William Barr’s scam of claims of ‘independence’

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has gone public complaining that Donald Trump’s incendiary tweets are making it “impossible” for him to do his job at the Dept. of Justice. And at least some in the media seem to be buying it.

Next, Barr is going to try to sell them a bridge in Brooklyn.

Many in the legal profession dropped their collective jaws when the Justice Dept. abruptly changed course on a sentencing recommendation for convicted felon Roger Stone, longtime Trump buddy and Republican operative convicted of obstructing Congress and witness intimidation. The original recommendation was sentence of seven to nine years. Trump tweeted about how “unfair” that was, and Barr cut down the recommended length of sentence.

Four career Justice Dept. lawyers who had handled Stone’s case withdrew from the proceedings in protest, one even resigning from the Justice Dept. itself. Legal analysts and others said the episode represented a low moment for the department. Nine Democratic senators signed a letter calling for Barr to resign.

Even worse, Barr has now appointed a hand-picked independent prosecutor to “review” the criminal case against Michael Flynn, Trump’s disgraced ex-national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Flynn’s case is another favorite subject of Trump’s tweets of outrage. Legal experts are calling this review “highly unusual.” Talk about an understatement.

Now we’re all supposed to believe, as Barr told ABC News, that he is being totally honest when he asserts his judicial independence. We’re supposed to take him seriously when he claimed, “I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.” As if he’s ever stood up for his department before and hasn’t just done Trump’s bidding.

Yet there was straightforward reporting by multiple news outlets, from The New York Times on down, that William Barr was asserting his independence. Come on, media. This is the same Bill Barr who:

  • Won Trump’s heart in the first place with a Washington Post op-ed claiming that Trump was right to fire FBI Director James Comey. That toadying op-ed was the real reason Barr was appointed attorney general in the first place.
  • Summarized the entire Mueller report in just four pages, claiming that it totally “exonerated” Trump (it didn’t). The Barr memo on Robert Mueller’s 400-page report on the investigation of Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election drew heavy criticism once people actually had a chance to read the whole document. Even Mueller criticized the summation by his longtime friend Barr, saying it “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the report.
  • Dodged questions during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee whether anyone at the White House had suggested he open an investigation of anyone. “I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest,’ ” Barr said in answer to a question from California Sen. Kamala Harris. This was before the whole matter of Trump’s asking Ukraine to investigate a possible political rival, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden. Barr was mentioned as being part of the investigation in the July 2019 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The biggest tell that Barr’s supposed “independence” was a scam came from Trump himself. Trump said he wasn’t bothered by Barr’s claims and congratulated him on how he “took charge of the case” — as if Barr hadn’t sold Trump on this bit of Kabuki theater beforehand to give the whole distasteful episode an aura of respectability.

The Department of Justice is the one federal agency in the president’s Cabinet that must be independent. Most presidents understood that. As one of the U.S. attorneys appointed by President Obama tweeted:

That independence is key to democracy, argued world affairs columnist Frida Ghitis, in an opinion piece on CNN.

An independent judiciary is an indispensable ingredient in the rule of law, and without rule of law, there is no justice. Without rule of law it’s all but impossible to preserve a functioning democracy, let alone a well-functioning government.

We have seen this through even recent history: as would-be autocrats have torn multiple countries away from their democratic moorings, a primary target has been the judiciary. …

Claims that the Justice Department’s decision had nothing to do with Trump’s wishes takes Americans for fools.

The necessity of an independent Justice Dept. is something that William Barr perhaps once knew but Trump conveniently ignores. And some in the media just lapped up the Barr Kool-Aid, even though they should know better.

Which is it going to be, media? Protection of access to your sources or honest reporting?

Election security at higher risk in high-turnout election

Election support specialists checking equipment in Miami-Dade County before the 2018 midterm elections. How can voters be sure their votes will be secure in November?

High voter turnout is widely predicted in November, which is always good news for democracy. The bad news for democracy is that many voters are worried about election security and might not trust the eventual outcome of the presidential election. Concerns include voting machines that could be hacked, voter suppression, voter fraud, and widespread dissemination of misinformation.

The failure of technology in the Iowa caucuses only adds to that concern. The delay in reporting vote totals because of a new and untested smartphone app was frustrating, especially as cable news channels flooded the caucuses with reporters while talking heads tried to fill hours with new ways of asking, “What’s going on?” Many are left asking whether they should trust the results at all, and Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez is calling for drastic action.

Iowa Democratic officials slogged their way through counting paper preference cards filled in by caucus goers. But Democratic officials blamed Republican trolls for tying up phone hotlines that were supposed to be used to report vote totals, slowing the process even more. Photos of caucus paperwork featuring the hotline number were posted online, allowing any GOP troublemaker to call. Here’s how a story on Talking Points Memo summed up the situation: “A perfect storm of incompetence, over-reliance on technology, and new reporting requirements have delayed caucus results for days.” Iowa Democratic Party officials now say they will launch an independent forensic review of the entire process.

As many polls about impeachment show, a majority of voters believe that Donald Trump is encouraging election interference. In addition, a plurality of voters are worried about election security. A recent NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist Poll showed that 41% of voters have a high level of concern that voting in 2020 will not be safe and secure, a figure that has gone up 3 percentage points since September 2018.

Poll respondents answered along party lines: 66% of Democrats say the U.S. is not very prepared or not prepared at all on election security, while only 11% of Republicans had such concerns. Responses from independents were evenly split and matched the overall responses, with 41% landing on either side of the voting security question.

Here were poll respondents’ top voting security concerns:

  • 35% of voters fear misleading information.
  • 24% complain of voter fraud.
  • 16% list voter suppression.
  • 15% fear foreign interference.
  • 5% report a fear of possible problems at a polling place, such as long lines, broken voting machines, or an inability to take time off work to vote.

Perhaps voters should be more concerned about problems at polling places:

  • Recent reports show how easy it is to hack into voting systems, which might have occurred in Georgia in 2016 and 2018.
  • A report to the Senate Intelligence Committee states that election systems in all 50 states were targeted by Russia in 2016.
  • When election security experts assembled a group of 100 voting machines at a conference in August 2019, hackers were able to break into all of them.
  • California officials have not yet certified a new electronic voting system in Los Angeles County because of multiple potential vulnerabilities.

It’s not just voting machines, according to a Bloomberg News report on cybersecurity.

Election machines are just one way hackers could try to infiltrate an election to change the vote or undermine its credibility. They also could corrupt voter registration rolls or lock up the computers of voting officials with ransomware. Only in the case of voting machines, though, does the safest technology also happen to be simpler and cheaper.

Predictably, 47% of Republicans listed the favorite GOP bugaboo, voter fraud, as a top concern, even though it’s practically nonexistent. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School has put voter fraud incident rates at between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent of all votes cast. But facts don’t matter to GOP voters who believe Trump’s constant lies about “illegal voters” and “rigged elections.”

Voter fraud hysteria gives Republican-led states an excuse to pass stricter voting requirements: According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 36 states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls, 35 of which are in force in 2020. Eighteen states ask for a photo ID, while 16 states ask for a non-photo ID.

When voter fraud does occur, it adds fuel to the GOP fire. A technical glitch recently discovered in Illinois meant that several hundred legal immigrants getting driver’s licenses were actually registered to vote at the same time. State election officials estimate that only 16 members of that group actually cast ballots in 2018, but the number obviously should have been zero. The state is working with local election authorities “to make sure anyone who was mistakenly registered is taken off the rolls,” says a story from Chicago’s WGN-TV. Not surprisingly, the state’s Republicans are up in arms.

A much bigger problem is voter suppression. In a different report, the Brennan Center found that states purged 16 million voters from voting rolls between 2014 and 2016 alone. Several Republican-led states, such as Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin (just to name a few) have purged or are in the process of purging voters, but even states led by Democrats, such as New York, have purged voters incorrectly, and California is deleting voters as a result of a settlement with the conservative group Judicial Watch. On the federal level, the House of Representatives passed a bill banning voter purging. It’s in the Democrats’ signature voting rights and election security bill that is now gathering dust on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk.

Voting security is only part of the story, though. Voters also are increasingly worried about the spread of disinformation. According to an NPR story about the poll, 59% of respondents said it was hard for them to tell the difference between facts and misleading information. A whopping 82% say it’s “likely or very likely” that they will read misleading information on a social media site such as Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. (If ever a poll result should be 100%, it’s that response.)

Trump’s reelection campaign already is spreading disinformation throughout social media, attacking Democrats, twisting people’s words using out-of-context clips and quotes, and just flat-out lying. It’s $1 billion operation is even being referred to as “the Death Star,” according to a story in The Atlantic.

Every presidential campaign sees its share of spin and misdirection, but this year’s contest promises to be different. In conversations with political strategists and other experts, a dystopian picture of the general election comes into view—one shaped by coordinated bot attacks, Potemkin local-news sites, micro-targeted fearmongering, and anonymous mass texting. Both parties will have these tools at their disposal. But in the hands of a president who lies constantly, who traffics in conspiracy theories, and who readily manipulates the levers of government for his own gain, their potential to wreak havoc is enormous.

The Trump campaign is planning to spend more than $1 billion, and it will be aided by a vast coalition of partisan media, outside political groups, and enterprising freelance operatives. These pro-Trump forces are poised to wage what could be the most extensive disinformation campaign in U.S. history. Whether or not it succeeds in reelecting the president, the wreckage it leaves behind could be irreparable.

Several questions must be answered in coming months as officials brace for a predicted avalanche of voters.

How will state and local officials handle a voting surge? Will they guarantee enough polling sites, enough ballots, enough voting machines, and enough election judges? How much will voter suppression tactics, such as voter ID laws, voter purges, and poll closures, especially in areas that skew Democratic, limit voter access, and thus affect outcomes? How will officials guarantee accuracy when votes are being counted on machines that are often bought over the objections of cybersecurity experts?

On the voting rights front, how much will efforts to open up voting, such as same-day registration, automatic voter registration, no-questions-asked absentee ballots, and early voting encourage more people to cast ballots? Right now, 18 states and the District of Columbia have automatic voter registration or are in the process of implementing it, most of them through the process of getting a driver’s license or interacting with another state agency. Laws allowing automatic registration have been in effect for only five years but led to a big jump in registered voters: New registrations rose by as high as 94 percent, according to yet another report from the Brennan Center.

Henry Olsen, a Washington Post conservative columnist, admits that voters are right to be worried.

Our state election systems are almost certainly not prepared for this. We already face complaints that there are too few polling stations, especially in inner-city areas, to accommodate the people who wanted to vote in past years. Imagine if those two-hour waits double to four-hour waits. Affected populations would surely cry foul, leading to even more charges of intentional voter suppression and election manipulation. …

Imagine what would happen if after an incredibly bitter campaign, millions of people faced insuperable burdens that lead to them either not voting or extending polling hours into the wee hours of the night to accommodate voter demand. Both parties would likely end up crying fraud, with the loser possibly even claiming the election was stolen.

No one wants to wake up Nov. 4 to election results they don’t trust. It’s up to all of us to ensure that access to ballots remains fair and that everyone who wants to cast a vote can do so in a timely manner, without hassle, and be assured that their votes were counted fairly.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Feb. 7, 2020.

Iowa caucuses need to bite the dust

Iowa voters and caucus officials struggled with new vote-counting rules.

The complete meltdown in tallying results at the Iowa caucuses means officials should decide on the only viable course of action: It’s time to get rid of the outmoded practice of holding caucuses.

Iowa has selfishly prided itself on its first-in-the-nation status, and the state’s voters have come to expect the chance to meet all of the candidates. Cable news channels sent scores of reporters to several caucus sites, seemingly in hopes of interviewing every last Iowa voter.

All of this is for a state that’s older and whiter than the Democratic Party as a whole. Why does the Democratic National Committee keep allowing it? And what happened to all the votes?

Media outlets descend on the state each year for the Iowa State Fair and each candidate’s campaign events. All of those reporters and TV production staff mean a lot of money goes into the coffers of hotels, restaurants, diners (you can’t do a story about Iowa voting without visiting the local diner), and more.

Candidates themselves spend gobs of money on TV advertising — the state’s residents have learned to have their thumbs poised over the TV remote’s “mute” button. Advertising Analytics, the ad industry’s trade group, said candidates had spent $45 million on advertising in Iowa as of early January, when there was still a month to go before the caucuses. That compares with $46 million in 2016, when Democrats and Republicans faced wide-open races.

There are lots of conspiracy theories about what went wrong in counting the votes. Even when the results are released, they aren’t going to tell us much — the estimates are that the four front-runners did equally well, give or take a few percentage points. No one can claim a “win” from Iowa, even though candidates gave speeches to supporters trying to claim just that.

Yet if you watched any of the coverage of the caucuses themselves, cable news spent hours and hours at caucus sites long after voters had gone home. Officials and voters both admitted they were confused by some of the new rules, in which those running the caucuses were supposed to deliver three sets of totals, using a new (and, it turns out, untested) app. Older officials, perhaps not as keen on the new technology, had the option of calling in results to a hotline, but there were reports of being on hold for more than an hour. And the Iowa Democratic Party could only report “technical glitches” and “inconsistencies” in numbers.

Of course the numbers were inconsistent. Some voters in caucuses where their candidates weren’t deemed “viable” — that is, they didn’t reach 15% of the total vote — simply went home. Can you blame them? With such a still-wide-open field of candidates, including two billionaires who don’t have to drop out of the race because of money problems, voters are still undecided on which candidate has the best chance to beat Donald Trump. As a result, the hoped-for surge in voters likely didn’t happen (although we don’t have that number, either). As Karen Tumulty wrote in The Washington Post:

But the voters I talked to seemed confused and anxious in the final hours before the caucuses, more torn than usual over which candidate to pick in a field that still numbers nearly a dozen. …

The campaigns have already moved on to New Hampshire. The countless hours of stumping and organizing in Iowa are behind them. And no doubt they are all wondering: What was the point of it?

Yes, DNC and Iowa Democratic Party, what was the point of it? What was the point of changing the rules, under pressure from the Bernie Sanders campaign, to make it harder to count votes? What was the point of using an untested app, especially by older volunteers who didn’t know how to use it?

Even more important, what’s the point of letting a group of non-representative voters winnow the field?

There are other, better models of choosing candidates. Caucuses favor candidates whose followers have hours to spend milling around. College students can show up easily; working parents, people who work at night, and folks with disabilities, not so much.

Here are some other voting models (there are more), which have been proposed by some elected representatives and state election officials as well states who don’t have early primaries. These models are always shot down by Iowa and New Hampshire.

A national primary day. All primary voters (with chances for early voting, absentee voting, etc.) would choose a candidate on the same day. Pros: It gets it over with, and no state’s voters have more weight than others. Cons: Candidates would concentrate on states with the most votes.

Inter-regional primaries. States would be divided into six regions, and a single state (or group of small states) from each region would have primaries on the same day until all states had voted. States would be chosen at random to go first, and the order would rotate. You can see the obvious problems and confusion that would arise.

True regional primaries. The country would be divided into four regions, and all states in each region would hold primaries on the same day. The order would rotate each presidential cycle. To me, this is the only model that makes sense.

Whatever the future of primary voting might be, let’s hope a prediction from a veteran Iowa reporter comes true. As reported in Politico:

If one thing was certain from Monday’s debacle, Iowa had just signed its death warrant as the first-in-the-nation caucus state, the legendary Des Moines Register political reporter David Yepsen said.

“This fiasco means the end of the caucuses as a significant American political event. The rest of the country was already losing patience with Iowa anyway and this cooks Iowa’s goose. Frankly, it should,” Yepsen said. “The real winner tonight was Donald Trump, who got to watch his opponents wallow in a mess. A lot of good Democratic candidates and people who fought their hearts out here for … nothing.

“I expect Iowans will move themselves to kill it off by holding a primary, and let the state move to someplace behind New Hampshire along with other states.”

U.S. could face a voting deluge in November. Will states be ready for the storm?

These Georgia voters waited two hours in line in 2018 just to vote early. Imagine what the lines will be like on Election Day this November.

Polls and pundits across the country and the political spectrum predict that voter enthusiasm and turnout could be at an all-time high on Nov. 3. That’s true for people itching to vote for and against Donald Trump.

But how will officials in the country’s 8,000 election jurisdictions handle the flood of voters? If the high voter turnout in 2018 is any indication, they could have a torrent of problems. Consider this example from ProPublica about Melanie Taylor, a South Carolina voter determined to cast her vote back in 2018:

After 45 minutes, with the line still out the door, Taylor had to give up and leave for work. (She leads a social work program.) She’s planning to try again later and has been monitoring the wait times through a neighborhood Facebook group. The news was not encouraging.

“It felt like a type of disenfranchisement, even though there wasn’t any violation of voting rights,” Taylor said. “The wait has been all day three hours or more, which is ridiculous.”

Across the country, Americans like Taylor have had their enthusiasm to vote tested by problems at polling places. There have been long lines owing to surging turnout, a shortage of voting machines, a shortage of ballots or computer malfunctions. Some voters said they stuck it out for as long as five hours.

But not everyone has five hours. An estimated 500,000 eligible voters didn’t cast a ballot in 2012 because of polling place problems such as long lines.

In recent years, voter turnout has been around 40% in midterms and 60% in presidential elections. Voter turnout in 2016 was slightly higher at 61.4%. But the 2018 midterms exceeded expectations with a record-high 53.4% turnout. The U.S. Census Bureau reported increases in every age, racial, and ethnic group, driven mainly by higher Democratic participation in the Blue Wave election. Other estimates are lower — like this 50.3% calculation from Nonprofit Vote, which is still a big jump. If 2020 is the referendum on Trump that’s expected, that 2016 figure of 61.4% could disappear in a downpour.

“Storm of a century” may seem like hyperbole, but voter turnout could likely break records across the country. (Just to compare, previous highs in voter turnout were 73.2% in the 1900 election and 65.4% in 1908.) Other predictions on 2020 voter turnout are just as high:

These predictions are being made by both Republicans and Democrats as well as election journalists and prognosticators. A story in The Atlantic teases readers with the headline Brace for a Voter-Turnout Tsunami.

In a recent paper, the Democratic voter-targeting firm Catalist projected that about 156 million people could vote in 2020, an enormous increase from the 139 million who cast ballots in 2016. Likewise, Public Opinion Strategies, a leading Republican polling firm, recently forecast that the 2020 contest could produce a massive turnout that is also unprecedentedly diverse.

“I think we are heading for a record presidential turnout at least in the modern era, and by that I mean since the franchise went to 18-year-olds,” in 1972, says Glen Bolger, a partner at Public Opinion Strategies. “And I mean not only in total numbers [but also] in terms of the percentage of eligible voters [who turn out]. The emotion behind politics … is sky-high, and I don’t think it’s just on one side. I think it’s on both sides.”

Who will these voters be? The Atlantic story listed some likely voter growth, quoting Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who wrote the above tweet. He specializes in voting behavior and also runs the United States Election Project.

One of the key questions for 2020 is whether Democrats will benefit as much from the likely expansion of the electorate. With Trump on the ballot directly, Republicans hope that 2020 will produce a surge not only in the younger and nonwhite voters who increased their participation in 2018, but also the non-college-educated whites at the foundation of the president’s support, who lagged last year.

The nature of the population eligible to vote is evolving in a way that should indeed help Democrats. McDonald estimates that the number of eligible voters increases by about 5 million each year, or about 20 million from one presidential election to the next. That increase predominantly flows from two sources: young people who turn 18 and immigrants who become citizens. Since people of color are now approaching a majority of the under-18 population — and also constitute most immigrants — McDonald and other experts believe it’s likely that minorities represent a majority of the people who have become eligible to vote since 2016.

Projections from Pew Research also show a more varied electorate than ever before.

In raw numbers, a projected 32 million Hispanics will be eligible to vote in 2020, compared with 30 million blacks. The population of Asians eligible to vote will reach an estimated 11 million in 2020, which is more than double the 5 million who were eligible to vote in 2000, accounting for 5% of next year’s electorate.

Taken together, this strong growth among minority populations means that a third of eligible voters will be nonwhite in 2020, up from about a quarter in 2000. This increase is at least partially linked to immigration and naturalization patterns: One-in-ten eligible voters in the 2020 election will have been born outside the U.S., the highest share since at least 1970.

Those projections match the makeup of people who voted in the 2018 midterm elections. Here’s how voter turnout increased, in different demographic groups, from the 2014 to the 2018 midterms, according to Census Bureau data:

  • Among 18- to 29-year-olds, voter turnout went up 79%, from 20% in 2014 to 36% in 2018. It was the largest percentage point increase for any age group.
  • Voter turnout increased among non-Hispanic Asians by 13 percentage points, a 49% increase.
  • Turnout increased among Latinx voters by 13 percentage points, a 50% increase.
  • Non-Hispanic black voter turnout increased by 11 percentage points.
  • Voter turnout among those in nonmetropolitan areas (up 8 percentage points) was lower than for those living in metropolitan areas (up 12 points). In other words, residents in large cities and suburbs (who tend to vote for more Democrats) voted at a greater rate than those living in smaller cities and rural areas (who tend to vote for more Republicans).
  • 55% percent of eligible women voted compared with 52% percent of men.

A higher number of those who will vote this year will be younger than their counterparts in past presidential election years. Nearly 40% of the electorate in 2020 will be millennial or Generation Z voters. If their votes in 2018 are any indication, they will favor Democratic candidates in November: Among voters who said this was their first midterm, 62% favored the Democrat and just 36% supported the Republican.

No one knows for certain how many people will show up to vote in primaries or in the general election this fall. Despite widespread predictions of historic turnout, there’s little evidence—so far—of states making changes to handle a deluge of voters. But election officials do seem aware of looming issues, as many told The Hill.

In interviews, secretaries of state said they paid close attention to elections in Kentucky, Louisiana and Virginia this year, all states where more voters than ever showed up for what are usually sleepy off-year contests. Several said they had seen a sharp increase in turnout in their own backyards, even in nonpartisan school board elections.

Those results, coupled with higher-than-expected turnout in the 2018 midterms and polls that show voters are extremely enthusiastic about next year’s presidential election, are stark warnings to elections administrators who are already making preparations for what could be record-breaking turnout.

“We know there’s a fire that’s been lit out there, and we definitely saw [it] in Louisiana and Kentucky, some of the trends there,” said Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R), who is also president of the National Association of Secretaries of State. “We’re going to see an increase again from previous years, and we know we’d better be ready.”

One place to look is in Iowa, where Democratic officials, bracing for the first-in-the-nation voters, are likely to have their hands full. Democratic officials running the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses know they could see a massive turnout and have been scrambling to get ready for over a year, lining up larger facilities and investing in new technology to speed up voter check-in and avoid vote-counting problems. As one state central committeewoman put it, “We have to prepare like it’s Armageddon.”

The Democratic National Committee nixed Iowa Democrats’ plans for virtual caucuses, disallowing voters to caucus by phone, so the schools, churches, community centers, and other gathering places that comprise the 1,678 precincts could be bursting at the seams to contain all of the caucus-goers. There also will be more than 90 satellite precincts, 28 of which are outside the state for Iowans who live out of state or overseas. The satellite precincts also can accommodate people who work nights and voters with disabilities.

A few other states holding early primaries and caucuses foresee problems, even if solutions are elusive. With the growing popularity of absentee voting, Michigan and South Carolina have introduced bills to allow officials to open absentee ballot envelopes (but not the ballots themselves) before Election Day to speed up the counting process. Nevada Democrats have instituted early voting at 80 locations throughout the state in hopes of boosting caucus turnout and avoiding problems on Feb. 22. How early states fare could dictate courses of action for officials in other states.

On the other end of the spectrum, a new voting law in New Hampshire, passed by a Republican House and signed by a Republican governor, requires out-of-state college students to pay licensing and car registration fees before voting. The move, supposedly to fight voter fraud, has created a bureaucratic boondoggle and left college students confused about whether they can vote or not.

Even if voters face delays and other problems, people will show up to vote this year. So grab your friends, your family members, your neighbors, your co-workers, and anyone else you can find, and make sure they are registered to vote. You can find each state’s deadlines for people to register to vote in primary elections here. Some dates have passed already, and deadlines are different for online, mail, and in-person registration, while some states allow voters to register on the actual date of the election.

After losing a battle in 1757, French King Louis XV famously said, “Après moi, le déluge,” implying that the coming difficulties in France after his death wouldn’t be his concern. Let’s hope that today’s state election officials are better prepared for this inevitable voter deluge.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Jan. 31, 2020.

Adam Schiff’s real audience is the American people

“If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost. Here, right matters.”

It’s already a given that Republican senators won’t vote to kick Donald Trump out of the White House. Democrats knew that from the beginning of the process. But the House impeachment managers are aiming to remind the country of the dangers of this president and why he must be removed from office. If not now, then in November.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, who heads the team of House Democrats arguing why Trump needs to go, has been nothing short of brilliant in outlining the case against Trump. Schiff and his colleagues are using cogent arguments, videotaped testimony from the House impeachment hearings, and Trump’s own words to show why Trump is guilty of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Yes, Trump sought help from a foreign government to help his own reelection bid — he admitted it in the infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (READ THE TRANSCRIPT, as Trump loves to tweet). Yes, Trump broke the law when he withheld the aid package to Ukraine to help in their war with Russia — the Government Accountability Office said so. Yes, Trump has obstructed Congress’ investigation by blocking documents and witnesses. Those who came forward, such as Ambassador Maria Yovanovich and security expert Fiona Hill, did so knowing it put their careers in jeopardy. There’s no question that Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors — the constitutional requirements for impeachment.

Everyone knows the truth — Trump is guilty, guilty, guilty. This is slam-dunk material that, under normal circumstances, would be enough to get 100 votes to drag Trump out of the White House by his orange combover. If Trump had an ounce of morality in his body, he would have resigned, as Richard Nixon did in 1974.

But these aren’t normal times. Trump’s iron hold on the Republican Party is so powerful that GOP officeholders are more afraid of crossing Trump and his base, thus losing reelection, than standing up for the Constitution and the truth. In case anyone thought otherwise:

In case you were wondering, threatening a juror (the senators serve as jurors in an impeachment trial) is a felony.

Impeaching Trump was necessary to stand up for America. Impeaching and trying him was necessary to show future generations of Americans that there were some people, in these dark times we find ourselves in, who weren’t afraid to tell truth to power.

Schiff’s words remind some of Jimmy Stewart’s speech in the Frank Capra classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But it’s more than that. Legal scholars are saying that his closing speeches will be used as examples in law school classes for years to come. They also could inspire a new generation of lawmakers to stand up for what’s right.

If the truth doesn’t matter, we’re lost. [The] framers couldn’t protect us from ourselves, if right and truth don’t matter. And you know that what he did was not right. That’s what they do in the old country, that [Lt.] Col. Vindman’s father came from. Or the old country that my great-grandfather came from, or the old countries that your ancestors came from, or maybe you came from.

But here, right is supposed to matter. It’s what’s made us the greatest nation on earth. No constitution can protect us if right doesn’t matter anymore. And you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country. You can trust he will do what’s right for Donald Trump. He’ll do it now. He’s done it before. He’ll do it for the next several months. He’ll do it in the election if he’s allowed to. This is why if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters. Because right matters and the truth matters. Otherwise, we are lost.

If you missed it, watch the whole thing. It’s worth the time. If you already saw it, watch it again to be reminded of what a true patriot sounds like.

The powerful words and arguments coming from Schiff and his colleagues are aimed not at the 53 Republican senators who will never vote against Trump. Schiff is speaking directly to the American people, who will deliver the ultimate verdict on Nov. 3.

We can only pray that it’s the right verdict.

Let’s regain the world’s trust by dumping Trump

Donald Trump is increasingly isolated on the world stage, as he was at the G20 summit in 2017.

What can Americans do to help the United States improve its standing around the world? Defeat Donald Trump on Nov. 3.

New data from the Pew Research Center show that 64% of people from 32 countries do not trust Trump to do the right thing in world affairs. In fact, Trump received the highest negative rating of any world leader in the survey. Russian President Vladimir Putin received a negative rating of 57%, slightly lower than Trump, and Chinese President Xi Jinping got a 43% negative rating. Trump received a positive rating of only 29%. Way to alienate the rest of the world, Donnie.

That 64% negative rating is roughly 10 points higher than the percentage of Americans who view Trump unfavorably. Trump’s U.S. disapproval numbers have hovered around 53% or 54%, give or take a few points, over the course of his presidency, according to aggregate polling from FiveThirtyEight. People around the world see a clearer picture of Trump than Trumpanistas looking through orange-colored glasses.

When it comes to these global numbers, you can’t blame the international survey respondents. Trump has cozied up to dictators, blustered his way through meetings with international leaders with little or no preparation, and isolated himself on the international stage …  and those are just a few examples of the havoc he has wrought.

His worst actions by far relate to multiple international agreements, such as the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Trump claims he wants to “renegotiate” the deal and make it better, but the broad terms he describes sound much like the pact negotiated by the Obama administration and five other European allies.

The 2015 deal was the first agreement Iran had made to limit its nuclear program. The deal froze Iran’s nuclear program for a decade in exchange for gradual sanctions relief and included new provisions for inspections of Iranian facilities, including military sites. Iran passed every inspection, completely meeting the terms of the nuclear deal, for years.

Once Trump pulled out of the pact in May 2018, constantly repeating too many lies about it to count, Iran resumed ramping up its nuclear program. Just look how safe Trump has made everything: In recent weeks alone, we’ve seen the escalation of the attack on the Green Zone in Baghdad, which housed the U.S. Embassy in Iraq; the U.S. assassination of Iranian Major Gen. Qassem Soleimani; retaliatory Iranian missile strikes on bases in Iraq that housed U.S. troops; and Iran “accidental” shooting down a Ukrainian commercial flight, killing all 176 people on board. Further, the death of Soleimani increases the likelihood that ISIS will regroup. After Iran announced on Jan. 5 that it would no longer be bound by the deal, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany triggered a dispute mechanism on Jan. 14, which could mean the return of United Nations sanctions against Iran. The whole world is justifiably fearful of what’s coming next.

CNN compiled a list of all of the agreements Trump has broken, threatened to leave, or made noises about renegotiating during his time in office. The decision to pull out of some of these pacts was made solely because they had been negotiated by the Obama administration, and Trump remains determined to undo the successes of his predecessor.

  • Pulled out. In August 2019, the U.S. officially withdrew from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which forced the U.S. and Russia (then the Soviet Union) to eliminate ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of about 300 to 3,400 miles. Trump claimed that the treaty puts the U.S. at a strategic disadvantage with China (as if he’d know the difference).
  • Pulled out. Trump kept a campaign promise to leave the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, which included nearly every country in the world and aims to curb the use of fossil fuels and to help mute the effects of climate change. Trump claimed that the treaty was “poorly negotiated” and officially announced the decision to pull out in November 2019. Although the Paris Climate Agreement is way too limited to have much of an effect on climate change, the good news is that the U.S. exit doesn’t become official until the day after the November election, and a new Democratic president can immediately jump back in the climate pact on his or her first day in office.
  • Pulled out. The 2016 Trans-Pacific Partnership. While the massive trade deal was never approved by Congress, its purpose was to counteract China’s economic power. Even without the U.S., the other 11 countries that are a part of the agreement have carried on. Trump pulled out by executive order in January 2017.
  • Pulled out. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley claimed that the 1946 United Nations Human Rights Council “wasn’t fair to Israel.” The real reason the U.S. left the 47-member body? In June 2018, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights slammed Trump’s policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border as “unconscionable.” The U.S. announced it was leaving the council a day later.
  • Pulled out. In another fit of pique about “anti-Israel bias,” the U.S. pulled out of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, in 2017. (The U.S. had done the same from 1984 through 2002.)
  • Threatened to pull out. Periodically, Trump threatens to pull out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the World Trade Organization, although that’s often more bluster and talking off the top of his head. Still, vowing to leave a defense group like NATO — one of the most important alliances the U.S. is a part of — is not exactly the way to reassure allies around the world.
  • Pouted. Trump wants the Group of Seven, the association of industrialized countries, to readmit Russia, which was expelled after it forcibly annexed Crimea in 2014. Putin was ecstatic at the idea, but so far, there’s no interest in Russian readmission by the other nation-members.
  • Failed miserably. Trump launched his trade war with China with 25 percent tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods. China’s retaliatory tariffs have crippled U.S. farmers, caused a downturn in U.S. manufacturing, and raised prices for U.S. consumers. Periodically, Trump announces with much fanfare that there has been “progress” in the U.S-China trade talks, yet few of the details of that progress are made public. Trump and Chinese President Xi are set to sign “phase one” of a new agreement, but neither side has spelled out what’s in that agreement.
  • Renegotiated. The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement has now been replaced by the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. And no matter what Trump claims, it will always be known as NAFTA 2.0.

The Pew data show that exiting these various deals has hurt Trump’s standing in the world, but another equally negative factor is the unpopularity of his policies. Those policies include raising tariffs (68% negative), building a border wall with Mexico (60% negative), and allowing fewer immigrants into the U.S. (55% negative).

Why would officials in Iran — or any country, for that matter — want to sit down with Trump and think they would get a fair shake? Why should anyone trust him at all?

How is it possible that in some countries, Trump’s support has actually increased? Those countries reporting increased support are those with their own versions of Trump. Nations that skew toward favorable views of Trump feature more right-leaning, autocratic leaders and governments, such as Israel, the Philippines, Hungary, Spain, Brazil, and Poland.

The good news? Pew’s data show that 54% of those surveyed still have a favorable view of the U.S., despite the damage Trump has caused to America’s reputation worldwide. It’s on all of us to ensure that a new president is inaugurated a year from now — one who will re-establish the ties that Trump’s predecessors worked so hard to form around the world.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Jan. 16, 2020.

Inequality in the Trump economy keeps getting worse

When most of the loaf goes to the top, only crumbs are left for the rest.

Every month when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its monthly jobs report, Donald Trump and Republicans crow about the economy and the low unemployment rate. And every month, too many Americans wonder when they’re going to start feeling the effects of that “great economy.”

A recent study on poverty and a new way of measuring the quality of jobs show the shallowness of GOP claims about the U.S. economy. Poverty went up in at least one county in every state, concentrated in rural areas and the South. And a new system of measurement called the Job Quality Index shows that, although there are jobs available, for the most part, they aren’t jobs that pay well and aren’t career jobs for the long term. Often, they don’t even employ workers for a full 40 hours a week.

Combine that with the disastrous effects of the Trump tariffs and the trade war with China, especially how that trade war hurt U.S. manufacturing; the surge in bankruptcies of small farmers; the fact that American consumers now have a record $14 trillion in debts; and the 2017 GOP tax reform scam that turned into a windfall for big companies instead of helping everyday Americans, and most of us don’t feel that we’re better off than before Trump became president—a benchmark used by challengers in nearly every election.

Don’t forget that, after the GOP House and Senate passed and Trump signed the tax overhaul in late 2017, Trump’s message to his rich cronies at Mar-a-Lago gathered for the Christmas holidays was, “You all just got a lot richer.”

That was not a message that trickled down to average Americans. The supposed tax savings didn’t do much trickling down for them, either.

Since the country started coming out of the Great Recession in 2009, the overall U.S. poverty rate has decreased. But between 2016 and 2018, the poverty rate grew in 30 percent of counties across America, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. As a story from Huffington Post put it:

The counties with the biggest jumps in poverty ranged across the political and demographic spectrum: from 97% white and solidly Republican-voting Carter County in Kentucky to black-majority, Democratic Bullock County in Alabama.

Most of the biggest increases were in areas both rural and Southern. Those areas generally had residents who lacked job training and skills and industries that suffered downturns.

Those industries included the coal industry in many of those poverty-stricken areas. Coal output has decreased by 27 percent in the last five years, and 50 coal power plants have closed across the country since Trump became president. That’s good news for the environment, but bad news for those counting on coal mining for a paycheck. It’s also a betrayal of one of Trump’s main promises in coal country.

But the unemployment rate is only 3.5 percent. That’s got to be great, right? Actually, considering the kinds of jobs available — and the fact that wage growth is fairly stagnant — not so much. And this isn’t a recent phenomenon.

The U.S. Private Sector Job Quality Index, or JQI, is a new economic indicator developed by academic economists that measures desirable higher-wage/higher-hour jobs versus lower-wage/lower-hour jobs. Job quality is defined as the weekly dollar-income a job generates for an employee. A paper defining the system and explaining why the detailed indicator is a more accurate reading of the economy is available at this link.

The paper’s conclusion reiterates the fact that U.S. manufacturing jobs have “declined dramatically in the last three decades,” and replacement jobs are poorer-paying, service-sector jobs with no guarantee of job stability or even a full work week. There also has been a “massive loss of market share, revenue, and jobs to foreign manufacturers.”

An important question surrounding the decline of manufacturing is whether those leaving manufacturing are transitioning into better or worse jobs. …

With other countries targeting what they see as high-value industries, the US is not just in danger of, but actually has been, forced into greater reliance on low-value, low-growth industries, offering lower-wage, lower-hours jobs. The success of superstar companies like Google or Apple or Pfizer should not blind us to the fact that today Leisure & Hospitality is our largest sector with 14.7 million non-management employees. It’s a sector that pays  such workers $16.58 an hour and the average worker works just  25.8 hours a week — resulting in average weekly income of $428. …

When all that a country has left is the domestic manufacture of processed foodstuffs, you end up with a lot of unhealthy and unwealthy workers who are in dire shortage of security, much less dignity. A republic that offers no better than this cannot long endure.

“When U.S. unemployment is at a 50-year low, why do so many people have trouble finding work with decent pay and adequate predictable hours?” asks a story from Forbes on the JQI. Answer: Few non-specialized good jobs are available.

Tens of millions of working-aged Americans are still not formally employed and have no apparent interest in sending out a resume. If the job market is so hot, why are so many people sitting on the sidelines? One frequently cited explanation is the growing proportion of older generation workers. Now we have another more important element. Workers don’t re-enter the workforce because many of the jobs themselves are rotten. …

Many looked to the category of jobs known as Professional and Technical Services as a path for the economy to “move to higher ground.” Professional and Technical Services were supposed to offer high pay, growth in employee numbers, and an opportunity to increase productivity. In fact, the JQI does report that employment is up 41% in this sector and the average weekly pay for non-managerial workers of $1,575 exceeds the pay of many other industries. But that’s not enough to rescue what the economy lost in manufacturing.

To recap:

  • Many of the jobs available are poorer, with stagnant wages and little job stability or full employment guarantees.
  • The tax bills of many big companies ended up being even smaller than what was anticipated in the GOP tax scam law. This has caused a ballooning federal deficit that could reach $1 trillion in 2020.
  • Trump’s trade war with China led to a loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs and higher prices. No matter what he claims about a new agreement, it’s not a done deal, and it’s only “Phase One” of a partial deal with few specifics released.
  • After Trump’s tariffs against China, China retaliated with tariffs that were devastating to U.S. farmers. Despite $28 billion in farm subsidies in the last two years (many of which went to large agriculture suppliers, some foreign-owned), farm bankruptcies surged, especially in the Midwest.
  • The record $14 trillion in debt that Americans owe is spread across mortgages, auto loans, credit cards, student loans, and other forms of debt. By themselves, student loans make up $1.5 trillion of the debt total. And medical costs are still growing faster than income — medical costs have gone up 33 percent since 2009.

It doesn’t matter if the stock market had its best annual gain in six years. When only those at the top are benefiting from those stock market gains—not every worker has a 401(k) or fat IRA account — then there’s no trickle down from a bloated stock market. Although 20 states and 26 cities and counties are raising the minimum wage in 2020, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour hasn’t gone up since 2009.

This is a message that all Democratic candidates should be repeating over and over, whether they’re running for president, the House, the Senate, or a state office: The Trump economy isn’t helping most Americans.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Jan. 5, 2020.

Republican losers we won’t miss in 2020

Two GOP congressmen, two guilty pleas. California’s Duncan Hunter (left) says he’ll leave Congress “after the holidays” after pleading guilty to misusing campaign donations, while New York’s Chris Collins resigned after pleading guilty to insider trading charges.

Over the last year, we’ve said goodbye to many Republicans who are no longer in office or on their way out. There are way too many Republican losers to mention. So let’s take a look at just a handful of those in the 2019 edition of the GOP Hall of Shame.

This list won’t even include all of the 34 people indicted in the investigation into Russian election interference by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, some of whom are Russians who will never face justice.

More than two dozen House Republicans are opting to retire rather than face voters next fall (a few are running for another office). Only nine Democrats fall in that same category.

Some members of the GOP leaving the House likely decided that life in the minority just wasn’t any fun anymore. Some may fear tougher reelection fights, although some of those leaving are in fairly red districts.

For starters, let’s look at the two miscreants who pleaded guilty to crimes and were forced to leave office early. Amazingly, both were re-elected in 2018 despite the fact that both were under indictment.

Chris Collins. Collins was the first House member to support Donald Trump’s campaign in the 2016 election and became an unofficial spokesman for Trump in the House. In September 2019, the upstate New York congressman, along with his son and the father of the son’s then-fiancée, pleaded guilty to insider trading charges that were related to Collins’ investment in Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotech firm. Collins pleaded guilty to two of eight charges against him — conspiracy to commit securities fraud and lying to the FBI. He faces a sentencing hearing in January 2020.

Collins was charged in August 2018 with securities fraud, wire fraud, and making false statements to FBI agents. He was the largest investor and a member of the board of the Australian firm, and he touted the company’s stock to many in Congress, regularly bragging how many millionaires he had made. When a drug trial failed, he warned his son, Cameron, and Stephen Zarsky, the prospective father-in-law, and they dumped their stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics. They avoided hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses.

In 2018, Collins won his race by one percentage point. Even though the 27th Congressional District is traditionally Republican, the taint may carry over to the next election.

Duncan Hunter. What is there to say about Duncan Hunter, the congressman who used campaign funds to pay for family vacations, trysts with mistresses, and flight expenses for a pet rabbit named EggBurt? In December, Hunter pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges of misusing more than $200,000 in campaign funds.

The San Diego-area congressman and his wife, Margaret, originally were indicted in August 2018, and both pleaded not guilty. But Hunter originally tried to blame all of the campaign snafus on his wife, who at one point was his campaign manager. No doubt angered at the reports by prosecutors of campaign funds used on Hunter’s affairs with lobbyists and campaign staffers, Margaret Hunter pleaded guilty to conspiring with her husband to “knowingly and willingly” convert campaign funds for personal use. She also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in the case against Hunter.

You’ve got to enjoy the detail in Margaret Hunter’s 22-page plea agreement from this CNN story:

In the document, Margaret Hunter admits that she repeatedly conspired with her husband between 2009 and 2016 to use campaign funds to cover routine expenses like groceries, as well as couples outings with their friends to the track at Del Mar and other restaurants, lavish family gatherings at the Hotel Del Coronado, a $14,263 Italian vacation that the family could not have otherwise paid for, and a family trip to Minnesota in which they spent $250 in campaign funds on air transport for the family bunny, EggBurt. (Much of that spending was repaid to the campaign account by Duncan Hunter after the charges were revealed in the press).

Both Hunters await sentencing.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin. If ever a lawmaker deserved to be thrown out on his sorry behind, it’s Bevin. He narrowly lost reelection in November to Democrat Andy Beshear. And there was much rejoicing.

Bevin’s election in 2015 was really due to his strong opposition to marriage equality, specifically his support for Kim Davis, the infamous homophobic county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky. Davis, you might recall, become a conservative folk hero for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Back when she was in the spotlight, Davis had been married four times to three different men. Her personal life might be her own, but it’s pretty hypocritical to claim moral superiority over marriage equality when you’re discarding husbands left and right and the father of your twins is your third husband, the twins were conceived while you were still married to your first husband, and the twins are claimed by your second one (got all that?). Luckily, Davis was voted out of office in 2018, so we’re a year late in wishing her a not-so-fond farewell. But the state of Kentucky is left with $224,000 in legal fees over lawsuits filed by couples hurt by her refusal to grant them marriage licenses.

But back to Bevin. In April 2018, Bevin vetoed the entire state budget and tax overhaul plan with complaints about increases in education funding, increases passed by Republican lawmakers. The Kentucky Legislature overrode his veto to make sure those increases, which were won with massive efforts and backing from Kentucky teachers, stayed in place. With that veto, Bevin won the instant enmity of the state’s teachers, and their support for Beshear was one of the big reasons for the Democrat’s victory.

Bevin’s worst move, however, was issuing a slew of pardons right before he left office. Those pardoned included convicted rapists, murderers, and drug offenders. There were 428 pardons and commutations in all. The Louisville Courier-Journal has a complete list (available to subscribers) of all the miscreants to whom Bevin gave his get-out-of-jail-free cards, including one whose family raised more than $20,000 for Bevin to retire a 2015 campaign debt. “The beneficiaries include one offender convicted of raping a child, another who hired a hit man to kill his business partner, and a third who killed his parents,” according to a story at NPR. Now the FBI is investigating those pardons.

The GOP majority in the Virginia Legislature. How sweet was it on election night 2019 when we all realized that the great Commonwealth of Virginia would now be in Democratic hands? Virginia Republicans quickly realized that their old approaches to campaigning — calling their opponents “socialists” and worse — weren’t working anymore, with the state’s suburbs turning reliably blue. No Republican has won a statewide race in Virginia since 2009.

Besides Democratic strength in the suburbs, hard work by volunteers for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America turned gun violence into a top issue in the election. I’ll let Virginia residents weigh in on which Republicans they most enjoyed being kicked out of office.

Members of the Trump gang in prison. How many Trumpsters are currently behind bars, have served a sentence, or are heading to the slammer sometime soon? It’s hard to keep track. There are currently six people affiliated with either the 2016 Trump campaign, the Trump businesses, or the Trump administration who have been convicted of or have pleaded guilty to crimes as a result of the Mueller investigation. A story from Forbes had the rundown:

  • Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, was sentenced in December 2018 to three years in prison for lying to Congress, campaign finance violations, and tax evasion. He received an additional two months of prison time for lying to Congress about a Moscow Trump Tower deal.
  • Roger Stone, the longtime GOP operative who has a tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back, was found guilty of lying to Congress and witness tampering in relation to his work on President Trump’s 2016 campaign. He will be sentenced in February 2020.
  • George Papadopoulos, a former Trump foreign policy advisor, was sentenced in September 2018 to 14 days in prison (with a year of supervised release) after pleading guilty to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russian intermediaries during the 2016 campaign. The sleazebag filed in October to run for Democrat Katie Hill’s vacant California Congressional seat.
  • Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, was found guilty by a Virginia court of tax and bank fraud in August 2018, and in November 2018 voided his plea deal (by lying to investigators) in separate federal charges brought by Mueller. He’s currently serving a combined seven and a half years in prison from both cases.
  • Rick Gates, a former deputy to Manafort during the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty in February 2018 to charges of conspiracy against the United States and making false statements. He was sentenced in December to 45 days in prison (which he can serve on weekends) and three years’ probation.
  • Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor, pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI. His long-delayed sentencing has been yet again postponed until Jan. 28, 2020, after a federal judge rejected his claims of innocence and attacks on the FBI.

Members of the Trump gang who aren’t in prison — yet. So many to indict, so little time, and so much GOP resistance.

Trump’s good buddy and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani faces possible prosecution for acting as an unregistered foreign agent, but that’s just the beginning. He’s also being investigated by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York (which he once headed) for possible campaign finance violations as part of an active investigation into his financial dealings. From a Fortune story:

“I would not be surprised if he gets indicted,” said Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. “It’s clear Giuliani is up to his ears in shady stuff and there’s tons of smoke.”

Two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, are already charged with illegally funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to U.S. officials and a political action committee that backed Trump.

Will former Energy Secretary Rick Perry face any legal problems after two of his political supporters secured a potentially lucrative oil and gas exploration deal? Or just general derision from thinking people everywhere?

And what about possible legal jeopardy for Donald Trump Jr., Eric, Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, all of whom face ethical charges of their own over the millions they’ve made since their father has been in office?

By this time next year, we hope to be saying good-bye to many other Republicans. In the Senate, there’s a good chance we might see the end of the political careers of Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona, and (fingers crossed) Susan Collins of Maine. With any luck, we might see exits from Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Joni Ernst of Iowa. Especially sweet, even if less likely, would be losses by head Trump butt-kisser Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and the turtle-weasel Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

But the sweetest loss of all a year from now? One Donald J. Trump.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 29, 2019.

Just in time for holiday gifts: Trump impeachment merch

You might be too late for Christmas, but how about sparkly “Impeach Trump 2020” headbands for a New Year’s party?

Donald Trump has finally been impeached, and it’s not a moment too soon for artists, crafters, and companies trying to male a quick buck over the impeachment, if not the ultimate removal, of the 45th president.

True, it’s a little late for Christmas delivery. But it’s the thought that counts. That, and the belief in the rule of law and the U.S. Constitution.

There are T-shirts, hats, mugs, bumper stickers, signs, pins, buttons, socks, and flip-flops. The simple message of “86 45” is popular on many items. Also popular are shirts and buttons that simply read “44 > 45.”

A personal favorite is a mug with photos of Trump and Richard Nixon with the words, “Orange is the new Dick.” Nothing subtle here, obviously.

No doubt there are as many anti-impeachment items as there are pieces calling for Trump to be removed from office. Some of the anti-impeachment merchandise is being sold on Trump’s reelection campaign website (to which I am NOT providing the link). What’s the fun in giving that side any free publicity? Let them do their own advertising.

For now, we can appreciate the enormity of the vote that took place in the House of Representatives and the bravery of the men and women, especially first-term Democrats representing swing districts, who lined up to cast a vote on the side of justice. What better way to tell them that we appreciate their efforts than to wear the message proudly on a T-shirt?

Actually, the best way will be to organize, donate, volunteer, campaign, register new voters, and vote for Democratic candidates next fall. But until then, we can enjoy the moment — and the merchandise.

Several T-shirt companies offer a variety of pro- and anti-impeachment merchandise. Some of the more imaginative items come from the e-commerce craft website Etsy, which has lots of gifts to choose from for those on your list who would relish in the thought of removing Trump from office.

There are a variety of Christmas ornaments that wish you “Merry Impeachmas,” even arriving in a free gift box. Or, if you’re feeling nostalgic, you can purchase an ornament that reads, “I just want to sit under my tree and pretend that Obama is still president.”

There are T-shirts with a variety of anti-Trump messages, some using the quote from Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib with the words “Impeach the motherf*cker.” To make such T-shirt sentiments more safe in mixed company, you can get the message “F*ck Trump” spelled out in Morse code.

Some items emphasize Trump’s constant lying, calling him the Lyin’ King, complete with a photo of a maned Trump in the pose from the iconic poster of the Broadway musical. Or perhaps you’d like a sticker that says, “Orange Lies Matter.

If you’re the kind who wears his or her thoughts on your car, you might want to pick up a decal or bumper sticker that says, “Don’t blame me. I voted for Hillary.” And you can buy stickers that say, “Impeach Pence. Just Planning Ahead…

You can go beyond the impeachment message with a T-shirt that reads, “My president started a TRADE WAR & all I got was this $80 T-shirt.

There are some more uplifting items offered. There is merchandise featuring some of the heroes of the hearings, such as the Fiona Hill Fan Club button or magnet.

Actually, there are several items that honor those who have been so effective in the impeachment fight. How about a mug with a stern-looking Maxine Waters with the simple words “Impeach 45”? You don’t mess with Auntie Maxine when she’s reclaiming her time.

You can get several items featuring House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, like a pin with a photo of her famous clap during the State of the Union address and the words, “Merry Impeachmas.”

How about a T-shirt with a photo of Adam Schiff and the simple word “Truth”? Or better yet, you can buy a T-shirt with the words from his epic smack down of House Republicans in March 2019. They called for him to step down as chair of the House Intelligence Committee, claiming that the Mueller report exonerated Trump. Schiff delivered a scathing five-minute answer listing Trump’s actions in colluding with Russia, point by point, always ending with “You might think it’s OK. I don’t.”

You might be a little late for Christmas, but not for New Year’s Eve. How about a sparkly crown headband, available in both gold and silver, with the words “Impeach Trump 2020”? You can get a discount by ordering in quantity to let everyone at your New Year’s gathering in on the fun of fantasizing that we could live in a Trump-free world. Other New Year’s party hats, available in packs of 10, simply say “Good riddance.

Perhaps most important are items like the buttons and stickers that parody the logo of Tide laundry detergent with the message to “VOTE. Removes stubborn orange stains.”

Trump is definitely a stain that needs to be removed. If not by the Senate, then by America’s voters next fall.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 22, 2019.

Simplistic Trump voter impeachment interviews won’t tell us anything new, so please spare us

Of course this woman still supports Donald Trump. SHE’S AT A TRUMP RALLY.

We could all save ourselves a lot of time watching or reading news if political reporters cut down on what are likely to be endless visits to diners, VFW halls, and Farm & Fleet stores, all asking Trump voters, “Are you still with Donald Trump?”

Because we already know the response: From most of them, it’s likely to be yes. And even if a reporter gets a “no” now and then, which they will from some, that’s not exactly a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalistic coup.

Will Trump voters support impeachment of the guy they voted for three years ago when they’re fed a steady diet from Fox News, Republicans, and Trump himself about claims of “hoaxes,” “witch hunts,” “sham investigations,” and conspiracies about the “deep state”? Highly unlikely.

FiveThirtyEight.com’s ongoing aggregate polling of Trump’s approval rating shows numbers basically unchanged in the low 40s, give or take a few percentage points, during his entire presidency. Since news about the Ukraine phone call scandal exploded in September, similar aggregate polling shows that the number of people supporting the impeachment process started to outnumber those against it, although only a plurality, not a majority, now say Trump should be impeached and removed. Except for that reversal in September, the numbers tighten or grow further apart by only a few percentage points.

Attitudes toward Trump remain largely unchanged. Those who are true Trumpanistas remain so. Those who would rather swallow glass than ever vote for Trump have pledged to vote blue no matter who. So why do political reporters waste our time and attention asking simple questions to which everyone already knows the answers?

Interviewing voters is important throughout any political contest, especially when numbers and support are still fluid. An ongoing look at the still-volatile Democratic presidential primary contest is a perfect example — many voters in several early states and elsewhere admit that they are still making up their minds, even as horse race polling numbers rise and fall.

To be useful, though, voter interviews have to have more depth than just asking questions about which candidate a voter supports. For Trump backers, questions such as “Do you still support Trump?” or “What do you think of Trump’s impeachment?” are pretty useless.

Of course people at a Trump rally are still going to support Trump. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be waiting for several hours to see him in the first place. Getting a Trump backer to nearly break down in tears might seem like great television, but viewers don’t gain much insight.

Independent journalist Dan Froomkin of Press Watch recently delivered some advice on how to ask voters better questions with a piece headlined Political journalists are doing voter interviews all wrong.

But how reporters go about it, where they go, who they talk to, what they presuppose, and most importantly what questions they ask can make the difference between the stuff of parody and the best kind of political journalism.

The key is for reporters to explore not just voters’ political opinions, but their formative moments and their value systems. That’s particularly essential now because the prevalence and significance of intolerance — racism in particular — as a driving force in politics has not been sufficiently explored and discussed.

Voter interviews, at their best, can give voice to the voiceless, propound common sense, and tease out nuances missed by the polls, and even establish common ground.

At their worst, they can impose false balance, reflect preconceived notions, promote knee-jerk reactions, and stoke conflict.

Throughout the Trump presidency, political reporters (especially those inside the Beltway) and their editors have given us a steady stream of stories and interviews with Trump supporters. This was partly based on the surprise over Trump’s win and partly based on the belief that they had been ignoring too many voters.

But they overdid it. The Associated Press had an ongoing feature called Trump Country. CNN regularly features focus groups with panels of Trump voters—Googling those terms delivers story after story of such interviews. The New York Times seems to have set up permanent residence in red-state rural diners. USA Today interviewed Trump voters in all 50 states to learn about Trump Nation. Photos of those voters were nearly all white and male, with a few women thrown in.

Funny — these same media outlets never did a never-ending series on those who were still supporting President Obama months and years after his election or on those who voted for Hillary Clinton, even though she received nearly 3 million more votes than Trump.

Now the media have new questions to ask about impeachment, and the topic presents a learning opportunity for reporters and voters alike. Polls show that 60 percent of Americans are paying attention to impeachment news, with about 20 percent paying close attention. One-fifth of Americans say they still might change their minds about whether it’s worth it.

Of course, Americans have differing opinions on the various aspects of impeachment, and there’s lots of leeway between “impeach and remove” or “keep Trump in office no matter what.” There are still partisan divisions among poll respondents.

This roundup of polling with detailed explanations from FiveThirtyEight.com shows that a majority of Americans believe that Trump abused his power and acted in his own personal interest (YA THINK?). An even larger majority say Trump should cooperate with the impeachment investigation (not much chance there). Such reports explain more thoroughly why Democrats chose to narrow their impeachment focus to two articles, leaving out bribery and an obstruction of justice charge from the Mueller report and instead emphasizing obstruction of Congress.

That’s not so hard, is it media? Even polls that go just a little deeper by asking specific questions give us more insight than asking a Trump supporter at a rally what she thinks of impeachment and waiting for the tear ducts to overflow.

Originally posted on Daily Kos on Dec. 15, 2019.

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