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.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The 'sad, embarrassing wreck of a man' stiffs federal contractors

Conservative columnist George Will calls Trump ‘sad, embarrassing wreck of a man’. Scriber thinks that one piece of evidence is how, True to form, Trump finds a way to stiff contractors (again). Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports.

The Associated Press published a good overview, highlighting a variety of elements in the final package, but the Washington Post flagged a point of particular interest.

Lawmakers grappled with a series of last-minute disputes Wednesday as they sought to finalize the deal, including an ultimately unsuccessful push by Democrats to include back pay for thousands of federal contractors who were caught up in the last shutdown, and – unlike the 800,000 affected federal workers – have not been able to recoup their lost wages.

Alas, this isn’t too surprising. Democrats, led by Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), pushed a provision to include back pay for federal contractors as part of the spending deal, but when reporters asked Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) yesterday whether it would be included, the senator replied, “I’ve been told the president won’t sign that.”

The issue could, in theory, be addressed through a separate bill, but its prospects are unclear at this point.

It’s worth noting who’ll be hurt by this. Some may hear “government contractor” and think of a giant defense contractor that already has considerable resources.

But in this case, we’re actually talking about a very different kind of workforce. As Vox recently explained, in reference to those adversely affected by the shutdown, “Up to 580,000 contractors, including cafeteria workers, security guards, developers, and IT consultants, could be missing out on back pay because of the impasse, according to NYU public service professor Paul Light.”

Federal officials could approve their back pay. The president doesn’t want to.

There’s something painfully consistent about Trump’s posture. After all, the Republican has spent many years stiffing contractors, indifferent to the toll on small businesses. Remember this USA Today article from three years ago? The headline read, “Trump’s Trail Of Unpaid Bills.”

During the Atlantic City casino boom in the 1980s, Philadelphia cabinet-builder Edward Friel Jr. landed a $400,000 contract to build the bases for slot machines, registration desks, bars and other cabinets at Harrah’s at Trump Plaza.

The family cabinetry business, founded in the 1940s by Edward’s father, finished its work in 1984 and submitted its final bill to the general contractor for the Trump Organization, the resort’s builder.

Edward’s son, Paul, who was the firm’s accountant, still remembers the amount of that bill more than 30 years later: $83,600. The reason: the money never came. “That began the demise of the Edward J. Friel Company … which has been around since my grandfather,” he said.

As we discussed at the time, a variety of working-class Americans – mechanics, plumbers, painters, waiters, dishwashers, etc. – were contracted to do work for Trump. They did the work and expected to be paid. Trump established an extraordinary pattern of simply refusing to write a check.

He would instead offer them a partial payment. If the business balked, Trump gave them an untenable choice: sue him, despite the costs of the litigation, or simply accept less than he promised.

As president, Trump is still finding ways to hurt contractors.

Trump's phony 'national emergency' pits convenience against the contsitution

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) has a few choice observations about the “national emergency” declared by Trump today (Feb. 15, 2019).

Trump’s emergency declaration represents a special kind of surrender.

Today’s emergency declaration is many things, but it’s principally an acknowledgement of a defeat. Trump has effectively surrendered. By signing the declaration, the president is admitting that he couldn’t get Mexico to pay for a wall, he couldn’t get Congress to pay for a wall, and he couldn’t turn to his vaunted negotiating skills to achieve his goal – because those skills don’t exist in reality.

An uncomfortable truth has been laid bare: what Trump billed as his greatest strength has proven to be one of his most glaring weaknesses.

With emergency declaration, Trump divides GOP, unites Dems (again).

The Washington Examiner, a conservative outlet, published a piece a couple of weeks ago noting that Senate GOP leaders expect “several” of their members to “join with the Democrats to block Trump from declaring an emergency.” The article added, “A second Republican senator, speaking on condition of anonymity, predicted the president would suffer major defections if a vote on a resolution of disapproval is held.”

Enough to override a presidential veto? We’ll soon find out.

To follow contemporary politics closely is to realize that many GOP officials are willing to balk at Trump’s radicalism, right up until it counts, at which point they promptly duck their heads and fall in line. It’s possible, of course, that Republicans will do exactly that once more as the process unfolds in the coming weeks.

But don’t discount the possibility of significant GOP defections on this issue. Republicans have spent quite a bit of time lately urging Trump not to pursue the emergency-declaration course. In fact, many in the party have warned the White House that the party will struggle mightily to remain united if the president follows through on this.

What’s more, as this fight plays out, Democrats will link arms against this radical power-grab, while Republicans argue among themselves over a policy they’ve already admitted is a horrible idea.

One of Trump’s core problems with his government-shutdown gambit is that he picked a fight that united his opponents and divided his allies. Today, the amateur president will make the same mistake again.

A quote Trump may come to regret: ‘I didn’t need to do this’.

Donald Trump delivered a series of rambling comments this morning about his emergency declaration, which was then followed by a rambling press conference. And while the president made a series of odd claims, and repeated some familiar lies, it was his response to a question from NBC News’ Peter Alexander that was probably the one thing Trump will regret saying.

In reference to border-wall construction, the Republican explained why he’s circumventing Congress and the legislative appropriations process.

“I want to do it faster. 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…. I just want to get it done faster, that’s all.”

He quickly added that this isn’t about his re-election bid, because he’s “already done a lot of wall.” This is, of course, a rather delusional lie.

But Trump’s answer included an element of truth: “I didn’t need to do this.”

The president’s own explanation left little doubt that there’s no pressing “emergency” demanding unprecedented emergency action. Trump effectively admitted that he sees this as a matter of convenience: the American policymaking process would take time, and he’d “rather do it much faster.”

If you’re thinking these unscripted comments might be used against the White House in future litigation, you’re not alone. Indeed, it won’t be the first time.

Benen goes on to list several legal losses because of Trump’s ad hoc slips and concludes that “In a way, Trump’s opponents should probably hope he never stops speaking his mind so freely.”

So what we have here is a president sworn to protect the constitution and to uphold laws now sacrificing the constitution for reasons of convenience.

Trump fakes the numbers

And, he is unable to explain where he get the numbers he uses to manufacture this so-called emergency. Here’s some of the transcript from his announcement today - [Donald Trump unable to explain where his fake immigration crime statistics come from][kos] (reported by Walter Einenkel of the Daily Kos Staff).

If you haven’t already heard, Donald Trump declared a national emergency a short while ago in order to use executive powers to fund the construction of his useless border wall—the one that most Americans do not want. The one that even the Republican-controlled Congress didn’t get around to funding during the last two years of its tenure. Saying that Trump’s wall is a farce is doing a disservice to farces. The excuse Trump gave for building the wall, in between contradicting himself, is that there is humanitarian and security “crisis” at our southern border. To support this, Trump has spouted completely made-up “facts” about immigrant and violent crime rates.

All available government and private data contradict the Trump administration’s assertions. There are fewer undocumented immigrants coming across out southern border. The rate of crime among undocumented immigrants is lower than the national average for any group of people. This has been covered extensively in the media.

Trump took questions from reporters, something he loathes doing, since they ask questions and challenge him to support the stupid hateful ignorance that comes out of his mouth. After a cantankerous exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta—already once suspended from White House press conferences for challenging Donald Trump—Brian Karem, White House correspondent for Playboy, used his time to follow up. He, like the rest of us, wants to know where the hell Trump gets his numbers.

Karem: Mr. President, to follow up on that. Unifying crime reporting statistics—numbers from your own border control and government—show the amount of illegal immigrants are—

Trump: You have 26 people killed on the border a mile away from where I went.

Karem: I was there. I understand. That’s not the question.

Trump: Do we forget about that?

Karem: No. I’m asking you to clarify where you get your numbers. Most of the DEA crime-reporting statistics show that drugs come through at the ports of entry, that illegal immigration is down, and the violence is down. What do you base your facts on? Secondly—

Trump: No. You get one. Sit down.

Karem: Could you please answer?

Trump: Sit down. I get my numbers from Homeland Security primarily, and the numbers I have from Homeland Security are a disaster. You know what else is a disaster? The numbers that come out of Homeland Security for the cost that we spend and the money we lose because of illegal immigration. Billions and billions of dollars a month. It’s unnecessary.

Karem: Your own government stats are wrong?

Trump: No. I use many stats.

Karem: Could you share those stats with us?

Trump: You have stats far worse than what I use. I use many stats. I use Homeland Security.

This person just took billions from national security in order to fund less national security, based on nonexistent statistics and crime rates that the people in his corrupt administration haven’t been able to cook up to match his dumb mouth yet.

Let’s declare some real emergencies

Nancy Pelosi summed up Trump’s bogus emergency in the New York Times this way.

"The president is doing an end run around Congress,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters. She suggested that Mr. Trump was setting a precedent for future Democratic presidents to act on issues like gun control — precisely the scenario that scares Republicans.

"You want to talk about a national emergency, let’s talk about today,” Ms. Pelosi said, reminding Mr. Trump that it was the anniversary of the shooting massacre last February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Seventeen students and staff members were killed. “That’s a national emergency. Why don’t you declare that emergency, Mr. President? I wish you would.”

Just so you know: here come the lawsuits. HuffPost reports that Lawsuits Against Trump’s National Emergency Declaration Start Rolling In. A Washington ethics group was the first to sue, and lawmakers say it won’t be the last.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Parkland - A year later America stands by while more of its children die

A year ago this Valentine’s Day a 19-year old gunman killed 17 students and staff at a Florida high school. A couple of days later, I took America to task reprinting my essay Guns 103: J’accuse - Our national failure and disgrace. Here is my closing indictment.

I accuse, then, most of all, the United States of America for its failure as a nation. I accuse the USA of failing “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity …” I accuse the USA of inflicting unjust injury on its citizens. I accuse the USA of fostering domestic discord. I accuse the USA of harming the general welfare. I accuse the USA of the dishonest equation of guns and liberty. I accuse the United States of America of accepting and condoning the deaths of its citizens.

In the ensuing year, nothing has changed. More guns were sold, more children died, the president ignored the problem, and the NRA continued to spend money on members of congress, and the nation offered up its “thoughts and prayers.”

Now on the one-year anniversary of Parkland, a contributor at emptywheel.net, “Rayne”, writes a Mournful Valentine in which she indicts Congress for their useless thoughts and prayers , their inaction, and their hypocritical acceptance of NRA cash.

BTW: one of those members of the House, Martha McSally (R-AZ), is reported to have accepted $6,500 from the NRA. She is running for McCain’s seat in 2020.

A year ago today, fourteen students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida were killed by a lone 19-year-old gunman armed with an AR–15 rifle. More were injured.

Since then nearly 1,200 more children have died due to gun violence.

It’s an American problem, to have so much freedom and an inability to responsibly self-regulate it even though our Constitution clearly calls for a “well regulated Militia.”

The problem is as much money as it is guns. Money has been used to poison Americans’ attitudes toward guns; money has been used to capture legislators to prevent regulation.

The vulnerability of our society to corporate influence and control in pursuit of money has now created an opportunity for asymmetric warfare. Information assaults were launched last year by foreign-controlled bot swarms to propel pro-gun messages and suffocate gun control messages.

And the GOP-led 115th Congress did nothing in response because they were bought by NRA money, infused by Russia.

Oh, pardon me — members of Congress who received much of the $50 million in NRA campaign contributions in 2016 offered thoughts and prayers for the survivors and victims’ loved ones last year as the blood of innocents coagulated and dried on the floor of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Stuff your thoughts and prayers sideways, you useful idiots with your mouths flapping platitudes, you fifth columnists with your grasping hands out, greedy for more blood money for your next campaign. They are as helpful today as they were a year ago.

Don’t think for a moment we can’t see how you’ve obstructed the ability of Americans to defend themselves with adequate and timely gun control this past year. It’s past time to fix your disloyalty to this country and its children and pass effective gun control legislation beginning with the House bills H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019 and H.R. 1112, the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2019.

Rayne adds as an update the “list of the members of Congress SplinterNews listed as offering up thoughts and prayers via Twitter a year ago after MSD-Parkland’s mass shooting and who also received campaign contributions for 2016 from the NRA. I was looking patterns and I don’t see one readily except for political party affiliation. The lone Democratic Party member to receive funds and offer platitudes was Tim Walz, now governor of Minnesota instead of a House rep.”

Trumplespeak 101 - failure is success, defeat is victory

Columnists I follow, I think, are close to consensus that Trump is going to have to take the border security deal hammered out in Congress and thus accept defeat. DEFEAT!

Trump’s strong-arm “negotiating” style worked when he could get way with stiffing his contractors - which he did frequently. See my June 2016 post on how Donald “Deadbeat” Trump does not pay his bills … “… at least not some of them. There are damning investigations appearing in national news outlets about the thousands of bills Trump’s companies did not pay.” But that was when he had leverage.

Now he’s facing a Democratic House and a bunch of not very cooperative Republican senators and a public that is not in favor of spending lots of money on “the wall” and a hugely negative backlash on his government shutdown. No leverage there.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) explains how the Deal to avoid shutdown leaves Trump even worse off than before.

Earlier this week, bipartisan negotiators reached an agreement in principle to fund the government and prevent another shutdown ahead of Friday’s deadline. We haven’t yet seen all of the details, but NBC News highlighted some of the details of the deal, as described by multiple sources:

  • $1.375 billion for border barrier enhancements like steel slats and other “existing technologies,” but no concrete wall;

  • The money would fund about 55 miles of new barrier;

  • Geographic restrictions on where the new fencing could built, likely limited to the Rio Grand Valley sector of the border.

It’s worth pausing at this point to take a stroll down memory lane.

In 2017, the White House put together a budget request seeking $25 billion for a border wall project. In early 2018, Democrats were prepared to meet the president’s demands – Trump had taken DACA protections for Dreamers hostage, and Dems felt like they had to pay the ransom – but the president turned down the deal because it didn’t include cuts to legal immigration.

In the months that followed, Trump’s dreams … evolved. The original White House vision was for a 1,000-mile concrete wall, to be paid for by Mexico. By late last year, the president wanted $5.6 billion for steel slats, to be paid for by Americans.

The bipartisan deal that Trump rejected in mid-December, after originally having endorsed it, included $1.6 billion for border security measures. The deal Vice President Mike Pence offered Democratic leaders around the same time was for $2.5 billion, though Trump rejected that, too, demanding more.

It now appears Trump will end up with $1.375 billion, which leaves him further away from his goal than if he’d accepted the bipartisan package two months ago and failed to launch the longest government shutdown in American history.

Jackson Diehl wrote last year, in reference to the Republican president, “He’s good at bluster, hype and showy gestures, but little else. In short, he may be the worst presidential deal maker in modern history.”

In context, the Washington Post columnist was referring to Trump’s efforts in North Korea, but it’s an assessment with surprisingly broad applicability.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters last year, “[T]he president is, I think, the ultimate negotiator and dealmaker when it comes to any type of conversation.”

If Democrats are very lucky, Trump will continue to display these masterful skills for the remainder of his presidency.

You think that assessment is harsh? Read on. John Cassidy (New Yorker) says it all in one headline, The Border Deal Is What a Defeat for Donald Trump Looks Like.

Ever since Trump entered the Presidential race, in 2015, he’s been selling a fantastical vision of a wall across the southern border. Now reality has finally caught up with him, and he isn’t enjoying the experience. “I’m not happy about it,” he said to reporters on Tuesday morning, after they asked him to comment on the funding agreement that Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill had reached the previous evening.

It’s clear why Trump isn’t happy. This time last year, he was demanding twenty-five billion dollars for a vast concrete wall. At the end of December, he shut down large parts of the federal government in support of his demand for $5.7 billion in funding and two hundred miles of steel barriers. Under the deal reached on Monday, Congress would provide $1.375 billion for fifty-five miles of slat fencing. In Wall Street terms, the agreement would give Trump about twenty-four cents on the dollar. As of Wednesday morning, he hadn’t yet agreed to the plan but it looked like he would. The Washington Post and CNN both reported that Trump intended to sign the spending bill.

He certainly knows how coercive deals work. When he was in the private sector, he was often on the other end of them. In 2006, Andrew Tesoro, a New York architect who designed the clubhouse at Trump National Golf Club Westchester, informed Trump’s representatives that he was owed a hundred and forty thousand dollars. They offered him fifty thousand, take it or leave it. Fearing he might get nothing, Tesoro submitted a revised bill for that amount. Then Trump called him up and said that he’d pay half of it. “I walked away with $25,000,” Tesoro told Forbes, in 2016.

In all of his businesses, Trump was known for behaving like this toward smaller venders and contractors. How did he get away with it? He had the leverage. To get paid in full, people like Tesoro would have had to take him to court, an expensive, risky, and hassle-inducing prospect. So, they tended to settle for dimes on the dollar, as Trump knew they would.

Now Trump’s the one lacking leverage. Having already folded when the shutdown damaged his poll ratings, his threat to cause another government closure isn’t credible. He’s also been threatening to declare a national emergency and seize some extra funds from the Pentagon budget, but Republican leaders on the Hill don’t like this scheme, which, in any case, would quickly get snagged in the courts.

Trump is stuck, so he’s resorting to yet more B.S. After registering his unhappiness about the spending deal to reporters, he went on, “It’s not doing the trick, but I’m adding things to it. And when you add the things I have to add, it’s all gonna happen where we’ll build a beautiful, big, strong wall that’s not gonna let criminals and traffickers and drug dealers and drugs into our country.” Later in the day, in a pair of tweets, Trump said, “Looking over all aspects knowing that this will be hooked up with lots of money from other sources … Will be getting almost $23 billion for border security. Regardless of Wall money, it is being built as we speak.”

Virtually nobody who has followed the story in any detail is falling for this spin. “One point three billion dollars? That’s not even a wall, a barrier,” Sean Hannity, who is arguably Trump’s biggest booster in the media, said to his Fox News Channel audience on Monday night. “Any Republican that supports this garbage compromise, you will have to explain.” Mark Meadows, the head of the House Freedom Caucus, told Hannity’s colleague Neil Cavuto, “Only in Washington, D.C., can we start out with needing twenty-five billion dollars for border-security measures and expect applause at $1.37 [billion]. I mean, only in D.C. is that a winning deal.”

For once, Meadows was right. But, by Tuesday evening, there were signs that even some of the most rabid supporters of the wall had realized that further resistance was futile. Or, perhaps, they had been issued a new set of talking points. Speaking on his daily radio show, Hannity now referred to the $1.3 billion as “a down payment” and suggested that Trump could get more money for the wall from elsewhere in the federal budget, with or without declaring a national emergency. “In that case, he wins big time,” Hannity said.

This is what defeat looks like for Donald Trump and the maga Praetorian Guard: accepting scraps and describing them as a feast.

Update from the domain of the Coultergeist

I wondered what the Coultergeist thinks of all that. Newsweek informs with ANN COULTER BLASTS TRUMP, REPUBLICANS OVER BORDER DEAL: ‘WE THOUGHT TRUMP WAS GOING TO BE DIFFERENT’.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter lashed out at Donald Trump and other Republicans in light of reports that the president would likely sign a bipartisan deal to keep the government funded, even though it didn’t include much of the $5.7 billion Trump had demanded for a border wall.

“We thought Trump was going to be different,” Coulter lamented in a Wednesday Twitter post.

Coulter shared a tweet by Representative Mark Meadows, who chairs the House Freedom Caucus, which is made up of the most conservative Republicans. In the post, Meadows complained about how much he thought Trump and the Republicans had compromised when it came to meeting the demands for the wall.

While Trump has defended his border wall demands as a way to decrease crime and prevent drugs from entering the country, opponents have repeatedly pointed out that the structure would do little to affect either. Statistics show that the majority of drugs brought into the country from Mexico come through legal ports of entry, indicating that improved detection technology, not a wall, is what’s needed. Numerous studies also show that immigrants, documented and undocumented, commit crimes at rates significantly lower than U.S. citizens who were born here.. Although Trump has characterized the wave of immigrants and asylum seekers entering the U.S. at the southern border as a “crisis,” analysts have repeatedly explained that undocumented immigration actually remains at historic lows.

Regardless, Coulter and other conservatives have continued to push the president to fulfill his signature campaign promise and “build the wall.” In January, Coulter suggested that Trump’s re-election depended on the wall getting built. Although she wrote a book titled In Trump We Trust, Coulter has since become a harsh critic of the president, consistently mocking him for failing to construct the wall.

The Coultergeist might, just might be running a bit scared. What’s in her political wallet?

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Mark Kelly announces US Senate candidacy

The Washington Post, among many sources, reports that Ex-astronaut Mark Kelly announces run for McCain Senate seat.

Mark Kelly
Mark Kelly and Gabby Giffords

Retired astronaut Mark Kelly, who became a prominent gun-control advocate after his wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot in a failed assassination attempt, announced Tuesday he will run to finish John McCain’s last term in the U.S. Senate.

If this video does not play, try this YouTube link. (vox.com also has the video (about 4 minutes) of Kelly remarking on his career, marriage to Gabby, and the reasons he chose to run. It’s a must watch - also on twitter.

Kelly, 54, is a top Democratic recruit to take on Republican Martha McSally in one of the most closely contested Senate races of the 2020 election.

McSally is a former Republican congresswoman who was appointed to McCain’s seat last year after she narrowly lost to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. McSally leaned heavily on her record as the first woman to fly a combat mission as a fighter pilot, but she was hurt by her embrace of President Donald Trump.

If Kelly is nominated, the race would pit a Navy veteran and astronaut against a trailblazing Air Force pilot in the contest to replace McCain, a legendary Navy flyer who was famously shot down and held captive.

The 2020 election will decide who finishes the last two years of McCain’s term. The winner would have to run again for a full six-year term in 2022.

Democrats are eagerly watching the Arizona contest, having already defeated McSally in a Senate race just a few months ago. The party is also gauging whether Arizona could be competitive at the presidential level in 2020.

Kelly has never held elected office. A retired Navy captain, he flew combat missions from an aircraft carrier during the first Gulf War before becoming an astronaut along with his twin brother, Scott Kelly. He flew four space missions between 2001 and 2011.

OK - who else do we know who never held a public office prior to being elected for the first time?

The seat is a top target for Democrats because McSally just lost a Senate race in November and Democrats posted a strong showing in the November election, winning three statewide contests and picking up legislative and congressional seats. Arizona has been a longstanding Republican stronghold, but a growing Latino population and frustration among women with Trump have helped Democrats make inroads.

The sand of American Socialism - why Trump's poisonous politics will fail

Reporting on Trump’s State of the Union address, CNBC tells us to Expect Trump to make more ‘socialism’ jabs as he faces tough 2020 re-election fight. Indeed, Trump’s address added nothing to what he, and the Republicans, have been ranting about for years.

Republicans have tied Democratic lawmakers to socialism for decades. Critics have cast expansions of state power, from the New Deal to the Affordable Care Act, as moves toward government control of just about everything.

For example, back in October, the Business Insider reported that Trump rails against ‘radical socialist’ Democrats in blistering op-ed.

President Donald Trump wrote a blistering op-ed in USA Today on Wednesday [Oct. 10, 2018] attacking Democrats as “radical socialists” and accusing them of being a great danger to “every single citizen” before the midterm elections in November.

Trump’s rare opinion column railed against Democrats’ proposals for healthcare, which he painted as a rip-off for US seniors who have paid into the existing Medicare system their whole lives.

“Government-run health care is just the beginning,” Trump wrote. “Democrats are also pushing massive government control of education, private-sector businesses and other major sectors of the U.S. economy.”

“Every single citizen will be harmed by such a radical shift in American culture and life,” he wrote.

However, the only thing new is Trump’s usual bombastic rhetorical excess.

The majority of the complaints Trump brought against Democrats actually echoed long-standing Republican gripes against the big-government approach of their opposition, …

However #2,

While the Democratic Party has seen a rise in self-identified socialists running for — and winning — seats, the party at large remains largely committed to a free market economy. In the US, the term socialism often becomes conflated with public welfare programs run from tax revenues generated by free market enterprise, as opposed to a system with solely state-owned businesses.

To the best of my knowledge, no one on the current Democratic stage is advocating “a system with solely state-owned businesses.” Rather, the Democrats have tended to moderate the excesses of a totally free market in areas like public health, environmental protection, and equal educational opportunities. And those efforts have proven to be quite popular.

So, given Trump’s distortions and his intentional mis-portrayal of American socialism, I sought to learn more about “socialism” in American and its roots and current status.

A brief history of American Socialism

Jill Lepore, Harvard history professor and New Yorker author, chronicles the roots of American socialism in Eugene V. Debs and the Endurance of Socialism. Half man, half myth, Debs turned a radical creed into a deeply American one. Excerpts follow.

Eugene Victor Debs left school at the age of fourteen, to scrape paint and grease off the cars of the Vandalia Railroad, in Indiana, for fifty cents a day. …

Every man who worked on the American railroad in the last decades of the nineteenth century became, of necessity, a scholar of the relations between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, the masters and the slaves, the riders and the ridden upon. No student of this subject is more important to American history than Debs, half man, half myth, who founded the American Railway Union, turned that into the Social Democratic Party, and ran for President of the United States five times, including once from prison. …

Debs, who wrote a lot about manliness, always said that the best kind of man was a sand man. “ ‘Sand’ means grit,” he wrote in 1882, in Firemen’s Magazine. “It means the power to hold on.” When a train stalled from the steepness of the incline or the weight of the freight, railroad men poured sand on the tracks, to improve the grip of the wheels. Men need sand, too, Debs said: “Men who have plenty of ‘sand’ in their boxes never slip on the path of duty.” Debs had plenty of sand in his box. He had, though, something of a morbid fear of ashes. Maybe that’s a fireman’s phobia, a tending-the-engine man’s idea of doom. In prison—having been sentenced, brutally, to ten years of hard time at the age of sixty-three—he had a nightmare. “I was walking by the house where I was born,” he wrote. “The house was gone and nothing left but ashes … only ashes—ashes!” The question today for socialism in the United States, which appears to be stoking its engines, is whether it’s got enough sand. Or whether it’ll soon be ashes, only ashes, all over again.

There is good reason for that worry.

After Debs, socialism endured in the six-time Presidential candidacy of his successor, Norman Thomas. But it endured far more significantly in Progressive-era reforms, in the New Deal, and in Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. In the decades since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, many of those reforms have been undone, monopolies have risen again, and income inequality has spiked back up to where it was in Debs’s lifetime. …

… Debs spoke out against the war [WW I] as soon as it began. “I am opposed to every war but one,” he said. “I am for that war with heart and soul, and that is the world-wide war of the social revolution. In that war I am prepared to fight in any way the ruling class may make necessary, even to the barricades.” Bernie Sanders recorded this speech for his 1979 documentary. And, as a member of the Senate, Sanders said it again. “There is a war going on in this country,” he declared on the floor of the Senate in 2010, in a speech of protest that lasted more than eight hours. “I am not referring to the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan. I am talking about a war being waged by some of the wealthiest and most powerful people against working families, against the disappearing and shrinking middle class of our country.”

Debs was arrested in Cleveland in 1918, under the terms of the 1917 Espionage Act, for a speech protesting the war that he had given two weeks earlier, on June 16th, in Canton, Ohio. …

Debs’ conviction was as much about protesting the war on middle class workers as it was about protesting the America’s entry into the first world war. Debs never recovered from his harsh imprisonment and died in a sanatorium in 1926.

The question remains 100 years after Debs was sentenced to prison for protesting the war : Does the socialist movement in 2019 have sand? Now that the socialist movement has a new face and a new voice, the former Sanders campaign worker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, we shall see.

The new Trumpist war on socialism

E. J. Dione (Washington Post) takes issue with “socialism” as Trump’s latest dirty word in asserting that Trump’s war on socialism will fail. Here is why.

"We socialists are trying to save capitalism, and the damned capitalists won’t let us.”

Political scientist Mason B. Williams cited this cheeky but accurate comment by New Deal lawyer Jerome Frank to make a point easily lost in the new war on socialism that President Trump has launched: Socialism goes back a long way in the United States, and it has taken doses of it to keep the market system alive.

Going back to the late 19th century, Americans and Europeans, socialists and liberal reformers, worked together to humanize the system’s workings and to find creative ways to solve problems capitalism alone couldn’t. This has been well documented in separate books written by historians Daniel T. Rodgers and James T. Kloppenberg. “The New Deal,” Rodgers wrote, “was a great, explosive release of the pent-up agenda of the progressive past.”

Think about this when pondering the Green New Deal put forward last week by Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y). It’s sweeping and adventurous. There is virtually no way it will become law as long as Republicans control the Senate and Trump is president. And if something like it eventually does get enacted, there will be many compromises and rewrites.

But there would be no social reform, ever, if those seeking change were too timid to go big and allowed cries of “socialism” to intimidate them.

In his State of the Union address last week, Trump cast himself as Horatius at the bridge standing against the Red Menace: “We renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”

Yet in referring to “new calls to adopt socialism in our country,” he had a point. Open advocacy of socialism is now a normal part of our political discourse. Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) won more than 12 million votes in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries running explicitly as a democratic socialist. Some recent polls even have Sanders running ahead of Trump in hypothetical 2020 matchups.

We should be clear that Trump’s words are entirely about reelection politics. He wants to tar all Democrats as “socialists” and then define socialism as antithetical to American values. “America was founded on liberty and independence, and not government coercion, domination and control,” he declared. “We are born free, and we will stay free.” Cue Lee Greenwood.

But attacking socialism isn’t the cakewalk it used to be. During the Cold War, it was easy to frighten Americans with the s-word because the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics offered a powerful example of the oppression that state control of all of the means of production could unleash.

The Soviet Union, however, has been dead for nearly three decades. China is communist on paper but a wildly unequal crony capitalist dictatorship in practice. Young Americans especially are far more likely to associate “socialism” with generous social insurance states than with jackboots and gulags. Sweden, Norway and Denmark are anything but frightening places.

The 2018 PRRI American Values Survey offered respondents two definitions of socialism. One described it as “a system of government that provides citizens with health insurance, retirement support and access to free higher education,” essentially a description of social democracy. The other was the full Soviet dose: “a system where the government controls key parts of the economy, such as utilities, transportation and communications industries.”

You might say that socialism is winning the branding war: Fifty-four percent said socialism was about those public benefits, while just 43 percent picked the version that stressed government domination. Americans ages 18 to 29, for whom Cold War memories are dim to nonexistent, were even more inclined to define socialism as social democracy: Fifty-eight percent of them picked the soft option, 38 percent the hard one.

Oh, yes, and on those tax increases that conservatives love to hate — and associate with socialism of the creeping kind — a Fox News poll last week found that 70 percent of Americans favored raising taxes on families with incomes of over $10 million.

Trump will still probably get some traction with his attacks on socialism. And progressives should remember that social democratic ideas associated with fairness and expanding individual freedoms — to get health care or go to college, for example — are more popular than those restricting choice.

Nonetheless, Jerome Frank was right: Those slurred as socialists really do have a good track record of making capitalism work better and more justly. The s-word is not now, and, in its democratic forms, never should have been, an obscenity.

A 20/20 vision for our social democracy

By the time Debs ran for president in 1912, socialists had accomplished much in the way of socioeconomic reforms.

“This is our year,” Debs said in 1912, and it was, in the sense that nearly a million Americans voted for him for President. But 1912 was also socialism’s year in the sense that both the Democratic and the Republican parties embraced progressive reforms long advocated by socialists (and, for that matter, populists): women’s suffrage, trust-busting, economic reform, maximum-hour and minimum-wage laws, the abolition of child labor, and the direct election of U.S. senators. As Debs could likely perceive a couple of years later, when the Great War broke out in Europe, 1912 was to be socialism’s high-water mark in the United States. “You may hasten Socialism,” he said, “you may retard it, but you cannot stop it.” Except that socialism had already done most of what it would do in the United States in those decades: it had reformed the two major parties.

And it may do so again.

I began a recent post “with some progressive goals which I think we can agree upon [from Jennifer Rubin.]”

The goals that virtually everyone in the field has set — expanding health care, combating global warming, equalizing educational opportunities, passing comprehensive immigration reform, enacting gun safety laws — are very popular.

On every one of these, the party of Trump has staked out policy positions that are anti-popular - and acted on them to the detriment of the nation. We can win those battles.

We just need to recognize the power of those popular goals and act on the sand by which American Socialism achieves it traction.

Monday, February 11, 2019

The entanglements of Trump, the Saudis, the National Enquirer, and Jeff Bezos

Judd Legum, at popular.info, reviews the National Enquirer alleged extortion attempt against Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in Enquiring minds want to know (subscription required). Following are essential snippets and Scriber’s comments.

The National Enquirer calls itself a tabloid. But, by its own admission, it has operated as a part of Donald Trump’s political organization. The company has used its financial resources and prime exposure at supermarkets and drug stores across the country to protect Trump, and attack his enemies.

The political and social reach of the Enquirer is huge.

Unlike most magazines, the National Enquirer is heavily dependent on sales of individual copies, not subscriptions. Seventy-five percent of sales come through single-copy sales at chain stores.

The dominant retailers for the National Enquirer are Walmart, which accounts for 23% of all sales, and Kroger, which accounts for 10%. Other major retailers of the National Enquirer include Giant/Food Lion, Albertsons/Safeway, Barnes and Noble, CVS, Publix, Hudson Retail, and Walgreens.

The power of the National Enquirer, of course, comes not only from copies sold but from the millions of the people exposed to the cover of the magazine in checkout aisles. AMI only has that influence because of its relationship with major retailers.

The National Enquirer is using its relationship with these retailers to provide millions in free promotion to Trump. A marketing expert told the New York Times the value of the National Enquirer’s positive Trump covers alone is “$2.5 million to $3 million a month.”

The Enquirer, its parent company, AMI and its CEO David Pecker used this exposure to attack Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Legum provides photos of 18 front-page articles - each of which is mainly sensational BS.

But Pecker and AMI went one step further, namely to protect Trump against negative PR potentially generated by his dalliances with various women. By paying those women and then not running the stories, AMI was subject to an investigation that eventually led to a plea deal regarding campaign finance violations.

In a non-prosecution agreement signed on September 20, 2018, AMI, the parent company of the National Enquirer, admitted to conspiring with Trump to suppress negative stories about him.

In or about August 2015, David Pecker, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of AMI, met with Michael Cohen, an attorney for a presidential candidate, and at least one other member of the campaign. At the meeting, Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate’s relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided. Pecker agreed to keep Cohen apprised of any such negative stories.

NBC reported that the “other member of the campaign” was Trump himself. AMI subsequently paid $150,000 to Karen McDougal, a woman who claimed to have an affair with Trump, and then buried the story.

AMI and Pecker, while securing an immunity agreement in exchange for testimony, admitted that this payment was against the law. The company acknowledged that it was “subject to campaign finance laws” and “expenditures made by corporations, made for purposes of influencing an election and in coordination with or at the request of a candidate or campaign, are unlawful.”

Following the money - AMI and the Saudi Prince

AMI is deeply in debt - to the tune of $882 million.

According to the documents reviewed by the Associated Press, AMI still “isn’t making enough money to cover the interest accruing on its $882 million in long-term debt.” For the time being, it’s being backstopped by “a New Jersey investment fund called Chatham Asset Management,” which now owns 80% of the company. In 2017,“[i]ts top executive dined with Pecker and Trump at the White House.”

Strapped for cash, Pecker used his relationship with Trump to forge ties with Saudi Arabia. At his 2017 dinner at the White House, Pecker brought along Kacy Grine, a French businessman who acts as an intermediary for Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

The visit served as “an unofficial seal of approval from the White House” and “signaled Mr. Pecker’s powerful status in Washington” as he was seeking financial support from the Saudis.

It’s unclear what, if anything, AMI has received in return from Saudi Arabia. In January, however, the company “astonished most media observers by raising $460 million to refinance its debt.” Before AMI raised the money, “many observers thought AMI would have a tough time refinancing because of reported problems with slumping newsstand sales for all titles.”

It is clear, at least to Scriber, that the Saudis got valuable PR for their money. AMI published a glitzy mag that extolled the virtues of Saudi Arabia and its prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), while not bothering to cover the crimes of the “Magic Kingdom.” Such crimes include the strong likelihood that MBS was aware of and even ordered the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

… “ While at the Washington Post, Khashoggi wrote columns that were critical of the Saudi government. Publisher Fred Ryan said, ”The Washington Post will not rest until justice is served on those who ordered Jamal’s killing, those who carried it out, and those who continue to try to cover it up."

And that completes the connection to Jeff Bezos, owner of the Post.

Alleged extortion increases legal exposure of AMI and Pecker

There is one man who has drawn the ire of both Trump and Saudi Arabia: Jeff Bezos.

Trump is upset because he believes Bezos uses the Washington Post as a “political weapon.” Bezos says he has no involvement in the editorial content. Vanity Fair reported on Trump’s vendetta against Bezos last April:

Now, according to four sources close to the White House, Trump is discussing ways to escalate his Twitter attacks on Amazon to further damage the company. “He’s off the hook on this. It’s war,” one source told me. “He gets obsessed with something, and now he’s obsessed with Bezos,” said another source. “Trump is like, how can I fuck with him?”

[Lauren] Sanchez’s brother, Michael Sanchez, said in an interview that “he was told by multiple people at [AMI] that the Enquirer set out to do ‘a takedown to make Trump happy.’” Bezos launched an investigation and his security consultant, Gavin de Becker, said “strong leads point to political motives.”

On Thursday, Bezos published email correspondence from AMI in which the company threatens to publish embarrassing photos – including a “below the belt selfie — otherwise colloquially known as a ‘d*ck pick.’” The only way to avoid the publication of these photos, AMI said, was for Bezos to release a statement saying he had “no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”

Pecker, through his attorney Elkan Abramowitz, denied that he or AMI did anything wrong. …

Not everyone agrees that AMI is in the clear. The nonprosecution agreement with federal prosecutors requires AMI to commit “no crimes whatsoever” for three years. Attorney Carrie Goldberg said that “AMI threatening to expose Bezos with humiliating material — would fall under coercion laws.”

“This is a completed crime. Based on the coercive nature of the threats, there wouldn’t need to be an actual distribution of the naked pictures for there to be a criminal act,” Goldberg said.

Prosecutors are reportedly evaluating the revelations in Bezos’ post to determine whether the agreement was violated.

If so, ‘there is a very strong chance that David Pecker may end up doing time," Jerry George, a top editor at the National Enquirer for decades, told CNN.’

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Rubin's Rules for a Democratic win in 2020

Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post) thinks Three rules will keep Democrats from falling off a cliff. Scriber thinks a better metaphor might be how to not climb out on a skinny limb with a big saw.

Let’s start with some progressive goals which I think we can agree upon.

The goals that virtually everyone in the field has set — expanding health care, combating global warming, equalizing educational opportunities, passing comprehensive immigration reform, enacting gun safety laws — are very popular.

On every one of these, the party of Trump has staked out policy positions that are anti-popular - and acted on them to the detriment of the nation. We can win those battles.

And then consider what we might not agree upon.

What’s not popular is the most extreme, unrealistic incarnation of these goals.

Climate change goals for 2030 is an example.

As to the Green New Deal, Jonathan Chait explains: “On the policy, the Green New Deal simply outlines ambitious targets for carbon reductions, without delving into specifics as to how the targets will be met. In place of detail it offers optimism. Noting that the International Panel on Climate Change proposes to cut global emission by 40 to 60 percent by 2030, and get to net zero by 2050 — which is itself a heroic goal — the Green New Deal proposes the United States get to net zero emissions by 2030.” Signing on to that sort of document without a firm grasp of why it’s politically and substantively unwise (actually, impossible) suggests a lack of judgment by those claiming the power to bring the country together. Candidates set themselves up for trouble when they take seriously something just about everyone knows isn’t serious. (“America won’t get 100 percent of its power from zero-emissions sources within a decade, either, another audacious Green New Deal goal,” writes Michael Grunwald. “And we’re not going to upgrade the energy efficiency of every single building in the country, as the resolution proposes. If we were getting all our energy from zero-emissions sources, it wouldn’t even make sense to try.”)

Is there a danger that Democrats will blow it in 2020 by going too far left? Without Sanders and de Blasio in the race, there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of energy, conviction and bold policy ideas. Some possible contenders seem to have an inkling that the general electorate in November 2016 will look nothing like New York City or Vermont. (Democrats have those places locked up and are ready to crawl over glass to get rid of Trump; it’s the rest of the country they must worry about.) Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) made clear they want to expand health-care coverage however they can, not insist on immediate eradication of private health-care insurance.

Rubin’s Rules are aimed at insuring a win in 2020 while embracing those goals that would unify the Democratic party.

First, they shouldn’t have fights with… anyone … over labels and ideological one-upmanship. (Socialists bad! No, centrists are losers!) … A Democratic candidate shouldn’t advertise her ideas as the most progressive or the least progressive, but rather as the best out there.

Second, don’t sign on to bumper stickers. (Medicare for All! The Green New Deal!) … Why not come up with their own ideas, ones designed to unify the party and appeal to non-Democrats? You don’t have to sign on to pie-in-the-sky bills that will never get a vote, even in the House, to stake out support for solutions to climate change, worker dislocation and more.

Third, those who aren’t on the fringe of the party need to reject the tag that they are “mushy” moderates. Bold moderation and clear, fact-based reforms with wide support that get at the heart of our biggest problems shouldn’t be a bad thing. … They should take comfort in knowing that polls show Democratic voters much more concerned about winning than ideological purity.

Trump's pipeline of illegal workers

Golden shovel
Donald Trump wields a golden shovel
at the 2002 groundbreaking of
Trump National Golf Club Bedminster.

Washington Post reporters Joshua Partlow, Nick Miroff and (Pulitzer Prize winner) David A. Fahrenthold expose the hiring practices of the Trump Organization in ‘My whole town practically lived there’: From Costa Rica to New Jersey, a pipeline of illegal workers for Trump goes back years.

Fake papers were easy to come by, papers that got the Costa Rican workers jobs at the Bedminster Golf Resort. Managers knew about it, looked the other way, and actively concealed the practices.

Representative excerpts from the very long report follow.

At his home on the misty slope of Costa Rica’s tallest mountain, Dario Angulo keeps a set of photographs from the years he tended the rolling fairways and clipped greens of a faraway American golf resort.

Angulo learned to drive backhoes and bulldozers, carving water hazards and tee boxes out of former horse pastures in Bedminster, N.J., where a famous New Yorker was building a world-class course. Angulo earned $8 an hour, a fraction of what a state-licensed heavy equipment operator would make, with no benefits or overtime pay. But he stayed seven years on the grounds crew, saving enough for a small piece of land and some cattle back home.

Now the 34-year-old lives with his wife and daughters in a sturdy house built by “Trump money,” as he put it, with a porch to watch the sun go down.

It’s a common story in this small town.

Other former employees of President Trump’s company live nearby: men who once raked the sand traps and pushed mowers through thick heat on Trump’s prized golf property — the “Summer White House,” as aides have called it — where his daughter Ivanka got married and where he wants to build a family cemetery.

“Many of us helped him get what he has today,” Angulo said. “This golf course was built by illegals.”

The company’s recent purge of unauthorized workers from at least five Trump properties contributes to mounting evidence that the president benefited for years from the work of illegal laborers he now vilifies.

As president,[Trump] has repeatedly called for a crackdown on illegal immigration.

“No issue better illustrates the divide between America’s working class and America’s political class than illegal immigration,” Trump said during his State of the Union address Tuesday. “Tolerance for illegal immigration is not compassionate — it is cruel.”

But the lax hiring practices at Bedminster and other Trump properties described by former employees — including some who said their supervisors discussed their fake documents — stand in sharp contrast with Trump’s rhetoric.

Trump was notorious for stiffing his contractors. So it is not surprising that he profited from the willingness of illegal laborers to do hard work for a fraction of prevailing wages.

Some of the first Costa Ricans hired to build Trump National Golf Club Bedminster — Zuñiga, Angulo, and their Santa Teresa neighbor Abel Mora, among others — remember it as punishing work. They labored from dawn until late evening, seven days a week, raking and hauling mountains of earth moved by heavy machinery and shaping it into golf holes.

It was rake, rake, rake, the whole day,” Zuñiga said.

There was also seeding, watering, mowing, building the sand traps and driving bulldozers, mini-excavators and loaders — all while they earned about $10 an hour or less, they said.

Around that time, a licensed heavy equipment operator in central New Jersey would have received an average of $51 to $55 per hour in wages and benefits, according to union officials at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 825 in the nearby town of Springfield.

Trump’s hiring practices continued after Bedminster had been constructed and while it open and operating. For example:

… Ana Vasquez, an immigrant from El Salvador who bused tables in the club’s restaurant, went to neighboring Plainfield to buy her phony Social Security card alias, “Yohana Pineda.”

Before going to her interview, Vasquez asked a friend if the club would hire people who used fake documents.

“I thought, ‘This is a place with a very famous owner,’ ” she recalled. “My friend said there was nothing to worry about. She told me, ‘They don’t care.’ ”

But “they” were hands-on.

"People think of Trump as being just a face, just a brand,” Eric Trump said in a 2011 promotional video about the company’s golf courses. “We design every single tee, every fairway. . . . We pick the carpets. We pick the chandeliers. There is not one element of these clubhouses which we don’t know about it. You name it — we’re involved.”

Trump’s election did not bring any added scrutiny to his workers’ immigration status, former employees said. … Emma Torres, a housekeeper from Ecuador, said superiors kept her name and those of other workers without legal status off a list of people to be vetted by the Secret Service before a Trump visit to the club in 2016.

The workers were not treated well according to some of the reports.

Franklin Mora, who quit after a year on the grounds crew, said that his manager would mock his limited English and spoke harshly to the Hispanic employees. The manager required them to set their mowers at a pace that required them to jog to keep up in a fashion he viewed as humiliating.

“They treated us like slaves,” he said.

Friday, February 8, 2019

The SOTU was all about Trump and his divisive need for enemies

Susan B. Glasser comments in the New Yorker on Trump’s Dark Preview of His 2020 Campaign. Why the President used his State of the Union address to claim that Democrats are going to turn America into a socialist hellscape.

Following are excerpts.

His speech made clear that he intends to run his reëlection race the same way he ran his first campaign: as a divider, not a uniter. Trump is all about having enemies. Without Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to set himself in opposition to, he will try to vilify far-left socialist Democrats and rampaging illegal immigrants in 2020. The immigrant-bashing, of course, was a staple and centerpiece of his 2016 race. The claim that Democrats are going to turn America into a Venezuelan socialist hellscape is something new. The Party, with its embrace of Sanders (and his Medicare-for-all proposal) and A.O.C. (with her talk of seventy-per-cent income-tax rates on the über-rich), appears to be tilting left at just the right moment for Trump. “It seems to me that DJT has zero interest in expanding his coalition, and is going all-in on making the Democratic alternative unpalatable, hence the focus on opposing ‘socialism,’ ” the Republican strategist Michael Steel, a former senior adviser to the House G.O.P. leadership, told me in an e-mail the morning after the speech.

Tell me how the Trump story ends and I will tell you whether we remember anything from his 2019 State of the Union address. As a speech, it was utterly forgettable—and, I suspect, soon to be forgotten. Aside from its call to defend America from a socialist takeover, it seems to me there was only one other line that may merit a mention in history books, depending on just what the special counsel, Robert Mueller, finds, and how Democrats choose to handle it. The moment came early on in the speech, when Trump interrupted his economic triumphalism to warn the Democrats to proceed with the many investigations of him and his Administration at their peril. “An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations,” the President said. The words “Russia” and “Mueller” never crossed his lips when he mentioned the investigation. But the inescapable context of the Trump Presidency is the shadow that has loomed over it from the start: Russian intervention in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf, and his possible collusion with it. Should Trump suffer a Nixonian end to his Presidency, it’s a clip we’ll hear decades from now.

Scriber’s pick for the ugliest quote came when Trump followed on with this elaboration of his sub-theme, “investigations”: “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!” Glasser concludes:

Otherwise, I’ll remember this week for a line that should have been utterly unremarkable. “The state of the union is strong,” Trump said. This is supposed to be a throwaway, a pro-forma acknowledgement uttered by every President, not a controversial statement. The bitter partisan reaction to a formerly banal ritual of our democracy tells you everything you need to know about the state of American politics two years into Trump’s Presidency. Republicans applauded and hooted when Trump made the boilerplate announcement; Democrats, grim-faced, stayed resolutely in their seats. Which, of course, is the 2020 election preview in one picture: an angry, divided Congress for an angry, divided nation, a country that cannot even agree on the terms of its own greatness, unified more by its grievance than by a common purpose.

The thing is, Trump needs enemies. That’s how he defines himself. Unfortunately, he is dragging the party of Lincoln down that same path. Max Boot (Washington Post) elaborates on this point in Trump’s speech showed how he’s redefined conservatism in his own toxic image.

Trump was more right than he realized when he said: “The agenda I will lay out this evening is not a Republican agenda or a Democrat agenda.” No, it’s not. And it’s not the “agenda of the American people” either. It is a populist agenda that combines the big government infatuation of Democrats with the xenophobia and racism of the far right. This toxic combination has little in common with the sort of principled conservatism I grew up espousing — and yet the House chamber was full of self-described conservatives lustily applauding his remarks. Trump is a failed president, but the State of the Union speech made clear that he has succeeded in redefining conservatism in his own, deeply unattractive image.

In the end, Trump did not offer anything for true conservatives and nothing for liberals either. Instead it was all about Trump. It always was, it always is.