Thursday, February 21, 2019

What NC candidate Mark Harris does not want you to know. The interview that Fox's Tucker Carlson does not want you to watch.

The Anti-Ivanka is the first topic of Judd Legum’s post at popular.info. That’s a comprehensive update on the voter fraud in North Carolina. Mark Harris, the Republican who won the race in NC’s CD9, takes a hit from his own son who is an assistant US attorney. Here’s the short version.

We’ve known for weeks that operatives working in North Carolina for Republican Mark Harris committed systemic election fraud. There is overwhelming evidence that a man named Leslie McCrae Dowless ran an illegal operation to harvest and forge absentee ballots in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.

What was less certain is how much Mark Harris knew about it.

The North Carolina State Board of Elections is holding hearings to help it decide whether to order a new election. In the official count, Harris is leading his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready, by 905 votes.

On Wednesday, Mark Harris’ son John, an assistant US attorney, testified that he repeatedly warned his father about McCrae Dowless’ tactics. In phone calls and emails, John Harris told his father that he believed McCrae Dowless was breaking the law and emphasized the legal and political risks of hiring McCrae Dowless for the 2018 campaign.

Mark Harris ignored his son’s warnings and hired McCrae Dowless anyway.

Then, when McCrae Dowless’ illegal activities were exposed, Mark Harris claimed to be taken completely by surprise.

The evidence is against the senior Harris.

The second topic is The interview Tucker Carlson doesn’t want you to see.

A Dutch historian called out Tucker Carlson for scapegoating immigrants and ignoring real economic issues. Carlson absolutely flips out. He never aired the interview but the historian recorded it.

It’s incredible.

It really is. The historian speaks truth to power in his exposé of Fox’s millionaires funded by billionaires. Carlson breaks in with hysterical profanity. A Fox publisher spiked this one but it got out anyway.

Another model for universal health care

A Better Path to Universal Health Care is explained by Dr. Jamie Daw who teaches health policy and management at Columbia University. The United States should look to Germany, not Canada, for the best model.

A single-payer model in various incarnations is pushed by some candidates for the presidency. Medicare for All is an example. It has gotten pushback and that is likely to grow during the 2020 campaign. In his NY Times op-ed Daw offers a path to universal care that is a smaller step that is likely to be more palatable to the American public, our politicians, and our policy makers. The German model combines private providers with strict regulation, a model that reduces costs but assures care based on need. This one is worth a read.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Catherine Rampell asks whether America need its Congress

One of Scriber’s favorite authors is Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post. This morning, in the Daily Star, she suggests that What America really needs to do is abolish Congress. Here is her reasoning.

The far right wants to eliminate what it considers the vestigial organs of government, including the Education, Commerce and Energy departments. The far left wants to abolish ICE.

They’re both thinking too small. What America really needs to do — and what might actually receive strong bipartisan support — is to abolish Congress.

Sure, you might argue that the legislative branch has critical responsibilities, endowed by our sacred Constitution. Congress is an equal branch of government, providing checks and balances .

Without Congress, you might ask, wouldn’t the president have completely free rein to act on his worst authoritarian impulses? But then again, you might also ask: How would that be different from the situation we have now?

Why, just a few days ago, the legislature proved how little interest it has in exercising one of its most fundamental constitutional powers, the power of the purse.

… Trump announced that he was declaring a “national emergency” to commandeer $8 billion …

Federal lawmakers should have been livid at this power grab. Curiously, many were not. In fact, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. — one of the most powerful people in this supposedly powerful branch of government — declared this a splendid outcome.

… this is not the only duty our derelict lawmakers have abdicated. Declaring war when we are, in fact, at war comes to mind. As does, say, exercising the authority to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations” and lay import duties.

… Congress turned a blind eye as Trump abused even that generously re-delegated authority. Here, too, Trump cited similarly bogus “national security” rationales to justify his overreach. Yet in response, Republican lawmakers — members of a party that once embraced free trade and sounded the alarm about an “imperial presidency” — have introduced legislation that would give the president even more discretion to levy tariffs without their OK.

… perhaps they believe their laziness on most legislative concerns is offset by their recent hyperactivity on one particular duty. The Senate has, after all, been rubber-stamping judicial nominees at a record pace.

Even so, it’s hard to argue that they’re performing much actual work in this capacity, given that the Republican-led Senate’s judicial confirmation decisions could easily be replaced by a simple software algorithm: If the judge is nominated by a president from our party, vote yea; if not, vote nay (or better yet, don’t allow a vote at all). Lots of other American jobs will be replaced by automation ; adding “federal lawmaker” to the list would likely draw few objections.

So here’s my question to you, fellow taxpayers. If lawmakers are not going to perform their most basic constitutional functions, then what are we paying them (at minimum) $174,000 a year to do? We might as well can them all and save the money.

Don’t believe me? Look at the polling. A mere 11 percent of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress, which ranks it lower than any other major U.S. institution — including the presidency, banks, military, public schools or even (gasp) newspapers.

Which suggests that there’s at least one impressive feat Congress can still claim. It has managed to unite nearly all Americans — Democrats and Republicans alike — around a common purpose: Throw the bums out.

But we can be even more imaginative locally. What if we just take the same approach to our state legislature? Think of what we could do with the savings.

Nukes for the Saudis - coming soon from Trump and Kushner

The corruption in the Trump regime never stops. Judd Legum (popular.info) reports.

Multiple whistleblowers say there is an effort within the Trump administration to illegally transfer “highly sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.” Their claims were revealed in an explosive report released Tuesday by the House Oversight Committee.

The allegations center around a company called IP3, which is pushing a multi-billion dollar plan to build 40 nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia. Using American nuclear technology is strictly controlled by the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and requires the approval of Congress. The protections are intended to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

But the whistleblowers claim there is an aggressive effort to get the Trump administration to approve the plan unilaterally.

Moreover, following the money

Jared Kushner bought the tower at 666 5th Avenue for $1.8 billion in 2008, at the height of the real estate bubble. The aging tower soon started losing tenants and hemorrhaging millions. Worse, the Kushner family faced a balloon payment on its $1.4 billion mortgage that would have been due this month.

But last August, a company called Brookfield bailed the Kushner family out of Jared Kushner’s billion dollar boondoggle. According to reports, Brookfield paid the Kushners $1.1 billion upfront for a 99-year lease of the building, allowing the family to pay down its debts.

Why was Brookfield interested in the aging property which failed to attract a buyer for more than two years?

We don’t know for sure, but a nugget buried in the House Oversight Committee report may provide a clue. In January 2018, Brookfield “announced its plans to acquire Westinghouse Electric for $4.6 billion.” Westinghouse Electric “is the bankrupt nuclear services company that is part of IP3’s proposed consortium to build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia.”

Jared Kushner is seen as a key player in getting IP3’s plan approved. He is extremely close to Saudi leadership, especially Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). The strategy to get Trump to approve IP3’s plan, according to one whistleblower, was for Kushner to “present it to the President for approval.”

Is 666 5th Avenue a bad investment for Brookfield? Maybe. But if it ultimately helps Westinghouse, its new acquisition, score a multi-billion dollar deal to build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, it will be worth it.

Holy sh!t. If MBS can order up a hit on a journalist, think about what he could do with our nuclear technology.

There are lots more ugly details. Here are two.

IP3’s inside man was Mike Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser who is currently awaiting sentencing for lying to the FBI. Flynn signed on as an adviser for IP3 while he was advising Trump on national security issues during the 2016 campaign. Once he became national security adviser, he continued to advocate for the plan.

IP3 enlisted Tom Barrack, Trump’s longtime friend and the chairman of his inaugural committee, to push its plan to build dozens of nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia. Barrack has deep ties with the Saudis. His investment company, Colony NorthStar, “has raised more than $7 billion in investments since Mr. Trump won the nomination, and 24 percent of that money has come from the Persian Gulf — all from either the U.A.E. or Saudi Arabia,” according to the New York Times. A spokesman for Barrack boasted that his relationship with leaders in Saudi Arabia and other middle eastern countries “span as far back as the reign of even some of the grandfathers of the current regional rulers.”

IP3’s plan was to convince Trump to appoint Barrack as a special envoy to get the nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia finalized.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Lack of principles will drag GOP down with Trump

President Trump is dragging Republicans down with him observes Paul Waldman (Washington Post/Plum Line).

There’s a lot of scrambling going on right now in Washington. The White House is scrambling to justify President Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency in order to obtain money for a border wall that Congress refused to grant him. Congressional Republicans are scrambling to figure out how they perform the latest iteration of an uncomfortable two-step they’ve executed many times before, claiming that they’re deeply “concerned” about what Trump is doing, while not actually doing anything to stop him.

,,, Trump will try to repeat the extraordinary success he achieved last fall, when he did everything in his power to make the midterm election about supposedly terrifying caravans of asylum seekers and the need for walls to keep them away. The result, you may recall, was an enormous victory for Democrats.

Then came the government shutdown — yet another political disaster for the GOP — and Trump’s emergency declaration, which he promptly undercut by admitting that there really isn’t any emergency. “I want to do it faster,” he said. “I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster.” If he “didn’t need to do this,” then by definition it isn’t an emergency, which he underscored by promptly heading off for yet another golfing weekend.

And now comes the test. Speaker Nancy Pelosi will bring to the House floor a resolution to reverse the emergency declaration, which will presumably pass. And what will happen in the Senate? Multiple Republicans there have gone on record about the declaration, saying “I would have my doubts” (Sen. Ron Johnson) or “I’m not enthusiastic about it” (Sen. Pat Toomey) or “I have some concerns” (Sen. Roy Blunt), or even “I wish he wouldn’t have done it” (Sen. Chuck Grassley). They think that presidential power has expanded too far, and they worry about setting a precedent that the next Democratic president will use in ways they abhor. But are they actually going to vote with Democrats against Trump?

A few might, but it’s almost impossible to imagine 20 of them voting with all the Democrats to get to the two-thirds majority necessary to override the veto the president has promised. So while the Supreme Court will have the last word, there’s a chance that this controversy will produce the first veto of Trump’s presidency. And that’s fine with him.

Which is the other thing weighing on Republicans’ minds. Trump may be quite happy to have that bill pass and then veto it, so he can say he’s bravely standing up to the “establishment.” He’ll be running a scorched-earth, maximally divisive campaign in 2020, counting on fear and hatred to once again carry him to victory. If he thinks it’s to his benefit to turn on his own party to do it, and attack Republicans in Congress as a bunch of lily-livered wimps whose loathing of immigrants is insufficiently pure, that’s what he’ll do.

And as we reach November 2020, we could see a repeat of 2018, with Trump insisting that political victory will be his if only he tells a few more lurid stories of immigrant crime and holds a few more rallies so that his rabid supporters can chant “Build that wall!” (or “Finish that wall!” or “Paint that wall!” or whatever he decides the latest slogan should be), despite all evidence pointing toward defeat. Should that happen, Republicans whose own necks are on the line will wonder whether they might have done anything to prevent being taken down with him. But by then it will be too late. In fact, it probably already is.

Jennifer Rubin (also at Washington Post) excoriates Senate Republicans in The feeble Republicans will not fulfill their oaths.

Senior policy adviser Stephen Miller’s disastrous appearance on Fox News rightfully got most of the media attention on Sunday. Here was the architect of the emergency declaration unprepared and unable to defend President Trump’s actions as much to do about nothing. We are unsurprised, however, that Trump’s most loyal and dogged anti-immigrant advocate, once outside the cocoon of a White House populated by yes men, should find it hard to present factual answers to legitimate questions.

What was more depressing was the pathetic conduct of Republican senators who seem thoroughly incapable of defending their power of the purse. …

Rubin presents partial transcripts of ’cringeworthy" Sunday morning interviews with Senators Ron Johnson and Lindsey Graham. She concludes:

It is incumbent on every interviewer who questions a Republican to have the politician’s previous statements about executive overreach at the ready, grill them on their hypocrisy and ask three basic questions: 1) Isn’t Trump’s overreach the most egregious of all because it aims to supplant Congress’s Article I role? 2) What evidence of an emergency is there, if even Trump says he “didn’t need to do this”? 3.) When President Warren or President Harris declares an emergency, takes money from the military and uses it for measures necessary to protect the country from the cataclysmic effects of global warming, will you give her your approval?

At times such as this, one really misses the principled, consistent voice of the late senator John McCain. He didn’t undergo torturous confinement for five years to see Graham and the rest trample on the rule of law and give license to an authoritarian bully. Unfortunately, the GOP is the party of Trump and his sycophants, not of constitutional conservatism, limited government or any other defining principle. And it’s certainly not McCain’s GOP.

And that may be the strongest reason why Trump is dragging the Republican party down with him.

The curious case of House Dems' inaction on Trump's tax returns

Where are Trump’s tax returns? Why is he not releasing them given his promise to do so? The House has the legal authority to compel their release, so why haven’t the Dems now in control of relevant committees not taken action?

Unfortunately, here is the answer: “By retaking the House, Democrats gained the ability to bring some accountability and transparency to the Trump administration. But they are proceeding with inexplicable caution.” Judd Legum (popular.info) elaborates in Taxing Our Patience. Here are snippets and some commentary.

Trump explicitly promised to release his tax returns during his presidential campaign. But he reneged, making him the first president in 40 years to keep his tax returns secret.

Not only is he keeping his tax information secret, but Trump is also the first president in modern history to maintain ownership over his business ventures as president. Who is paying the President of the United States? We have no idea.

Trump regularly breaks his word, lies about everything, and stiffs his contractors. So his refusal to provide his tax returns should be no surprise. What can/should the House then do?

The Democrats now control the House Committee on Ways and Means. Under Section 6301(f)(1) of the tax code, the chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means has an unqualified right to request and receive the tax returns of any individual:

Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives… the [Treasury] Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request…

The information must initially be kept confidential but, upon a vote of the committee, can be submitted to the full House of Representatives, making it public.

But 47 days after Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) took control of the committee, he still has not requested Trump’s returns. What gives?

Among those voting in favor of forcing Trump to turn over his taxes in 2017: Congressman Richard Neal (D-MA).

But now that Neal is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, he’s taking a markedly different approach. “This has to be part of a carefully prepared and documented legal case, and it’s not subject to just whim and the emotion of the moment,” Neal said earlier this month, brushing aside calls for him to move swiftly.

As a legal matter, Neal is wrong. The law does not require a “documented legal case.” It says the Treasury Secretary “shall” hand the returns over to the Committee upon request.

Some legal scholars argue that the power of the Committee is subject to the “implicit condition found by the Supreme Court that any congressional inquiry must relate to a legitimate legislative purpose.” But that bar is easily met in this case. Congress has a clear interest in knowing who is paying the President and how he might be benefiting from legislation and executive actions.

Time is on Trump’s side.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reportedly plans on refusing to comply with any request from Democrats based on “a quagmire of arcane legal arguments.” He may not be able to prevent the release of his tax returns, but he would like to delay the release until after the 2020 election.

Will these legal arguments work? Probably not. According to George Yin, a law professor at the University of Virginia, the authority of the Ways and Means Committee is unconditional:

Section 6103(f) does not place any conditions on the exercise of the authority to obtain tax return information by the Ways and Means Committee. Moreover, it provides no basis for the Treasury Secretary to refuse a request. I believe both features were intentional. Since the president at the time had unconditional access to tax returns, Congress wanted to give its committees the same right.

But all legal proceedings take time. The longer Neal waits to request the tax returns, the better chance Mnuchin’s reported strategy of delaying the release of the returns until after 2020 will work.

Neal has also not said how many years of returns he might request or whether he would also request returns from Trump’s businesses.

And contrast this reluctance with a clear mandate from 63% of the voters - the American public wants those returns released. Along with our elected representatives, we the people have a right to know who is paying Trump and for what.

I have a suspicion that there might be some maneuvering behind the scenes. Suppose that Trump threatens retaliation by getting his new AG Barr to stop Mueller. Suppose that Neal holds off on the tax return action in order to let Mueller finish the investigation. That would explain Neal’s “inexplicable caution.” However, it leaves dangling the House’s responsibility under the law. If they have to fight two battles, one to protect Mueller, and one to get Trump’s tax returns, so be it. Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised that the House can walk and chew gum at the same time. They should start walking.

If you don’t think my explanation is correct, then consider an alternative, more ugly explanation. Who is paying Neal, how, and for what?

Write to your representative in the House and demand that they get off their asses and move!

Monday, February 18, 2019

As one of LD11 's Representative Mark Finchem’s constituents, I’m thinking he largely penned today’s shared op-ed in the AZ Daily Star titled “Bills see to improve oversight of education vouchers”, and asked Senator Sylvia Allen (AZ Senate Ed Cmte Chair) to give it some credibility by lending her name to it. His attack on the Save Our Schools Arizona folks as “lobbyists” is soooooo “him”. Give me a break. They are grassroots advocates led by a group of moms who were sick and tired of being ignored by school privatization zealots like Finchem. Their movement caught fire over the last couple of years because it was obvious they actuallywere/are “in this to help our children”.

Contrary to what Finchem would have you believe, they and other public education advocates don’t argue for a lack of choices for parents. In fact, public education advocates and education professionals work hard to ensure our district schools offer an increasingly wide variety of programming to appeal to our diverse student population. This has been one of the good impacts of open enrollment and charter schools which have been providing choice since 1994.

Finchem’s claim that “100 percent of current [Empowerment Scholarship Accounts, or vouchers] ESA students have unique challenges” is purposefully misleading. Education professionals understand that everychild has unique challenges and the ideal way to educate them would be to ensure an education program individualized to meet each of their specific needs. Unfortunately, Arizona’s public school funding doesn’t allow that sort of personalized attention as it is still $600 million short of even 2008 levels. Compounding the problem are the 1,693 teacher vacancies and 3,908 individuals not meeting standard teacher requirements as of December 12, 2018. This adds up to a total of 75% of teacher positions vacantor filled by less than fully qualified people, contributing to the highest class sizes in the nationand likely helped push 913 to abandon or resign their positions within the first half of the school year. When quality teachers have proven to be the #1 factor to in-school success, this is not a winning strategy to improving outcomes.



Those requiring the most personal attention, our special needs students, have had access to vouchers since the ESA began in 2011 and made up 58 percent of students on vouchers in 2017.Yet, our district schools still educate the vast majority of these students even though the state’s formula funding for such was $79 million less than what it cost in 2017to provide the services required under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This shortfall requires districts to fund the special ed programs (mandated by state and federal law), from non-special education programs (i.e. mainstream students). And while special education enrollment remains steady at 11.5 percent, the severity of disabilities (more expensive to administer to), have been increasing.

Of course, Finchem is "all about" those students “who have been bullied or assaulted and need ESAs to find a healthier environment in which to learn”. Again, open enrollment and charter schools already provide that option. And maybe, just maybe, if Finchem really wants to help students who have been bullied, he should focus on decreasing class sizes, providing more music and art education, and working to increase the number of counselors at Arizona’s schools? After all, there is nowhere to go but up in this area given our 903:1 ratio which puts us in “first” (worst) placefor the number of students per counselor.(The national average was 482:1 in 2018 and the industry recommended ratio 250:1.)

As for his HB2022 providing increased transparency and accountability because it turns over financial administration of ESAs to a private firm, I call total BS. Just look at private schools and private prisons and the amount of transparency they afford the public. The best way to ensure transparency and accountability is to keep public services in the public domain and hold elected officials responsible for ensuring such.

Wait a minute. Maybe I’m on to something. After all, when ESAs were first implemented, Arizona lawmakers were told that the auditing requirements were so weak they were “almost a sham”,but the warnings went unheeded. Not only did the Legislature expand the program almost every year, but “resources to scrutinize the expenditures - made using state-provided debit cards - never kept pace. Yes, some improvements have been made, but an AZ Auditor General audit released in October 2018found that ”Arizona parents have made fraudulent purchases and misspent more than $700,000 in public moneyallocated by the state’s school-vouceher style program, and state officials have recouped almost none of that money." Could it be that these lawmakers just don't want to be held accountable?

Far be it from me to point out that Finchem was first elected in 2014 and is now serving his third term in the Legislature. Why is he only now taking an interest in making the ESA program transparent and accountable?I’d hate to think it has anything to do with the fact that our new Superintendent of Public Instruction is a Democrat who is committed to finally tackling the problem. Upon taking office after all, Superintendent Hoffman immediately launched an audit of the Department of Ed and has now established a bi-partisan task force to look at ESA accountability.

If Finchem really wanted to show our kids how to work together,” he should be working to properly fund ADE’s oversight of the ESA program. Even the former Superintendent of Public Instruction, Diane Douglas (Republican), said “the misspending of the voucher money is the result of decisions by the Republican-controlled Legislature to deny her department money needed to properly administer the program.” Douglas claimed lawmakers resisted properly funding oversight because they wanted a private entity to oversee it. 
“If you’re not willing to put the resources into the oversight, then it doesn’t happen appropriately,” Douglas told the Arizona Republic.
Likewise, Republican Senator Bob Worsley said,
“My guess is just that the (Republican) caucus - my caucus - has been, probably, overly enthusiastic about ESAs, and vouchers in general, and therefore anything that would…make it more difficult, it would not be a high priority for them.” He went on to say that it is “neither fiscally sound nor ethical for lawmakers to inadequately fund oversight of the program.”
But, this is exactly what they’ve done. “Under the law, 4 percent of the program’s funding is supposed to go to the department to administer and oversee the program.” In 2018, the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) only received about 2 percent or $1.2 million. Douglas said the full 4 percent was needed to properly oversee the program, but the Legislature had not authorized the department to spend $5.7 million sitting in a fund allocated for program oversight. Let that sink in. Finchem is up in arms about the need to introduce more transparency and accountability into the ESA program, but is part of the GOP-led legislature that hasn’t allowed oversight funds to be spent.

Most galling to me of any of his positions in the op-ed though is Finchem's admonishment that,
“it’s time for adults to start acting like adults and show our kids how to work together, even if it means working with people with which you may not always agree.”
This also is “him being him” as condescension is a tool Finchem has mastered.I guess when he showed total disdain for teachers (to their faces), during the #RedforEd walkout (and at every opportunity since), he was/is demonstrating how to work with others? I’m not buying it and neither should you. He is a blight on southern Arizona and I hope all those who care about public education, (regardless of where you live), work very, very hard to deny his reelection in 2020.

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.