Monday, May 20, 2019

On this Mournday Mourning fact is fiction and fiction is fact

GOP in your body
And you thought your body was your property?

“Trump’s ‘great patriot’ farmers stick with him” even as he sticks it to them. The quote was the title of the Daily Star’s print edition version of this story. So they will vote for Trump because he promises them aid welfare payments (aka bribes).

Here are the rest of themes, schemes, memes, and falemes in this edition of the Illustrated Gnus (aka cartoons from AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona).

  • Do Alabama women prefer subservience? (Just thought I’d ask given their opposition to women’s rights.)
  • New ending line for marriage ceremonies in red states: “Congratulations: You may kiss the uterus support system.”
  • “Q: What’s the difference between Donald Trump and a plague of locusts?” Trick question - they both destroy the family farm.
  • Trump protects American consumer from China. (Chuckles here.)
  • Trump is the largest loser - 1.17 billion in business losses.
  • King Donald declares Constitution null and void - which means he does not have to answer to anyone else.
  • “Little Lindsey”, the Graham Cracker of Republican politics, used to think that Trump was crazy and unfit for office. That was before Graham’s ethical support system died. (John McCain, that is.)
  • John Bolton snookered Dubya into attacking Iraq. That worked out so well he’s snookering Dumpf into attacking Iran.
  • The 1968 Republican would rather be red than dead. The 2020 Repoublican would rather be a Russian than a Democrat. Oh, come on. Did you really expect principles?

Parting Thought: A new theme song for our age: Extinction is Forever sung to the tune of the theme song from Diamonds are forever.
Extinction is forever, it’s all I need to please us
Dead animals cannot tease us
When they leave in the night
We’ve no worries when they desert us…

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Trump's pardon for war crimes would send the nation a dark message.

The NY Times reports that Trump May Be Preparing Pardons for Servicemen Accused of War Crimes. Scriber thinks that is all about making Memorial Day all about Trump. Snippets follow.

President Trump has indicated that he is considering pardons for several American military members accused or convicted of war crimes, including high-profile cases of murder, attempted murder and desecration of a corpse, according to two United States officials.

The officials said that the Trump administration had made expedited requests this week for paperwork needed to pardon the troops on or around Memorial Day.

While the requests for pardon files are a strong sign of the president’s plans, Mr. Trump has been known to change his mind and it is not clear what the impetus was for the requests. But most of the troops who are positioned for a pardon have been championed by conservative lawmakers and media organizations, such as Fox News, which have portrayed them as being unfairly punished for trying to do their job. Many have pushed for the president to intervene. The White House declined to comment.

Pardoning several accused and convicted war criminals at once, including some who have not yet gone to trial, has not been done in recent history, legal experts said. Some worried that it could erode the legitimacy of military law and undercut good order and discipline in the ranks.

Navy SEALs who served with Chief Gallagher told authorities he indiscriminately shot at civilians, gunning down a young woman in a flowered hijab and an unarmed old man. They also said he stabbed a teenage captive, then bragged about it in text messages. His trial is set to start at the end of this month. If convicted, he faces life in prison. He has pleaded not guilty and denies all charges.

Major Golsteyn is charged with killing an Afghan man that he and other soldiers said had bomb-making materials. After an interrogation, the soldiers let the man go. Fearing that the man would return to making improvised explosives, which had already killed two Marines in the area, Major Golsteyn later said he killed the man.

Mr. Trump has singled both men out on Twitter, calling Major Golsteyn a “U.S. Military hero,” and praising Chief Gallagher for his service to the country.

The Blackwater contractor, Nicholas A. Slatten, is one of several Blackwater contractors charged in the killing of 17 Iraqis and the wounding of 20 more on a Baghdad street. After a number of mistrials and other delays, he is the only one who has been convicted.

The Marines charged in urinating on the corpse of a Taliban fighter were caught after a video of the act was found.

The fact that the requests were sent from the White House to the Justice Department, instead of the other way around, is a reversal of long-established practices, said Margaret Love, who served as the United States pardon attorney during the first Bush administration and part of the Clinton administration.

Long ago, presidents wielded clemency power directly, Ms. Love said, but that changed at the end of the Civil War when President Lincoln delegated review of clemency requests to his attorney general. Since then, cases have generally been vetted by Justice Department lawyers before being sent to the president.

President Trump has upended that practice, often issuing pardons with little or no notice to the Justice Department, she said, adding that the fact the department is requesting files on men like Chief Gallagher at all suggests that Attorney General William P. Barr is trying to re-exert some authority over the process.

Process aside, she said that pardoning the men would be an abrupt departure from the past.

“Presidents use pardons to send messages. They recognize when a process wasn’t just or when punishments were too extreme, like for some nonviolent drug cases,” she said. “If this president is planning to pardon a bunch of people charged with war crimes, he will use the pardon power to send a far darker message.”

Our society should acknowledge and honor the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy.

Twenty or so “red” states either have passed or possibly will pass (probably? certainly?) increasingly crazier and ever more cruel anti-abortion bills. Such bills allow no exceptions at all for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or even the viability of the fetus. Scriber thinks that the decision to terminate a pregnancy (or not) is a deeply personal one and that no external agency, no branch of government at any level should interfere with that decision.

Here, in full, is a reprint of commentary by The Rt. Rev. Jennifer A. Reddall, Bishop of Arizona (May 17, 2019), Call the Midwife Meets 2019, published on the web site of The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. (h/t Judy Thut)

Call the Midwife has been one of my favorite TV shows since its premiere. It is set in 1960s London, and the main characters are midwives and nuns living in Nonnatus house, an Anglican convent dedicated to women’s health. The personal and professional dramas are often reflected upon in prayer and meals around the community table. Any TV show that includes women’s voices singing Vespers is a show I am inclined to love.

The narrative arc of the current season has been threaded with storylines about abortion, along with the issues that accompany abortion: maternal health, poverty, social stigma of unmarried mothers, mental illness, inaccessibility of birth control, and domestic violence. Abortion in the show’s context is illegal–but not inaccessible–and extremely risky.

I’ve been intrigued by the intersection between this fictionalized, historic narrative, and the present-day national conversation around the recent, highly restrictive laws controlling access to abortion services, and women’s health more generally.

In Call the Midwife, characters are consistently presented with situations that do not fit into their ideal moral view. Mothers face hard choices; the midwives are caught between caring for their patients and fulfilling their legal obligations. The midwives–both lay and religious–are not of one mind about whether abortion should be permissible. But to a person, they always respond to their patients with compassion and empathy–and they allow themselves to be changed by the stories they encounter.

Jesus taught using stories. When we hear about characters who struggle with issues we struggle with, it can open our minds and hearts to the Love of God, and reminds us how Jesus interacts with the people around him. The Gospel consistently recounts that Jesus ‘had compassion’ on people and crowds, and his compassion leads him to action to relieve their suffering and hunger. I consistently see the face of Jesus in the characters in _Call the Midwife_: they love, they weep, they care, they heal, they pray, and they stand by their patients through joy and grief.

I wish I heard more compassion and more love towards women in our national and legal debates–and not just when they have an unwanted or unviable pregnancy. The lifetime of stories I have heard and shared with the women I know have moved my own thoughts and opinions about abortion into a place that is roughly equivalent to what The Episcopal Church has stated in our General Convention resolutions (one is copied below).

One in four women in the United States has had an abortion by the age of 45–which means that every one of us knows many people who have those stories; but our culture doesn’t make them easy to share. Maybe it’s easier to turn to fictionalized stories like Call the Midwife to inspire our compassion.

But I pray that our congregations will always be places where people can find the compassionate face of Jesus, no matter what story they have to tell. And those other issues–maternal health, poverty, social stigma of unmarried mothers, mental illness, inaccessibility of birth control, and domestic violence–these are where we, regardless of our beliefs about the legality and accessibility of abortion services, must find ways to draw closer to the love of God and concretely demonstrate our love of God’s beloved children.

From The Episcopal Church’s 1994 General Convention resolution regarding abortion:

"We believe that legislation concerning abortions will not address the root of the problem. We therefore express our deep conviction that any proposed legislation on the part of national or state governments regarding abortions must take special care to see that the individual conscience is respected, and that the responsibility of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter is acknowledged and honored as the position of this Church; and be it further

“Resolved, That this 71st General Convention of the Episcopal Church express its unequivocal opposition to any legislative, executive or judicial action on the part of local, state or national governments that abridges the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision.”

Friday, May 17, 2019

White House Flash - baby ripped from mother's womb minutes after birth

Let me start by expanding on the title of this post.

… Donald Trump’s White House celebrated Alabama’s new abortion ban in a statement, which said Democrats support “allowing a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments after birth.”

Perhaps realizing that this doesn’t make physiological sense, the statement was amended to say, “ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth.”

The above quotes are from Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) who has more on the Sponsor of Alabama abortion ban offers head-spinning defense.

Before Alabama approved the most sweeping abortion ban in the country, one of the bill’s chief sponsors, Republican Sen. Clyde Chambliss, fielded a question from a colleague. Why, a Democrat asked, should state law block rape victims from terminating an unwanted pregnancy?

The GOP lawmaker responded:

“[Under the new policy] anything that’s available today is still available up until that woman knows she’s pregnant. So there is a window of time, some say seven days, some say ten. There is a window of time that every option that’s on the table now is still available. […]

“So she has to take a pregnancy test, she has to do something to know whether she is pregnant or not. You can’t know that immediately. It takes some time for all those chromosomes and all that that you mentioned. It doesn’t happen immediately.”

He wasn’t kidding. As Rachel noted on last night’s show, the architect of Alabama’s new anti-abortion law defended his proposal by arguing that rape victims can still get abortions just so long as they don’t know they’re pregnant – which is every bit as bewildering as it seems.

Regardless, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed the state’s radical new policy into law late yesterday afternoon, just one day after the bill cleared the Republican-led legislature.

In all likelihood, it won’t actually take effect, at least in the short term, because it will be blocked in the courts. Proponents of the new policy nevertheless hope that the U.S. Supreme Court’s five-member conservative majority will eventually take up the case and strike down the Roe v. Wade precedent.

The right is not, however, entirely united on the subject. Radical TV preacher Pat Robertson said yesterday he believes Alabama has “gone too far” by approving “an extreme law.”

In context, Robertson, a longtime opponent of abortion rights, seemed to be making a tactical argument. “They want to challenge Roe v. Wade, but my humble view is that this is not the case that we want to bring to the Supreme Court because I think this will lose,” he added.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The case for impeachment - and the constitutional costs of failure

I use the term “failure” in two senses. There is a fear among Democrats that an impeachment would be a costly failure if the Senate then refused to convict. But that would put the Republicans on record as ignoring the already public evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors like obstruction of justice if not also bribery and treason. Another form of failure would be inaction by the House Democrats - for them to develop a sound evidentiary basis and then not acting on it. That would lend implicit support to Trump heaping dishonor and corruption on our nation and would leave our Constitution and our democratic institutions irreparably damaged. In the remainder of this post, four authors examine these issues.

Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) reports that Democrats are badly blowing it against Trump. A brutal new TV ad shows how.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has succeeded in stifling impeachment talk. The Post reports that the speaker privately told Democrats to stick to policy and forget about an impeachment inquiry, and not a single Democrat uttered a word in protest.

This is meant to illustrate the iron grip that Pelosi often successfully maintains on her caucus. But, whether you support an impeachment inquiry right now, there’s no way to describe the broader strategy that Democrats have adopted on the impeachment question as a success. It’s been a muddled mess.

A new ad that impeachment proponent Tom Steyer is set to launch illustrates this well. Notably, rather than merely making the case for an inquiry, the ad trains its fire at Democrats for failing to initiate one.

We have to be respectful of a distinction between impeachment and investigation. The Democratic strategy appears to be avoidance of the “I” word while at the same time running multiple investigations, the outcomes of which could be used in impeachment proceedings. Sargent continues.

In some ways, this is defensible. One can envision Democrats using multiple committee hearings to develop a fuller picture of Mueller’s findings (along with other aspects of Trump’s corruption and misconduct), before launching an inquiry.

But if this posture is underpinned by a secret intention to never pull that trigger, that creates yet another problem. …

What’s more, as Brian Beutler and Quinta Jurecic argue [see below], refraining inescapably validates Trump’s corruption as a kind of new normal. With Trump urging his attorney general to investigate the investigators, it incentivizes the president to expand his lawlessness, since he can do so with impunity.

The better arguments against acting are that the Senate won’t convict, so full accountability is impossible anyway, or that impeachment is a political decision, so Congress isn’t obliged to do it. Or maybe it really would help Trump get reelected (though that idea is baseless).

But none of those arguments reckons seriously with the downside of not acting, which are considerable. And none takes seriously what it would mean if Democratic oversight is neutered and it’s too late to act. Or, even worse, what it would mean if Trump won reelection after all that happened.

If Democrats do believe an impeachment inquiry is merited, it’s not clear there’s any magic key to credibly arguing their way out of not launching one. Perhaps there is a way, but they certainly haven’t hit on it yet.

Why Congress should act to impeach. Or is Trump “just not worth it”?

In brief, whatever the political downsides of impeachment, the constitutional downsides are worse.

Brian Beutler tags The Democrats’ Great Impeachment Abdication.

If Democrats sincerely considered Donald Trump to be unfit for office, and believed he had committed impeachable offenses, and that they should at least begin the process of removing him from office, they most likely wouldn’t be doing anything much differently than they are right now.

They don’t call it an impeachment inquiry per se, but the chairs of several House committees have launched expansive investigations of Trump’s corruption, crimes, and abuses of power. Because Trump revels publicly in corruption, crime, and abuses of power, these investigations are likely to turn up extensive evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors, if not bribery and treason, and could thus compile the factual basis of articles of impeachment.

But because of what they have said—the terms they have committed themselves to—Democratic leaders have all but doomed themselves to the worst-possible approach: One in which they unearth damning evidence and then make the conscious decision not to act on it; one in which they tacitly bless all of Trump’s wrongdoing and pray both that voters do all the hard work for them, and that nothing tragic happens as a consequence of their inaction.

Pelosi, Schiff, and Nadler are seasoned politicians who don’t say much that’s unrehearsed. Their position that passing articles of impeachment—a process that requires a simple majority in the House—must be bipartisan sends a clear message to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other GOP leaders: that the key to Trump’s continued impunity is for Republicans to simply continue doing what they’ve been doing all along—ignore or celebrate his misconduct, attack the investigators, lie as much as it takes to keep Trump’s base of support from falling through the floor.

When Republicans inevitably take this path, the Pelosi standard will commit Democrats to the course of consciously, publicly choosing to proceed no further, to say Congress will take no position on Trump’s obstruction of justice, his violation of the emoluments clause, and his criminal schemes. That might or might not be the safest political course of action for the party, but it will establish a new precedent in our country that presidents can make themselves untouchable, to the law and to Congress, if only they’re willing to be as selfish and malevolent as Trump. And it will do so at a moment when one of the country’s two political parties has fully embraced an ethos of corruption, greed, and will to power.

… If this [Watergate] history points to anything it’s that a good-faith impeachment process would make public opinion conform to public opinion about Trump himself—which is to say, most people would support impeachment, but a solid minority would oppose it, and Republicans would stand with the minority.

It’s hard to see what the Democrats would lose from such an outcome, but what they would gain is something that impeachment opponents routinely gloss over: a trial. … The pro-impeachment proposition is that Democrats should build the case, hold the trial, and let Republicans in Congress decide whether they want to shred our shared standards of accountability—to let their votes be counted—instead of doing it for them as they quietly sidestep the question.

In either case, the voters will render the final verdict, but in an impeachment scenario, the question would be laid before them clearly, and will place the entire Republican Party on the hook directly for the crimes they’ve been passively abetting for over two years now. It would also preserve important norms about what kinds of behavior should be impeachable.

With respect to Congressional inaction on impeachment per se, [Quinta Jurecic, Contributing writer at The Atlantic and managing editor of Lawfare, predicts that If Congress Won’t Act, Trump Will. Encouraged by lawmakers’ passivity, the president is taking the same approach to 2020 that he took to 2016. Here’s some of what she has to say.

The Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives remains resistant to impeachment, reportedly out of concern that it could buoy the president’s poll numbers going into an election year. Likewise, it argues, any impeachment would almost certainly run aground in the Republican Senate. But there is more to impeachment than a bare political calculation. It’s also a way of marking a breach, declaring that the presidency should not be what a particular president has tried to shape it into. In the case of Watergate, that statement of protest was more or less successful for decades, at least until it ran headlong into Donald Trump.

… for all Trump’s public embrace of corruption, he has not yet shot anyone on Fifth Avenue. But the point is that, when an injustice is done, we all shoulder some kind of mutual obligation to set right the imbalance in the world or otherwise become complicit in it. For Congress today to look at the conduct described in the Mueller report and decide that it does not merit impeachment is for it to acquiesce to Trump’s effort to establish his own corruption not only as the new norm, but also as the way things have always been. To put it another way, given Congress’s inaction, can you really blame Rudy Giuliani for trying his luck in Ukraine?

In thinking about impeachment these past two years, I’ve returned again and again to the work of the legal scholar Charles Black, who understood an impeachable offense to be an act “against the nation or its governmental and political processes, obviously wrong … to any person of honor.” The definition is cryptic, yet simple. It is almost innocent, this idea that there exists a community of people who could agree on what it means to be a person of honor, in the face of a president who acts as if it doesn’t mean anything at all.

Donald Trump is acting with malice toward all and justice for one - himself. He is a clear and present danger to our constitution. So can we afford not to impeach him as the Constitution empowers us to do?

Robert Reich explores the cases for and against impeachment - and cuts right to the central issues. Reich says The House now has a constitutional duty to impeach in his opinion piece in the Fan Francisco Chronicle (also printed in the AZ Daily Star). Snippets follow, emphases added.

Donald Trump is causing a constitutional crisis with his blanket refusal to respond to any subpoenas.

So what happens now? An impeachment inquiry in the House won’t send him packing before election day 2020 because Senate Republicans won’t convict him.

So the practical political question is whether a House impeachment inquiry helps send him packing after election day. That seems unlikely.

Another question needs to be considered — not just the practical political effect on the 2020 election, but something more important over the long run.

It is whether an action designed to enforce our Constitution is important for its own sake — even if it goes nowhere, even if it’s unpopular with many voters, even if it’s politically risky.

Every child in America is supposed to learn about the Constitution’s basic principles of separation of powers, and checks and balances.

But these days, every child and every adult in America is learning from Donald Trump that these principles are bunk.

By issuing a blanket refusal to respond to any congressional subpoena, Trump is saying Congress has no constitutional authority to oversee the executive branch. He’s telling America that Congress is a subordinate branch of government rather than a co-equal branch. Forget separation of powers.

By spending money on his “wall” that Congress explicitly refused to authorize, Trump is saying that Congress no longer has any constitutional authority over spending. Goodbye, checks and balances.

By unilaterally shuttering the government in order to get his way, Trump is saying he has the constitutional right not to execute the laws whenever it suits him. Farewell, Congress.

By directing the attorney general, the Justice Department, the FBI and the secretary of the Treasury to act in his own personal interest rather than in the interests of the American people, Trump is saying that a president can run the government on his own. Adios, Constitution.

By unilaterally threatening to cut off trade with the second-largest economy in the world, Trump is saying he has sole authority to endanger the entire American economy. (Make no mistake: If he goes through with his threat, the U.S. economy will go into a tailspin.

By doing whatever he could to stop an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, including firing the head of the FBI, Trump has told America it’s OK for a president to obstruct justice. Goodbye, law.

The core purpose of the U.S. Constitution is to prevent tyranny. That’s why the framers of the Constitution distributed power among the president, Congress and the judiciary. That’s why each of the three branches was designed to limit the powers of the other two.

In other words, the framers anticipated the possibility of a Donald Trump.

The framers also put in mechanisms to enforce the Constitution against a president who tries to usurp the powers of the other branches of government. Article I, Section 2 gives the House of Representatives the “sole power of impeachment.” Article I, Section 3 gives the Senate the “sole power to try all impeachments.”

Trump surely appears to be usurping the powers of the other branches. Under these circumstances, the Constitution mandates that the House undertake an impeachment inquiry and present evidence to the Senate.

This may not be the practical political thing to do. But it is the right thing to do.

America's new normal for women - red capes and white hoods

Well, brothers, we’re not quite ready to make over our sisters into handmaids yet but a couple of dozen states, led by Alabama, would be perfectly happy with that.

In this morning’s Subscriber’s Post, Judd Legum (popular.info) reports on The corporations backing Alabama’s war on women.

On Wednesday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed a draconian bill that would effectively ban all abortions in the state. The radical legislation would be a dramatic step backward for women’s rights and gender equality – banning abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Doctors who perform abortions in Alabama could face up to 99 years in jail.

The effort was spearheaded by Alabama’s Republican leadership: Speaker Mac McCutcheon, Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, Senate President (and Lt. Governor) Will Ainsworth, and Majority Leader Greg Reed. The bill was sponsored by a Republican Senator, Clyde Chambliss.

McCutcheon stressed that the purpose of the bill was to prompt the Supreme Court to reverse Roe v. Wade. “Alabama, as a whole in the state, is a pro-life state. What we as a state are doing, is trying to address the national problem,” he said.

There are just four women in the Alabama state Senate.

Meanwhile, some of America’s most prominent corporations are backing these politicians – and their war on women’s rights – with campaign cash. These are the same companies that publicly claim to support gender equality and women’s rights.

Coca-Cola
AT&T
Exxon
Pfizer
Walmart
Boeing
State Farm
Eli Lilly
Caterpillar
Koch Industries
Draft Kings
Altria
Comcast
Caremark
Anheuser-Busch

The companies highlighted in bold print donated to my favorite ’bama GOPlin, bill sponsor Republican Senator, Clyde Chambliss. Why? Check out Rachel Maddow’s report from last night’s show. What this dildo head is arguing is that abortions are OK until you know you’re pregnant. An abortion a day will keep the Republicans away?

Here is more from the New York Times editorial board in How to Help Protect Abortion Rights in Alabama and Georgia. America is in an era of extreme anti-abortion laws.

All eyes were on Alabama on Tuesday as the State Senate debated, and then passed, what could become the most restrictive abortion law in the country. Under the legislation, which the Republican governor, Kay Ivey, signed Wednesday, women in Alabama would be forced to carry unwanted or nonviable pregnancies to term in nearly all circumstances, including when a pregnancy results from rape or incest. Doctors who perform the procedure would face felony charges and up to 99 years in prison — which is more prison time than convicted rapists face in the state.

Showing just how far to the right the anti-abortion movement has pushed the “center” of the abortion debate, it was the bill’s rape and incest exceptions, since removed, that dominated the conversation in the Alabama Senate. It seemed forgone that the state would ban abortions for a vast majority of the women there. Lawmakers supporting abortion rights were left arguing to preserve the rape and incest exceptions.

There is a strategy behind this law’s remarkable cruelty, and its supporters have not been subtle about it. The bill’s sponsor in the Alabama House, Terri Collins, said that the legislation was designed to produce a legal case that could overturn Roe v. Wade. When asked the purpose of the bill on Tuesday, Clyde Chambliss, the Senate sponsor, said, “So that we can go directly to the Supreme Court to challenge Roe v. Wade.” (Highlighting the ignorance behind so much anti-abortion legislation, Mr. Chambliss also seemed to argue repeatedly on Tuesday that women in Alabama would still be able to get abortions — but only before they knew they were pregnant.) From that ABC News report in the above link:

Chambliss said that abortions could only be provided “until the woman is known to be pregnant”

If you want to know where this is going, check out the Trumpian plans for contraception.

Back in November (2018) Rolling Stone reported that the Trump Administration Quietly Unveils New Rules Targeting Birth Control and Abortion.

A record number of women — mostly Democrats, many of them galvanized by the threat the Trump administration poses to reproductive freedom — were swept into Congress during in the 2018 midterm elections. The results were still being tabulated on Wednesday when Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services quietly finalized two rules empowering employers, universities and nonprofits to refuse birth control coverage to women.

A third rule, also announced Wednesday, would require insurers on the Affordable Care Act marketplace to charge women a separate monthly bill for abortion coverage — a change that advocates say would be so prohibitively expensive it could force insurers to stop offering the procedure altogether.

The new rules were announced just hours after voters in Alabama overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment granting full legal rights to fertilized eggs — a law so far-reaching that not only would it ban abortion in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned, reproductive rights groups say it could ultimately mean the criminalization certain types of birth control, including IUDs and the morning after pill.

So, about the trend toward women as handmaids, check out what Stephen Colbert had to say. He ends by asking us to consider making vasectomies felonies. Dark humor, to be sure, but it is a logical extension of the morphing of anti-abortion legislation to state control of contraception to total elimination of reproductive rights.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Most parents don't want their kids exposed to 'Arabic' numerals

Marissa Higgins of the Daily Kos Staff tells us what why America is not getting great again. The reason? Our society is uninformed, or misinformed, or disinformed about the fundamentals on which our science, technology, and engineering rest: Poll says that 56% of Americans don’t want kids taught Arabic numerals. We have some bad news. This is funny, if you know what I mean, but it is also damning. In short, most Americans have no clue about the mathematical basis for our society, economy, and future.

Data can be soul-crushing. While sometimes numbers communicate exactly what you’d like to hear, polling isn’t for the faint of heart, especially when it comes to polls that reveal a lot about your peers. Like, for example, the 60% of white men who voted for Trump—or, for that matter, the 47% of white women.

Anyway. A more recent poll suggests that 56% of Americans are not only ignorant but probably also prejudiced. Why? Let’s look at some results from CivicScience Inc., a research firm based in Pittsburgh. And try not to laugh at the results!

Their CEO, John Dick, tweeted the following visual of the results of what should have been a simple question on Twitter. Unsurprisingly, people loved (and hated) it.

John Dick
@jdcivicscience
Ladies and Gentlemen: The saddest and funniest testament to American bigotry we’ve ever seen in our data.

For some context: CivicScience polled more than 3,200 Americans in this survey. The general topic was math instruction, which seems like it wouldn’t be controversial. Perhaps it would reveal some hard feelings about geometry, but nothing too attention-grabbing, right? Wrong!

Let’s start with the good. 29% of respondents said that Arabic numerals should be taught in schools. That’s great, because they already are!

16% had no opinion on the subject. That’s … odd, but okay.

An astounding 56% of Americans said Arabic numerals should not be taught in American schools.

Arabic numerals. Which are, you know, the ones we use.

Is there an explanation that doesn’t have to do with bigotry? I think not. Islamophobia is a huge problem in the U.S. My guess (and the only explanation I can gather) is that people read “Arabic” and immediately went negative. Gross.

(h/t Mrs. Scriber)

Republican Senator - some farmers may die but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

OK. The Senator in question did not put it quite that way …

Knowing the Major countries of destination for U.S. soybean exports in 2017 tells us why Trump’s agricultural tariffs are so important for the American farmer. China imported 31.99 million metric tons in 2017 which was way over what was imported by the next 9 countries combined (17.34 million metric tons). So if China stopped its soybean imports from the U. S., our soybean farmers would lose about two thirds (64.85%) of that market. Given that, it is puzzling why any member of Congress would shrug off the harm that will be incurred by our farmers because of Trump’s trade fight with China. Yet, there are some in Congress who are with Trump no matter what damage they will do to the country. Here’s an example.

Jen Hayden of the Daily Kos Staff reports that Arkansas senator shrugs off farmers going belly up from Trump tariffs: ‘Some people will sacrifice’

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton appeared on CBS This Morning as part of a promotional book tour and was asked about Donald Trump’s latest round of trade war tariffs. Trump has promised $15 billion in new bailout funds for struggling U.S. farmers to counter the fallout from his tariffs, in addition to the $12 billion he’s already doled out.

Let’s take a Trumpometer break. Trump is the chief steward of Republican values, right? He’s the chief GOPlin. Is he (or the head Munchkin) just printing money? Where’s the money coming from? Cuts to social security and Medicare, perhaps? How can the GOP reconcile paying out welfare to the farmers who need it because of what Trump is doing?

So how did Cotton react to the struggling farmers back home in Arkansas? With a shrug. Even worse, he used U.S. troops as a shield, noting that they make bigger sacrifices than other people. Listen to Cotton shrug off U.S. farmers losing their shirts.

“There will be some sacrifice on the part of Americans, I grant you that. But also that sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to the sacrifices that our soldiers make overseas that are fallen heroes or laid to rest,” @SenTomCotton on trade war with China

Summarizing Tom Cotton, “some of you may die, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”

For the record, economic experts far and wide have been advising against these tariffs from the start and are loudly warning of the dire economic impact.

For example, the Tax Foundation tweeted:

@taxfoundation
Tariffs raise prices and reduce available quantities of goods and services for U.S. businesses and consumers, which results in lower income, reduced employment, and lower economic output: http://bit.ly/2WJ7QQW

Picking up on Cotton’s view of what others should happily sacrifice, Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) writes As farmers struggle, Cotton offers odd defense of Trump’s trade agenda.

I suppose there’s an element of literal truth to the far-right senator’s argument: it is, in fact, better to be a farmer with a failing business than it is to be a soldier who’s died in the line of duty.

But I’m not sure Cotton has fully thought this one through. Is the Arkansas Republican really prepared to tell a struggling family, “Sure, your farm may be failing as a result of Trump’s trade agenda, but your sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to Americans who’ve died on the battlefield”?

Wouldn’t it be easier to simply encourage the administration to pursue a different course?

I am intrigued by the possibility, though, of how to apply Cotton’s argument to other political debates. Some millionaires may howl in response to proposals for higher taxes on the wealthy, for example, but as Arkansas’ junior senator has argued, “There will be some sacrifices on the part of Americans, I grant you that, but I also would say that sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to the sacrifices that our soldiers make overseas that are fallen heroes that are laid to rest in Arlington make.”

Some business owners may balk at an increase in the minimum wage, but as Tom Cotton reminds us, “There will be some sacrifices on the part of Americans, I grant you that, but I also would say that sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to the sacrifices that our soldiers make overseas that are fallen heroes that are laid to rest in Arlington make.”

Some may resist systemic efforts to combat the climate crisis, but they can take solace in the words of Tom Cotton: “There will be some sacrifices on the part of Americans, I grant you that, but I also would say that sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to the sacrifices that our soldiers make overseas that are fallen heroes that are laid to rest in Arlington make.”

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Beware The Guns of August - The question in Washington is whether Trump is taking us into another mideastern war.

Robin Wright at the New Yorker asks Is Trump Yet Another U.S. President Provoking a War? I am going to cut right to the final paragraph.

The sense of foreboding is tangible, the threats from both sides are no longer rhetorical. Before the nuclear-deal negotiations began, in 2013, Washington was consumed with hyped talk of the United States or its allies bombing Iran. If the nuclear deal formally dies, talk of military confrontation may again fill both capitals—even if neither country wants it. “Make no mistake, we’re not seeking a fight with the Iranian regime,” McKenzie, the Centcom commander, said last week. “But we do have a military force that’s designed to be agile, adaptive, and prepared to respond to a variety of contingencies in the Middle East and around the world.” The problem, as U.S. history proves, is that the momentum of confrontation is harder to reverse with each escalatory step.

Let’s then start with that history in brief snippets.

The United States has a long history of provoking, instigating, or launching wars based on dubious, flimsy, or manufactured threats …

… In 1846, President James Polk justified the Mexican-American War by claiming that Mexico had invaded U.S. territory, at a time when the border was not yet settled. … Around fifteen hundred Americans died of battle injuries, and another ten thousand from illness.

… In 1898, the Spanish-American War was triggered by an explosion on the U.S.S. Maine, an American battleship docked in Havana Harbor. … [but] the battleship was destroyed by the spontaneous combustion of coal in a bunker next to ammunition. …

… The beginning of the Vietnam War was authorized by two now disputed incidents involving U.S. warships in the Gulf of Tonkin. In response, Congress authorized President Johnson, in 1964, to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” The war dragged on for a decade, claiming the lives of fifty-seven thousand Americans and as many as a million Vietnamese fighters and civilians.

… In 1986, the Reagan Administration plotted to use U.S. military maneuvers off Libya’s coast to provoke Muammar Qaddafi into a showdown. The planning for Operation Prairie Fire, which deployed three aircraft carriers and thirty other warships, was months in the making. Before the Navy’s arrival, U.S. warplanes conducted missions skirting Libyan shore and air defenses—“poking them in the ribs” to “keep them on edge,” …

… The most egregious case was the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in 2003, which was based on bad intelligence that Baghdad had active weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. The repercussions are still playing out sixteen years (and more than four thousand American deaths) later. …

Today, the question in Washington—and surely in Tehran, too—is whether President Trump is making moves that will provoke, instigate, or inadvertently drag the United States into a war with Iran. …

On May 5th, a Sunday, the White House issued an unusual communiquĂ©—from the national-security adviser, John Bolton, not the Pentagon—announcing that a battleship-carrier strike group, led by the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, and a bomber task force, including B–52s, were deploying off Iran’s coast. … Bolton, who was a key player behind the U.S. war in Iraq, advocated bombing Iran before he joined the Trump White House.

Iran is not blameless. For example:

Iran does, indeed, have a growing array of surrogates across the region. Lebanon’s Hezbollah—inspired, armed, and trained by Iran—is now the most powerful militia outside state control in the entire Middle East. In Syria, Tehran has mobilized Shiite allies from four countries—Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—to supplement its own forces helping President Bashar al-Assad reassert control over his fractured nation. Tehran has reportedly shipped short-range missiles to allies by boat through the Persian Gulf and deployed kits in Syria that convert imprecise rockets into missiles with greater range, accuracy, and impact. The Islamic Republic supports several Shiite militias in Iraq under the umbrella of the country’s Popular Mobilization Forces, which emerged in 2014, with Iraqi government approval, to fight isis. The caliphate has fallen, but the P.M.F. remains a powerful and divisive militia in Iraq.

America’s longest war

While not predicated on manufactured threats, the Afghan war is an illustration of how slippery a slope is the march to war.

The New York Times editorial board reports on America’s longest war - The Unspeakable War The conflict in Afghanistan is going badly, and the Trump administration doesn’t want to talk about it. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

It’s easy to reach for metaphors to describe the war in Afghanistan — quagmire, money pit, a boulder that must be rolled up the Hindu Kush for eternity. …

Put another way, the American people are being kept more in the dark about the dismal state of the United States’ longest-running war, now in its 18th year.

The mission in Afghanistan has been long, deadly and badly in need of robust oversight. …

In the latest report, in addition to the updates not provided to the inspector general on the number of districts and people living under Taliban control, the following metrics were classified or otherwise kept from the public eye: the number of casualties suffered by Afghan security forces; performance assessments of the Afghan Army, police and other security organizations; all but general information about the operational readiness of the security forces; the number and readiness of the elite Special Mission Wing of the Afghan Air Force; and reports on the progress of anticorruption efforts by the Ministry of the Interior.

What was documented in the public report was alarming enough, … According to the inspector general’s report, enemy-initiated attacks during the winter rose considerably. The monthly average number of attacks, more than 2,000, was up 19 percent from last November through January, compared with the monthly average over the previous reporting period, ending in October. From December through the end of February, the number of Afghan military and security force casualties was 31 percent higher than a year earlier. The report also took grim note of the fact that Afghan government and international forces caused more civilian deaths during the quarter than anti-government forces did.

The least that the Trump administration can do is be more open and honest with the American public about the unvarnished reality of the situation in Afghanistan. (The Pentagon hasn’t held an on-camera briefing in nearly a year.) Americans may have given up hope of “winning” the war long ago. But that doesn’t mean the full public accounting should halt.

[Indeed, ]Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested during a congressional hearing on Wednesday that the end was not in sight. “I think we will need to maintain a counterterrorism presence as long as an insurgency continues in Afghanistan,” General Dunford said.

Updates on Trump's trade war - who is getting hurt

538’s significant digits email reports on the hits investors keep taking as Trump tries to salvage his disastrous trade war by digging faster and deeper.

$60 billion in goods
China has launched its own salvo in the latest escalation of President Trump’s trade war, saying that it will raise tariffs on nearly $60 billion in U.S. goods from 10 percent to 20 percent or 25 percent. After the news, the S&P 500 fell more than 2 percent. [The New York Times]

The NY Times Monday Evening Briefing (email) also focused on the economic consequences of Trump’s trade war.

American stocks suffered their steepest daily drop in months after China said it would increase tariffs on American-made goods in response to a similar move by the White House.

The S&P 500 fell 2.4 percent, pushing its loss for the month above 4.5 percent. Investors hammered shares in trade-sensitive sectors like agriculture, semiconductors and industrials. Just weeks ago, the S&P 500 reached a record. Above, the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.

China’s move will affect the roughly $60 billion in American imports already being taxed as retaliation for Mr. Trump’s previous round of levies; those imports include beer, wine, swimsuits, shirts and liquefied natural gas.

Both sides left a window for negotiators to try to reach a deal, but they continue to have significant differences over how tariffs should be rolled back.

President Trump said he was not concerned by the tariff increase, saying “there can be some retaliation, but it can’t be very, very substantial by comparison,” given that China imports far less than it sells to the United States.

Will buying at Walmart blunt the effects of a trade war?

Today, in defense of his trade war and those self-inflicted wounds to our economy, Trump Urges Americans to Boycott Chinese Goods and Just Buy Things at Walmart. Andy Borowitz, the New Yorker satirist, fills in all the gaps in that headline - except those between Trump’s two ears.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Asking for their solidarity in his trade war with China, Donald Trump is urging Americans to boycott Chinese goods and “just buy things at Walmart.”

Trump made his request via Twitter, where he told his fellow-citizens that it was their “patriotic duty” to punish China by buying as many goods at Walmart as possible.

“If you go to a great american store like Walmart, you’ll find lots of cheap sportswear, shoes, and other items for you and your family to enjoy,” he tweeted. “What better way to show China that we don’t need their dumb stuff!”

Shortly after Trump sent those marching orders to his countrymen, the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, offered a muted response. “I’m beginning to see how he lost a billion dollars,” Xi said.

Trump’s trade war hurts rural America

Satire aside, on a related topic, Trump promised $15 billion in aid to farmers who are hurt by his trade war. But nobody has any idea where he will get that kind of money - and neither does he if truth be told. Trump says U.S. farmers to get $15 billion in aid amid China trade war reports Yahoo.com.

American farmers, a key constituency of Trump, have been among the hardest hit in the trade war. Soybeans are the most valuable U.S. farm export, and shipments to China dropped to a 16-year low in 2018. Sales of U.S. soybeans elsewhere failed to make up for the loss. U.S. soybean futures fell to their lowest in a decade on Monday.

While farmers have largely remained supportive of Trump, many have called for an imminent end to the trade dispute, which propelled farm debt to the highest levels in decades and worsened credit conditions for the rural economy.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Mournday Mourning Messages - all the Gnus you didn't want to meet

Yesterday I posted Trump’s fight to keep tax returns secret poses a fundamental question for Republicans. That question posed to every Republican is: “What evil, vile thing would Trump have to do in order for you to stop supporting him?” It is not obvious that there exists anything that would shake their obeisance.

The Washington Post concurs.

President Trump famously declared that he wouldn’t lose any voters even if he shot someone in the middle of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

If the first two years of his presidency have shown anything, that statement could be amended to say he wouldn’t lose votes from Republican senators, who have for the most part voted in line with the president at every turn, even when it has seemed to conflict with their stated values.

“Saturday Night Live,” sensing perhaps the elevated tensions coursing through the capital, took aim at this political phenomenon with a parody on NBC host Chuck Todd and his Sunday show, “Meet the Press,” for the cold open.

Here are the rest of themes, schemes, memes, and falemes in this edition of the Illustrated Gnus (aka cartoons from AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona).

Lower the Barr
Barr does the Limbo
  • Back in the day (1962) Scriber danced to Chubby Checker’s Limbo Rock.
  • China will pay for Trump’s tariffs - just as Mexico will pay for his wall.
  • “Why is this massive effort to close down every last remaining line of inquiry necessary, if Trump has been totally exonerated?” (From Greg Sargent at the Washington Post.)
  • What might be in Trump’s tax returns? Don Jr. spilled the beans: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.”
  • Might the media have it wrong? Trump holds Congress in contempt.
  • Trump’s tariffs will unleash a panda-mic on the U. S. consumer.
  • Under Trump and the GOPlins, Noah’s Ark bends toward mass extinction.
  • Democratic messaging: Green New Deal. Republican messaging: Brown Old Deal.
  • Parting thought #1: Are we about to realize The Handmaid’s Tale? NBC News reports: Anti-abortion bills mount as GOP-led states angle for Supreme Court fight over Roe v. Wade. The extremity of the proposals represents a shift in strategy, one abortion rights advocate said.
  • Parting thought #2: Trump admin hides stats on America’s longest war (Afghanistan). We’re still stuck in Iraq and Syria. Now Bolton sends a carrier fleet to the Mid-East to confront Iran. What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Trump's fight to keep tax returns secret poses a fundamental question for Republicans

Why would Trump be embarrassed by his tax returns? asks Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog). And why, I add, do Republicans claim not to care?

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney sat down with CBS News’ Major Garrett this week for a podcast interview that covered a fair amount of ground. …

The host noted that the Treasury Department has refused a congressional order to turn over Donald Trump’s tax returns, and Garrett asked why. This was (Scriber’s essence of) the exchange that followed:

MULVANEY: Because they are not entitled to see them by law. …
MULVANEY: … They’re just doing this to make the president look bad. They don’t care. This is not about information about the president. Keep in mind, all of the president’s financial holdings, by law, are disclosed. Want to know what the president owns? Want to know how he makes money? All of that stuff is, by law, I have to fill out my form by the end of next week. So does he. This is just about trying to embarrass the president.
GARRETT: What’s embarrassing about his tax records?
MULVANEY: That’s what they want to know.
GARRETT: But what is it?
MULVANEY: I don’t know because I’ve never seen
GARRETT: Is there something embarrassing about his tax records?
MULVANEY: I have no idea and I don’t care.

Benen then explains why Mulvaney is full of it.

First, when Mulvaney says Congress is not “entitled” to the president’s tax materials “by law,” that’s true, just so long as one overlooks the law. In reality, existing federal law, which has been on the books for nearly a century, says the Treasury Department “shall furnish” the tax materials in response to a formal request from one of a handful of congressional lawmakers.

That formal request has been made, and at least for now, it’s been ignored despite the letter of the statute.

Second, Mulvaney suggests Trump’s legally required financial disclosure forms show “how he makes money.” That’s not quite right: disclosure forms show what the president has, not how he got it.

To know more about the sources of his wealth, we’d need – let’s all say it together – his tax returns.

But it’s Major Garrett’s good follow-up question that stands out for a reason: the White House’s acting chief of staff is convinced that the effort to obtain Trump’s tax returns is intended to “embarrass the president,” which naturally leads one to wonder why Trump would be embarrassed by his tax returns.

Mulvaney apparently didn’t see this line of inquiry coming, so he was left in an awkward spot: Democrats are trying to embarrass Trump, but his chief of staff has no idea why Trump would be embarrassed by his own tax materials.

And, Mulvaney added, he doesn’t care.

Neither does Sen. Lindsey Graham. When it comes to what Trump told McGahn, “I don’t care.” When it comes to the Mueller investigation, “It’s over.”

The South Carolina Republican’s indifference notwithstanding, given everything we’ve learned of late about Trump’s financial life, there are all kinds of reasons for the rest of us to care.

Here, I think, is the fundamental question that needs to be put to Republicans in positions high and low in every walk of life. What evil, vile thing would Trump have to do in order for you to stop supporting him? Right now, the answer is nothing will ever shake their support. They don’t care about 10,000 lies, for example. And I suspect that they will help Trump celebrate his high-jacking of the Independence Day celebration (Trump takes over Fourth of July celebration, changing its location and inserting himself into the program), effectively making our national celebration into everything all about Trump. No matter how incompetent, no matter how immoral, no matter how illegal, no matter how insane, Republicans are all in with a demented king.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Trump's tariffic trade war has terrible consequences for family farmers

According to History.com, “The stock market crash of 1929 – considered the worst economic event in world history – began on Thursday, October 24, 1929”. We are coming up on the 90th anniversary of that calamity. Will 2019 be the 1929 for the American family farmers?

This morning the Arizona Daily Star announced that Trump’s tariff increase on $200 billion in Chinese imports takes effect. As they typically would say in North Dakota (my home state), the consequences for our economy could be better. North Dakota is one of the agricultural states negatively impacted by Trump’s trade war.

Already North Dakota soybean processors hit hard by tariffs as China cancels orders reported CNBC back in July.

… Simon Wilson, executive director of the North Dakota Trade Office. “We are in a trade war and the farmer and processors are taking the brunt” of it. … Wilson says that Chinese customers are sure to look to Canada and other growers to fill their needs for food-grade soybeans.

And now Trump is at it again with more tariffs on China. As the old saying goes, if you are in a hole, stop digging. But Trump is not one to heed common wisdom.

This last February The Huffington Post reported Trump Trade War Helps Push Farmers Into Record Number Of Bankruptcies. Dairy farmers were counting on China milk buyers before the trade war. “The problem is both nations have stubborn leaders,” an industry analyst said.

Hard times for farmers got tougher with President Donald Trump’s trade war. Now Midwestern farmers are filing the highest number of bankruptcies in a decade, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of federal data.

And farmers aren’t hopeful about this year.

Twice as many farmers in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin declared bankruptcy last year compared to 2008, according to statistics from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Journal reported. Bankruptcies in states from North Dakota to Arkansas leaped 96 percent, according to figures from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Farmers are being battered by sinking commodity prices — and stiff tariffs from China and Mexico in retaliation for Trump’s tariffs on imports.

The new 11-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) treaty last year slashed tariffs — but not for U.S. farmers since the Trump administration pulled out of negotiations. That drove customers to farmers and ranchers in competitive countries, like Australia, serving another dunning blow to American operations.

Farmers fear it will take years to rebuild those trading relationships.

Soybeans were also a major victim. “Agriculture prices live and die by exports. In all commodities, we’re heavily dependent on China, especially for soybeans,” Kevin Bernhardt, agribusiness professor at the University of Wisconsin in Platteville, told the Milwaukee Independent.

Government subsidies to farmers were up 18 percent last year over the previous year, due to the $4.7 billion in tariff aid and $1.6 billion in disaster payments for farmers impacted by hurricanes, floods and other disasters. But it wasn’t enough to stave off the end for some

And that’s just the beginning for those agricultural states (that mainly voted for Trump).

In March Forbes reported that 2019 Is The Year Farmers Will Feel The Pain From Trump’s Trade Wars (h/t AZBlueMeanie).

To understand the potential financial impact to American farmers it is important to know that corn and soybeans are the largest monetary crops in the U.S. per NASS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. In 2017 the value of corn was $48.5 billion, with soybeans a close second at $41 billion. The next largest crop was hay, a distant third at $16.2 billion. For comparison, the value of apples grown in the U.S. was $4 billion and oranges was $2 billion.

Per the University of Illinois’ Agricultural & Consumer Economics Department forecast in September last year, corn could lose $68 per acre in 2019 (down from a loss of $2 per acre in 2018), and soybeans could fall even more, from a profit of $32 per acre to a loss of $92. While farmers seem to be rotating some acreage from soybeans to corn, 2019 could be a very tough year no matter what crop they plant.

Also see the AZBlueMeanie post, Trump’s trade war is devastating America’s farmers, which concludes:

Democrats running for president and for federal offices in farm country need to devise an agriculture commodity-trade policy that allows farmers to sell their product at prices high enough for their operations to be financially viable and to turn a small profit, and no longer need to be on federal farm subsidy assistance just to survive. If Democrats can offer a solution to the farm economy, they can win back those farm states that Republicans have taken for granted.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Opinion - Thomas Friedman offers advice on how to defeat Trump

Thomas L. Friedman (NY Times Opinion) has some ideas about How to Defeat Trump. For starters, we need a patriotic Republican on the right to run as a third-party candidate. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

Growing up, I was always fascinated with the magician-psychic Uri Geller, who was famous for bending spoons with his supposed supernatural powers. How did he do that? I wondered. I’ve been thinking about him lately as I’ve watched an even more profound magic trick playing out in our politics. We have a president who can bend people.

In so many cases, Donald Trump has been able to take people who came into his orbit and just bend them to his lying ways the way Uri Geller bent spoons. The latest is Attorney General William Barr, who, in only a few weeks, got bent into becoming Trump’s personal lawyer. But Barr is in good company. Trump took Senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz, who’d actually been bent against him, and bent them into fawning sycophants. It’s awesome!

How does he do that trick? Surely the answer lies partly in Trump’s energy source: Fox News, Breitbart and Trump’s own Twitter feed keep his base in a state of constant agitation and high partisanship, and Trump, seemingly with no hands, leverages that energy into bending so many Republicans to his will. With a few exceptions, like Jim Mattis, Trump also has a knack for picking people who are bendable.

And bendable people — people who, like Trump, were always outsiders or never on the A-team — are attracted to him to get ahead.

"Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from,” former F.B.I. Director James Comey explained in The Times. “It takes character like Mr. Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.”

What worries me most right now is that if Trump gets a second term he’ll also bend all the key institutions that govern us. Already he’s softening the steel in many of them so they can be bent more easily.

Look at the dishonest crusade he has begun against the F.B.I. for “spying” on his campaign and how we need to “investigate the investigators.” Trump and his bent spoons are ready to wreck any institution that gets in the way of his re-election or unfettered exercise of power.

For America to stay America, Trump has to be defeated.

I don’t want him impeached. He has to be voted out. Only that will restore the faith of the world that America has not lost its mind and maybe, maybe, will force a much-needed debate among Republicans, titled, “How did we let this grifter take over our party?”

But defeating Trump won’t be easy, so I am hoping for three things. First, we desperately need a third party. No, no, no — not that kind of third party!

I don’t mean a third party that sits between Democrats and Republicans. We need a Republican third-party candidate who won’t just primary Trump but will get on the general election ballot and challenge him in 2020 in all 50 states — but do it from his right, not from the center.

In defense, Friedman recalls the 2000 race in Florida. “We need a Republican who will do to Trump what Ralph Nader did to Al Gore in Florida in 2000.” Nader received 97,488 votes but Bush won by only 537 votes.

Second, we need some dutiful people to bear witness. There is now a club of people who have served at the top of Trump’s administration in the past two years who either quit, because they would not bend, or were forced out after Trump could bend them no longer: Mattis, Don McGahn, H.R. McMaster, Rex Tillerson, Gary Cohn, Kirstjen Nielsen, John Kelly, Jeff Sessions and Reince Priebus. (We also need to hear from Robert Mueller.)

Finally, most important, we need a Democratic candidate who can appeal not only to Democrats but also hold the independents, moderate Republicans and suburban women whose votes shifted the House to the Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections and whose support will be vital for any Democrat to win the presidency.

Yes, virtually the entire G.O.P. political/media apparatus is now a Trump-bent spoon ready to serve up whatever alternate universe he constructs. But the country is not. If Democrats don’t fight fire with fire, they lose. But if they just fight fire with fire, we burn the whole house down.

You also have to summon people with a message of unity and respect; there are moderate Republicans and independents whose support is vital. It’s a tricky balance, and the Democrat who gets it wins.

U. S. Senators approval in context of partisan lean

This item from the 538 morning significant digits email caught my attention. (But, of course it would, being a numbers guy.)

+35 PARS
Earlier this week saw the reintroduction of our Popularity Above Replacement Governor scores (or PARG) and now we have Popularity Above Replacement Senator scores (or PARS). Just like PARG, PARS is calculated by taking the difference between a politician’s net approval rating and her state’s partisan lean. Topping the PARS list is Joe Manchin of West Virginia at +35; at the bottom is Mitch McConnell of Kentucky at –36. [FiveThirtyEight]

Here’s the introduction to the featured 538 article, How Every Senator Ranks According To ‘Popularity Above Replacement Senator’

No matter who wins the 2020 presidential election, they won’t be able to get much done if their party doesn’t also win the Senate. Historically, the presidential election results in a given state have tracked closely with the Senate outcome there, and the two are only coming into closer alignment (in 2016, for example, the presidential and Senate outcome was the same in every state). But partisanship isn’t the only factor in Senate races (yet); a senator’s popularity can still make a difference. That’s why, today, we’re unveiling a metric of a senator’s political standing that takes both partisanship and popularity into account.

With the help of Morning Consult, which polls the approval ratings of U.S. senators every quarter, we’ve created a statistic that I’m playfully calling Popularity Above Replacement Senator (PARS). It’s based on the same premise as my Popularity Above Replacement Governor (PARG) statistic1 — that it’s a good idea to think about politicians’ popularity in the context of their states’ partisanship. PARS, like PARG, is calculated by measuring the distance between a politician’s net approval rating (approval rating minus disapproval rating) in her state and the state’s partisan lean (how much more Republican- or Democratic-leaning it is than the country as a whole). Take West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin as an example. According to the latest Morning Consult poll, which covered the first three months of 2019, Manchin had a +5 net approval rating. That may not look like anything special, but it’s actually quite impressive because Manchin is a Democrat in one of the reddest states in the nation (R+30). Accordingly, he leads all senators with a +35 PARS.

With that in mind, I scanned the included table for some select PARS scores.

Our own Kyrsten Sinema (D, AZ) has a net positive approval rating of +12 in a red-leaning state, R+9, getting her a PARS of +21.

An equal number of people disapprove and approve of Martha McSally (R, AZ) giving her a net approval of zero. The state leans Republican, R+9 so she gets a PARS of –9. Bear in mind that her seat will be on the ballot in 2020 as will McConnell’s (who racks up the lowest PARS score of –36).

You might want to scan the table included in the 538 report for the presidential hopefuls’ PARS scores. At the bottom is Elizabeth Warren (D, MA) (+9 D+29 –20). Amy Klobuchar (D, MN) is at the top (+32 D+2 +30).

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Why 'Impeachment still off the table'

In this Subscriber’s Post, Judd Legum (popular.info) explains why Speaker Nancy Pelosi is still “firmly against” impeachment.

As Trump and his cabinet obstruct all Congressional oversight, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is still firmly against impeachment. Why? Pelosi does not believe that Trump will voluntarily leave office unless he’s defeated by an overwhelming margin in 2020.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi does not believe President Trump can be removed through impeachment — the only way to do it, she said this week, is to defeat him in 2020 by a margin so “big” he cannot challenge the legitimacy of a Democratic victory.

That is something she worries about.

“We have to inoculate against that, we have to be prepared for that,” Ms. Pelosi said during an interview at the Capitol on Wednesday as she discussed her concern that Mr. Trump would not give up power voluntarily if he lost re-election by a slim margin next year.

This is a shocking statement from the country’s most powerful Democrat. She does not believe that Congress is capable of removing Trump and, more strikingly, she does not believe an election is capable of removing Trump unless the margin is “big.” She believes pursuing impeachment will alienate moderate voters necessary to deliver that margin.

What Pelosi and Cohen have in common

From NBC News in Michael Cohen testimony: The 10 best lines from his hearing before Congress.

… WILL NEVER BE A PEACEFUL TRANSITION OF POWER…’

Cohen said in his closing statement that he fears for the future of the country’s democracy if Trump loses re-election

“Indeed, given my experience working for Mr. Trump, I fear that if he loses the election in 2020 that there will never be a peaceful transition of power,” Cohen said. “This is why I agreed to appear before you today.”

Can you envision 30 years of monarchical rule by Trump and his progeny? You might think about eating cold pizza for breakfast.

30 years
30 years of King Donald? (from Pearls before Swine)

When it comes to our role in climate change, we humans are an affront to God

From the very beginning of this blog, your Scriber has been posting about the perils of climate change. This is not merely an exercise in academic research. For example, on the foreseeable horizon are extinctions of species that contribute to our own food supply. By our lackadaisical disinterest in climate change, we humans are fouling our own planetary nest. Nowhere is that more apparent than in our capitol where our president and his followers are trading the fate of the planet (and our own species) for short term economic and political gain.

Following is a chronology of posts in this blog and a new post by the Arizona Blue Meanie that is required reading for those who are concerned about the future of Mother Earth. As the Blue Meanie explains, we humans are doing a terrible job as stewards of God’s creation. Read on.

Here is the post from the Blue MeanieThe Holocene extinction: the human species is failing as good stewards of God’s creation with some selected snippets from the literature he reviewed. (Even if you know all this stuff, it’s worth a read just for the iconic images.)

The diversity of life on our planet is deteriorating far more rapidly than previously thought, with up to 1 million species threatened with extinction, many of which could be lost “within decades,” concludes a sweeping new scientific assessment from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released Monday in Paris. The IPBES findings amount to a first-ever global report on the state of nature, and it is aimed at getting policy-makers, activists and others to place biodiversity loss higher on the list of global priorities.

The New York Times reports, Civilization Is Accelerating Extinction and Altering the Natural World at a Pace ‘Unprecedented in Human History’:

Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

… in the Americas, nature provides some $24 trillion of non-monetized benefits to humans each year. The Amazon rain forest absorbs immense quantities of carbon dioxide and helps slow the pace of global warming. Wetlands purify drinking water. Coral reefs sustain tourism and fisheries in the Caribbean. Exotic tropical plants form the basis of a variety of medicines.

But as these natural landscapes wither and become less biologically rich, the services they can provide to humans have been dwindling.

Humans are producing more food than ever, but land degradation is already harming agricultural productivity on 23 percent of the planet’s land area, the new report said. The decline of wild bees and other insects that help pollinate fruits and vegetables is putting up to $577 billion in annual crop production at risk. The loss of mangrove forests and coral reefs along coasts could expose up to 300 million people to increased risk of flooding.

“Human actions threaten more species with global extinction now than ever before,” the report concludes, estimating that “around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken.”

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Former DOJ prosecutors charge Trump with obstruction - but does anyone care

538’s significant digits morning email has this alert:

More than 450 former federal prosecutors
Hundreds of former federal prosecutors, from both Democratic and Republican administrations, have signed a statement that says the findings of Robert Mueller would have led to criminal charges of obstruction of justice against President Trump were he not president. The statement and its signatories are a rebuke to Attorney General William Barr, who claimed that the evidence was “not sufficient” to show that Trump committed a crime. [The Washington Post]

Rolling Stone has the more recent numbers in Former Prosecutors: Trump Deserves to Be Charged With ‘Multiple’ Felonies.. Hundreds of former Department of Justice lawyers have signed an open letter arguing Trump would be charged with obstruction of justice if he were not the president.

More than 500 former federal prosecutors have signed on to an open letter declaring that President Trump appears to have has committed numerous felonies, and would already have been charged if he were not the commander in chief.

The open letter, posted to Medium, had been signed by 566 former Justice Department lawyers as of Monday night, including two former chiefs of the criminal division in the Southern District of New York, among other notables.

Parts of the letter, from Medium, follow.

The Mueller report describes several acts that satisfy all of the elements for an obstruction charge: conduct that obstructed or attempted to obstruct the truth-finding process, as to which the evidence of corrupt intent and connection to pending proceedings is overwhelming. These include:

· The President’s efforts to fire Mueller and to falsify evidence about that effort;
· The President’s efforts to limit the scope of Mueller’s investigation to exclude his conduct; and
· The President’s efforts to prevent witnesses from cooperating with investigators probing him and his campaign.

Of course, these aren’t the only acts of potential obstruction detailed by the Special Counsel. It would be well within the purview of normal prosecutorial judgment also to charge other acts detailed in the report.

We emphasize that these are not matters of close professional judgment. Of course, there are potential defenses or arguments that could be raised in response to an indictment of the nature we describe here. In our system, every accused person is presumed innocent and it is always the government’s burden to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. But, to look at these facts and say that a prosecutor could not probably sustain a conviction for obstruction of justice — the standard set out in Principles of Federal Prosecution — runs counter to logic and our experience.

As former federal prosecutors, we recognize that prosecuting obstruction of justice cases is critical because unchecked obstruction — which allows intentional interference with criminal investigations to go unpunished — puts our whole system of justice at risk. We believe strongly that, but for the OLC memo, the overwhelming weight of professional judgment would come down in favor of prosecution for the conduct outlined in the Mueller Report.

Giving Congress the finger

But here is the thing. Barr just blew off Congress’ subpoena for the full Mueller report. No particular reason - he did it because he thinks he can get away with it. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin just refused to hand over Trump’s tax returns, the law notwithstanding. And the guy at the top, King Donald, issued a blanket decree about not honoring any subpoenas from Congress. So if these guys have so little regard for the rule of law and our constitution, why would they worry about what 566 former prosecutors think?

Monday, May 6, 2019

Illustrated Gnus and other critters to feed the Mournday Mourning Madness

GOP OK with Russian interference
Sen. Lindsey Graham: "I don't care ... It's over."

While the medical community battles a new outbreak of measles, I think we should contemplate the possibility of vaccinations and vitamins for other disorders. Here is a partial list of vaccinations: Presidential churlishness, Attorney General dishonesty, Senators’ hypocrisy. We might boost some desirable characteristics: A vitamin for the rule of law and injections of empathy for the Cabinet come to mind.

Here are the rest of themes, schemes, memes, and falemes in this edition of the Illustrated Gnus (aka cartoons from AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona).

  • WASPy parent’s question: “Why should we get the measles vaccine?” Pediatrician’s answer: “Because there is no vaccination for stupidity.” Child asks another question: “Is there a vaccine to protect me from lousy parenting?”
  • Shootout at the NRA corral: LaPierre out-guns Ollie North.
  • Trump’s battle with Congress over the separation of powers: The ax-man cometh. He’ll just cut Congress out of our government.
That's all folks
Trump's end-game for the rule of law
  • Trumpocchio sets record with over 10,000 lies.
  • Fitz explains Trump’s new asylum fee: “Give me your tired your poor … the shirts off your backs.”
  • Toonists take jabs at the 20 (or so) Dem candidates for Prez. But Scriber’s Usually Unreliable Sources say that the DNC has a novel way of limiting the pool of candidates: A new slogan, “20 in 20.”

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Teachers are the real patriots

These are tumultuous times. It seems every single day brings a rollercoaster of emotions over what is going on in our country.

A couple of days ago, I read this letter to the editor in the AZ Star that floored me.
Not only that it had been written, but that the Star printed it (hope they also sent it to the FBI). But after further reflection, I realized that it is better to shine the light on hate like this. It is better to understand the threat so that we can be prepared to counter it.

This guy gets so much wrong. I too am a veteran who served 22 years in the Air Force. I too took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same…”. But, I don’t equate defending the President with defending the Constitution. Not, when that President has told over 10,000 lies since taking the Oath of Office and not when he refuses to respect the Constitution himself.

What is most galling and actually frightening about this letter though, is that Mr. Theriot thinks that Democrats are the enemy, not the Russians who hacked our elections and continue to conduct cyber warfare against us daily to disrupt our operations and sow hate and divisiveness.

Ultimately though, I remain hopeful. For every Theriot, there are dozens of others like a group of teachers in Flagstaff who recently pushed back on an invite from the Arizona Chamber.Saying they “recognize the gesture of a Teacher Appreciation Dinner, we respectfully decline the invitation. We feel attending your dinner would be condoning the AZ Chamber’s many coordinated attacks on public education over the years. You see, educators have been pleading with the state of Arizona for adequate public education funding for an entire decade, and it seems that at every turn, the Chamber of Commerce has been there to block our efforts and work against us.”

There is much to be proud of with these almost 100 teachers’ not only taking the stand, but individually putting their names on the letter to the Chamber. In our hyper-polarized nation, it is increasingly difficult to take a stand. But, these teachers understand that, “if you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything.” So, they stood and said “we cannot and will not ignore the Chambers’ agression toward public education funding, and we refuse to allow your organization to bask in the glow of a feel-good PR campaign while consistently working against the interests of educators and working families across our great state.”

The teachers were also clear that they “will always welcome any collaboration with the business community designed to achieve positive educational outcomes for all of Arizona’s children.” They aren’t closed off to innovations for the betterment of all students, they just aren’t going to accept a system that is increasingly stacked to benefit those who “have” over those who “have not”.

I’m guessing Mr. Theriot would be as aghast at these teachers’ letter, as I was at his. The difference though is that the teachers’ words are aligned with the Constitution and good old American values, not at odds with it. They are exercising their 1st Amendment Rights to call out hypocrisy, not promising the “wrath of Hell will descend” on fellow Americans.The teachers are also standing up for their public school students, not a President who is a pathological liar and of whom, Mitt Romney saidhe was “sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection”.

Where Theriot said, “there are many retired military who will protect our president” (in spite of the Constitution one might surmise), the teachers called out the AZ Chamber for their work in scuttling a ballot initiative supported by the voters and for giving “enormous tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy instead of requiring them to pay their fair share for the benefit of all”. They also called out the Chamber for making “it a top priority to devastate educators’ retirement security by privatizing our pensions”, demanding "the Chamber of Commerce leave our retirement funds as the earned, defined benefit they are.

These teachers, standing up for those most vulnerable among us, are the real patriots. They know there can be no great democratic republic when there is no educated citizenry and that our public schools are the only ones that can address the problems we face at the scale demanded. Over 90% of America’s K–12 population attends public schools and that is where our singular educational focus should be. No. That is where it MUST be. Yes, to provide an engaged citizenry who can think creatively and determine fact from fiction.

The focus must also be on public schools to ensure our country stays strong. According to The American Conservativein 2018, one in three potential recruits are disqualified from service because they’re overweight, one in four cannot meet minimal educational standards (a high school diploma or GED equivalent), and one in 10 have a criminal history. In plain terms, about 71 percent of 18-to–24-year-olds (the military’s target pool of potential recruits) are disqualified from the minute they enter a recruiting station: that’s 24 million out of 34 million Americans. The article didn't mention that the frenzied focus on high-stakes standardized tests and siphoning money from public schools have largely not improved achievement, but often robbed our students of opportunities such as physical education, art, music and more. Research shows curriculums must be robust to adequately develop all parts of the mind and to keep students engaged in school. Unfortunately, students in schools that are able to offer more, have plenty of other choices besides military enlistment.

Yes, we have much work to do. But, allowing ourselves to be divided and conquered, whether by Russia, partisan politics, or school privatizers is not going to help us get it done. To stay strong and prosperous, we must be true to what is referred to as the “immortal declaration”. From the Declaration of Independence, it states that, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”.

America is undoubtedly a long way from realizing this dream. But even the aspiration itself is one of the things that sets us apart from most other nations and is one that we should fight tooth and nail to achieve. As patriots, we must steadfastly reject the nightmare Theriot and others like him would have us embrace and continue to fight with all our power for this American ideal and the Dream it promises.

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com