Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 in retrospect, 2018 in prospect

Robert Reich has a New Year’s Update for Trump Voters, AZ Blue Meanie (Blog for Arizona) reviews the horrors of 2017 and sees 2018 as the year of The Reckoning – Resistance and Renewal, and Joe Scarborough foresees A storm is gathering in 2018 as “the most consequential political year of our lives.”

Trump’s legacy of broken promises

I’ll feature a few of Reich’s listing of 20 promises Trump made to his supporters and how he broke every single one. “Almost one year in, it’s time for another update for Trump voters on his election promises:”

He told you he’d cut your taxes, and that the super-rich like him would pay more. You bought it. But his new tax law does the opposite. By 2027, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, the richest 1 percent will have got 83 percent of the tax cut and the richest 0.1 percent, 60 percent of it. But more than half of all Americans — 53 percent — will pay more in taxes. As Trump told his wealthy friends at Mar-a-Lago just days after the tax bill became law, “You all just got a lot richer.”

He told you he’d repeal Obamacare and replace it with something “beautiful.” You bought it. But he didn’t repeal and he didn’t replace. (Just as well: His plan would have knocked at least 23 million off health insurance, including many of you.) Instead, he’s doing what he can to cut it back and replace it with nothing. The new tax law will result in 13 million people losing health coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

He said he’d clean the Washington swamp. You bought it. But he’s brought into his administration more billionaires, CEOs, and Wall Street moguls than in any administration in history, to make laws that will enrich their businesses, and he’s filled departments and agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who are crafting new policies for the same industries they recently worked for.

He said he’d release his taxes. “I’m under a routine audit and it’ll be released, and as soon as the audit is finished it will be released,“ he promised during the campaign. He hasn’t released his taxes.

All this and more is what Trump promised and did not deliver. But it got worse - a lot worse - for American democracy.

A year of reckoning

The Blue Meanie looks back at 2017 as the year of “not normal” and ahead to 2018 as the “year of reckoning.”

2017 will be remembered as the year of “This is not normal.”

A minority of Americans, thanks to the antiquated relic of an electoral college system that remains in our Constitution as a vestige of slavery more than 150 years after the end of the Civil War, elected an insecure man-child conspiracy theorist, reality TV actor, Twitter troll, grifter and con man president of the United States. A man who suffers from narcissistic personality disorder and delusions of grandeur, and who is a pathological liar … In a 30-minute interview, President Trump made 24 false or misleading claims. More ominously, he exhibits dangerous authoritarian tendencies. Donald Trump is a demagogue who aspires to be an autocratic strongman like the man he most admires, Vladimir Putin of Russia.

The Trump era represents an existential threat to our democratic Republic and all that we hold dear as Americans. It is time for American patriots to rise up and to come to the aid and defense of our country, and of our Constitution.

2018 must be a year of reckoning, a coming to terms with what Americans have inflicted upon themselves in recent years through their own indifference and neglect of our democratic institutions, political norms and values. Too many Americans have failed their basic civic duty as a citizen to participate in our democratic system of governance. Too many Americans have failed to do the bare minimum required of a citizen by failing to vote. Democracy is not a spectator sport, it requires your active participation.

Donald Trump will not be on the ballot in 2018, but “Trumpism,” an authoritarian cult of personality, will be on the ballot, represented by those who support and defend Donald Trump. 2018 is a referendum on “Trumpism” and Trump’s enablers. They must be removed from elected positions of power at every level of government, from local school boards and city councils to the halls of Congress.

The gathering storm

Joe Scarborough in the Dec. 28th Washington Post concurs that 2018 will be a year of reckoning for what was unleashed on America in 2016.

A storm is gathering, and there is every reason to believe that 2018 will be the most consequential political year of our lives.

The reckoning upon us follows a year mercifully drawing to a close this weekend. Over that horrid year, President Trump has questioned the legitimacy of federal judges, used Stalinist barbs to attack the free press and cast contempt on the rule of law, while his campaign manager, his national security adviser and a foreign policy aide have been marched into federal courts. Those anti-democratic instincts were made all the more ominous by his praising of autocrats across the world as they were ruthlessly consolidating power in countries such as Russia, China and the Philippines.

“The Gathering Storm” is on my holiday reading list because of Republican strategist Steve Schmidt’s insistence to me that Churchill’s ominous warnings to future generations will be more relevant to 2018 than at any time since it was written in the years after World War II. While Trump’s eroding of U.S. prestige across the globe is disturbing, it is his administration’s undermining of democratic values that poses an even greater threat to our Constitution and country. Borrowing again from Churchill, America’s constitutional norms tremble in the balance as Trump unleashes furious attacks on First Amendment protections, independent counsels and law enforcement officers who refuse to be bullied. While the framers of the Constitution foresaw the possibility of a tyrannical president, they never let their imaginations be darkened by the possibility of a compliant Congress.

Again, Churchill: “The malice of the wicked was reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous . . . They lived from hand to mouth and from day to day, and from one election to another . . . The cheers of weak, well-meaning assemblies soon cease to echo, and their votes soon cease to count. Doom marches on.”

Schmidt is right. The storm is gathering. And how we respond in the months ahead may determine our fate for years to come.

What true patriots must do

AZBlueMeanie again:

Americans have a stark choice to make in 2018 of what kind of country we want to be: the vibrant democratic Republic that our Founding Fathers left to us, or surrender to despair and the creeping fascism of “Trumpism,” and replace our democratic Republic with an authoritarian autocracy.

For true American patriots, this stark choice is an easy choice to make. We will defend our democratic Republic and our Constitution.

Turn your anger into action. Run for an elective office. Do not allow a Tea-Publican in elective office to run unopposed for election. Make your case to the voters and give the voters a clear choice on election day.

Volunteer your time and energy on the campaign of your choice. If you have no time available, then give financially what you can afford to the campaign of your choice.

Write letters to the editor of your local newspapers, call into talk radio programs, and engage your contacts on social media. Take to the streets and march for a cause you support. Speak up and make yourself heard.

It is time for American patriots to rise up and to come to the aid and defense of our country, and of our Constitution.

Want to grow Arizona? Try investing in education

Here’s a LTE from Holly Lyon featured on Linda Lyon’s blog, Restore Reason: Look beyond the next election to the children.

As published in the Arizona Republic on 12/28/17.

Too many Arizona lawmakers are focused on their next election, not the next generation. Arizonans have been clear about their support for public education. Unfortunately, many lawmakers prefer to cater to powerful, out-of-state donors instead of the citizens of Arizona.

We know good teachers are the most critical in-school factor to student success and yet, our elementary teachers are the lowest paid in the nation. What business would expect to attract the best employees by paying them the least of any competitor?

All it would take to get our teacher salaries up to the U.S. median is $1B of the over $12B in sales tax giveaways lawmakers currently allow corporations. Surely a look at return on investment is in order?

It’s time for real fiscal responsibility. It’s time for taxpayers to get what they are paying for. It’s time to invest in Arizona and Arizonans. It’s time to elect lawmakers that will do that.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A global leadership transition - America steps down while China steps up

Yesterday morning the Daily Star printed an op-ed by Fareed Zakaria, The great global story of our age, in which he takes America, and particularly the Trump administration, to task for abandoning 70 years of American global leadership.

… the largest trend today is the decline of American influence. Not the decline of American power — the country remains economically and militarily in a league of its own — but a decline of its desire and capacity to use that power to shape the world. The current administration seems intent on dismantling America’s great achievements — as it is doing with the World Trade Organization — or to simply be uninterested in setting the global agenda. Donald Trump will be the first president in nearly a century to end his first year in office without having held a state dinner for a foreign head of state.

And this erosion of America’s global leadership is already causing other countries to adjust. [Scriber: Zakaria cites Germany and Canada as examples.]

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a speech to the 19th Communist Party Congress in October that reflected his own recognition of these new realities. “China’s international standing has risen as never before,” he noted, and the nation is “blazing a new trail for other developing countries to achieve modernization.” Xi announced “a new era … that sees China moving closer to center stage and making greater contributions to mankind.” In previous speeches he suggested China would become the guarantor of the global trading order.

This, then, is the global story of our times. The creator, upholder and enforcer of the existing international system is withdrawing into self-centered isolation. The other great supporter and advocate of the open, rule-based world, Europe, has not been able to act assertively on the world stage with any clear purpose and remains obsessed with the fate of its own continental project. Filling the power vacuum, a host of smaller, illiberal powers — Turkey, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia — are surging forward in their respective regions. But only China truly has the wherewithal and strategic prowess to potentially shape the next chapter of the story of our age.

World Stage: Exit America

But our leaders either don’t recognize the rather earth-shaking shift, or are deluding themselves as part of their kow-towing to Trump, or just don’t care.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) provides more evidence for these claims as he picks apart a recent column in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says I Am Proud of Our Diplomacy. Benen counters: Despite Tillerson’s boasts, U.S. standing falters abroad.

Last week, ahead of a United Nations vote on Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the American president pressured member nations to oppose the measure. Trump even threatened U.S. allies, warning that he might cut off foreign aid for those who criticize his decision.

The U.N. General Assembly ignored Trump, voting 128 to 9 to rebuke the White House’s policy. As international rebukes go, the vote was a dramatic setback for the United States.

It’s against this backdrop that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wrote a new op-ed, published in today’s New York Times, assuring the public that Americans “should be encouraged” by the Trump administration’s diplomatic “progress.”

That’s one way to look at the international landscape. The L.A. Times had a good piece this week examining a more realistic view.

China has now assumed the mantle of fighting climate change, a global crusade that the United States once led. Russia has taken over Syrian peace talks, also once the purview of the American administration, whose officials Moscow recently deigned to invite to negotiations only as observers.

France and Germany are often now the countries that fellow members of NATO look to, after President Trump wavered on how supportive his administration would be toward the North Atlantic alliance.

And in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S., once the only mediator all sides would accept, has found itself isolated after Trump’s decision to declare that the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Across the board, on practically every issue, American influence under Trump has waned, at times as part of a deliberate White House strategy. The Times’ article cited international critics of the administration saying the Republican president has taken positions on a range of challenges that have “disqualified the United States from the debate or rendered it irrelevant.”

The assessments are bolstered by quantitative evidence that shows international confidence in the White House, most notably among our closest allies, collapsing in 2017.

Nicholas Burns, a former senior American diplomat under Republican and Democratic administrations, added, “Trump is weak on NATO, Russia, trade, climate, diplomacy. The U.S. is declining as a global leader.”

For more, see Benen’s piece and the LA Times’ report, Trump claims he’s boosting U.S. influence, but many foreign leaders see America in retreat.

This comment on Benen’s piece from Dennis, Columbus, Ohio, is telling.

Confidence in the US by other nations has dropped from 64% a year ago to just 22% this year.
See pages 6, 7 and 8 for great visuals.
It wasn’t even that low in any year during the GW Bush administration.

World Stage: Enter China

After our most recent trip to Africa in 2016, I reported on how China with a vision is Africa’s all weather friend, building railways and airports.

China’s enthusiasm for constructing railroads, schools and stadiums in Africa stands in marked contrast to the role of the United States, which has largely shied away from financing infrastructure on the continent. One of the few exceptions, Power Africa, a $9.7 billion initiative announced by President Barack Obama in 2013, has fallen far short of its goal of providing electricity to 20 million households within five years.

When it comes to trade, China surpassed the United States in 2009 to become Africa’s biggest trading partner.

Amadou Sy, director of the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution, said the United States was also missing opportunities to cultivate loyal customers.

“If you’re looking for new markets, Africa is the place to be,” he said. “But right now, the U.S. is not leveraging Africa’s huge potential. By contrast, the Chinese are there, and they are willing to take risks.”

Aboubaker Omar Hadi, chairman of the Djibouti Ports and Free Zones Authority, said he hoped the new railway linking his country to the Ethiopian capital would be just the first leg of a long-dreamed trans-Africa route, from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic.

“The train is already a game-changer,” he said, noting that it will cut to 12 hours what until now had been a grueling three- or four-day trip by truck.

Mr. Hadi praised the Chinese for going all in after Western banks declined to help finance the nation’s glaring infrastructure needs.

“We approached the U.S., and they didn’t have the vision,” he said. “They are not thinking ahead 30 years. They only have a vision of Africa from the past, as a continent of war and famine. The Chinese have vision.”

From the SkyIslandScriber archives here is more evidence of China’s growing economic and political influence around the globe.

America, you see, still has an influence on the world stage. We bankroll China as it does important stuff that we do not - or, in the era of Trump, we will not, and perhaps in the post-Trump world, we cannot.

Zakaria closes:

A decade ago, I described a “post-American world,” brought on not by the decline of America, but by the “rise of the rest.” That world is indeed coming to fruition because other countries are prospering, but the changes are being dramatically accelerated by the Trump administration’s foolish and self-defeating decision to abdicate America’s global influence — something that has taken more than 70 years to build. As the president might tweet, “Sad!”

Friday, December 29, 2017

Why real Republicans should 'stripe their ticket'

David Fitzsimmons posted this on Facebook.

A letter from my good friend, Jay Taylor, a lifelong Republican:

They’re not only fake Republicans, they’re fake people.

When my great-grandfather M.D. Taylor of Greeneville, Tennessee was on his deathbed a hundred and twenty years ago, his last words to his son, my grandfather, were, “Wilson, never stripe your ticket.” Never vote for a democrat. My granddad never did.

Neither did my dad, and I, at eighty years old, am a lifelong Republican. As an Arizona advertising man, I had the honor to write and produce Barry Goldwater’s ad campaign when he “re-ran” for Senate in 1968 after losing the presidential race to Lyndon Johnson.

By the way, for the political genius pundits who don’t understand history, Barry was never going to defeat LBJ; this country was not going to have a third president in eighteen months. The party knew it and that’s why they gave Goldwater “his turn.”

I got to know the senator well; he flew the two of us all over the state shooting TV commercials and print ads. He had my wife and me spend election night at his house watching the returns with his family.

In 1980, he called me in late…with three weeks left and five points behind. We tuned it around and he won his last term. In his last book he gave me full credit for that victory.

So I’m a Republican, in more ways than most people. But for how much longer, I don’t know. I am ashamed of my party, and I think Barry would be too. Thoroughly disgusted with the gutless GOP congress, whose suck-up members don’t have the balls to act on what they believe and try to remove this horror of a man we put in the most honorable position in the world.

He’s ignorant and mean. And he’s a child…think about it…you have never known anyone over five who says, “They’re not fair to me.” He will damage our great country.

I’m in limbo. I don’t want to stripe my ticket, don’t want to change to any other party. But I am sick of my own.

Jay Taylor

Scriber’s reaction/comment:

I appreciate and share Taylor’s disgust, but now he needs to do someething positive: suck it up and stripe his ticket.

Other commenters agreed.

Sarah Fajardo commented:

Don’t want to stripe my ticket? That’s the problem right there. Far more worried about the party than the country. Far more worried about loyalty than honesty or ethics. And truly if Jay Taylor is sick of the Republicans, why doesn’t he do something to oust the bastards who are not only destroying the party but the country as well? Words are cheap Mr Taylor. Action is hard but mandatory.

Bob Dorson commented:

How can you be in limbo, Jay, if you feel this strongly? You and every Repub in this country should be ashamed for continuing to support this dangerous man.

The problem running through all this is the Republicans’ agenda which aligns with Trump’s agenda. It’s not just support for Trump. It is the support for a fundamental set of principles which at heart are cruel and vindictive.

As illustration of my point, here is an interview by Joy Reid on The Rachel Maddow Show about Republicans’ likely response to their own addition to the deficit: slashing benefits.

New Republican tax plan explodes the deficit for a purpose
Bruce Bartlett, former Ronald Reagan domestic policy adviser, talks with Joy Reid about the expected fallout from the new tax plan and the Republican strategy to blow up the deficit with tax cuts for the rich so they can later argue a need to slash benefits to address the deficit. Duration: 7:41

The interview starts at about the 3:30 mark.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A morning quiz. Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming. Pick the two states that have something in common.

Why people really want to move to Idaho but are fleeing its neighbor, Wyoming. This is a most interesting set of stats reported by Andrew Van Dam in the Washington Post.

In terms of population growth, Idaho ranks 1st but Wyoming ranks dead last at 51. The reason, according to Van Dam, is that Wyoming is heavily resource dependent. It’s very rich in natural resources, particularly coal, but that makes it susceptible to boom-and-bust cycles. In contrast, Idaho has diversified.

Like Alaska and West Virginia, which also lost population in 2017, Wyoming is suffering from a tamer version of the “resource curse,” in which natural-resource wealth actually harms developing countries because it crowds out important long-term investments in infrastructure, education and industrialization.

Across the border in Idaho, the somewhat ironically nicknamed “Gem State” moved on from mines long ago, stepping first into agriculture and forestry, and later into manufacturing, technology and services.

Dependence on mining in 20 states
Dependence on mining in 20 states

Van Dam concludes: “It’s the tired old parable of two siblings, separated at birth. One began with natural gifts and found little incentive to grow beyond them, and another was forced to play a weaker hand but became stronger and more resilient in the process. …”

So what’s the answer to the morning quiz? Is Arizona more similar to Idaho or Wyoming? In terms of these stats Arizona is quite similar to Idaho. The accompanying graphic shows that, in terms of mining as a percentage of state GDP, Wyoming ranks 1st out of 20, but Idaho ranks 19th. Arizona ranks 18th.

What about population growth? As mentioned above, Wyoming, and another coal-dependent state, West Virginia, are at the bottom, actually losing population. Idaho is ranked first in population gain. Arizona ranks 6th.

So the next time someone tells you that mining is a big deal in Arizona, you can use these stats as a talking point. 1.29% of GDP is not a big deal. We definitely do not need another open pit mine that trashes our real natural resources - those things that attract people to Arizona.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

9 AM on Sunday, January 7th

Hello Supporters of Public Education,
Thanks very much to all of you who supported and advocated for Arizona’s public community schools and the one million students they serve! We can be thankful for the success we had this year — much of it do to the grassroots efforts of Save Our Schools AZ, but we know we can’t let our guard down. If we are to get our students fully funded classrooms, our teachers a living wage, and our taxpayers what they are paying for…we must remain vigilant and ensure we stand up both daily, and at the ballot box in November, to ensure our voices are heard and our priorities are respected!
I would really appreciate your reading the rest of this post to learn about an easy way you can “stand up” for our public schools on January 7th at 9am. You don’t even have to get out of your fuzzy slippers, leave your house or open your wallet. All you have to do is help spread the word. Please read on to learn more.
Last spring I was invited out east to participate in a video shoot for the Network for Public Education (NPE). I was part of a group of speakers—parents, students, educators, school board members—who came from all over the country to speak on topics of import to the health of public education and the children we serve: full funding, “accountability,” charters, vouchers, high-stakes testing, teacher deprofessionalization, school closures, and more. The series 8 Powerful Voices in Defense of Public Education emerged from that shoot.

Saint Jeff is no dragon slayer

Jeff Flake, the GOP senator raises alarm about ‘the spasms of a dying party’, but then votes for/with Trump anyway. Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) pins Flake to the wall on this one.

When Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) announced in October that he’d retire at the end of his current term, the Arizona Republican made clear he was dissatisfied, not only with Donald Trump, but with the direction of his party. Soon after, when Alabama Republicans nominated Roy Moore in a Senate special election, Flake supported the Democratic candidate.

Over the weekend, the GOP senator appeared on ABC’s “This Week,” and continued to speak out in ways most Republicans don’t.

“…I do believe if the president is running for re-election, if he continues on the path that he’s on, that that’s gonna leave a huge swath of voters looking for something else…. He’s probably inviting a Republican challenge as well. But certainly an independent challenge, yes.”

When pressed, Flake did not explicitly rule out the possibility of his own 2020 national campaign. He went on to criticize Trump’s rejection of “shared facts” as being bad for democracy, and said the president’s support for Roy Moore’s candidacy will leave a “lasting” stain on the GOP.

Perhaps most strikingly, Flake added in the same interview, in reference to his party’s base, “When you look at some of the audiences cheering for Republicans sometimes you look out there and you say, ‘Those are the spasms of a dying party.’ When you look at the lack of diversity sometimes – and it depends on where you are, obviously – but by and large, we’re appealing to older white men and there are just a limited number of them, and anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy. So you have to actually govern and do something, and sooner or later the votes will figure out, I think they are and have, that we’ve gotta have something else.”

I imagine for many Americans discouraged by Trump and Republican radicalism, Flake’s on-air comments struck an encouraging chord. There’s just one problem: Flake’s voting record.

As much as the Arizona senator sounds the alarm about the contemporary GOP, by one metric, Flake still votes with Trump more than 90% of the time, including voting with his party on the Republicans’ regressive and unpopular tax breaks. Flake also continues to support Trump’s most outrageous judicial nominees, just as he continues to vote for his party’s far-right agenda across the board.

It’s curious to see a senator lament “the spasms of a dying party,” only to see that same senator link arms with his brethren in that “dying party,” voting for each of its priorities.

The disconnect is more than a little jarring.

Given his voting record, does anyone think that Flake is Saint Jeff, the dragon slayer, in 2020? You can track Flake’s hypocrisy at the 538 project.

All the vulnerable people

I was hoping for some exchange opportunities on Boxing Day. No such luck. We are still stuck with the 2017 version of the Hatch Act (aka tax cut bill) and a continuing resolution that leaves behind so many.

Helaine Olen (Washington Post/Plum Line) IDs those who lost - or stand to lose - As lawmakers rush home, a lot of vulnerable people are in limbo.

President Trump just left Washington for Mar-a-Lago, and members of Congress are scattering around the country as they head home for the holiday break. But let’s not forget that there are a number of very big, unresolved issues they’ve left behind.

And those issues involve the lives of millions of very vulnerable people, whose fates are, right now, in limbo. Here’s a quick list:

  • As I write, the Trump administration is considering moving forward with an all-but-unthinkable-sounding plan to separate parents and kids if they are intercepted while entering the United States without legal permission.
  • Hundreds of thousands of “dreamers” don’t know whether they will receive legal protections before their protected status expires for good.
  • Long-term funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program remains mostly unresolved; the program benefits 9 million children.
  • The repeal of the individual mandate as part of the tax overhaul could result in millions uninsured — and there’s no telling whether Republicans will agree to try to stabilize the insurance markets.

We’ve become inured to the cruelty of it all. There are so many things the Trump administration and congressional Republicans do that could or will result in unbelievable harm to many Americans that it sometimes seems impossible to keep up with it all.

To try to ward off your feelings of helplessness, here are some sources of (dark) humor to kick off 2018.

Commenter Liza on the AZBlueMeanie post at Blog for Arizona, Trump inspired Christmas tune parodies, provides links to two great videos from The Parody Project.

12 Months of Trump’s Mess (as in 12 Days of Christmas).

Age that will bury us (as in Age of Aquarius).

For a few more gems, check out the Blue Meanie’s post.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Trumpmas is the real war on Christmas

On this day after Christmas, a major Christian holiday, it is appropriate to do some reflection on our majority religion. Here’s why: The Alabama special US Senate election exposed one of the biggest hypocrisies of the Trump era - the Christian faith.

Full disclosure: Your Scriber was raised as a great plains Lutheran of the “Ya, sure, you betcha” sort. (For more, go view the movie Fargo.) My parents were voting Republicans, or, at least, I’m 99% sure they were. I never heard them connect their faith and their politics. But now the fractures in our society have changed that. I admit that long ago my faith became a casualty of the sales of Christianity to the far right.

Christians Need a New Right-to-Life Movement writes NY Times op-ed writer Margaret Renkl. (h/t Lise Hicks.) Renkl defends her critique of her own religion by noting that “conservative Christianity is in lock step with the Republican party.” Lest you have any doubt, she reports that “Eighty percent of white born-again Christians voting in Alabama backed Roy Moore.”

… I’m trying to understand the country I’ve found myself in since last year’s election, and these days I look hard for common ground.

It isn’t easy to find. In her new book “Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics,” R. Marie Griffith explains the divide between liberal and conservative Christians as a casualty of “the sex wars” — disagreements over women’s rights, birth control, abortion and L.G.B.T. issues. By the time the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, she writes, “the rupture between Christian antagonists in the sex wars felt irremediable: one could plausibly argue that Christianity had flat out split into two virtually nonoverlapping religions.”

… the special Senate election in Alabama has exposed how closely conservative Christianity is now in lock step with the Republican Party … when faithful Christians vote for a man credibly accused of child molesting, something is terribly wrong with Christianity. (With white Christianity, that is: Black Christians overwhelmingly supported the Democratic candidate, Doug Jones.) Eighty percent of white born-again Christians voting in Alabama backed Roy Moore, and there is no skirting the damage they’ve done to their own moral standing.

The day of the election, the editor in chief of Christianity Today, Mark Galli, identified the biggest loser in Alabama: Christian faith itself. From now on, Mr. Galli wrote, “When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation.”

What Christians need is a new right-to-life movement, one in which we agree to disagree about contentious issues of sexuality and focus instead on what we share, on what we all believe. Jesus had nothing to say about birth control or abortion or homosexuality. He did have quite a lot to say about the poor and the vulnerable, and maybe that’s a good place to start.

Surely Christians across the political spectrum believe we’re called to feed the hungry, heal the sick, protect the weak and welcome the stranger. If we can agree on that much, and if we can keep our shrieking differences from wrecking the quiet conviction of shared belief, we could create a culture of life that has a chance of transcending the sex wars. I find myself hoping for a day when conservative Christian voters can elect conservative representatives for whom feeding the hungry and caring for the sick and welcoming refugees aren’t political issues at all.

Renkl describes a Nashville program that provides some temporary housing and meals for homeless families.

Homeless babies. The very thought is enough to make a person weep.

It’s Christmas, the day Christians celebrate a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger because there was no room for his family at the inn. We owe it to that infant to do better by the babies here among us. To do better by their parents, trying so hard to keep them fed and clothed and healthy. We owe it to him to throw open our arms and the doors of our inns. “You who are hungry and hurting and alone and afraid, come inside,” we will say. “You belong here.”

I’ve read calls for abandoning identity politics in favor of addressing pocket-book issues. Christians might do well to heed that call. If they do not, like the shrinking percentage of old white male voters, they will find their moral majority shrinking to an immoral minority.

Monday, December 25, 2017

What makes Trump's scandals different from those of previous presidents

The presidency survived the Watergate, Iran-contra and Clinton scandals. Trump will exact a higher toll. This review of three books by Carlos Lozada in the Washington Post shows that “Histories of past presidential scandals reveal common threads and turning points – but also show how Trump stands alone.

In my review of this review I’m skipping the details of the earlier scandals and moving to what makes Trump special when compared to Nixon, Reagan, and Clinton.

Trump appears Nixonian in his disregard for democratic norms, Clintonian in his personal recklessness and beyond Reaganesque in his distance from the details of policy. But where the parallels and parables of past scandals fall apart is with Trump’s well-documented disregard for truth. In Watergate, Iran-contra and the Clinton impeachment, views of the president’s honesty played a significant role for the public, for administration officials and for lawmakers torn over how to proceed.

Normally, revelations of presidential deceit are consequential. When Nixon speechwriter Patrick Buchanan, among the most devoted of the president’s men, explained to Nixon family members why a damning Oval Office recording meant that resignation was inevitable, he emphasized not law but dishonesty. “The problem is not Watergate or the cover-up,” he argued. “It’s that he hasn’t been telling the truth to the American people. The tape makes it evident that he hasn’t leveled with the country for probably eighteen months. And the President can’t lead a country he has deliberately misled.” When Sen. Susan Collins of Maine (one of a handful of Senate Republicans who ultimately voted against both articles of impeachment for Clinton) was agonizing over the decision, her misgivings centered on the president’s forthrightness. “She could not get over Clinton’s recklessness — it was as if he could not stop doing wrong, could not tell the truth,” Baker reports. And some of Reagan’s worst Iran-contra moments came in statements the president made in late 1986 and early 1987, when his questionable mastery of details and shifting rationales received tough scrutiny. In a March 1987 Oval Office speech, he finally (and mostly) fessed up. “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages,” Reagan said. “My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.”

In my mind, it is questionable whether Donald Trump possesses even this modicum of self-awareness.

The current president does not even attempt to save face. Fact-checkers have documented so many of Trump’s false or misleading statements during the 2016 campaign and into the first year of his presidency that there is no presumption of honesty left to squander. Even when Trump dismisses the fact checks as fake news — in effect, being dishonest about his dishonesty — it doesn’t seem to matter. Trump’s relentless attacks against anyone seeking to hold him accountable help neutralize the impact on his supporters.

During Watergate, top Nixon aides worried that the material on the Oval Office tapes — not just the disclosures of wrongdoing but also the “amorality” of Nixon’s words and thoughts — would hurt the president and the presidency. Ziegler was adamantly opposed to releasing transcripts, Woodward and Bernstein write, because “there was rough language on the tapes,” candid discussions that would “offend Middle America, destroy his mandate.” Once certain transcripts were made public, Nixon lawyer Leonard Garment worried that president had “allowed America into the ugliness of his mind — as if he wanted the world to participate in the despoliation of the myth of presidential behavior. . . . That was the truly impeachable offense: letting everyone see.”

With Trump, we’ve already seen it, and we already know it. His tweets are his Nixon tapes; the “Access Hollywood” recording his Starr report; his heedlessness for checks, balances and the rule of law his Iran-contra affair. Offending does not destroy his mandate, it fulfills it. The expectation of integrity has given way to a cynical acceptance of deceit. As much as anything Mueller uncovers, this is the scandal of our time.

Tax cuts to trickle down to Tiny Tim

Just kidding. Read on.

Following are two tweets from @SpeakerRyan.

“At the end of each year, no matter how short—or long—it may feel, there is always Christmas. Waiting for us is that sense of wonder the shepherds felt when the angels appeared in the night sky to herald the birth of a Savior.”

“BREAKING NEWS → The biggest #TaxReform in a generation is now the law of the land. As promised, real tax relief is on the way for the American people. Merry Christmas!”

If you have a reasonably rich mental imagery, you can imagine Ryan saying these things with a straight face.

If not, you’ll have to settle for the Monday Mourning edition of the illustrated news via toons from AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona.. He starts with tax cuts for the wealthy and Tiny Tim as a stand-in for those kids on CHIP. Correction - those kids who used to be on CHIP.

My fave?
Mike Pence: ’Tis the season to celebrate our precious savior.
2nd Lady: Shut up about Trump already.

Imagine that. Merry Christmas.

Aw, heck. Take heart. Things can change. Recall Tiny Tim’s quote and the end of the 1984 movie in which Scrooge, played by George C. Scott, has a major makeover.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Loving my country more

These days I often fear for my country, our country, a country that is suffering attacks by its own president and his gang of adulating authoritarian a$$ ki$$ers. So, I was looking for something uplifting, or at least a unifying theme for a number of news stories appearing in the last few days about Trumpian deeds that I find deep down in my guts as somewhere between revolting and horrifying. Here’s a partial list.

The Faustian Bargain. The Republican Grovelling at the White House Was an Alarm Call for 2018. “The Republican congressional leadership is happy to feed the Napoleonic pretensions of a chronically insecure President in order to get its way… Congresswoman Diane Black, of Tennessee, put it … bluntly. “Thank you, President Trump, for allowing us to have you as our President,” she said … Trump, his ego as fragile as an eggshell, demands constant flattery. But this was cravenness of a level rare even for Washington … At an end-of-year Cabinet meeting that was held shortly before the celebration on the South Lawn, the Vice-President praised his boss fourteen times in three minutes—once every 12.5 seconds, the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake pointed out …”. Allowing??? WTF? I think the word that describes all this in a monarchy is “genuflection.”

Remember in November: McSally sucks up … and other hypocrisies. Which Arizona lawmakers are President Donald Trump’s biggest supporters, opponents?. “U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, a Republican who also represents the Tucson area, ended the year as the state’s most reliable vote for Trump, siding with him 97 percent of the time … U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, a Republican who is quitting next year after frequently locking horns with Trump, backed the president’s agenda 91 percent of the time … [Kyrsten] Sinema, who represents the north-central Phoenix area, scored 50 percent. That made her the third-most conservative Democrat in the House by that measure.” Like I said: genuflection.

The Russian Connection. Here’s what we know so far about Team Trump’s ties to Russian interests - it’s a great interactive graphic showing the myriad of connections between Russia and Trump, his family, and his suckers-up. Two former chief White House ethics lawyers (for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively) describe The Four Threats to Robert Mueller and his Russia investigation.

The tax cue bill. Charles Blow rips into The Great American Tax Heist: “With their tax bill, Donald Trump and the Republicans are raiding the Treasury in plain sight, throwing crumbs to the masses as the millionaires and billionaires make off with the cake. America should be aghast not only at the looting but also at the brazenness of its execution. … The middle class and the poor were never at the heart of this heartless bill. They are simply a veneer behind which a crime is occurring: the great American tax heist.”

Destroying our country one agency at a time. EPA exemplifies the consequences of Trump’s X/Anti-X formula for tearing down government agencies that exits for the public good. E.P.A. Officials, Disheartened by Agency’s Direction, Are Leaving in Droves

“I’ve never loved my country more.”

In spite of all that, Ruth Marcus (Washington Post’s Deputy editorial page editor) explains why I’ve never loved my country more and thus she provides the theme I was seeking.

Here, for me at least, is the comforting paradox of the age of Trump: I have never respected a president less, nor loved my country more.

This sentiment may startle. It may rankle, even. It comes in a week that witnessed the passage of the worst domestic policy legislation of my lifetime, followed by the now ritual but always repulsive lauding of President Trump. First by the Cabinet courtiers summoned for that purpose; next by Republican lawmakers willing to lay it on just as thick — even more nauseating, because they know better than the servile flattery of their words and because they occupy, theoretically anyway, a coequal branch.

And this patriotic burst comes disconcertingly in a year that has seen the public display of the racist, xenophobic worst that America has to offer. These ugly impulses existed long before Donald Trump’s pursuit of the presidency and will, sadly, outlast him. [Scriber: Not incidentally that’s been my claim - that the real story of 2016 is not Trump but those who elected him.]

Moral Americans — and the Alabama Senate results suggest there remains, pardon the phrase, a moral majority — recoil at the president’s support for a candidate credibly accused of molesting a 14-year-old, at his incessant lies, at his (and his family’s) unabashed willingness to use government service as just another pocket-lining opportunity. This litany is made all the more disgusting by the complicity of so many members of his party.

And yet, I am thankful for Trump in this sense: He has unleashed my inner patriot. I love my country, for all its flaws and for all its flawed leader.

It is worth the fighting for. I knew this, always, on an intellectual level. The Trump presidency has made me feel it, viscerally and passionately. The ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and implemented through the careful structures and capacious phrases of the Constitution do not merely compel our respect. In the Trump era, they require our passionate defense.

Once we took for granted, as a given of American democracy, such fundamental values as freedom of the press, the rule of law, the separation of powers, the independence of the judiciary. Now we have a president who veers between failure to understand their importance and deliberate efforts to undermine them.

He is similarly heedless of the qualities that have always made America great, most notably its willingness not only to enshrine these values at home but also to play a leadership role in nurturing them abroad. Trump’s America is bristlingly insular and driven by zero-sum selfishness. Mine is welcoming, idealistic and generous — a shining city, not a walled fortress.

More than “no” - a beacon for 2018

Marcus concludes:

Those of us on the more liberal side of the political spectrum have too often and too easily ceded the mantle of patriot to conservatives. Indeed, there can be an off-putting, chest-thumping aspect to traditional, bumper-sticker patriotism: “My country, right or wrong.” “America, love it or leave it.”

George Washington, in his farewell address, advised fellow citizens to “guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.” It is hard not to recall that admonition when listening to Trump’s faux-patriotic posturing against kneeling NFL players and his demand that they show “total respect for our national anthem, for our flag, for our country.”

Real patriotism would be to recognize, as the Supreme Court did three decades ago in overturning a criminal conviction for burning the American flag, that “we do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.”

Real patriotism would be not to denounce the “Russia hoax” but to insist that Congress — and for that matter, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — get to the bottom of what happened in the 2016 election and, even more imperative, that the United States strengthen its defenses to prevent future meddling.

That is the patriotism Trump has awoken, in me and so many others. Because our fundamental fight is not against Trump. It is for America.

Confronted with the Trumpian tragedy, the Trumpist travesties, I felt my love for America, the “welcoming, idealistic and generous shining city”, slipping. Marcus provides a defense against such depression.

And if America wins because of our efforts, one year from tomorrow we will celebrate a better holiday season.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Thinking ahead (to 2020)

It’s never too early to start considering Presidential candidates. Aaron Blake (Washington Post/The Fix) IDs The top 15 Democratic presidential candidates for 2020, ranked. I truncated the list to the top 10.
–10. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (Previous: 9) While others on this list have taken a step forward during the sexual harassment debate, Cuomo has taken a step back. Asked about allegations against a former senior aide and what he perhaps could have done differently, Cuomo told a reporter, “When you say it’s state government, you do a disservice to women, with all due respect, even though you’re a woman.” He added: “It’s not government, it’s society." If the current debate has shown us anything, it’s that politicians would be best served not to downplay these issues when they hit close to home.
–9. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (Previous: 10) On this list, Brown provides the most complete blend of progressive politics, populism, white working-class appeal, and coming from a vital swing state. That should never be discounted.
–8. California Gov. Jerry Brown (Previous: 5)
I had Brown a bit higher on this list last time around, despite the fact that he turns 80 in a few months. And now California has moved its primary much earlier, to March. That’s a huge swath of delegates for a California-based candidate to nab very early in the process.
–7. Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy (Previous: 3)
Murphy provided one of those perfunctory nondenial denials back in October. Asked by CBS News if he might run, he said: “I am not running for president. I am running for reelection to the Senate.” This is what politicians say when they need to make sure they get reelected first. It’s also completely in the present tense, so it will still be accurate if he does decide to run for president after he wins reelection in 2018.
–6. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (Previous: 8)
Booker told Politico last month that it would be “irresponsible” for anyone to say they will or won’t run for president in 2020 this far out. (In that spirit, I will also not rule out running.) This just feels like the time for Booker.
–5. California Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Previous: 7)
A few months ago, Harris got out front when it came to supporting single-payer health care. Last week, she got out front when it came to calling for President Trump to resign. If the 2020 Democratic primary is a race to the left, she seems intent upon not letting anyone outflank her.
–4. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (Previous: 6)
It was Trump’s tweet about Gillibrand that sparked Harris to act. After Gillibrand herself had urged Trump to resign, he tweeted that as a New York senator she “would do anything for” campaign contributions — which many took to be sexually suggestive. It’s difficult to imagine a bigger gift when it comes to raising Gillibrand’s profile in advance of a 2020 run for the Democratic nomination. Gillibrand also recently said she thought Bill Clinton should have resigned in the face of his own sexual misconduct allegations, and she was the first senator to call for fellow Democratic Sen. Al Franken (Minn.) to step down.

2020 candidates
Two 2020 candidates

–3. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Previous: 4)
If Warren runs, I think she tops this list. But I have a difficult time seeing her running if Bernie Sanders does, and I think Sanders is very likely to run. Warren has shown comparatively little inclination to run and hasn’t been front-and-center in helping elect Democrats or speaking to the media — though the latter seems to be changing at least somewhat.
–2. Former vice president Joe Biden (Previous: 2)
Biden remains in the second spot on this list, but not as firmly as before. The recent spate of sexual harassment allegations against politicians — and the reevaluation of past allegations — has put Biden’s handling of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings back in the spotlight. Biden, who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, has apologized more than once for how Anita Hill was treated, while also stressing he opposed Thomas’s nomination. But Hill has said Biden’s apology isn’t good enough. If the Democratic Party continues to make this a focal point over the next couple years, Biden’s actions could be gone through with a fine-toothed comb in a way he would rather they weren’t.
–1. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (Previous: 1)
A must-read story from Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti recently showed how Sanders conspicuously seems to be addressing the shortcomings that hampered his candidacy in 2016 — most notably his lack of familiarity with foreign policy and of inroads with powerful pro-Democratic groups, such as the American Federation of Teachers. Sanders has done nothing to diminish speculation that he will run again; the biggest question is, and will be, his age (76) — as it is with Brown (79) and Biden (75).

Why the tax cut bill should-could hurt the GOP in November

Tiny Tim condemned to death by GOP tax scam
David Fitzsimmons:
GOP tax scam throws Tiny Tim under the bus

I’m connecting three threads in this post. The first is that resistance to the GOP tax bill was doomed from the start. But, second, the Republican tax bill “success” will be a drag on Republicans at the polls in the November elections. Third, the current evidence suggests that Dems are headed for a blue wave this coming year.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) explains Why the opposition to the Republican tax plan wasn’t enough.

The comparison between the health care fight and the tax fight are probably inevitable, and may help explain the different outcomes. Far more Americans were poised to suffer under the GOP’s proposed health care changes – and suffer more severely – which was reflected in the intensity of the public backlash.

That said, I’m at a loss to think of something critics of the Republican tax plan could’ve done to derail the bill that they didn’t do.

When there’s one party that controls all the levers of federal power, and that party can pass their top goal by majority rule, the opposition has limited options. Its principal objective is obvious: make the majority party’s goal as unpopular as possible in order to pressure the majority party’s members to break ranks.

In this case, the GOP’s progressive opponents did that: the Republican tax plan is the least popular major piece of legislation in three decades. At the same time, Democrats collected a mountain of evidence – from economists, from official score-keepers, from stakeholders across multiple industries – effectively making a bullet-proof case that this legislation is dangerously misguided.

But it didn’t matter, not because the progressive case was weak, and not because activists didn’t show up to be heard, but because the case was ultimately irrelevant. Republicans were going to pass this bill no matter what. Polls and protests weren’t going to dissuade them, and for GOP lawmakers, economic data was even less important to the party.

With that in mind, those looking for someone to blame for what transpired over the last seven weeks should probably focus on those who actually voted for this thing.

And that is what I did in my Wednesday post, Tax cut bill conceived in dishonesty was passed by corrupt Senators.

However: what we progressives did or did not do in the short run may have been a boon to the progressive cause in the long run. The tax cut bill passed by the GOP may prove to be a boondoggle hanging around Republican necks come November.

James Hohmann in the Washington Post’s Daily 202 lists 10 reasons Democrats think the tax bill will be a political loser for Trump’s GOP in the midterms. I’ll list them here, but for explanation, you should go read Hohmann’s article.

THE BIG IDEA: Democrats feel confident that the tax bill, which cleared Congress on Wednesday, will be an albatross for Republicans in the midterm elections.

Yesterday’s Daily 202 argued that the legislation is likely to become more popular after President Trump signs it into law — partly because people’s expectations start off so low, support is still soft among Republicans, and major advertising campaigns are being planned to promote it.

In the two-and-a-half years I’ve been writing the 202, I’ve never received so much pushback. Top operatives at all the relevant Democratic committees and outside groups, as well as the most prominent progressive pollsters in town and campaign managers in the states, argued passionately that the tax bill is not going to become a winner for the GOP. They shared a battery of private polling and reports on focus groups to make their case.

“Calling this thing a win because Republicans finally got something done is like saying the captain of the Titanic won when he successfully found that reclusive iceberg,” said Jesse Ferguson, the former director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s independent expenditure arm.

He was one of two dozen Democratic operatives I spoke with yesterday. Here are their 10 points that came up most frequently:

  • Most folks who pay lower taxes will not save enough to care.
  • Voters don’t just think the bill benefits the wealthy. They think it benefits the wealthy at their expense.
  • Trump is an ineffective messenger.
  • Congressional leaders aren’t good pitchmen either.
  • Conservative groups have already spent more than $70 million promoting an overhaul of the tax code, by some estimates, and most people still don’t think the bill is good. How will new commercials do what the previous ones could not?
  • The most effective GOP messages to grow support for the bill are not true.
  • The tax debate has allowed Democrats to open an advantage over Republicans on the broader question of who voters trust more to manage the economy, which is still a top concern.
  • By repealing the individual mandate, Republicans now own the health-care mess.
  • Polls show voters are receptive to the argument that Republicans did not sufficiently reach across the aisle or work in good faith with Democrats to make the bill better.
  • Ronald Reagan did not benefit politically from cutting taxes in either 1982 or 1986.

So the short of it is this: Trump and the GOPlins killed health care for millions of Americans while reaping millions of dollars for themselves.

Republicans may not want to run on that platform but Democrats most certainly will. Here’s a snipshot from the Huffington Post on what the Alabama special election and latest polls predict about 2018: After Alabama, Pollsters See Reasons To Expect A Democratic Surge.

Even before Democrats’ victory in last week’s Alabama Senate election, there were signs that Republicans may be in trouble in the year ahead. Democrats overperformed in dozens of other special elections this year. Their generic ballot numbers are remarkably strong. And while it’s early in the election cycle, some polling gives the party a distinct advantage in enthusiasm ahead of next year’s congressional midterms.

Democrat Doug Jones’ win in Alabama, the culmination of an atypical race, was just the latest evidence of the potential for a blue wave of voters to show up in 2018, pollsters say. And it’s already affecting how they’re trying to figure out who will turn out next November.

“What fascinated me is, as bizarre as this was, the things that we made assumptions about based on [the outcomes] in Virginia and Georgia and South Carolina did play out in Alabama in the same way,” Patrick Murray, Monmouth University’s polling director, told HuffPost. “I think we’re seeing a pattern form.”

Normally, Murray said he’d set a high bar when trying to determine who’s likely to vote in a midterm election, screening out most people who don’t have a history of voting regularly. But next year, that may not be the right approach.

“We are getting voters who are either new voters or have only voted in presidential elections who are coming out in these special elections or midterms,” Murray said. “That changes the model significantly.”

Others in the field are drawing similar conclusions. Jones won in part by turning out “people who have never come out in a midterm or special election,” John Anzalone, a Democratic pollster based in Alabama, told CNN, describing those voters as “disproportionately our people.” Democrats, noted Chris Jackson of the polling firm Ipsos, voted last week as if the Alabama Senate race was a presidential election. Republicans voted as though it were a midterm. That fact will be among the data Ipsos will take into consideration next year.

The Huff Post article’s subtitle is: “But figuring out who’s likely to vote remains a challenge.” That’s the wrong question. The real challenge is getting folks out to vote for progressive candidates. We need to recognize that “no” is not enough and we need to connect to voters’ economic concerns. We can start by asking “what’s in your wallet?”

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Are Bob Stump's Arizona Corporation Commission emails now public?l

A new court ruling provides an opportunity to connect some dots spanning two years and two elections.

Officials’ cell phones may be public records reports Jim Small (Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting) in this morning’s GV News.

In a ruling last week, the Arizona Court of Appeals held that a public employee’s private cell phone records can be considered public records if the employee used the cell phone for a public purpose.

The unanimous ruling from a three-judge panel contradicts an attorney general’s opinion earlier this year that concluded communications made by public employees or elected officials solely on private electronic devices or private social media accounts are never public record, even if those devices or accounts are used to conduct public business.

Judge Paul J. McMurdie wrote in the court’s opinion that, under Arizona’s public records statutes, “a public employee’s private cell phone records pertaining to the conduct of public business may become public records subject to disclosure if a public records requestor establishes the employee used the cell phone for a public purpose.”

Attorney David Bodney, who regularly represents media outlets seeking public records from government officials, said the ruling supersedes the opinion of Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who held that Arizona public records laws are limited to electronic communications or records on government devices or social media accounts only.

In the past, elected officials and government workers have denied public records requests for text messages and direct messages on social media accounts on the grounds that they were made on private devices or private accounts, and thus weren’t covered by public records law.

In addition to requiring disclosure of public records from the private devices of government officials, Bodney said the ruling means “there could be consequences” for officials who don’t retain those records. Under Arizona law, it is a felony to destroy or “otherwise impair the availability of any public record.”

The trick here is how to establish that “the employee used the cell phone for a public purpose.” How does one go about determining that the records were for a public purpose without knowing the content of those records in advance? The answer: use metadata - the phone logs of who called who. Here’s a case study.

Back in July of 2015 I posted this update on a scandal that snared Arizona Corporation Commissioner Bob Stump, Arizona Public Service and its parent company, and two candidates for the ACC: Stumped by Stump’s Stunts? Here’s the latest rundown on the Corporation Commission texting scandal.. Snipshots follow.

Here are some reminders about the background on the matter of Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) member (and former ACC chair) Bob Stump’s communications with a lobbyist, Republican candidates for ACC, and dark money operative.

Prior to the 2014 election Stump sent many text messages using an ACC iPhone. The details of those messages including phone numbers, but not the content, were obtained by the watchdog group, Checks and Balances Project (CBP). Then started a battle royale between the ACC and CBP. ACC refuses to share the phone with CBP and claims the texts of the messages do not exist. CBP counters that ACC could get those messages from Verizon by subpoena. In the latest bout, Stump has complained to the media that CBP is cherry-picking the messages. CBP replied by publishing the entire listing of Stump’s text messages and their phone numbers. Stump decried the invasion of his privacy. CBP dug in and laid the blame on ACC’s refusal to go after the content of Stump’s text messages.

To get a full appreciation for this battle, you need to read the most recent articles and posts [which I listed].

I quoted the CBP:

Accessing the text messages would answer several questions related to Stump’s communications.

The text logs show Stump communicated with two candidates for the commission, Tom Forese and Doug Little, as well as the head of an independent group that spent money supporting those candidates.

Campaign laws prohibit candidates from coordinating with such independent “dark-money” groups, and the Checks and Balances Project has suggested Stump could have been acting as a go-between for the group.

Stump’s text log also showed he communicated during the election season with an official from Arizona Public Service Co. The electric utility is regulated by the commission and is widely believed to have donated money to dark-money groups that supported Forese and Little, who won their elections.

Without the actual content of the text messages, it is impossible to determine whether Stump was merely communicating with friends, as he has said, or helping coordinate campaign spending, as Checks and Balances suggests.

The text messages also could answer whether Stump broke commission rules over communications with companies with business at the commission that is scheduled for a hearing.

But the latest court ruling suggests (to Scriber who is not a lawyer) that all those emails are public so we could have access to the actual content - unless they were purposefully scrubbed, in which case there is a different, potential culpability on the part of the scrubber.

But this development might be destined for the scrap heap of history. The CBP Arizona archives appear to be closed due to a flawed court action for StumpGate.

However, the story of dark money in the 2014 election of Republican commissioners continues. Commissioner Bob Burns keeps trying to ferret out that story. Latest developments in the legal wrangling between Burns and APS is reported by Howard Fischer in this morning’s Daily Star: Law’s wording to play key role in court case involving APS’ political spending. The issue now is whether Burns as an lone individual commissioner has the constitutional authority to subpoena records from companies that are regulated by the ACC. My reading of the AZ statute suggests to me that Burns is right. But, hey, I’m a non-lawyer so what do I know.

FYI: Stump has announced a run for the AZ CD8 seat vacated by Trent Franks’ resignation. The Washington Post reports that Republicans jump in as elections to replace Rep. Franks set.

Two Republicans immediately announced they would run in the Feb. 27 primary: Bob Stump, a former utility regulator and state Sen. Steve Montenegro. Both are painting themselves as conservatives, with Montenegro vowing to back President Donald Trump and Stump touting the expertise he developed as a regulator.

Maybe that expertise includes keeping public records private.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tax cut bill conceived in dishonesty was passed by corrupt Senators

Paul Krugman accurately predicted the events of yesterday in Passing Through to Corruption.

Unless something drastic happens, this will be the week Republicans ram through a tax cut that adds more than a trillion dollars to federal debt while undermining health care for millions. They will do so by violating all previous norms for major legislation, having held not a single hearing and rushed to a vote before the new senator from Alabama could be seated.

UPDATE: Both chambers passed the tax cut bill along party lines - strictly so in the Senate last night. More on that below. If you convert Krugman’s comments that follow in the past tense, you would be current.

The question is, why are they doing this? For this bill isn’t just a policy crime; it also seems to be a political mistake. It will, however, be good, one way or another, for the bank accounts of quite a few Republican members of Congress. Is that why it will pass?

This bill, however, faces heavy disapproval. Ordinary voters may not be able to parse all the details, but they have figured out that this bill is a giveaway to corporations and the wealthy that will end up hurting most families. This negative view isn’t likely to change.

Nevertheless, Republicans have persisted. Why?

One answer may be that they really believe that tax cuts will unleash a huge economic boom. There’s almost complete consensus among experts that it will do no such thing — but the G.O.P. has been waging war on expertise in all fields. (Among the terms reportedly banned by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are “evidence based” and “science based.”)

So you get people like the Republican congressman who told CNBC’s John Harwood that his colleagues told him there are models predicting huge gains (there aren’t), that he doesn’t know what those models are, but that he trusts his party’s line.

… most disturbing, possible explanation for the behavior of Republican legislators is that they’re supporting legislation, knowing that it’s bad for both the country and their party, because it’s good for them personally.

when it comes to the Senate, bear in mind that many senators are personally wealthy, meaning that they might be swayed by policies that enhance their personal fortunes. Which brings us to the “Corker kickback.”

Senator Bob Corker, citing concerns about the deficit, was the only Republican to vote against the Senate version of the tax bill. Now, however, he says he will vote for a final version that is no better when it comes to fiscal probity. What changed?

Well, one thing that changed was the insertion of a provision that wasn’t in the Senate bill: Real estate companies were added to the list of “pass-through” businesses whose owners will get sharply lower tax rates. These pass-through provisions are arguably the worst feature of the bill. They will open the tax system to a huge amount of gaming, of exploiting legal loopholes to avoid tax.

But one thing they will also do, thanks to that last-minute addition, is give huge tax breaks to elected officials who own a lot of income-producing real estate — officials like Donald Trump and, yes, Bob Corker.

Corker denies that he had any role in adding that provision. But he has offered no coherent alternative explanation of what changed his mind about voting for a bill that explodes the deficit.

We may never know exactly what happened with Corker. But there’s every reason to believe that Republicans in Congress are taking their cues from a president who openly uses his office to enrich himself. Goodbye, ideology; hello, corruption.

Senate passes tax cut bill

The vote was 51 Republicans voting yes vs. 48 Democrats voting no. Two of these Republican Senators is all it would have taken to defeat this bill. Each of these laid claim to principles that were incompatible with the tax bill. Each of them violated their own principles in voting for the bill. Each of them voted for tax cuts for their monied masters. Shame.

Sen. Flake
Sen. Jeff Flake
Sen. Collins
Sen. Susan Collins
Sen. Corker
Sen. Bob Corker

Headshots from

The NY Times carries snipshots of the action last night in Republican Tax Bill Passes Senate in 51–48 Vote. Here are some of them.

… the bill changed slightly in the Senate, and the House will now need to vote on it again since both chambers must approve identical legislation. Among the items that were deemed out of order was the title of the bill: the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Hmmm. I wonder what piece of Orwellian double-speak the GOPlins will invent next.

As the final vote approached in the Senate, Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, gave his closing argument against the bill and scolded his Republican colleagues for talking during his remarks on the floor.

“This is serious stuff,” Mr. Schumer said. “We believe you’re messing up America. You could pay attention for a couple of minutes.”

Of course they would not. Remember these are people who, like Donald Trump, have no respect for anyone other than their monied masters.

The reach of the bill extends beyond taxes. It strikes at a core component of the Affordable Care Act, eliminating the requirement that most people have health coverage or pay a penalty, a move that the Congressional Budget Office projects will increase premiums for people who buy insurance. It also would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas drilling, a defeat for environmentalists who have fought against such action for decades.

If you want to know what effect oil drilling will have on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, check out this photo essay in the Times: Here’s What Oil Drilling Looks Like in the Arctic Refuge, 30 Years Later. “Once you start disturbing the tundra vegetation, it takes sometimes nearly forever for the mark to go away,” said “It’s easy to do something on the tundra but it’s very difficult to restore,” said Francis Mauer, a retired biologist for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service who worked in the refuge for decades, including the years when the well was in place.

The tax cut lies and the liars who told them

Goodby to integrity, hello Orwellian obfuscation. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin exposes The most infuriating falsehoods about the tax bill and those who told them.

To put it simply: At every step of the way the GOP has misrepresented the nature of the bill while individual lawmakers misled voters in insisting they would only vote for a tax plan under certain conditions.

First, President Trump and his senior adviser insisted the tax bill would not benefit the rich. [Second,] House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) repeatedly assured the country this was aimed at the middle class.

… [Third,] Senate and House budget hawks falsely have insisted over and over again that the cuts pay for themselves. If they truly believe this, they’ve flunked economics 101 and refused to look at objective data. If they know what they are saying is untrue, as many suspect, they are hypocrites, forever losing their claim to fiscal conservatism. That they now feel compelled to begin talk about entitlements cuts suggest they know they’re unleashing a torrent of red ink. Sens. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) have lost their claim to fiscal sobriety.

Fourth, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was — depending upon whom you believe — disingenuous, confused or naive. (All three.) At various times she insisted the bill would not increase the debt (see No. 2) and that she received assurances that would more than offset the damage done to the Obamacare exchanges by repeal of the individual mandate (also false). Most infuriating to those who regarded her as a smart and reasonable legislator, she accepted promises the Republicans leadership could never deliver upon (because House Republicans were not on board) to pass two pieces of legislation that would provide new money for the exchanges and also subsidize states’ high-risk pool. When it was apparent she’d been fooled, she meekly decided to vote for it anyway. Whatever kudos she earned in opposing assaults on the Affordable Care Act have been forfeited. It is hard to think of a lawmaker whose reputation has been harmed more than hers.

Here’s one more snipshot from the Times report on the Senate vote;

On the floor of the Senate, the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, observed the proceedings, as senators mingled. The Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine and Jeff Flake of Arizona laughed as they spoke to each other while protesters implored them to change their minds and vote down the legislation.

They had nothing to laugh about.

That they did so anyway proves that the joke’s on us.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

ACTION ALERT - call Sen. Flake's office NOW

The vote on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is schedule for today or tomorrow. I just called Senator Flake’s office and registered my strongly negative opinion, asking for Flake to stay true to his own stated convictions and to vote NO. His Tucson office number is (520) 575–8633. I called. Will you?

Why Republicans don't care what we think about the tax cut bill

Why are these guys laughing?
Why are these guys laughing (at you)?

Steve Benen explores Why Republicans are ignoring public attitudes on the tax plan and Scriber asks why the GOPlins are laughing at us.

At this point, the debate over whether the American mainstream supports the Republicans’ regressive tax plan is over. Surveys have been consistent for months: the public just isn’t buying what the GOP is selling.

Donald Trump boasted the other day that the more Americans learn about the plan, “the more popular it becomes.” That’s wrong to the point of delusion, as evidenced by every recent independent survey. The latest report on the USA Today/Suffolk University poll noted that the GOP tax plan has the lowest level of public support of “any major piece of legislation enacted in the past three decades.”

With this in mind, we can safely look past the question of whether the plan enjoys public support – it obviously doesn’t – and consider two related points: (1) why the plan is so unpopular; and (2) why Republicans don’t care,

On the first point, despite some recent GOP claims to the contrary, tax cuts tend to be well liked. So why isn’t this one? I suspect it’s partly the result of Republicans misreading the political landscape: as the debate got underway, the public said it didn’t want massive tax breaks for big corporations and the very wealthy. GOP policymakers, rejecting the faux populism behind Trump’s pitch, did the opposite of what most Americans requested (and what the party promised).

It didn’t help that Republicans wrote a hyper-partisan bill, lied about it, and pushed their plan at a ridiculous pace without any real scrutiny – making this look more like a heist than a serious attempt at overhauling the federal tax code.

Common sense suggests that, in a democracy, politicians wouldn’t rush to vote for a dramatic and highly consequential proposal that the American mainstream hates. And yet, here we are. At last count, literally every Senate Republican backs the plan, and when the House votes tomorrow, the number of GOP dissenters is expected to be modest, at best. So why is it, exactly, that the Republican majority is so indifferent toward Americans’ attitudes?

Benen lists six possibilities.

(1) Maybe Republicans think the public will be impressed that they finally accomplished something.

(2) Perhaps Republicans are trying to make donors happy.

(3) Perhaps this is the GOP’s last hurrah. They’re going to lose power shortly no matter what they do, so they’re trying to put their stamp on the future while they still have the chance.

(4) Maybe “wingnut welfare” is on Republicans’ minds. [Perhaps they are] “trying to please the donors and lobbyists who can give them jobs after they’re voted out”.

(5) Do Republicans think they’ve immunized themselves from all backlashes? They can do as they please because, in their minds, the consent of the governed is now little more than an annoying, irrelevant detail.

It may be that all of these play some role in the GOP’s disregard for public opinion. But Scriber likes Benen’s sixth reason.

… I’m partial toward 6. Republicans actually believe their own talking points. My best guess is that the vast majority of GOP lawmakers simply believe that the American mainstream is made up of cranks and fools who fail to understand the awesome power of trickle-down economics. Republicans are ignoring public opinion because, in their imaginations, they’ll ultimately be rewarded by voters who will soon discover that cutting taxes for the wealthy and big corporations will produce broad economic prosperity – just like in Kansas.

Once regressive, poorly-thought-out tax cuts work wonders, we’ll all collectively apologize for our silly assumptions and thank our Republican betters for ignoring the American public – not to mention economists, the JCT, the CBO, business leaders, labor unions, all of modern history, et al – and creating an economic utopia.

That, I suspect, is the Republicans’ real rationale.

Scriber is on board with #6 because it fits so well with the beliefs of Trump and the members of the GOP Congress that Americans are chumps and deserve no respect. Last Friday I connected some dots in Disrespect for workers binds Trump and the GOP. I concluded: “That contempt for others, the lack of respect particularly for workers, is shared by Trump and the GOP. And that is a deep psychological reason why the GOP will not abandon Trump.” And that is one reason why neither Trump nor Ryan care about what working Americans think about the tax breaks for the wealthy. With the vote on the tax cut bill looming, Trump and the Republicans in Congress are about to stick it to us no matter what. And they are laughing about it.

Republicans remind us of who they are: Bob Corker's votes are for sale

Sunday I posted America’s economic inequality is on track to become much worse because of GOPlin’s tax cuts. In that post I featured a report from John Cassidy (New Yorker): The Final Version of the G.O.P. Tax Bill Is a Corrupt, Cruel, Budget-Busting Hairball. In that report, Cassidy called our attention to the stunning political back-flip performed by Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker.

… Corker had been the only Republican to vote against the Senate version of the tax bill, but on Friday he announced that he’d changed his mind, and that “after great thought and consideration, I believe this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make U.S. businesses domestically more productive and internationally more competitive is one we should not miss.” Corker didn’t mention his personal interests, but [David Sirota and Josh Keefe, of the International Business Times] did. “Federal records reviewed by IBT show that Corker has millions of dollars of ownership stakes in real-estate-related LLCs that could also benefit” from the final bill, they reported.

In this morning’s edition of Blog for Arizona, the AZ Blue Meanie elaborates with this post: The D.C. Swamp: The ‘Corker Kickback’ in the GOP tax bill. He cites reporting by Jake Johnson at Common Dreams.

… Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research [reports that] “According to Corker’s disclosure forms, he makes between $1.2 million and $7.0 million annually in this sort of income….If we plug in the top end $7 million figure, Corker could be saving as much as $1,190,000 from this late addition to the tax bill.”

These savings serve as a marked contrast to the benefits that would be seen by low-income families as a result of the highly-touted child tax credit changes demanded by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in exchange for his vote, Baker goes on to observe. While Corker, one of the wealthiest members of Congress, could potentially see a million-dollar annual benefit from the GOP tax plan, a married couple with two children earning $30,000 a year would only get an extra $800 from Rubio’s tax credit efforts.

The Corker Kickback (h/t AZBlueMeanie)
The Corker Kickback (h/t AZBlueMeanie)

Baker used a simple chart to spotlight the vast disparity [between Corker and a married couple with two children]:

The outrage prompted by the real estate provision, which was not in previous versions of the tax bill, has not gone unnoticed by Corker. In response to the International Business Times‘ reporting on Saturday, Corker conceded that he has not read the tax bill in full—just a “a two-page summary”—and claimed that he was unaware of the addition that has drawn so much condemnation.

Late Sunday, Corker—the lone Republican to vote against the Senate version of the tax bill—sent a letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, highlighting “concerns” that the provision has raised and requesting “an explanation of the evolution of this provision and how it made it into the final conference report.”

“For Sure Not Tom” comments on Blue Meanie’s post: “That’s today’s GOP, every time you think you found a good Republican, they remind you of who they are.”

Perhaps if we keep the heat on Corker we can get him to do the flop and vote against the “budget-busting hairball.”

On the other hand, votes, like love, seem to be for sale. Here’s Billie Holiday, the great Lady Day, and her take on Cole Porter’s votes Love for Sale. Scriber’s version follows.

Votes for sale
G O P Senate votes for sale
Votes that’re fresh and still unspoiled
Votes that’re only slightly soiled
Votes for sale

Who will buy?
Will Bob Corker sample my supply?
He’s prepared to pay the price
For a tax cut paradise
He’s for sale

Two things Americans don't like: Republicans and the tax bill

Americans don’t like Republicans very much …

Here’s an entry from FiveThirtyEight’s Significant Digits email.

Catching the wave
Catching the wave

11 percentage points
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found Republicans getting slammed on the generic ballot: 50 percent of respondents said they preferred Democrats lead Congress next year to 39 percent who preferred Republicans, the first double-digit lead in the poll for Democrats since 2008. The Wall Street Journal/NBC News figures are in line with FiveThirtyEight’s tracker, which looks at all polls and has Democrats leading Republicans 48.7 percent to 37.6 percent. [The Wall Street Journal, FiveThirtyEight]

The Wall Street Journal report is by subscription but the 538 data and analyses are public at their web site. Scriber ran the stats on the 10 polls reported by 538 for the last two weeks - and the WSJ/NBC poll was one of them. All 10 showed the difference averaging about 11 points favoring Democrats. The likelihood of that happening by sheer luck approaches zero.

Merry Christmas America
GOPlins' Christmas present for America

… and Americans like the Republican tax bill even less!

The Huffington Post reports that Republicans Are Hustling To Pass A Tax Bill That No One Really Likes.
And views don’t seem to be improving.

The tax bill Republicans are on the verge of passing remains generally unloved by America, new polling shows.

Nearly every publicly released poll of the bill taken this December shows its numbers in the red, with support from the bill ranging between 26 percent and 44 percent, and averaging out to just over 30 percent. That would make it, if enacted, among the least popular pieces of major legislation signed into law since the 1990s.

And despite President Donald Trump’s claim otherwise, the plan doesn’t appear to be growing on the public ― the most recent poll, released Monday by Monmouth University, was one of the worst recent surveys to date. In that survey, just 14 percent of Americans expected the tax plan to cut their own taxes, while half expected to have their taxes hiked. In a Quinnipiac poll released last week, 65 percent of voters thought the plan would mostly benefit the wealthy.

The considerable share of Americans who remain undecided or lukewarm gives the bill plenty of room to either gain or lose support. Views of the Affordable Care Act grew substantially worse ― and then substantially better ― in the years following its passage. The 2009 stimulus plan, which passed with majority support, was largely disliked a year later. Less promisingly for the tax plan, however, those people who aren’t sure about it aren’t too likely to be big fans of the current president.

Given the unfavorable ratings for Republicans running for Congress, the public antipathy towards the GOPlins’ tax cut bill will be one more nail in the GOP 2018 coffin. From the HuffPost/YouGov poll:

“As a teacher I can’t write off the meager tax deduction I get to buy my supplies but a millionaire can write off his private jet,” one Clinton voter wrote in response to the HuffPost/YouGov survey. Another respondent fumed: “The rich get a windfall. Working people get screwed.”

If the Republicans pass this thing, Scriber thinks that they’ll be even deeper under water in 2018 when voters get asked the question “What’s in your wallet?”

(Toons h/t AZBlueMeanie.)