trump administration doesn’t want. The administration and many in the GOP are taking the exact wrong track: Denying that climate change is man-made or that it exists at all. Rolling back environmental regulations and vehicle emission standards. Dropping out of the Paris Climate Agreement. Appointing a former coal lobbyist as head of the Environmental Protection Administration. Pushing fossil fuel energy and putting up roadblocks to renewable energy. Expanding drilling in federal lands and waters.

Now, the administration seeks to undermine the very science needed to develop policy on climate change. According to a story in The New York Times:

Parts of the federal government will no longer fulfill what scientists say is one of the most urgent jobs of climate science studies: reporting on the future effects of a rapidly warming planet and presenting a picture of what the earth could look like by the end of the century if the global economy continues to emit heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels.

The attack on science is underway throughout the government. In the most recent example, the White House-appointed director of the United States Geological Survey, James Reilly, a former astronaut and petroleum geologist, has ordered that scientific assessments produced by that office use only computer-generated climate models that project the impact of climate change through 2040, rather than through the end of the century, as had been done previously. …

The administration’s prime target has been the National Climate Assessment, produced by an interagency task force roughly every four years since 2000. Government scientists used computer-generated models in their most recent report to project that if fossil fuel emissions continue unchecked, the earth’s atmosphere could warm by as much as eight degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. That would lead to drastically higher sea levels, more devastating storms and droughts, crop failures, food losses and severe health consequences.

Work on the next report, which is expected to be released in 2021 or 2022, has already begun. But from now on, officials said, such worst-case scenario projections will not automatically be included in the National Climate Assessment or in some other scientific reports produced by the government.

A Democratic administration can change all that in January 2021.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on June 2, 2019.

Abortion bans are the latest offensive in the long-running GOP war on women

Women across the nation, like these in Chicago, are joining #StopTheBans public protests against draconian abortion laws.

The flood of new anti-abortion laws from GOP state lawmakers is aimed squarely at triggering a court fight to overturn Roe v. Wade, now that Donald Trump has appointed conservative, Federalist-Society-chosen justices to the U.S. Supreme Court and equally conservative judges to federal courts.

But this latest round of repressive laws follows a huge number of abortion restrictions passed nearly 10 years ago, when Republicans captured many state houses and governor posts in the 2010 midterm election. Those laws also came in reaction to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which sought to ensure greater coverage of reproductive care for women.

Never mind the fact that two-thirds of Americans want Roe v. Wade left in place, ensuring access to legal abortions. Never mind that similar percentages of men and women in the U.S. have the same attitude of support about abortion. By party, only a plurality of Republicans — 48 percent to 45 percent — want to ban abortion completely, while Democrats want to keep it, 87 percent to 11 percent. And this is no surprise: Support for legal abortion is highest among the youngest voters and the most educated voters.

Public support for legal abortion hasn’t really changed all that much in recent years. What has changed is new incendiary language by Republicans, as they spout nonsense about “being born alive,” “protecting abortion survivors,” and “infanticide,” all the while trying to strike a holier-than-thou attitude and citing religion as their excuse. But although using such language is an attempt to gin up the evangelical base (or rally the troops at a Trump rally), it does little to change public opinion.

We need to remember that this latest push isn’t the first time Republicans in charge of statehouses passed ultra-restrictive laws. Although some ultimately didn’t survive court challenges, many of the laws passed earlier in the decade remain on the books. For all practical purposes, these laws made abortion unavailable in several states: A Washington Post analysis shows that “Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia each have only one abortion clinic left because of legislative restrictions.”

Here’s what happened to the availability of legal abortion in 2011, from a roundup by The Washington Post:

2011 marked a sea change for abortion rights. States passed 83 laws restricting access to abortion, nearly four times the 23 laws passed in 2010. A lot of that had to do with the 2010 elections, which ushered in a wave of Republican legislators and governors. This year, the number of states with fully anti-abortion governments — in which both the governor and the legislature oppose abortion rights — increased from 10 to 15.

That cleared the way for new restrictions. Five states banned all abortions after 20 weeks of gestation; until last year, only Nebraska had such a restriction. Seven now require an ultrasound, or the offer of one, prior to the procedure. Eight will no longer allow private insurance plans to cover the procedure.

The GOP attempts at restrictions didn’t begin or end in 2011. A 2013 report by the Guttmacher Institute summed up the bad news: “More State Abortion Restrictions Were Enacted in 2011–2013 Than in the Entire Previous Decade.”

This legislative onslaught has dramatically changed the landscape for women needing abortion. In 2000, the two states that were the most restrictive in the nation, Mississippi and Utah, had five of 10 major types of abortion restrictions in effect (see Appendix). By 2013, however, 22 states had five or more restrictions, and Louisiana had 10.

In 2000, 13 states had at least four types of major abortion restrictions and so were considered hostile to abortion rights (see Troubling Trend: More States Hostile to Abortion Rights as Middle Ground Shrinks); 27 states fell into this category by 2013. …

Four types of restrictions dominated the legislative scene during 2013: abortion bans, restrictions on abortion providers, limitations on the provision of medication abortion and restrictions on coverage of abortion in private health plans. Together, legislation in these four categories accounted for 56% of all restrictions enacted over the year.

The most recent Guttmacher report gives an overall list of restrictions that have only grown over the years, and breaks them down, state by state:

  • 42 states require an abortion to be performed by a licensed physician.
  • 19 states require an abortion to be performed in a hospital after a specified point in the pregnancy, and 19 states require the involvement of a second physician after a specified point.
  • 43 states prohibit abortions after a specified point in pregnancy.
  • 20 states have laws in effect that prohibit “partial-birth” abortion (an invented and non-medical term).
  • 16 states use their own funds to pay for all or most medically necessary abortions for Medicaid enrollees in the state. 33 states and the District of Columbia prohibit the use of state funds for abortions except for a few cases.
  • 11 states restrict coverage of abortion in private insurance plans.
  • 45 states allow individual health care providers to refuse to participate in an abortion.
  • 18 states mandate that women be given counseling before an abortion that includes information on at least one of the following: the purported link between abortion and breast cancer (5 states), the ability of a fetus to feel pain (13 states) or long-term mental health consequences for the woman (8 states). Need we add that there is no scientific basis for any of these “facts”?
  • 37 states require some type of parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion.

The new abortion bans masquerading as “fetal heartbeat laws” in Alabama, Ohio, Georgia, and elsewhere are being challenged, but not only in court. After women grew skilled at holding public protests after Trump’s election (remember the millions of people at each Women’s March in 2017 and 2018), voters and candidates both see this new fight over abortion as an issue that could play a major role in the 2020 election. The Democratic women running for president aren’t being shy in their language. From a Huffington Post story:

“Access to safe, legal abortion is a constitutional RIGHT,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who’s made women’s rights the centerpiece of her flagging campaign, appeared at a pro-choice rally in Georgia. “As a party, we should be 100 percent pro-choice, and it should be non-negotiable,” she said in a Washington Post interview. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) were similarly vocal.

While many of the many Democratic men running for president also issued statements, there was something different ― more personal, more passionate ― about the way the women responded. It felt unprecedented. Powerful. …

The abortion battle feels like an inevitable next step in what’s been a growing war on women that escalated the day Donald Trump was elected and has only felt more palpable every day since ―  the marches, MeToo, the Kavanaugh hearings.

Since the onslaught of new laws, the Democratic hopefuls are stepping up their game. Warren and Gillibrand are proposing legislation to ensure abortion access, including getting rid of the Hyde Amendment, which disallows any public funds to pay for abortions. Kamala Harris raised over $160,000 for abortion groups. Cory Booker is proposing an “Office of Reproductive Freedom” in the White House.

And a few states are stepping up to ensure abortion access. The Nevada Assembly, with its majority of women as lawmakers, passed a bill to decriminalize abortion and remove some decades-old abortion requirements. A Vermont bill about to become law states that abortion is a “fundamental right” and protects the right to contraception, sterilization, and family planning. The Illinois Reproductive Health Act also lists abortion as a fundamental right and would require insurers to cover the procedure as well as removing other restrictions. After months of being stuck in a subcommittee, the bill was passed by the Illinois House.

Given the success of women candidates in 2018, when many didn’t shy away from talking about abortion and reproductive rights, there’s no reason to think that candidates won’t be vocal in their support, especially in Democratic primaries, when the vast majority of voters will be pro-choice anyway. The issue also is driving up the number of women candidates in states where such laws have been enacted.

It’s hard to believe that the right-wing base could grow even more excited about fighting abortion than they are now. Some legal experts doubt whether these laws would even make it to the Supreme Court. But whatever the eventual legal outcome, fighting for women’s reproductive health could drive Democratic voters as well.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 26, 2019.

Farmers are angry as Trump’s trade war with China causes record losses

Soybean prices are dropping lower and lower, as these Illinois farmers know all too well.

Donald Trump’s failure to establish a trade deal with China may prove to be his Achilles’ heel. And we’re not talking about bone spurs.

Global stock markets react to each day’s news, and stock prices rise and fall. But Trump’s escalating trade war with China is having a long-term negative effect on at least one sector of the U.S. economy, shrinking profits for farmers for nearly a year.

Trump is still trying to pass himself off as the ultimate deal-maker, even though his deal-making chops were exposed as worthless in the New York Times report that he lost $1 billion in business deals over a decade in the 1980s and 1990s. Trump and his administration keep promising that they’re going to get the best deal for Americans “when the time is right,” possibly when Trump meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in June. Yet ever since Trump started imposing tariffs on imported Chinese goods, and China retaliated in kind, both countries are raising tariffs to higher and higher levels. The U.S. and China are no closer to a trade deal today than they were when Trump first started the tariff war last summer.

How bad is the global situation? Here’s how Vox explained it:

There are signs that things could soon get even worse: The Trump administration is considering upping tariffs on all of China’s remaining imports — about $300 billion worth of products. …

The two countries aren’t close to striking an accord that would see China modify some of its trade laws in exchange for tariff relief from the US. Second, Washington and Beijing could soon have little to no free trade between them — stunting the global economy and increasing prices for consumers and importers in the U.S.

The lack of a China market is hurting U.S. crops, especially soybeans, corn, and wheat. Instead, China has stepped up soybean purchases from Russia, Canada, and especially Brazil. All the while, U.S. soybean prices continue to plummet. Soybean futures have hit the lowest price levels in a decade. Commodities prices for pork and cotton also are spiraling down.

U.S. farmers have borne the brunt of Trump’s failed strategies. There have been a record number of bankruptcies for Midwest farmers — the number of 2018 farm bankruptcies were twice what they were in 2008. Some farmers are able to survive only by taking second jobs. Worse, the number of farmers dying by suicide also is on the rise.

And despite Trump tweets about how “Patriot farmers” are willing to bear the pain so they’ll gain in the long run, those farmers are not happy with Trump right now.

According to a CNN story:

“The president of the United States owes farmers like myself some type of plan of action,” John Wesley Boyd Jr., a soybean farmer in Baskerville, Virginia, told CNN’s Brianna Kellar on Monday.

“Farmers were his base. They helped elect this president … and now he’s turning his back on America’s farmers when we need him the most,” he added. …

John Heisdorffer, an Iowa farmer and chairman of the American Soybean Association, decided to plant about the same amount of corn and soybean this year, figuring a trade deal was near.

“We kept hearing that talks were going well, it sure looked like this was all going to be taken care of soon,” he said. Now, he added, “there’s a lot of uncertainty and a lot of emotions right now for farmers.” …

“Farmers have been patient and willing to let negotiations play out, but with each passing day, patience is wearing thin,” said National Corn Growers Association President Lynn Chrisp in the statement. “Agriculture needs certainty, not more tariffs.”

Most in the GOP are repeating Trumpian talking points that all will be well eventually. But a few Republicans are willing to at least hint at the truth, even if they’re not willing to do anything about it. From a Politico story:

Republicans seem to be relying on Trump’s conservative base in agricultural states to deliver the president a message. Asked who can determine when the economic pain from retaliatory tariffs is too much to stand, South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds said, “It’s up to the producers.”

“They can’t produce soybeans and actually make a profit today. Five years in a row, farmers’ prices are down 50 percent since 2013. This is a very serious thing, and these are the president’s people. They want him to be successful. But there’s a limit to how long they can hang in there,” Rounds said.

Several pundits argue that Democrats should step up their criticism of Trump’s trade war. Greg Sargent of The Washington Post thinks that Democrats may be missing a big opportunity:

If things continue, Democrats will have a major opening to reframe the trade debate in their favor, by replacing the “free trade versus protectionism” frame with a “reality-based multilateralism versus destructive unilateral America-First-ism” frame.

Well, they won’t get far using that language. But there could be an opening.

A Washington Post-Schar School poll from July 2018 found that only 40 percent of registered voters nationwide thought trading tariffs with China will help U.S. jobs, vs. 56 percent who thought it would hurt.

The trade war is also unpopular in the industrial Midwest: According to the Post polling team, among voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa, those numbers were 39-59.

If Trump’s trade wars continue to harm the country, he’ll be vulnerable to this contrast. …

The public is now seeing the reality of “America First” as a basis for complicated policy decisions in an increasingly interdependent world, and recoiling at it. This isn’t a debate Democrats need to fear.

Figures from Pew Research show that 62 percent of voters in small towns and rural areas — men and women both — voted for Trump. To keep placating those voters, the Trump administration is promising a $20 billion aid package to farmers, after those same farmers got a $12 billion aid package last year. A total of $32 billion in taxpayer money is a lot of socialism, wouldn’t you say?

Whether any of those farmers splinter away from Trump in 2020 remains to be seen. If the Trump administration is successful in negotiating a beneficial trade deal — a process described as mud wrestling in a hurricane — then they’ll likely stay on Trump’s side. If not, and if more farmers face bankruptcy, they might take the viewpoint of Iowa farmer and 2016 Trump voter Larry Angler, whose farm is facing up to $150,000 in losses. Angler vowed to CNN that he would “never vote for him again.”

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 19, 2019.

Trump is daring Democrats to impeach. We must make sure he loses in the long run.

Round One goes to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler.

Those of us who lived through past constitutional crises can only stare with horror at the jaw-dropping atrocities against the rule of law that Donald Trump and his fellow Republicans are trying to pull.

Impeachment is too good for Trump, even as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says he’s “becoming self-impeachable” by his actions to hide anything and everything about the report prepared by Special Counsel Robert Mueller about the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election. Impeachment also is too good for Attorney General William Barr, whose threats against Congress and refusals to cooperate with House committees make Richard Nixon’s Watergate crew look like Boy Scouts. The House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress, sending the issue to the full House. Way to solidify your reputation there, Barr. But you don’t care, because your own Dept. of Justice would be the federal department acting on that contempt ruling.

The crew at FiveThirtyEight contends that, by going after Barr, House Democrats are using him as a Trump stand-in, sort of an “impeachment lite.” Sorry, but Barr is guilty all on his own. His behavior is worse than anything Eric Holder ever did, but that never stopped House Republicans from ranting and raving about “Fast and Furious” and holding him in contempt, even though he testified to Congress 10 times about the subject and turned over some 7,000 documents.

Republicans gave up any possible pretense of honor long ago. They threw whatever was left of their morality and ethics into the dumpster when they sold their souls to keep a Senate majority and to capture the White House in 2016. As Jennifer Rubin wrote in The Washington Post:

Republicans think they serve Trump. They are entirely unwilling to look beyond naked partisan concerns, to adhere to their oaths and to take seriously the assault that Trump wages on the Constitution. …

For a report that is supposed to entirely exonerate Trump, he and his minions are going to extreme lengths to conceal its complete contents, to prevent the attorney general from testifying and even to try to keep Mueller from testifying. If he did not obstruct justice before, he certainly is obstructing Congress now. The House should exercise all of its powers to end Trump’s autocratic spasm. Our democracy is at stake.

Just impeach the bastard already.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has the Senate confirming ultra-conservative judges faster than a Kentucky racehorse. McConnell, Trump, and the rest of the GOP are counting on those judges to put the brakes on any attempt at accountability for their leader. They know he’s more crooked than San Francisco’s famous Lombard Street. But they don’t care, because they need his fanatical base for their own reelection.

Trump is betting that he can stretch out any court battles over his bogus claims of executive privilege and his challenges to all subpoenas. He’ll likely lose in the end, but he’s taking a chance that today’s court is different from the Supreme Court of 1974, when the justices ruled unanimously to order Richard Nixon to deliver tape recordings and other subpoenaed materials to a federal district court. According to a 1974 Washington Post story about that decision:

The court rejected Mr. Nixon’s broad claims of unreviewable executive privilege and said they “must yield to the demonstrated, specific need for evidence in a pending criminal trial.”

The President said he was “disappointed” by the decision but said he would comply. His lawyer said the time-consuming process of collecting and indexing the tapes would begin immediately.

Instead, Trump is counting on the justices of 2019 to throw precedent out the long vertical windows of the Supreme Court building and rule in his favor. Trump obviously thinks the conservative majority work for him, especially the two justices appointed by Trump (really the Federalist Society). And even if the justices rule against him, who believes Trump will abide by that decision? Nixon complied, but will Trump? By all accounts, he’s never followed the rule of law his entire life. Likely, he figures, who’s going to stop him?

Remember that one of the impeachment counts the House was working on when Nixon resigned was obstruction of Congress. Trump, Barr, and their fellow Republicans aren’t even pretending that they have any intention of cooperating with Congress’ role of executive oversight. Trump will obstruct, obstruct, obstruct all the way to the courthouse.

With the latest claims of executive privilege and acts of obstruction, Trump is practically daring Democrats to impeach him. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has always been measured in his comments about the Mueller report, saying he respected the conclusion that Mueller felt he couldn’t make a case for criminal conspiracy (obstruction of justice is obviously a very different matter). He also has held back on recommending impeachment. But Trump’s actions now are forcing the issue. As Schiff told Greg Sargent of The Washington Post:

If things continue on their current course, it will escalate the chances that “we end up in a constitutional confrontation,” and will add to “the weight behind an impeachment process.” …

Schiff is talking about an impeachment inquiry as something that Democrats may be forced to resort to, in response to continued across-the-board stonewalling from Trump, regardless of what Republicans think.

Trump is betting that public opinion will be in his favor. Americans are evenly split on impeachment, mostly along party lines. If the House does impeach, Trump figures that will fire up his base. But they’re probably as fired up as they’re going to get. And they don’t care that he’s committing contempt of Congress along with breaking countless other laws; that he lost more than $1 billion in bad business deals in the 1980s and 1990s (he tweeted that such real estate write-offs were “sport”); that he’s ballooning the deficit; or that he’s causing Midwest farmers to declare bankruptcies at record rates (bankruptcies doubled in 2018 compared with what they were in 2008, thanks to Trump’s tariffs and trade war). If hearing him brag about grabbing women by the pussy didn’t stop his base from voting for him, Trump reasons, why would they care about his illegal acts that warrant impeachment?

Most political scandals take a long time to develop and even longer to investigate. But public opinion can change, as this report from the Pew Research Center shows. At the beginning of the Watergate scandal in 1973, Richard Nixon’s approval ratings soared way above 50 percent before dropping to 24 percent by the time he resigned. Public opinion supporting Nixon’s impeachment went from 19 percent in the summer of 1973 to 57 percent by the time of his resignation.

I know, I know. There was no Fox News during Watergate. And even if Trump is impeached, the Senate will never remove him from office.

But Trump will face the ultimate court of public opinion — that of voters — in November 2020. We must make sure there are more of us on the side of the Constitution than there are on the side of ridiculing the oath all those lawmakers swore the day they took office.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 12, 2019.

#ClimateChange emerges as top issue for Democrats in 2020

Students in New York joined the worldwide Climate Strike on March 15. If they’re old enough to vote next year, they’re likely to judge candidates on their climate change solutions.

We’ve come a long way from “It’s the economy, stupid.”

A new CNN poll conducted by research firm SSRS shows that 96 percent of registered Democrats list climate change as a very or somewhat important issue when evaluating potential presidential candidates. If the 2018 midterm election was about health care, 2020 may hinge on what candidates intend to do about the fact that the Earth is warming to unsustainable levels. Eighty-two percent of those polled saw it as a “very important” issue — by far the most important concern of all issues listed.

Health care was up there as a concern — 75 percent of voters in the poll saw the issue as very important, while 16 percent saw it as somewhat important, for a 91 percent total. But this may be the first time that climate change gained the No. 1 survey spot. (Another April poll of Iowa voters from Monmouth University still listed health care as the top concern, but climate change was close behind.)

Actually, climate change has been rising as an issue for voters for a while, and not just for Democrats. A poll from December 2018 asked voters about climate change, and majorities of Democrats and Republicans agreed that the world is experiencing global warming, even if some on the GOP side disagreed whether it was caused by humans. Majorities also called for government action to address the climate.

It isn’t surprising that younger voters in both parties are more concerned about climate change than their older counterparts. The difference is especially striking among Republicans; according to Pew Research, millennial Republicans are twice as likely as Republicans in the baby boomer or older generations to say the Earth is warming because of human activity. And given the higher rates at which younger voters showed up at the polls in 2018, those younger voters are going to be looking critically at how seriously candidates will take action to combat climate change.

As usual, the media are obsessed with the horse race (“Biden got a bump from his announcement!”) in each polling cycle. This is true even though this latest CNN poll is being done more than a month before the first debates, and eight months before any votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses.

Polls about which candidates are on top, however, can change quickly. Consider that this far out in past presidential election cycles, those polling at the top included Fred Thompson, Joe Lieberman, Howard Dean, Rudy Giuliani, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, and other non-presidents who only got into the Oval Office with an invitation. Or, in Rudy Giuliani’s case, by serving as a crazed and laughable defender of Donald Trump.

But absent a catastrophic event such as 9/11, what voters care about can have a more lasting effect than who they care about.

How do we know? For Democratic voters in the CNN poll, climate change ranked even higher than choosing a candidate who has a good chance of beating Trump. Of all of the qualities sought in choosing the Democratic standard bearer, the ability to top Trump was very important (46 percent) or somewhat important (45 percent) for the voters polled, for a total of 92 percent.

Don’t get me wrong; that’s still of utmost importance to Democratic voters. In the CNN poll, the ability to beat Trump weighed far more heavily than experience (77 percent very important/somewhat important combination), a willingness to work with the GOP (77 percent), holding progressive positions (66 percent), representing the future of the party (64 percent), being consistent on issues (62 percent), and bringing an outsider’s view to Washington (39 percent).

But candidates hear what questions are being asked at forums. They know the questions they get when they visit early voting states. The issue has become important to voters, even though climate change was all but ignored during 2016 presidential debates.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who has sought to establish himself as a climate change champion, might not be polling above 1 percent. But he’s bringing climate specifics to the forefront with his three-point plan of action, which aims for 100 percent carbon-neutral electricity, 100 percent zero emissions in vehicles, and 100 percent zero carbon pollution in all new buildings — all by 2030. He also is asking for a climate change-only debate, a proposal backed by at least one other candidate. So far, the Democratic National Committee has been noncommittal at best.

Perhaps the emphasis on the issue was the reason that climate change became the first major policy proposal from former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke. His ambitious $5 trillion proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and zero them out by 2050, along with Inslee’s plan, could very well be the most comprehensive climate action proposals by any of the candidates.

Of course, Inslee and O’Rourke aren’t alone. According to a wrap-up of candidates’ climate change positions by the Natural Resources Defense Council Action Fund, “Climate change is getting unprecedented attention from the growing field of 2020 presidential candidates.” The blog by the NRDC is continually updated as candidates develop their climate change policies.

All of the Democratic candidates have ideas and proposals on climate action, the NRDC said. Those ideas include co-sponsoring the Green New Deal resolution, instituting a carbon tax, increasing investment in renewable energy, expanding green jobs, putting a moratorium on fossil fuel drilling, and much more.

The December 2018 survey about climate change was conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. That survey shows that seven in 10 Americans think that climate change is happening, and six in 10 say the warming of the Earth is being caused by humans.

A New York Times report on the survey showed that majorities in both parties (no surprise — more Democrats than Republicans) backed carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants and a requirement that fossil fuel companies pay a carbon tax, then use the money to reduce other taxes. Majorities in both parties also said environmental protection is more important than economic growth when there’s a conflict between the two.

The survey also found that majorities in both parties think the government should fund research into solar and wind energy, offer tax rebates to those buying energy-efficient vehicles and solar panels, and encourage schools to teach children about the causes and consequences of global warming, and potential solutions. A majority of Democrats and Republicans believe the United States should participate in the Paris climate accord and reduce greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do. …

So while Americans have been focusing on the split between Democrats and Republicans, the more important gap may now be between Republican voters and the leaders they elected.

Donald Trump and many in the GOP are still climate deniers. Trump and the Republicans are betting that the perception of a strong economy, low unemployment, and a heated stock market will carry them to victory in 2020, so they don’t need to worry about the climate.

Most Americans, though, don’t see it that way. The majority of U.S. citizens don’t feel that their financial situations have improved and think that the GOP tax reform scam law primarily helped the wealthy. And in only three years, the Yale survey said, the percentage of Americans who say that global warming is real has grown by 10 percentage points.

Sounds like more and more Americans are taking the long view and are willing to consider some hard choices in how to save the planet.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on May 5, 2019.

Retail apocalypse: Too many stores (and jobs) are going, going, gone

Signs like this in a Manhattan store in October 2018 are all too common all over America.

Barely a week goes by when we don’t hear about another chain of retail stores declaring bankruptcy or slashing the number of stores nationally.

We’re only a third of the way through 2019, and already U.S. retailers have announced the closure of nearly 6,000 stores — 5,994, to be exact. That’s already more than the 5,864 stores that closed throughout the country in 2018. And the investment firm UBS projects that 75,000 stores could close by 2026. That would include more than 21,000 clothing stores, 10,000 consumer electronics stores, and 8,000 home furnishing stores. By then, online shopping is expected to make up 25 percent of retail sales, up from 16 percent now. Overall, retailers have closed more than 15,000 stores since 2017, UBS says.

It’s easy to think about this situation as just a change in buying habits — more people buy items online, and fewer patronize brick-and-mortar stores. That’s true; the average U.S. household spent $5,200 online in 2018, up nearly 50 percent from five years earlier. And people are still buying — retail spending overall grew 4.6 percent in 2018. But every time a store closes, people lose their jobs, especially women.

Economists differ in their projections about the world and the U.S. economy in 2019. Many see slower growth than in 2018, and some even predict a recession. The National Retail Federation sees a slowdown over last year’s spending, meaning that people won’t be buying as much, online or at physical stores. Even the latest report of economic growth showed a slowdown in consumer spending.

Retail sales make up 70 percent of economic growth, and projections on retail sales aren’t good. A healthy economy generates annual retail sales growth of 3 percent or more. But the report from February showed that sales fell by 0.2 percent.

Business Insider keeps a running total of the stores that have announced bankruptcies and liquidation. In some cases, filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy allows companies to restructure and reopen on a smaller scale, shedding debt as well as employees. Other times, the stores’ workers are out of luck — and out on the street.

In 2019 alone, as of mid-April, this was the bankruptcy list (some of these are national, some are regional):

  • Beauty Brands, a salon and spa company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January. The company already had closed nearly half its stores in late 2018.
  • Innovative Mattress Solutions, a Kentucky-based firm, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in January.
  • Shopko, a Wisconsin-based retailer, announced closure of all 363 stores when its owners failed to find a buyer after filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
  • Gymboree, a children’s clothing company that also operated Janie and Jack and Crazy 8 stores, said all of its more than 800 Gymboree and Crazy 8 stores are due to close.
  • FullBeauty Brands, an online plus-size clothing retailer, was in and out of bankruptcy in 24 hours.
  • Charlotte Russe, a woman’s clothing retailer, announced plans to close all of its stores after it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
  • Things Remembered, a personalized keepsake chain, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy so it could be purchased by another gift store chain while closing most of its 400 stores.
  • Payless ShoeSource filed for its second bankruptcy in February (this is referred to as “Chapter 22,” after a business’s first go-round with Chapter 11). It announced closure of all of its 2,500 stores, which will affect 16,000 employees.
  • Diesel, an Italian jeans company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after heavy losses and planned “some” store closures.
  • Z Gallerie, a Los Angeles-based home furnishings retailer, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and announced plans to close 17 stores.
  • Roberto Cavalli, a fashion company that operated in North America as Art Fashion Corp., filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy, having already closed all of its North American stores.

Even this list goes out of date quickly: another day, another retailer announces major closures. Office Depot, operating under Office Depot and OfficeMax, is closing 50 stores this year.

A CNN Business wrap-up of bankruptcies and store closures also included many retailers that are struggling financially and are set to close stores:

Other retailers, such as Family Dollar, GNC (GNC), Walgreens (WBA), Signet Jewelers (SIG), Victoria’s Secret and JCPenney (JCP), are struggling and are shrinking their store footprints to save money.

Family Dollar will close 359 stores this year, while Signet Jewelers, the parent company of mall stalwarts Kay, Jared and Zales, will close 159.

Even thriving retailers such as Target (TGT)and Walmart (WMT) are quietly closing a handful of their stores — although those companies are opening some, too. And department stores such as Nordstrom (JWN), Kohl’s (KSS) and Macy’s (M) are shuttering a few stores each.

Republicans, especially Donald Trump, love to brag about the economy and a low unemployment rate, even though much of that growth is merely continued from the strengths of the economy during the latter part of President Obama’s administration. Yet even with a low unemployment rate overall, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the retail unemployment rate is nearly 12 percent. BLS also says any growth in job opportunities in the retail industry is slower than the average for other occupations.

Trump and the media don’t pay much attention to retail layoffs. While women make up roughly half of all retail employees, store closures mostly affect women and minorities, not white men. From a story on U.S. retailers in The Guardian:

The retail sector has been the biggest loser of jobs for the last two years in a row in the US, as thousands of stores closed as shoppers moved online. It remains one of the US’s largest employers, providing 15.8m jobs, but the reordering of the retail landscape is having a profound impact on the nature of its workforce.

Between November 2016 and November 2017, the sector fired 129,000 women (the largest loss for any industrial sector for either sex) while men gained 109,000 positions, according to an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). In the whole labour force women gained 985,000 jobs over the year, while men gained 1.08m jobs. …

“There are still jobs being created in retail but they are jobs with different skill sets,” said Andrew Challenger, vice-president of outplacement experts Challenger, Gray and Christmas. But despite those gains “there is real job loss going on and we may not see those jobs coming back. In many cases these jobs are being lost in places where retailers are the largest employers in the area.”

Challenger described the losses as one of the most dramatic changes in the jobs market the US had witnessed since manufacturing was rocked by outsourcing and automation.

These aren’t high-paying jobs to begin with. The median hourly wage for retail salespersons was $11.63 in May 2018, according to BLS, and the average annual retail salary is only $25,310. When these workers are shown the door, severance packages are rare. According to a Vox story:

Some retailers have tried to revamp stores or introduce other new features to increase foot traffic to brick-and-mortar stores, but these efforts have been met with mixed results. Many of these formerly successful retail chains have filed for bankruptcy, including Payless, Sears, Toys R Us, Claire’s, and more. And that’s created ripple effects for workers, too: Toys R Us workers fought for (and won) severance pay after the chain filed for bankruptcy, and Sears workers are still fighting for severance.

All of these layoffs and store closures wouldn’t be as much of a problem if malls in the U.S. weren’t overbuilt to begin with. All of those closed stores, especially in emptied-out malls, make for a lot of empty real estate. A story in Forbes claims that the malls need to evolve and offer more services and “experiences” that people want, not just stores. In turn, these new offerings could provide work for laid-off employees.

Today’s shoppers are looking for more than just what’s just available on a website. They want an experience. Malls have always been a destination, but the concept of a “mallrat” no longer exists. The days of meeting friends at the mall and shopping all day are gone. Malls are still considered a destination, but it’s because they now offer amenities, experiences and entertainment to enhance the shopping experience. They are now not only anchored by department stores but with popular restaurants, bars, salons, cinemas, and fitness centers. …

What’s next as Generation Z shoppers take over as the big spenders and increase their shopping power? The answer: shopping malls must continue to transform to survive the generational changes. As with so many other areas of retail and beyond, it’s evolve or die.

It’s a nice idea, but those kinds of jobs will still be entry-level, low-paying work, and won’t do much to help a laid-off mom trying to put food on the table for her family.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 28, 2019.

#Election2020: Who’s got policies? Who’s got platitudes?

What do some of these Democratic candidates stand for?

With some 19 Democratic presidential candidates and counting, it’s hard to keep track of who stands for what: which candidates have developed policy expertise and proposals on which issues, and which ones sound good but still keep talking in generalities.

For most candidates, there’s no shortage of policy positions. A Think Progress piece argues that the focus of this election (so far, at least) has been policy, policy, policy.

So just how do a swelling numbers of Democrats convince an inattentive citizenry to turn away from other distractions and pay attention to their political palaver?

Short answer: Nearly all of them are staking out early policy positions on a wide range of issues to burnish a self-flattering political image, before the full-scale campaign onslaught begins in earnest. …

These early-season policy ideas are the introductory gambits for candidates to test out on the hustings and in media interviews. Their early campaign messages are aimed to draw support from narrow, targeted slices of the Democratic electorate, in hopes of building a groundswell of broader, national support for their nascent campaigns.

Maybe in the long run, those policy details won’t matter. Maybe the majority of Democratic primary voters instead will turn toward a candidate who offers a feeling of comfort or “likeability.” Or the quickest candidate, or the sharpest, or the brightest, or the most honest. Or even the one who passes the proverbial test of “someone you could have a beer with.” And Democratic voters have been clear about one thing: They want to nominate the candidate who would best be able to beat Donald Trump.

Unfortunately, there’s little evidence that we can evaluate who that candidate is right now, despite early opinion polls or the amount of money raised. We can see who’s getting the most media attention, airtime, and Sunday morning talk show invitations. But the media can be fickle: Just ask former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

Candidates’ positives and negatives right now are meaningless. Any candidate with high approvals will see those numbers take a nosedive when the right-wing attack machine — whether that’s charges about “socialism,” Donald Trump’s ridiculous tweets and demeaning nicknames, Fox News slander and innuendo, or outright lies spread by conspiracy theorists — starts peddling falsehoods and negative stories about Democratic candidates. Mainstream media will pick those up and repeat them verbatim with little context or explanation.

But here’s what the emphasis on policy does: It takes issues that are important to Democratic voters and forces them into the forefront. For the most part, candidates agree on these issues. All of the Democratic candidates are talking about health care. All are talking about climate change, whether they’re backing the Green New Deal or other specific policies. All are talking about immigration, gun reform, and jobs. All are talking about evening the playing field for poor families and increasing taxes for the super-rich.

Here are some of the policies that candidates have espoused so far. This is by no means a comprehensive list — and it doesn’t include every candidate. But it offers a shorthand breakdown on what different Democrats would set as priorities in the White House.

Some of the most well-thought-out policies are coming from the women candidates. Even better, they’re endorsing each other’s proposals.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is quickly establishing herself (and has been described) as the queen of policy. When she speaks to voters, she offers a wide list of ideas, stressing government intervention into areas where private markets have failed. Those ideas include the federal government building affordable housing, paying for child care, enforcing antitrust laws, and breaking up big companies, including tech giants. The mainstream media might not be giving her much love, but she’s getting plenty of attention explaining those policies to Iowa voters.

One of her early proposals that remains popular with Democrats is to impose a wealth tax on those with fortunes worth over $50 million. The tax on the “ultra-millionaires” is explained at Vox:

Warren’s proposal, of course, is for a progressive wealth tax in which the 2 percent rate does not apply to the first $50 million and the 3 percent rate only kicks in when you have more than $1 billion, so nobody would actually be taxed that much. The operation of the tax would, however, exert a dramatic gravitational pull on large fortunes and tend to pull them down to the tax thresholds.

That’s especially true because the mere existence of the wealth tax would, on the margin, encourage wealthy individuals to dissipate their fortunes on charitable giving and lavish consumption. If you try to horde wealth the government is going to tax it, so you might as well spend it.

California Sen. Kamala Harris wants to expand the earned income tax credit with her LIFT the Middle Class Act and to give all American public school teachers a raise. She’s proposing that the federal government spend $315 billion to increase teacher salaries over 10 years. A story from Vox explains why it could be a popular winner:

Education is rarely a major issue during presidential campaigns. But Harris’s plan could tap into a wave of energy and enthusiasm from teachers strikes around the country in the past two years, most recently in Los Angeles and Denver but also in traditionally red states, such as West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona.

Those strikes have attracted public sympathy as well as solidarity from Harris and her fellow 2020 contenders. Two-thirds of Americans support teachers’ right to strike for better pay and benefits, according to a recent USA Today/Ipsos poll, and six in 10 believe teachers are not compensated fairly.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has a plan on an issue that Trump conveniently forgets about every time there’s an “infrastructure week.” Her $1 trillion proposal would go way beyond the roads and bridges usually discussed when candidates discuss infrastructure. Here’s an explanation from Vox on how it would work:

The central element in Klobuchar’s proposal is a $650 billion increase in federal spending on infrastructure programs.

She specifies rural broadband, municipal waterworks, energy efficiency retrofits, school construction, airports, seaports, inland waterways, and mass transit as all worthy of increased funding, along with — of course — highways and bridges.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has successfully pushed his Medicare for All legislation into the Democratic mainstream, and it has some of his Democratic rivals as co-sponsors. His latest version spells out what would be covered in a generous benefit package, even as it offers few specifics on how to pay for it. According to an explanation from Vox:

The biggest difference between this plan and the version Sanders introduced in 2017 is the addition of a long-term care benefit that would cover care for Americans with disability at home or in community settings. This benefit was also added into the House version of the Medicare-for-all bill earlier this year.

The plan is significantly more generous than the single-payer plans run by America’s peer countries. The Canadian health care system, for example, does not cover vision or dental care, prescription drugs, rehabilitative services, or home health services. Instead, two-thirds of Canadians take out private insurance policies to cover these benefits. …

What’s more, the Sanders plan does not subject consumers to any out-of-pocket spending on health aside from prescriptions drugs. This means there would be no charge when you go to the doctor, no copayments when you visit the emergency room. All those services would be covered fully by the universal Medicare plan.

There’s no question that the approach is growing in popularity, even earning some cheers from the audience at Sanders’ Fox News town hall. The immediate economic downside is for insurance companies; the more talk about a single-payer system, the worse the stock prices are for those insurers.

Beto O’Rourke is taking some heat for not having enough policy ideas. A Politico piece with the headline, “The big idea? Beto doesn’t have one,” explains that he’s still in listening mode.

It’s not that O’Rourke doesn’t have positions. He does, and in the month since announcing his presidential campaign, he has expressed many of them with specificity. He has robust ideas about immigration, including a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. He has lauded the “Green New Deal” and called for a new Voting Rights Act. He was an early champion of legalizing marijuana — and co-wrote a book about it. He wants universal pre-K education, and he has touted a bill by Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) to dramatically expand Medicare coverage while maintaining a role for private health insurance. …

But none of those positions is unique to O’Rourke. And with his relatively meager legislative record — and a belief that he can transcend ideological lanes within the Democratic Party — O’Rourke appears unclear about where he fits on the policy spectrum.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for “listening tours” to see what voters are saying. But if you’ve announced your candidacy for the most powerful office in the world, you should be a tad more sure of what you stand for.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is another candidate who is still finding his issue footing. He is beloved by the media and by the crowds that turn out to hear him, he’s got a killer biography and background, and he’s great on TV. He has, in the headline of a Los Angeles Times piece, “everything except policies on major issues.

That’s not an accident. He says voters aren’t looking for policy papers. They care about values and character, and knowing that a candidate cares about their lives. …

At a CNN town hall last month, voters asked his views on healthcare, unemployment, veterans’ benefits, climate change and whether technology companies like Facebook should be regulated.

His answers were a blend of generic Democratic positions and suggestions that more venturesome ideas should be considered.

Some candidates that might be considered long shots are carving out their own particular electoral niche, even if it depends mainly on “rebuilding the Blue Wall” with working-class voters in the Rust Belt, in the words of Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan.

For instance, one of the most recent entrants in the race, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, is making gun violence — an issue he has long worked against — central to his campaign. He held an early campaign town hall in Broward County, Florida, not far from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where 18 died a year ago in a mass shooting. Besides passing common-sense gun legislation on universal background checks, a position held by a vast majority of Americans and backed by all candidates, Swalwell wants to ban assault-style weapons. He wants to make gun reform one of the “top-three issues” of the Democratic nominating contest.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, described by the League of Conservation Voters as the greenest governor in America, is making sure that candidates talk about climate change this presidential election, unlike in 2016, when the issue was all but ignored in every presidential debate. The need to address climate change has come up in audience questions in just about every town hall that CNN has sponsored for Democratic candidates. Inslee has gone so far as to call for a climate-change-only debate. His four-part plan, described on his campaign website, includes and builds on ideas from the Green New Deal, which he’s backing (as are other candidates).

Former Obama Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro has the most thorough plan on immigration policy. He basically offers the opposite of Trump’s policies and provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He also backs investigating Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection, and the Department of Justice’s role in family separation policies. As CNN explained:

Castro, as president, would increase refugee admissions, reunify families that have been separated at the border and allow deported veterans who served in the US military to return to the United States. …

Castro’s plan also reimagines enforcement along the border, including the reconstitution of Immigration and Customs Enforcement by “splitting the agency in half and re-assigning enforcement functions” within the agency.

There’s more, of course. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wants to solidify a woman’s right to choose and to close the racial wealth gap. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker wants to go further with an issue close to his heart, criminal justice reform, and issue “Baby Bonds” for newborns that will be worth thousands when those kids turn 18 to help pay for college.

Many fans of Andrew Yang let me know on Twitter that his multitude of policies on such issues as a universal basic income, Medicare for all, and what he calls human-centered capitalism on his campaign website make him a serious contender. We won’t know until the first votes are counted.

How about this: Take the best ideas from the various candidates and put them into the Democratic platform. And then have that platform mean something for a change. I’ll take Jay Inslee on climate change, Eric Swalwell on gun violence, Julián Castro on decriminalizing immigration, Elizabeth Warren on going after the wealthy, Kamala Harris on paying teachers, Amy Klobuchar on infrastructure, Bernie Sanders on health care (Medicare for All, Medicare for America, improving the Affordable Care Act, or any combination thereof — it’s better to act than to fight about it). And let’s include Pete Buttigieg’s and Beto O’Rourke’s appeal to millennials. We’ll talk about Joe Biden if and when he gets into the race. And I’m sure you’ll forgive me for skipping over some other candidates, including former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel.

Is America ready for a president who carves out new territory? Who knows? Most likely, 99.9% of those reading this would have no problem with a president who is gay, Latinx, African-American, a woman, an African-American woman, a Democratic Socialist, or one who follows any religion — or none at all. Is the rest of America?

Let the debates begin.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on April 21, 2019.

GOP lawmaker claims nurses play cards all day. She better hope she never gets sick. (UPDATE)

One of the many snarky and deserved responses to the remarks of a (no surprise) GOP state senator.

There’s a story out of Washington state that has nurses up in arms. A Republican (as if she could be in any other party) state senator objected to a bill giving meal breaks and rest periods for nurses, implying that they don’t have enough work to keep them busy and don’t need mandated breaks.

Never mind the fact that nurses are likely the hardest-working members of a medical team. If you’ve ever been in a hospital, as a patient or a visitor, you know that. Anyone with any brains does.

That GOP senator is facing heated backlash. The take-home message: Never piss off a nurse. From a CNN story:

A Washington state senator has drawn the ire of nurses after remarks she made suggesting that nurses in smaller hospitals “probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day.”

The Washington State Senate considered a bill Tuesday, SHB 1155, that would provide nurses with uninterrupted meal and rest periods.

“By putting these types of mandates on a critical access hospital that literally serves a handful of individuals, I would submit to you those nurses probably do get breaks. They probably play cards for a considerable amount of the day,” Washington state Senator Maureen Walsh said on Tuesday during a debate on the Washington state Senate floor.

The charitable interpretation is that Walsh has never spent time in a hospital to watch nurses work. The true interpretation is that she’s a GOP robot who objects to any regulation.

Nurses in Washington state are not taking this lightly.

The Washington State Nurses Association called Walsh’s remarks “demeaning” and said there is “zero logic” in covering nurses in some hospitals, “while leaving others without any protections.”

“No, Senator, nurses are not sitting around playing cards. They are taking care of your neighbors, your family, your community,” Mathew Keller, WSNA’s director of nursing practice and health policy, said in a post on the union’s website.

The bill passed the Senate (it had earlier passed the House), with Walsh voting against it. It will go back to the House to approve some amendments before it goes to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature.

But nurses aren’t done with Walsh yet. From the executive director of the National Nurses Union, via a story on Crooks and Liars:

Nursing groups are publishing Walsh’s contact information so they can make their feelings known. They also are suggesting that nurses send Walsh a deck of cards. From a nursing FB group: ATTENTION ALL NURSES:  Please mail Senator Maureen Walsh a deck of cards.  The address is: 504 15th Ave SW, Olympia, WA 98501

In her case, it shouldn’t be a full deck.

UPDATE: After a national outcry from nurses, Walsh was forced to apologize for her comment and said she would be “happy to accept” the invitation to shadow a nurse during a shift. Walsh’s office had been inundated with on online petition with 650,000 signatures and with phone calls, emails, and (yes) packs of cards from nurses in protest.

My #MuellerReport take-home message: Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice

The Mueller report is putting a permanent scowl on Donald Trump’s face.

You don’t have to read all 448 pages of the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to understand that Donald Trump is guilty as hell. He’s much worse than Richard Nixon ever was.

I confess that I skimmed many pages (lots of blacked-out redacted sections stops the reading flow) of the whole report and looked more at overviews, including those written by the Mueller team itself. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (or are a Trump supporter wearing Fox News blinders), you know that, despite Attorney General William Barr’s pathetic efforts at spinning the report to claim that Trump is innocent, Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice. The original four-page Barr report was pitiful in its brevity and conveniently skipped over any damning material. The news conference where Barr kept repeating “no collusion” was laughable.

There is only one reason that Trump isn’t guilty of criminal conspiracy with Russia: He and his team were just too dumb or too incompetent to make the connections that Russia intelligence kept offering them. Some people who were part of the Trump campaign likely are guilty of criminal conspiracy (Carter Page and George Papadopoulous), but, as any good prosecutor will tell you, you don’t make the charge unless you think you can get a conviction. That’s why Mueller’s ultimate conclusion on that point was to say there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant a charge.

The other mitigating circumstance is that so many people lied or pleaded the Fifth Amendment in their interviews with the Mueller team. You can only work with the information you have. Trump’s lawyers never let him testify under oath, knowing that he would have committed perjury before speaking a full sentence. As it was, his written answers contained more than 30 instances of “I don’t know” and “I can’t remember.” This, from the guy who loves to brag about his brain.

Obstruction of justice is another matter.

You’ve likely been reading stories and hearing talking heads on cable news explain the big takeaways of the report, and about how is is a “blueprint to impeachment” or an “impeachment referral.” Now it’s up to Congress to hold further hearings and do more investigation, issuing subpoenas and forcing people to testify under oath, and holding them in contempt if they refuse. “There is sufficient evidence that President Donald Trump obstructed justice to merit impeachment hearings” is the implication reached in The Atlantic.

In his report, Mueller took pains to detail why he “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment” as to whether the president had broken the law by obstructing justice. He began by noting that he accepted the opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) — which issues guidance for the executive branch on questions of law — that a sitting president cannot be indicted. …

A footnote spells out that a criminal investigation could ultimately result in charges being brought either after a president has been removed from office by the process of impeachment or after he has left office.

There are multiple ways to access the report, from multiple news organizations. Many offer a search function, such as this online version from CNN, so readers can look for names (those that aren’t redacted) and specific terms.

I found the most useful shorthand version was this Washington Post timeline. It breaks the report into three easy-to-understand sections on Russian interference, Russian contacts, and obstruction. While we may have heard many of these points in news stories, the constant drip-drip-drip in reporting all of the misdeeds made it easy to overlook or forget something. Reading them all together just makes you say, “Damn. They did THAT?” The timeline is complete with references to news stories that reported the exact same facts that the Mueller report offers.

The extent of the Russian interference is astounding:

  • Russian intelligence services (GRU) started a plan to interfere in the election back in 2013, although it didn’t get really revved up until 2014 and 2015.
  • GRU spent thousands of dollars every month on social media ads on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites targeting voters mainly in swing or “purple” states, just to tip the election.
  • GRU hacked into Democratic National Committee network by sending “spearphishing” emails and released DNC emails through Wikileaks. The most obvious timing was the release immediately after the Access Hollywood tape was released in October 2016, where Trump bragged about grabbing women by the pussy.
  • GRU created hundreds of false Twitter and Facebook accounts to push negative messages about Hillary Clinton. Many of the accounts were specifically aimed at African-American voters to suppress turnout.
  • GRU phony accounts reached more than 100 million people through Facebook alone, no doubt influencing their votes.
  • GRU pushed positive messages about Trump and Bernie Sanders (and later Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who also has been friendly with Russia). The purpose was to try to turn off as many voters as possible to Hillary Clinton.

Here’s one piece from the Washington Post timeline (one of many) that spells out direct involvement between the Trump campaign and Russia. It was this action by Papadopoulous, over too many drinks in London, that started the whole Russia probe in the first place.

George Papadopoulos tells an employee of a foreign government that the Trump campaign had received indications that the Russian government could assist the campaign with leaks of information damaging to Hillary Clinton. That government then contacts the FBI, triggering an investigation.

Papadopoulous pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI and served a short prison sentence. It sounds like he was guilty of much more.

Richard Nixon was an angel compared with Donald Trump. I seriously doubt Nixon knew about the Watergate break-in beforehand — it was a low-level operation (he always referred to it as a “third-rate burglary”). The Nixon team had enough bad apples that they likely thought of the break-in and other nefarious deeds all on their own. Nixon’s crime was covering everything up later.

Trump, on the other hand, was the guy behind many misdeeds in the first place. He also did his best to make up stories or shift the blame to cover them up later.

  • Trump himself was the one who made up the “adoption” story for the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and others with Russians. As news reports said all along, and team Trump finally admitted, it was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.
  • It was Trump who tried to get FBI Director James Comey to stop the Russia investigation and to stop any prosecution of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
  • It was Trump who directed Comey to be fired, not FBI Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein (although he followed Trump’s direction to write a letter, blaming Comey’s “treatment of the Clinton email probe”).
  • Multiple times, Trump directed Mueller to be fired or tried to stop the investigation. Many on his staff refused or just ignored his directions.

If a jury were to find Trump innocent of obstruction of justice, it would only be because every time Trump gave an illegal order (for instance, by firing Robert Mueller), White House officials refused to comply.

The big question looming over Washington is: Should Trump be impeached? There are multiple issues to ponder, especially after Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said that he’s just “not worth impeaching.” Of course, that was before many of the details of the full report came out, and many Democrats are coming around. So consider:

  • The House needs only a majority of members to impeach.
  • Impeachment proceedings would start in the House Judiciary Committee, led by New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, who is already issuing a subpoena for an unredacted version of the full report.
  • Two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote to convict Trump. A Senate with a Republican majority would never do that.
  • Impeaching Trump without removing him from office creates a risk of stirring up his base.
  • Not impeaching Trump will anger many Democrats and could discourage them about the 2020 presidential election (not to mention control of Congress).

There is absolutely no question that Donald Trump deserves to be impeached and removed from office (for more reasons than what is outlined in the Mueller report). Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who read the entire Mueller report on a campaign flight, is the first Democratic presidential candidate to issue such a call, and she has gained many new supporters because of it.

On the campaign trail, however, candidates are finding out that voters are more interested in talking about health care, gun violence, pocketbook issues, climate change, and other matters closer to home. Whatever the House Democrats decide to do about impeachment, next year’s election will depend on one thing: if the ultimate Democratic nominee’s campaign is successful in getting out the vote from the majority of the country that is sick of Donald Trump.

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