Thursday, February 28, 2019

$23 Billion - The Wrenching Reality

U.S. News and World Report and CNN recently highlighted an EdBuild report that shows $23 billion dollars separate America’s white and nonwhite school districts. n other words,
“nonwhite school districts get $23 billion less than white districts despite serving the same number of students.”
More than half of all U.S. public school students are enrolled in racially concentrated school districts” which the EdBuild report defines as more than 75% white or nonwhite students. In addition, about 20% of students are enrolled in districts that are both poor and nonwhite, but just 5% of students live in white districts that are equally financially challenged. These conditions help create an average disparity in the U.S. of about 19% or $2,600 less per student in poor nonwhite school districts than those in affluent white ones.

At least Arizona is one of the 35 states that “actively works to redistribute education money to make up for the fact that wealthier school districts generate more local funding than poor school districts.” It is called “equalization funding”, and provides school districts a base funding of $3,960 for every student enrolled (2018–19). With the school funding system reliant on local taxes however, EdBuild says smaller districts can have the effect of concentrating resources for a small, privileged few. And not only do wealthier districts have higher property values to better support the district, they may enjoy more active PTAs and well-funded school foundations to provide additional assistance. These conditions have resulted in Arizona having the biggest funding gap between districts where predominantly nonwhite districts received an average of $7,613 less per student.

Moreover, when we consider poor nonwhite districts to poor white districts, the disparity gets even worse. In Arizona, 34% of students attend racially isolated school districts, with 32% attending high-poverty, predominantly nonwhite school districts, and 1% attending high-poverty predominantly white school districts. "The average high-poverty, nonwhite school district in Arizona has 5,920 students compared to 433 in the average high-poverty, white school district. The difference in funding between them is 59%, or $11,000 less per student. Where the average revenue (funding) per student is $10,400, that can be hard to wrap your head around. But, Chuck Essigs of the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, and Matthew Ladner, Senior Research Strategist at the Arizona Chamber Foundation, agreed that EdBuild should have added up expenditures for all white and non-white school district groups, and divided that number by the number of students in each group. If they had said Ladner, the disparity would have been about $772 per student, rather than the astronomical $7,613 that EdBuild reported. On the high poverty, racially concentrated schools, the actual disparity would have been about $1,400 rather than the nearly $11,000 EdBuild reported.



According to EdBuild,
“Because schools rely heavily on local taxes, drawing borders around small, wealthy communities benefits the few at the detriment of the many. White districts enroll just over 1,500 students – half the size of the national average, and nonwhite districts serve over 10,000 students – three times more than that average.”
This problem is exacerbated in Arizona where many of the mostly white districts are small and rural and the nonwhite districts tend to be larger, in urban areas. “The comparison groups are like oranges and apples,” contends ASU Teachers College assistant professor Margarita Pivoarova. “We can’t really compare, not in terms of size, not in terms of location.” Other Arizona officials admit there is a disparity, but say EdBuild should have factored in more of the state’s students, such as charters with just a dozen students. Anabel Aportela, the director of research for the Arizona School Boards Association said, "There's so many things to question about the data [like the small school weight formula], you can easily dismiss the message.” 

I know Anabel and if she says there’s more to the story, there is. But, we must be open to the truth that our current school funding formula, which has been in place for 35 years -- before charters, school tax credits, and vouchers were part of the landscape -- needs to be relooked.
“”So long as we link opportunity to gerrymandered borders and school funding to local wealth, we will never have a fair education system,“ Sibilia says. ”The wrenching reality is that“, says Rebecca Sibilia, CEO of EdBuild,
”from any angle, America is investing billions more in the future of white children."
And that should not be, of course, acceptable to anyone.

When it comes to climate change, a rat in the ocean is our canary in the coal mine. And insects are next.

This is the first of a two-part series on the climate change catastrophe assured to doom our planet - unless we do some pretty drastic things to stop it. The horizon is not weeks or months, to be sure, but it’s not too many years away. In this part I feature some new reports on signs of climate change - the extinction of species.

Extinction
Extinction is forever.
Bramble Cay Melomys has been declared
extinct as a result of climate change

You don’t expect a rat in the ocean. Neither did this rat expect to end its life in an ocean. But it and its brethren are gone - wiped out - extinct - from the loss of habitat due to rising sea levels. If we do not take heed, this little fellow could be a model of what will happen to our own species.

CNN reports on the Australian mammal becomes first to go extinct due to climate change.

A small brown rat which lived on a tiny island off northern Australia is the world’s first mammal known to have become extinct due to “human-induced climate change,” the government says.

The Bramble Cay melomys inhabited a small coral island on the Great Barrier Reef, measuring about five hectares (12 acres) and located in the Torres Strait, between Queensland state and Papua New Guinea.

The cause of its extinction was “almost certainly ocean inundation” from rising sea levels over the past decade, which had led to “dramatic habitat loss,” according to the 2016 report.

If temperatures continue to rise, nearly 8% of all species worldwide could become extinct, a 2015 study by the University of Connecticut found. Australia, New Zealand and South America are considered to be at highest risk

Insectageddon

Alarm bells should be ringing about the die-off of insects. The New Zealand publication, “stuff”, reports on an Insectageddon: a global crisis of insect extinction and population decline.

A recent review has demonstrated a “dreadful state of insect biodiversity in the world, as almost half of the species are rapidly declining and a third are being threatened with extinction”. This should be a substantial wakeup call. You should be concerned.

The review examined 73 studies that repeatedly surveyed insects for 10 years. Their analysis included work from Germany showing a 76 per cent decline in flying insect biomass over 27 years.

This insect Armageddon or “insectageddon” is a global phenomenon. Puerto Rico was found to have experienced up to 98 percent biomass loss in some rainforest habitats over a 36-year period.

New Zealand insects are in crisis too. We have very little data for the vast majority of our bugs.

Probably the best audit so far has shown 32.5 per cent of the invertebrate species for which we have data are threatened or at risk. A total of 49 per cent of our carabid beetle species are threatened or at risk. Extinctions have already occurred.

Entomologists are in agreement that an “insectageddon” is happening here: we’ve seen what is probably a long and gradual decline in insect species and abundance over several decades.

What is causing the rapid global decline of insects? The study points to habitat loss by conversion to intensive agriculture and urbanisation, pollution by synthetic pesticides and fertilisers, pathogens and introduced species, as well as climate change.

This insectageddon is catastrophic. …

… . Previous insectageddon studies have been published, with supporting media coverage and statements from other scientists (“if we lose the insects, then everything is going to collapse”). But then little else happens.

… Just as the insectageddon is a worldwide phenomenon, the lack of government action is similarly near global. …

The Guardian also reports on Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’. Exclusive: Insects could vanish within a century at current rate of decline, says global review.

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

Prof Paul Ehrlich, at Stanford Universityin the US, has seen insects vanish first-hand, through his work on checkerspot butterflies on Stanford’s Jasper Ridge reserve. He first studied them in 1960 but they had all gone by 2000, largely due to climate change.

Ehrlich praised the review, saying: “… that it is human overpopulation and overconsumption that is driving all the things [eradicating insects], including climate change,” he said.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Quote of the Day on Cohen's statement to the House committee

The quote is in regard to the hearing this morning by the House Oversight and Reform Committee. As of 10:20 AM (EST), the GOPlins are hell bent on disrupting the hearing. Committee chair Elijah Cummings is having none of it. Cohen is making his opening statement (10:30 AM).

Yesterday, the NY Times previewed the spectacle in Michael Cohen Plans to Call Trump a ‘Con Man’ and a ‘Cheat’ in Congressional Testimony.

“It’s laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Trump at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies,” she said (where “she” = Sarah Suckabee Handers).

Did she really say that? Of course not. What she really did say is this.

“It’s laughable that anyone would take a convicted liar like Cohen at his word, and pathetic to see him given yet another opportunity to spread his lies,” she said (where “she” = Sarah Huckabee Sanders).

Which quote you prefer is up to you.

Here is a link to the full text of Cohen’s statement, Read Michael Cohen’s opening statement here.

UPDATED - GOP is a cult, not a political party. In violating their oaths of office, they've given up any claim on governing.

Today, Tuesday Feb. 26, the House voted on the resolution brought by Rep. Joaquin Castro. Only 13 Republicans voted for it.

JOINT RESOLUTION
Relating to a national emergency declared by the President on February 15, 2019.

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That, pursuant to section 202 of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622), the national emergency declared by the finding of the President on February 15, 2019, in Proclamation 9844 (84 Fed. Reg. 4949) is hereby terminated.

The House clerk reports the result (updated Tuesday, 6:32 PM). (As of 3:30, the time of my original post, no Republicans had voted for it.)

H RES 144 YEA-AND-NAY 26-Feb–2019 6:32 PM
QUESTION: On Agreeing to the Resolution BILL TITLE: Providing for consideration of the joint resolution (H.J. Res. 46) relating to a national emergency declared by the President on February 15, 2019
DEMOCRATIC YEAS 232 NAYS 0
REPUBLICAN YEAS 13 NAYS 182

So the resolution passed on a mainly party-line vote.

I gotta ask: who are these 182 Republicans? What do they have against our constitution?

Jennifer Rubin has some answers in her column, Republicans like this demonstrate the party’s intellectual collapse.

Republicans for the Rule of Law’s ad aptly demonstrates the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the right, which took the separation of powers seriously only when a Democrat was in the White House.

“If Republicans were against executive overreach then, they should be against it now.”

Republican hypocrisy is so glaring that one can only stare in amazement when self-proclaimed conservatives twist and turn to avoid confronting an out-of-control executive. Sometimes the display of spinelessness is downright embarrassing …

Rubin provides transcripts from CBS News interviews with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Rep.Adam Kinzinger (R-ILL.). For example:

MARGARET BRENNAN: But do you think this is constitutional for the president–

REP. KINZINGER: I do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: –to bypass the power of the purse strings of Congress?

REP. KINZINGER: I do. Yes. Yes, because in this case like I said at the beginning, if this was just about immigration I would disagree. I do think this is a security threat.

And on he went. No evidence of an emergency doesn’t prevent him from insisting there is one. No presidential power grab is alarming enough to force him to defend his coequal branch of government. What a shabby performance.

Republicans’ blather, evasion and lack of candor should remove any doubt that the party is now motivated by a single message: Defend whatever Trump says.

A political party must be more than a cult. As currently constituted, the Republican Party no longer stands for constitutional democracy; as such, it should be banished from government.

With apologies to those 13 Republicans who voted for the resolution, 6.7% is a pretty poor showing for a party cult that wraps itself in the flag and our constitution.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Tombsday Illustrated Gnus and other Trumpian creatures

Votes

Here’s a rundown of the themes, schemes, memes, and falemes in today’s Mournday Mourning Illustrated Gnus by the Arizona Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona.

What? You say this is Tuesday? What, me worry?

  • How many GOP votes will Tump lose in the House? As of this morning, only one.
  • The real emergencies: climate change, gun violence, income inequality, voting rights, health care, opioid epidemic, the wall. Oops! the wall
  • FLASH! McConnell (R, KY) diverts Kentucky school funds to Trump’s national emergency.
  • Naw, but gotcha! ’fess up. For just a couple of seconds you thought that was completely plausible.
  • Trump’s Green New Deal: Greenbacks for Gazillionaires.
  • Trump experiences an awkward moment when he can’t remember which murderous tyrant he promised our nation’s nuclear secrets to. So, he sent Jared Kushner to the Middle East to sort it out.
  • Trump and Kim not going to get a Nobel Peace Prize. But they might get next year’s Oscar for Best Performance of a Diplomatic Farce.
  • GOP favors passing Trump’s proposal to remove the white and blue from the U. S. flag. Putin approves.
  • Dems charge GOP with being the party of old white guys. Hmmmm. And the Dem front runners are ….?
  • On the other side, purity is good for water but not so good for electability.
  • Experiment proposed by 12-year old at school science fair: “My Mom did not get me vaccinated so let’s see what happens.”
  • The Mom in question: “I had no idea that making child health decisions based on a Facebook post was a bad idea.”

House to vote today on resolution to block Trump's bogus national emergency

READ: Resolution to Block Trump’s National Emergency. US News & World Report asks that you Read the text that sets up a high-stakes battle between the House, Senate and President Donald Trump.

On Tuesday [that would be today], the House will hold a vote weighing in on Donald Trump’s declaration that people attempting to cross our southern border without authorization (a misdemeanor offense) constitutes a “National Emergency” of such dire import that it justifies bypassing the will of Congress, and by extension, the will of the American people.

On Friday, Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro introduced a Resolution of Disapproval of the President’s “emergency” declaration, co-sponsored by 225 Democrats and, as of this writing, exactly one Republican.

AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona has lots more including the text of the resolution and the various groups weighing in in support of Castro’s resolution, The choice is simple and clear: the Constitution, or Donald Trump. Right now it looks like it’s going to be a party-line vote. If so, you know who is making what choice.

Tuesday’s vote in the House on the resolution to reverse President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the Mexico border is A litmus test ‘to preserve, to protect, and to defend the Constitution of the United States’.

But as the headline at Daily Kos says, On Tuesday, Americans can watch Republicans betray the Constitution—and the country—in real time:

The significance of Tuesday’s vote and what it will show about the Republican Party cannot be overstated. As required to assume their office, each and every elected representative in both sides of Congress took a formal oath to defend the Constitution. They stood before their families, friends, constituents and cameras, placed their hand on a Bible or whatever “holy book” they claimed to respect, smiled broadly, and declared their absolute fealty to that founding document.

Tuesday will show us, very simply, which Republicans actually believe in that oath and which ones do not.

To the House Republicans, AZBlueMeanie says this:

The choice is simple and clear: your oath “to preserve, to protect and to defend the Constitution of the United States, or your sycophant devotion to the personality cult of Donald Trump. History will judge you harshly should you vote for an autocrat.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Economic inequality update - who is doing well and who is not

Here is the debate over who is doing well in our economy.

Have upper-middle-class Americans been winners in the modern economy — or victims? That question has been the subject of a debate recently among economists, writers and others.

On one side are people who argue that the bourgeois professional class — essentially, households with incomes in the low-to-mid six figures but without major wealth — is not so different from the middle class and poor. All of these groups are grappling with slow-growing incomes, high medical costs, student debt and so on.

On the opposing side are people who believe that the country’s defining class line is further down the economic ladder. To them, the upper middle class is on the happy side, enjoying rising incomes, longer lifespans, stable marriages and good schools. …

After that framing of the debate in his NY Times piece, David Leonhardt asks “Is it more similar to the top 1 percent or the working class?” He answers in his report on How the Upper Middle Class Is Really Doing. The short version: “Since 1980, the incomes of the very rich have grown faster than the economy. The upper middle class has kept pace with the economy, while the middle class and poor have fallen behind.”

Thus Leonhardt makes the case for three income groups. “… To make grand pronouncements about the American economy, you need to talk about three groups.”

The first is indeed the top 1 percent of earners, and especially the very richest. Their post-tax incomes (and wealth) have surged since 1980, rising at a much faster rate than economic growth. They are now capturing an even greater share of the economy’s bounty.

Then there are the bottom 90 percent of households, who are in the opposite position. The numbers here take into account taxes and government transfers, like Social Security, financial aid and anti-poverty benefits. Even so, the incomes of the bottom 90 percent have trailed G.D.P. Over time, their share of the economy’s bounty has shrunk.

Finally, there is the upper middle class, defined here as the 90th to 99th percentiles of the income distribution (making roughly $120,000 to $425,000 a year after tax). Their income path doesn’t look like that of either the first or second group. It’s not above the [GDP] line or below it. It’s almost directly on top of it. Since 1980, the incomes of the upper middle class have been growing at almost the identical rate as the economy.

… Politicians should recognize that there are three broad income groups, not just two. The bottom 90 percent of Americans does deserve a tax cut, to lift its stagnant incomes. The top 1 percent deserves a substantial tax increase. The upper middle class deserves neither. Its taxes should remain roughly constant, just as its share of economic output has.

That’s happening, at least in the 2020 pool of Democratic candidates.

Kamala Harris’s big tax cut applies only to families making less than $100,000. Elizabeth Warren’s child-care proposal delivers 99 percent of its benefits to the bottom 90 percent of earners, according to Moody’s Analytics. The housing plans from Harris and Cory Booker give all their benefits to the bottom 90 percent, according to the Center on Poverty and Social Policy. The tax cut from Sherrod Brown, who’s a potential candidate, is likewise focused on the middle class and poor.

We should add to this list proposals for tax increases on the very rich. For example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez offers a not-so-radical proposal for a progressive tax rate system. Her proposal, quite moderate really, would tax income over $10 million at 60 to 70% - basically a return to tax levels during the pre-Reagan, Eisenhower years.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Mark Kelly defines his next 'mission' in his campaign for U. S. Senate.

Ever since Mark Kelly announced his run for the U. S. Senate there have been concerns about his positions. Rather, the concern is about the absence of clear stands. For example, Mark Kelly’s Arizona Senate Run Could Spark A Clash With The Left reported the Huffington Post.

Democratic operatives are ecstatic about Mark Kelly’s decision to run against appointed Arizona Republican Sen. Martha McSally in 2020. He’s a dream candidate: a naval aviator-turned-astronaut who’s made four trips to space, the husband of a Democratic Party star who survived an assassination attempt, a gun control advocate who’s helped a nationwide network of candidates and built a matching network of donors.

The Post referred to his candidacy as “The Next Mission For An Undefined Candidate” and went on to explain.

Kelly’s strengths are readily apparent. As the leader of Giffords, the gun control group named for his wife, shooting victim and former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), he’s become a high-profile advocate on a key issue for the Democratic base and played a major role in raising and spending more than $17 million for candidates across the country last cycle.

His introductory video, however, makes little mention of his gun control work, instead focusing on the rest of his biography: The son of a woman who became one of the first female police officers in the 1970s, he joined the Navy, flew combat missions in Operation Desert Storm and become an astronaut alongside his twin brother. He then left NASA to help Giffords with her recovery.

The sterling biography, however, hides a candidate who is still ideologically undefined. In the launch video, Kelly makes his opposition to gerrymandering and refusal to take corporate PAC money clear, but how he would solve other problems mentioned in the video ― high health care costs, wage stagnation ― is left unsaid. As one [Ruben] Gallego ally, granted anonymity to speak about Kelly’s weaknesses, said: “We still don’t know a lot about Mark.”

Kelly does take a firm stance on his belief in man-made climate change. 314 Action, a group that backs scientists for office, cited that as a reason to quickly endorse him. “Very few people have had the type of view Mark has of the damage climate change has done to our planet,” said Josh Morrow, the group’s executive director, referring to Kelly’s time in outer space.

Scriber thinks that all that will change as Kelly gets further into his campaign. Kelly addressed an enthusiastic crowd in his kick-off rally yesterday and staked out positions on most (all?) issues of concern to Dems. Mark Kelly Launches US Senate Campaign to Huge Cheering Crowd in Tucson reports Larry Bodine at Blog for Arizona.

On a sparkling spring day in Tucson, Democrat Mark Kelly announced his candidacy for US Senate to a packed outdoor audience at the Hotel Congress in Tucson.

“This campaign is a mission for Arizona. This is a mission to lift up hardworking Arizonans, making Arizona safe and secure, to give every family in this state access to affordable healthcare, and to make sure wages grow for the middle class,” the former astronaut said. “I have traveled many miles to stand here today — 22 million miles, I think.”

Kelly invited several hundred people gathered to hear him to join his mission:

  • If you want to reward work over wealth, join us.
  • If you believe our strength is our middle class, and not the upper class join us.
  • If you think affordable health care is a right and want lower prescription drug prices, this is the mission for you.
  • If you know that Medicare and Social Security are earned, and we have to keep our promises to our seniors, sign up today.
  • If you want college to be affordable and you want to make sure there are opportunities for good paying jobs for Americans who will not go to college, join us.
  • If you believe we need to protect our children, our kids, from being shot in their classrooms or walking to school, that we need to make our communities safer from gun violence, please be part of this mission.
  • If you want to take care of veterans and provide for the care and services they need, this is the team for you.
  • If you know it’s long past time that we fix our broken immigration services, join us.
  • If you believe that securing our border but doing it smartly, and not demonizing people and breaking up families, join this mission.
  • If you understand that keeping Arizona habitable for our kids means addressing climate change today, we need you on board.
  • If you want to put people ahead of corporate special interests and lobbyists and get dark money out of politics, we need you.
  • If you feel in your heart the urgency of this moment, the importance of this election, join this mission for Arizona.

That list moves Kelly toward being a candidate who is more ideologically defined.

Kelly is running against the unpopular Republican Sen. Martha McSally, who ignored her constituents for two terms in Congress, lost the 2018 race for US Senate, and got into office only by appointment by the Governor.

A new poll conducted in the days after Kelly said he would run for a U.S. Senate seat puts him in a statistical tie with Sen. Martha McSally. Meanwhile, Kelly raised more than $1 million in the first 24 hours after his announcement Feb. 12 that he was running.

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Silence of the GOPlins

Here are two Washington Post editorial pieces that call for Congress to go on record, and to act, to oppose Trump’s power grab that is a blight on the US Constitution, namely his declaration of a national emergency and seizure of funds appropriated by Congress for other purposes.

First, the Washington Post Editorial Board wrote that No one in Congress should be allowed to avoid voting on this presidential power grab.

Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate have pledged to oppose Mr. Trump’s declaration “using every remedy available,” and they should certainly use this one — despite the fact that it comes with a huge disadvantage: Mr. Trump retains the power to veto a joint resolution. Therefore, Congress could terminate the emergency only by overriding his veto, with a two-thirds vote of both houses.

As much of a long shot as this may seem, Congress must pursue a joint resolution for two reasons. First, it is the remedy for executive overreach prescribed by law. And who knows? Eight Republican senators have said they oppose the emergency declaration; a number of others, as well as GOP House members, have expressed misgivings. After a debate in which the full negative implications are made clear — including, for them, the political repercussions and the precedent set for future presidents — it’s just barely conceivable a presidential veto could be overridden.

But only barely — which brings us to the second reason Democrats should use their control of the House to initiate a joint resolution of disapproval: No one in the House or Senate should be allowed to avoid voting on this presidential power grab, and being held accountable for it by the voters. Legal scholars may disagree, legitimately, as to the proper role for judges in protecting legislative prerogatives against alleged executive usurpation. Surely, though, members of Congress should have to stand up and be counted.

Second, Adam Schiff, Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, pens a more pointed appeal in An open letter to my Republican colleagues in the Washington Post. It follows.

This is a moment of great peril for our democracy. Our country is deeply divided. Our national discourse has become coarse, indeed, poisonous. Disunity and dysfunction have paralyzed Congress.

And while our attention is focused inward, the world spins on, new authoritarian regimes are born, old rivals spread their pernicious ideologies, and the space for freedom-loving peoples begins to contract violently. At last week’s Munich Security Conference, the prevailing sentiment among our closest allies is that the United States can no longer be counted on to champion liberal democracy or defend the world order we built.

For the past two years, we have examined Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and its attempts to influence the 2018 midterms. Moscow’s effort to undermine our democracy was spectacularly successful in inflaming racial, ethnic and other divides in our society and turning American against American.

But the attack on our democracy had its limits. Russian President Vladimir Putin could not lead us to distrust our own intelligence agencies or the FBI. He could not cause us to view our own free press as an enemy of the people. He could not undermine the independence of the Justice Department or denigrate judges. Only we could do that to ourselves. Although many forces have contributed to the decline in public confidence in our institutions, one force stands out as an accelerant, like gas on a fire. And try as some of us might to avoid invoking the arsonist’s name, we must say it.

I speak, of course, of our president, Donald Trump.

The president has just declared a national emergency to subvert the will of Congress and appropriate billions of dollars for a border wall that Congress has explicitly refused to fund. Whether you support the border wall or oppose it, you should be deeply troubled by the president’s intent to obtain it through a plainly unconstitutional abuse of power.

To my Republican colleagues: When the president attacked the independence of the Justice Department by intervening in a case in which he is implicated, you did not speak out. When he attacked the press as the enemy of the people, you again were silent. When he targeted the judiciary, labeling judges and decisions he didn’t like as illegitimate, we heard not a word. And now he comes for Congress, the first branch of government, seeking to strip it of its greatest power, that of the purse.

Many of you have acknowledged your deep misgivings about the president in quiet conversations over the past two years. You have bemoaned his lack of decency, character and integrity. You have deplored his fundamental inability to tell the truth. But for reasons that are all too easy to comprehend, you have chosen to keep your misgivings and your rising alarm private.

That must end. The time for silent disagreement is over. You must speak out.

This will require courage. The president is popular among your base, which revels in his vindictive and personal attacks on members of his own party, even giants such as the late senator John McCain. Speaking up risks a primary challenge or accusations of disloyalty. But such acts of independence are the most profound demonstrations of loyalty to country.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III may soon conclude his investigation and report. Depending on what is in that report and what we find in our own investigations, our nation may face an even greater challenge. While I am alarmed at what we have already seen and found of the president’s conduct and that of his campaign, I continue to reserve judgment about what consequences should flow from our eventual findings. I ask you to do the same.

If we cannot rise to the defense of our democracy now, in the face of a plainly unconstitutional aggrandizement of presidential power, what hope can we have that we will do so with the far greater decisions that could be yet to come?

Although these times pose unprecedented challenges, we have been through worse. The divisions during the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement were just as grave and far more deadly. The Depression and World War II were far more consequential. And nothing can compare to the searing experience of the Civil War.

If Abraham Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party, could be hopeful that our bonds of affection would be strained but not broken by a war that pitted brother against brother, surely America can come together once more. But as long as we must endure the present trial, history compels us to speak, and act, our conscience, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Republicans on AZ House Committee vote against vaccinations

In the AZ Lege, there are three Bills that critics fear would lead to dip in vaccinations advance reports Howard Fischer in the Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required). His report also appeared in the Daily Star as Measures approved by Arizona lawmakers could result in fewer children being vaccinated.

Arizona lawmakers approved three measures that foes say could result in fewer children being vaccinated, even amid outbreaks of measles in pockets across the nation.

Members of the House Committee on Health and Human Services voted 5–4 along party lines to:

  • Require that parents be given extensive information about the risks of vaccines, including multipage inserts that are prepared for doctors, a list of the ingredients and how to file a claim for damages;
  • Expand the exemptions available to parents who do not want their children to receive state-mandated vaccines and eliminate a requirement that parents review and sign a form informing them of the risks;
  • Mandate that parents be given the option of having their children tested first to see if they already have immunity.

The votes came over the objections from a string of doctors and other medical professionals who told lawmakers that the changes will undermine public health, at least in part by inundating parents with information that will only confuse them and cause them to have second thoughts.

“Any message you send today indicating a skepticism of vaccines harms the health of our community,” said Steven Brown, a Phoenix doctor. He said lawmakers should make decisions based on science.

“Childhood immunizations are the great public health accomplishment of the past hundred years,” he said.

In Scriber’s view, all this boils down to those who know and trust science versus those who instead trust anecdotes and hearsay. The following excerpts make my case.

Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, the sponsor of all three bills, said she’s not necessarily opposed to vaccines.

“These are not, in my view, anti-vaccine bills,” she said. “They are discussions about fundamental individual rights.”

But Thursday’s testimony was not evenly balanced, with Barto giving those who question the medical safety of vaccines two uninterrupted hours to make their case.

Some of the … testimony was more personal, like Pamela McLeod, a pediatric nurse whose two children have autism, though she noted that one developed the condition before getting his first shots.

“If parents want more information, give it to them,” McLeod told lawmakers.

“I’m not saying vaccines cause autism,” McLeod told lawmakers. “I’m just saying that there are questions and I would have just loved to be given the information that I could have made that choice.”

Science tutorial break

There are three conditions to conclude a cause-effect relation. (1) A and B are correlated, that is, they occur together. If A goes up or goes down, so does B. (2) A precedes B. In order for A to cause B, A must occur first. (3) Other possible causes of B are eliminated.

We don’t even have to get to (3) because McLeod’s testimony violates (2). One of her children developed autism before getting a shot. The shot cannot possibly have caused the autism if it occurred after the onset of the autism. The proponents of Barto’s bills need to look elsewhere for causes of autism.

So where is Barto coming from?

[HB 2470] expands the religious exemption that now exists to cover children in all grades. That exemption is now permitted only for day care and preschool.

There already is a separate personal exemption that covers students through high school. But Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, said she believes the religious exemption is broader.

… what HB 2470 also would do is eliminate the requirement that parents who want the religious exemption must review and sign a form prepared by the Arizona Department of Health Services.

“Now somebody could just write on a napkin, ‘I’ve decided not to vaccinate my baby’ and put them in a child-care center,” said Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley.

What that also means is parents would no longer have to review and sign a form acknowledging that refusing to vaccinate can subject their children to specific risks.

For example, that form says the failure to immunize against measles can lead to pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death. And it tells parents that if they refuse to provide polio shots that can result in paralysis, brain infections, permanent disability and death.

So the state legislature is posed to make our schools disease factories in the name of parental, religious choice. They’ve been at this for years. Let’s hope that if Barto’s bills get a vote that Ducey will have to good sense to veto them.

It's snowing, snowing on my yard.

Buddy Holly’s Raining in My Heart captures the moment around 7:00 AM at the Scribers’ residence as heavy rain converts to heavy snow.

Here is my rewrite of some of the lyrics, Snowing on My Yard.

The sun is gone, the sky is white
The many clouds are not so bright
’cuz it’s snowing, snowing on my yard

The weatherman says clear today
He doesn’t know he’s gone astray
’cuz it’s snowing, snowing on my yard

Breaking - North Carolina elections board

Maybe not so much breaking as broken yesterday afternoon.

N.C. elections board orders new race in disputed House district reported politico.com. The disputed 9th Congressional District will have a new election this year after testimony detailed a fraud scheme during the 2018 midterms.

After a closed session with the election board, the Republican candidate, Mark Harris, called for the special election. Harris’ campaign was marred by that fraud scheme that called into question the validity of the election in NC CD9.

[The] state board of elections voted Thursday to order a new election in the disputed 9th Congressional District, where no winner was declared in the 2018 midterms amid fraud allegations.

The board voted unanimously to call a new House race after hearing testimony that the November election between Republican Mark Harris and Democrat Dan McCready was tainted by a scheme to collect and mark voters’ absentee ballots.

… Harris led McCready on election night by fewer than a thousand votes in the unofficial count, but the election board refused to certify the results, instead launching an investigation into allegations of fraud against Leslie McCrae Dowless, a political operative paid by the Harris campaign.

The investigation culminated in four days of hearings this week detailing the alleged collection and marking of voters’ absentee ballots by Dowless and operatives paid by him.

What the poll numbers say about the fate of the vote to overturn the emergency declaration.

How (un)popular is Donald Trump? An updating calculation of the president’s approval rating, accounting for each poll’s quality, recency, sample size and partisan lean.

As of February 3rd, 56.0% disapprove, 39.5% approve. As of the 22nd, 53.3% disapprove, 42.4% approve. What might have moved those numbers? Try this: on February 15th Trump declares national emergency to build border wall, setting up massive legal fight.

That’s my way of introducing 538’s latest review of polling data.. The full review is reposted below. You should know by now that your Scriber is a numbers nut. But if you are less enamored of the numbers, then you can read the first paragraph and then scroll down to the last paragraph and get the take-away message on why these numbers are really, really important.

Poll(s) of the week

President Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency in order to build more physical barriers on the U.S.-Mexico border was generally unpopular, but polls suggest the move has very high support among Republicans. That dynamic could be important as Trump seeks to overcome challenges to his new policy both on Capitol Hill and in the courts.

Two polls conducted entirely after the emergency declaration show a majority of Americans don’t like it: An NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist poll that came out Tuesday showed a 61–36 split against Trump’s policy, and a Morning Consult/Politico poll released on Wednesday found 39 percent in support, 51 percent opposed. A HuffPost/YouGov survey conducted the day before and the day of the emergency declaration found similar results — 37 percent of Americans said they approved of the move, compared with 55 percent who disapproved.

These numbers don’t surprise me — they generally mirror Trump’s overall job approval ratings. For much of the past two years, around 40 percent of Americans have approved of the president’s performance, while a clear majority has disapproved.

Similarly, overall support for the national emergency declaration is in the upper 30s in the polls we have so far. That’s because Republicans have lined up solidly behind it, according to both polls conducted after the declaration was made — the NPR poll found 85 percent support within the GOP, and the Morning Consult survey found 77 percent support. The HuffPost/YouGov poll found that 84 percent of Trump voters supported the declaration, although that poll was already underway when the declaration was made, so some respondents were asked about the move before it became official while others were asked after the announcement.

It’s not surprising that large numbers of Republicans supported Trump’s decision to declare a national emergency — GOP voters overwhelmingly approve of him. But high party support for a Trump policy is not always a given. For example, the policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border was significantly more unpopular within the party than the emergency declaration is — a FiveThirtyEight average of polls found that only about half of Republicans were on board with the separations. And while a majority of Republicans supported both the failed 2017 health care bill meant to replace Obamacare (67 percent) and the GOP tax plan passed the same year (64 percent), they did so at rates 10 to 20 points lower than we’re seeing on the national emergency policy.

Being backed only by Republican voters still isn’t great for the president. His base alone likely won’t be sufficient to win re-election. But in terms of policy, Trump tends to reverse himself only if there is a breadth of opposition that encompasses more than just Democrats and independents. That kind of opposition tends to create a feedback loop that’s hard to ignore — so, for example, the media criticizes something Trump does or says, establishment Republicans join in, and then the media prominently features those GOP critics in its coverage. Some Republican elected officials were initially wary of Trump declaring a national emergency, but I wonder if they will reconsider that posture after seeing these polls. And with few prominent Republicans willing to cast the national emergency policy as an “extraordinary violation of constitutional norms,” as The New York Times described it last week, I suspect the media will feel pressured to cover this debate as a traditional partisan dispute and so will back off from sharper condemnations of Trump.

Like the media, the courts are sometimes hesitant to take strong stands on partisan disputes. So they may be more reluctant to strike down Trump’s policy than they would be if it had gotten more of a mixed reaction from both sides of the aisle.

But the biggest reason these polls matter is they can affect what happens on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced this week that the House will likely hold a vote to overturn the emergency declaration. If such a measure passed both houses of Congress but was vetoed by Trump, Congress would need a two-thirds majority of both chambers to override the veto. That would require 53 Republicans in the House and 20 in the Senate to break with the president. I thought that was unlikely even before these polls came out. Now, seeing almost universal support for Trump’s declaration among Republican voters, it’s even harder to imagine a large bloc of Republicans in Congress breaking with the president, which means this policy is likely to survive.

And that’s one more reason not to believe that Republican senators have any spine or conservative principles.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The evidence is against the senior Harris.

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

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

It’s incredible.

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

Another model for universal health care

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

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

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Catherine Rampell asks whether America need its Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nukes for the Saudis - coming soon from Trump and Kushner

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

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

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

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

Moreover, following the money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are lots more ugly details. Here are two.

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Lack of principles will drag GOP down with Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time is on Trump’s side.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 18, 2019

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

Trump declares Notional Emergency - and other Illustrated Gnus

Like a succubus visiting America in the dark of night, Trump sucks money from our national defense for his wall, his notional emergency. (Look it up.) Here’s what I had to say about “the wall” on New Years day.

WALL! (Sung to the music from Hair.)

Nancy’, give me my promised WALL, long beautiful WALL
Shining, gleaming, steaming, slats or concrete
Give me funds for the WALL, border length or longer
Here, baby, there, momma, no where can they be together
Wall,wall,wall,wall,wall,wall,wall,wall
Flaunt it, show it, Mexico can grow it, my WALL.

Kelly trumps McSally
When MarKelly met McSally

Here are More Mournday Mourning Mysteries and Magic from the AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona.

  • First president not to have a dog doesn’t need one. He has the GOP and Lindsey.
  • New AG passes congressional Barr exam: Executive power good, Mueller bad.
  • Mitch McConnell has figured out how to burn Democrats - vote against action on climate change.
  • The GOP version of the Green New Deal: more greenbacks for the rich.
  • What Kids Want To Know 101: “Why didn’t we get measles shots?”
  • What Denier Moms Tell Their Kids 102: “They’re bad for you. We learned that on Facebook.”
  • Trump stiffs federal contractors, offers them minimum wage jobs building his wall.
  • The Coultergeist, along with ProfHannity and Limburgher, takes over as new branch of government.

With that, I wish you a Happy Presidents Day.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The real emergencies

The Daily Star has a pair of great opinion pieces about what constitutes read emergencies (as opposed to the phony one touted by Trump).

Tim Steller charges that the Incoherent border emergency doesn’t trouble Arizona politicos. After ripping Trump’s speech into incoherent shreds, he tags our highest office holders with incoherent silence.

The president said this.

I could do the wall over a longer period of time. I didn’t need to do this. But I’d rather do it much faster. And I don’t have to do it for the election. I’ve already done a lot of wall, for the election — 2020. And the only reason we’re up here talking about this is because of the election, because they want to try and win an election, which it looks like they’re not going to be able to do. And this is one of the ways they think they can possibly win, is by obstruction and a lot of other nonsense.

And I think that I just want to get it done faster, that’s all.

Huh? He just acknowledged the emergency declaration wasn’t needed? That he just did it because he wanted to get more wall done faster? That’s weird. Even the Republicans in Arizona must be fleeing from this flimsy justification. What does Gov. Doug Ducey say?

Arizona has watched for decades as Washington has failed to prioritize border security. It’s unfortunate it has come to this rather than Congress doing its job. But action is needed. I support President Trump’s plan to secure our border.

Wait, but Congress just passed a border-security deal that even the president likes except for one detail, the spending on the wall. That’s how Congress does its job, making compromises. Surely senators like Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema saw through these sloppy justifications. What did McSally say?

I will continue to study the emergency declaration and additional funding proposal to ensure it increases border security while not adversely impacting our military.

Oh, so she took the brave stand of taking no stand. What about Sinema?

Congress just did its job, approving more resources for border security. Congress has more work to do on immigration and border security, and I will keep working with my colleagues to get it done.

OK, now we can see what’s going on. The president just made an incoherent argument that any borderland resident can see through, calling their homes the site of a “national emergency” even while admitting he just wants to build more fence faster.

Interesting how nobody in Arizona’s three highest offices dares to point out the obvious flaws that their own Southern Arizona constituents could point out instantly.

And then Sarah Gassen exposes Trump’s self-indulgent ‘emergency’ by identifying real emergencies afflicting Arizonans. Here is most of what she had to say.

The true national emergencies are happening one person, one child, one family, one school, one community at a time.

These real emergencies happen every day.

The emergency is when rent can’t be paid and your family is put out.

The emergency is a second-grader doing his homework in the bathroom because it’s the least noisy place in the one-room trailer he shares with a grandparent and four siblings.

The emergency is knowing you can’t feed your family without help because your job doesn’t pay enough to cover the bills.

The emergency is not having reliable transportation and needing to take your child to school and yourself to work.

The emergency is rationing your insulin because you can’t afford the full dose.

The emergency is sleeping outside because you have nowhere else to go.

The emergency is gun violence in our streets, our schools, our businesses, our houses of worship.

The emergency is a classroom bursting at the seams being led by a teacher with a master’s degree who must work a second job to support her family.

The emergency is a crime victim refusing to call the police because they’re afraid immigration agents will be called.

The emergency is a child coming home to find her mother has been deported.

The emergency is losing a loved one to violence — no matter the murderer’s nationality.

The emergency is an elder living in loneliness.

The emergency is treating drug addiction only as a law enforcement problem.

The emergency is neighborhoods where children can’t safely walk to school and don’t get a quality education once they arrive.

These are the everyday emergencies that have ceased to be seen as emergencies, because they’ve gone on so long.

They’ve slipped into the realm of neglect and that’s-just-how-it-is.

And they’re certainly not the kind of emergencies that come with rallies of cheering crowds and television cameras.

Watch Trump for any length of time and you’ll witness his need to be seen as the adored savior, to latch on to people who’ve been real victims so he can play them for sympathy, appropriating their pain in his desperate need for approval.

Trump’s declaration of an emergency sets a dangerous precedent for the country, and it speaks to the hollowness of his agenda.

There is no hero worship to be had in feeding hungry children, no fame attached to giving families a safe place to live.

There’s no adoring crowd in putting together a food box for your neighbors or paying teachers what they’re worth.

Responding to these emergencies is far more important to our national safety than Trump’s wall could ever be.

No country or community can be safe or secure when so many of its people live every day without either.

When it comes to catastrophic climate change, it's OK to be afraid. Hit the panic button. You owe it to yourself and the planet.

The planet is getting warmer in catastrophic ways. And fear may be the only thing that saves us. That’s the central message in the NY Times op-ed Time to Panic By David Wallace-Wells (Mr. Wallace-Wells is the author of the forthcoming “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming.”)

The bottom line is that climate change is not as bad as you think - it’s worse, far, far worse. So it is OK to panic, to be freaked out by dire climate news. Think of your fear as an adaptive response, as a logical reaction, even as a moral imperative. If our species does not react adaptively, then here is what is assuredly going to happen.

Snippets follow.

In October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released what has become known as its “Doomsday” report — “a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen,” as one United Nations official described it — detailing climate effects at 1.5 and two degrees Celsius of warming (2.7 and 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). At the opening of a major United Nations conference two months later, David Attenborough, the mellifluous voice of the BBC’s “Planet Earth” and now an environmental conscience for the English-speaking world, put it even more bleakly: “If we don’t take action,” he said, “the collapse of our civilizations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.”

[However] … globally, emissions are still growing, and the time we have to avert what is now thought to be catastrophic warming — two degrees Celsius — is shrinking by the day. To stay safely below that threshold, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, according to the United Nations report. Instead, they are still rising. So being alarmed is not a sign of being hysterical; when it comes to climate change, being alarmed is what the facts demand. Perhaps the only logical response.

… Panic might seem counterproductive, but we’re at a point where alarmism and catastrophic thinking are valuable, for several reasons.

The first is that climate change is a crisis precisely because it is a looming catastrophe that demands an aggressive global response, now. In other words, it is right to be alarmed. …

This helps explain the second reason alarmism is useful: By defining the boundaries of conceivability more accurately, catastrophic thinking makes it easier to see the threat of climate change clearly. … it was easy to develop an intuitive portrait of the landscape of possibilities that began with the climate as it exists today and ended with the pain of two degrees, the ceiling of suffering.

In fact, it is almost certainly a floor. By far the likeliest outcomes for the end of this century fall between two and four degrees of warming. And so looking squarely at what the world might look like in that range — two degrees, three, four — is much better preparation for the challenges we will face than retreating into the comforting relative normalcy of the present.

The third reason is while concern about climate change is growing — fortunately — complacency remains a much bigger political problem than fatalism.

… If we started a broad decarbonization effort today — a gargantuan undertaking to overhaul our energy systems, building and transportation infrastructure and how we produce our food — the necessary rate of emissions reduction would be about 5 percent per year. If we delay another decade, it will require us to cut emissions by some 9 percent each year. This is why the United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, believes we have only until 2020 to change course and get started.

A fourth argument for embracing catastrophic thinking comes from history. Fear can mobilize, even change the world. When Rachel Carson published her landmark anti-pesticide polemic “Silent Spring, … it almost single-handedly led to a nationwide ban on DDT.

But perhaps the strongest argument for the wisdom of catastrophic thinking is that all of our mental reflexes run in the opposite direction, toward disbelief about the possibility of very bad outcomes. …

I know the science is true [but] … We are all living in delusion, unable to really process the news from science that climate change amounts to an all-encompassing threat. Indeed, a threat the size of life itself.

… unfortunately, as climate change has been dawning more fully into view over the past several decades, all the cognitive biases that push us toward complacency have been abetted by our storytelling about warming — by journalism defined by caution in describing the scale and speed of the threat.

… we live in a consumer culture that tells us we can make our political mark on the world through where we shop, what we wear, how we eat.

But conscious consumption is a cop-out, a neoliberal diversion from collective action, which is what is necessary. People should try to live by their own values, about climate as with everything else, but the effects of individual lifestyle choices are ultimately trivial compared with what politics can achieve.

Buying an electric car is a drop in the bucket compared with raising fuel-efficiency standards sharply. Conscientiously flying less is a lot easier if there’s more high-speed rail around. And if I eat fewer hamburgers a year, so what? But if cattle farmers were required to feed their cattle seaweed, which might reduce methane emissions by nearly 60 percent according to one study, that would make an enormous difference.

That is what is meant when politics is called a “moral multiplier.” It is also an exit from the personal, emotional burden of climate change and from what can feel like hypocrisy about living in the world as it is and simultaneously worrying about its future. We don’t ask people who pay taxes to support a social safety net to also demonstrate that commitment through philanthropic action, and similarly we shouldn’t ask anyone — and certainly not everyone — to manage his or her own carbon footprint before we even really try to enact laws and policies that would reduce all of our emissions.

That is the purpose of politics: that we can be and do better together than we might manage as individuals.

… environmental activism isn’t new, and [there are] groups that have arisen over the past few years, pushed into action by climate panic. But that alarm is cascading upward, too. In Congress, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has rallied liberal Democrats around a Green New Deal — a call to reorganize the American economy around clean energy and renewable prosperity. Washington State’s governor, Jay Inslee, has more or less declared himself a single-issue presidential candidate.

And while not a single direct question about climate change was asked of either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential debates, the issue is sure to dominate the Democratic primary in 2020, alongside “Medicare for all” and free college. Michael Bloomberg, poised to spend at least $500 million on the campaign, has said he’ll insist that any candidate the party puts forward has a concrete plan for the climate.

This is what the beginning of a solution looks like — though only a very beginning, and only a partial solution. We have probably squandered the opportunity to avert two degrees of warming, but we can avert three degrees and certainly all the terrifying suffering that lies beyond that threshold.

But the longer we wait, the worse it will get. Which is one last argument for catastrophic thinking: What creates more sense of urgency than fear?

Scriber counsels caution when it comes to pronouncements by the enemies of action on climate change. They would instill in us a different kind of fear - a fear of the constructive change advocated by the author. As such, those fear-mongers represent a huge threat to human-kind, a threat to be realized in the near term. For along with our wired-in cognitive biases, this kind of fear promotes complacency and inaction and, as such, threatens the survival of our species.

What can you do? First, recognize that the actual state of affairs is even worse than reported in the target of this post (Time to Panic). The world has been changing in small ways that have flown under our cognitive radars. I mean “small ways” literally. Disappearing Insects Could Trigger Ecological Calamity reports Science Friday.

Decades ago, when ecologist Brad Lister surveyed the rainforests of Puerto Rico, he says there were butterflies everywhere. Birds and lizards too. Sticky traps put out to catch insects turned black, they were covered with so many bugs.

Not so today. That once vibrant forest has gotten quieter and emptier, as many of the insects— and the animals that depend on them—have disappeared.

Lister’s study has now been compiled with 72 others in a worldwide report card on the state of insects, in the journal Biological Conservation. Its conclusion is dire: “This review highlights the dreadful state of insect biodiversity in the world, as almost half of the species are rapidly declining and a third are being threatened with extinction.”

So what’s the big deal? Back in October I explained the Things threatened with extinction - black rhino, red panda, our food supply.

Look, even if you don’t worry about the black rhino’s fate, you should worry about pollinators going extinct. Those little buggers are responsible for 35% of the world’s plant crops. If the bugs go, we starve. “We are starting to cut down the whole tree [of life], including the branch [humans] are sitting on right now.”

The planet is losing biodiversity. In plain English, critters large and small are disappearing rapidly. To get a sense of the magnitude, the “sixth extinction” we are experiencing (and probably causing) is likely to be on par with the massive extinction that killed off dinosaurs. I raised the alarm back in January 2015 in Signs of the sixth extinction: What happens when apes rule the earth and more recently this month in Thinking in terms of the survival of human society.

Another thing you can do is get informed about the Green New Deal. The recent fact-checking should help you out: The Facts on the ‘Green New Deal’.

The End
A singed page from a book amid
the burned remains of a house by a wildfire
last year in Northern California.