Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Trump the Snake Bites the GOP

Why Trump’s latest tantrum, targeting his own party, matters (to Steve Benen, MSNBC/MaddowlBlog). Watching Republican reactions to Trump’s weekend tirade, in which he attacked his own party, “The Snake” parable keeps coming to mind. Read on for excerpts and additional commentary

When Donald Trump appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) about a month ago, the former president boasted, “The Republican Party is united…. I think we have tremendous unity.” About a week later, Trump’s lawyers sent cease-and-desist letters to the Republican Party’s three most powerful campaign entities, including the Republican National Committee, asking that they stop using the former president’s name and likeness in fundraising appeals and merchandise.

Trump soon after made clear that he wants supporters to send their money to him, not his party.

It wasn’t long before RNC leaders, eager to please the former president who’d just threatened them, announced plans to reward Trump, holding an event at one of his private clubs. Indeed, the RNC reportedly paid more than $100,000 for the privilege of using Mar-a-Lago and hearing directly from the former president.

The result was utterly predictable.

Former President Donald Trump again lashed out at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., calling the top Republican a “dumb son of a b—-” and a “stone cold loser” in a long rant at a Republican donor event Saturday night in which he reiterated his false claims that he won the election last fall. Trump, according to a source familiar with his remarks, said “a real leader” never would have accepted the electoral results.

By all accounts, the former president had a prepared text, which he repeatedly ignored. Instead, Trump spoke his mind, which meant Republican attendees heard him attack his own party’s Senate leader. And former Vice President Mike Pence (R). And Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R). And former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao (R). And Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Trump also lied about his 2020 defeat. And the crowd size on Jan. 6. And unnamed Democrats whom he says secretly know he won the election he lost. And his responsibility for the development of COVID vaccines. And the illegal extortion scheme he hatched against Ukraine.

Remember, the Republican National Committee paid for all of this. It was effectively a reward for Trump threatening to sue his own political party for fundraising with his likeness.

Does anyone seriously believe Trump cares about what is or isn’t “helpful” to the Republican Party?

Gauging some of the partisan reactions to the former president’s weekend harangue, I was reminded of Trump’s favorite parable, “The Snake.”

As regular readers may recall, the story is simple: a “tender woman” rescues a “vicious snake,” who repays her generosity by biting her. When the dying woman asks why, the snake explains with a grin, “Oh shut up, silly woman. You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”

As Republican officials are once again forced to come to terms with Trump’s latest divisive harangue, much of which targeted Republicans, it’s awfully tempting to respond, “Oh shut up, silly party. You knew damn well he was a snake before you took him in.”

For all the chatter about how the Republican Party needs to move on, the fact remains that it isn’t even trying to remove the snake. On the contrary, it’s paying him $100,000 to bite them.

The GOP could have saved themselves lots of money and morbidity if they had paid attention toTrump’s “primal flaw.”

… we should never forget Trump’s primal flaw - he has nothing but contempt for the vast majority of Americans. This is from NY Times report on Trump’s biographer’s tapes.

Who earns his respect? “For the most part,” he said, “you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect.”

So there it is - what Trump really thinks about his fellow humans, both Democratic and Republican, both liberal and conservative, both rich and poor, both soldiers and bureaucrats, both sick and well.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

'Economic boom' predicted by economists and Corporate America

Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post) believes that Republicans made a foolish bet on the Biden agenda. Here are excerpts.

The economy looks ready to take off in a way we have not seen for 30 years. The International Monetary Fund predicts that the U.S. economy “will surpass its pre-pandemic size as growth reaches 6.4% this year …. up 1.3 percentage points from the group’s forecast in January,” CNN reported. The IMF predicts the $1.9 trillion rescue plan will ”deliver a strong boost to growth in the United States in 2021 and provide sizable positive spillovers to trading partners,” and, as a result, the “recession is likely to leave smaller scars than the 2008 global financial crisis.”

This was precisely the argument the Biden administration made: The risk was spending too little, not too much. The key to a robust recovery was crushing the pandemic. With Biden’s “whole of government” approach, mass vaccination offers a realistic chance for returning to workplaces, schools and public venues. It is the new confidence in a post-pandemic world that promises to unleash an economic boom.

With more than 900,000 jobs added in March and a manufacturing boom underway, some economists anticipate a 10 percent growth in the second quarter. Corporate America sounds downright giddy about the economic prospects. CNBC reported:

JPMorgan CEO [Jamie] Dimon commented at length on the economy in his annual letter to shareholders Wednesday, and his remarks echoed what many economists expect.

“I have little doubt that with excess savings, new stimulus savings, huge deficit spending, more QE, a new potential infrastructure bill, a successful vaccine and euphoria around the end of the pandemic, the U.S. economy will likely boom,” Dimon wrote. “This boom could easily run into 2023 because all the spending could extend well into 2023.”

And the Democrats will get the credit for it. And the Republicans?

If this comes to fruition, Republicans will be hard-pressed to come up with a justification for their utter intransigence on spending plans. And it will be difficult to convince voters that their fake cultural wars — from their attacks on trans youth to complaints about discontinuing some Dr. Seuss titles — are more important than an economic recovery.

Republicans’ game plan of obstruction and distraction seems poorly designed to address the real possibility of economic success and post-pandemic elation. The Biden administration’s bet going into its first 100 days was that competency could deliver real results that mean more to voters than contrived cultural memes. For now, the “Go big!” strategy seems to be on track. No wonder Republicans sound so angry these days.

Following the money as the FloodGaetz open

Still more details emerge showing that Matt Gaetz was using his pal Greenberg to pimp young women reports Mark Sumner of the Daily Kos Staff.

Below are some excerpts from Sumner’s report.

The story of Rep. Matt Gaetz is like one of those horror films that generates an extra large jolt of fear by first tossing up something that causes laughter. It’s clear that what Gaetz has done is genuinely criminal, and that the way his crimes were systematically ignored by Republicans at every level in both Florida and Washington, D.C. speaks to an incredible level of hypocrisy and corruption. On the other hand, the details are … ridiculous.

For example, Gaetz has repeatedly put out statements saying that “Rep. Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex.” It turns out this may be true. Technically. Because as Daily Beast reports, records show that Gaetz only paid his friend Joel Greenberg. It was Greenberg who then actually paid for the sex. This is the kind of logic that’s certain to make heads nod on the couches of Fox & Friends. “See? Gaetz was telling the truth.”

But to take this claim and turn the facepalm level to 11, it turns out that Gaetz paid Greenberg $900 using the cash app Venmo. Greenberg then sent cash along to three women, also using Venmo, that totaled $900. And before anyone starts up the Fox-brand coincidence engine, Gaetz included a memo along with his payment saying “hit up _” where “_” was the name of one of the women involved.

SNIP

… perhaps the most disturbing part of this story. Not what Gaetz did, but that he did it so loudly. From the sex games he played in the Florida House—where sleeping with interns was a goal and finding virgins scored extra “points”—to the nude videos he has circulated on the flood of the U.S. House, Gaetz was absolutely open with his fellow Republicans. Gaetz walked around preaching family values while apparently jetting off to visit sex workers in the Bahamas, or working with Greenberg to generate fake IDs for underage girls, or paying for those girls to fly to hotels where Gaetz could be “generous” to them with “gifts.”

SNIP

Republicans in general shouldn’t be feeling too comfortable. Unfortunately, they are.

When it comes to Joel Greenberg and the trio of women to whom he distributed Gaetz’s funds, there is no direct mention of their age. However, the terms that Greenberg placed in the memos of their payments might give a clue: “Tuition,” “School,” and “School.”

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Following the money in GaetzGate

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports:Matt Gaetz under new pressure to resign following new revelations. Before last night, the grand total of GOP lawmakers calling for the Florida congressman’s ouster was zero. That’s no longer the case.

As the scandal surrounding Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) grew more serious, there was no shortage of House Republicans quietly celebrating his crisis. These intra-party critics, however, had one important thing in common: they preferred to remain anonymous. Indeed, before last night, the grand total of GOP lawmakers calling for the Florida congressman’s ouster was zero.

That’s no longer the case. Politico reported overnight:

Rep. Adam Kinzinger called on fellow Republican lawmaker Matt Gaetz to resign Thursday night, making him the first Republican to do so since it was revealed that the Justice Department is investigating the Florida congressman over sex trafficking allegations. Kinzinger (R-Ill.), an Air Force veteran and one of former President Donald Trump’s fiercest critics within the party, has previously targeted Gaetz, along with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), with the creation of a political action committee that aimed to help fund Republican candidates who have separated themselves from Trumpism.

Kinzinger shared his new position by way of a simple, five-word tweet that read, “Matt Gaetz needs to resign.”

The Illinois congressman published the brief missive in response to this Daily Beast report, which alleged that Gaetz sent his friend, accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, money through a mobile money-transfer service called Venmo in May 2018, and the next morning, Greenberg used the same app to send the same amount of money to three young women.

[Also reported:]… Greenberg moved toward a plea deal with federal prosecutors, creating new dangers for Gaetz. Indeed, Greenberg’s lawyer briefly spoke to reporters outside an Orlando courthouse yesterday and said, in unsubtle terms, “I am sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today.”

We must preserve the scenic Santa Ritas. Another open pit mine is not needed

The Daily Star published this op-ed by Gayle Hartmann: Save the Santa Ritas: Don’t let Hudbay destroy even more of the Santa Ritas.

BEGIN QUOTE

In a recent guest column, Andre Lauzon, an executive with Toronto-based Hudbay Minerals Inc., suggested that the United States will not realize a “green future” without the Rosemont Mine, their proposed, open-pit copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains southeast of Tucson.

Shortly after Mr. Lauzon’s op-ed, Hudbay announced with great fanfare that it is considering expanding the Rosemont project beyond the existing footprint to include even more of the northern Santa Ritas, including the ridgeline and the west slope.

Residents of Sahuarita and Green Valley could be surrounded by massive open-pit mining operations and their corresponding mine waste if Rosemont’s plan comes to fruition.

These latest developments underscore why it is more important than ever that we stop the Rosemont Mine.

It is remarkable arrogance and cynicism for a foreign mining company’s senior official to claim Hudbay’s proposed mine will be good for the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Hudbay’s current proposal is to blast a mile-wide, half-mile deep crater into the Santa Ritas’ northeast crest and pile mine waste 800 feet high over 2,500 acres of Coronado National Forest. The waste dump would be in a watershed that provides significant groundwater recharge to the surrounding area and the Tucson basin.

If Hudbay were to follow through on its expansion plans, Rosemont would sprawl over the top of the Santa Ritas and spill over onto the western slope, where the 24-hour a day mining operation would be visible from Green Valley and Sahuarita.

The Rosemont Mine would use 4.8 million gallons of Southern Arizona drinking water to, among other things, control dust. Rosemont’s expansion to include an open-pit mine on the west side of the Santa Ritas would only increase groundwater pumping from the Rosemont wells in Sahuarita.

A fundamental review of copper economics undermines Mr. Lauzon’s absurd claim that a country unable to meet its domestic copper demand will pay higher prices.

First, copper is a basic commodity, and international markets set its price. Unlike oil, there is no copper cartel. It doesn’t matter how much or little a country produces when it comes to the price of copper.

Second, while the U.S. imported 680,000 tons of refined copper in 2020, the Rosemont Mine would not reduce imports and would very likely cause imports of refined copper to increase. Why? Because the U.S. already produces more raw copper from domestic mines than it can process at its three U.S. copper smelters.

The U.S. Geological Survey reports U.S. copper mines produced 1.2 million metric tons of copper ore, also called concentrate, in 2020. Most of that copper ore was sent to U.S. smelters to produce 860,000 metric tons of refined copper. But nearly one-third of the U.S. copper ore production, or 390,000 metric tons, was exported.

Third, it is doubtful that the United States will construct new copper smelters that are notoriously high emitters of sulfur dioxides and heavy metals. And it is implausible that Rosemont’s copper concentrate would be refined at any of the three existing smelters as they have little if any excess capacity and are owned by competing companies.

The lack of smelting capacity is why Hudbay intends to ship Rosemont’s copper concentrate by train or truck to Mexico, where it will likely then be exported to overseas smelters, most likely China.

America doesn’t need Rosemont to achieve its renewable energy goals.

And Arizona doesn’t need another massive copper project that destroys the landscape while depleting and polluting scarce desert water supplies. The Santa Ritas are a superb sky-island mountain range; they deserve to be preserved and protected.

END QUOTE

Friday, April 9, 2021

All voters are equal, but some voters are more equal than others

The title of this post is adapted from George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

In the April 7, 2021 edition of Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson exposes the Mudsill theory of elite rule.

Last night, commentator Kevin Williamson published a piece in National Review justifying voter suppression by suggesting that “the republic would be better served by having fewer—but better—voters.” Representatives, he says, “are people who act in other people’s interests,” which is different from doing what voters want.

Additional excerpts follow.

This is the same argument elite slaveholder James Henry Hammond made before the Senate in 1858, when he defended the idea that Congress should recognize the spread of human enslavement into Kansas despite the fact that the people living in that territory wanted to abolish slavery. …

The theory of government that lies behind the argument for limiting the vote to “better” voters was also articulated by Senator Hammond in his 1858 speech. He explained that the South had figured out the best government in the world. It had put a few wealthy, educated, well-connected men in power over everyone else: those he called “mudsills,” workers who produced the capital that supported society but had little direction or ambition and had to be controlled by their superiors. In the South, Hammond explained to his northern colleagues, the mudsills were Black, but in the North they were wage workers. …

In 1859, Abraham Lincoln rejected this vision of government by wealthy elites and replaced it with one of his own. Government worked best not when it protected the property and thus the power of a few wealthy elites, said this poor man’s son, but when it protected equality of access to resources and equality before the law for everyone. …

Throughout our history, adherents of these two different visions of what constitutes the best government for the U.S. have struggled. On the one hand are those who say that the country operates best when the government is controlled by a few wealthy, educated, well-connected, and usually white and male leaders. The argument goes that they are the only ones with the skills, the insight, and the experience to make good decisions about national policy, particularly economic policy. And it is important that wealth concentrate in their hands, since they will act as its stewards, using it wisely in lump sums, while if the workers who produce wealth get control of it they will fritter it away.

On the other hand are those like Lincoln, who believe that government should reflect the will of the majority, not simply on principle, but because a wide range of voices means the government has a better chance of getting things right than when only a few people rule.

In today’s world, Americans appear to be siding with the popular measures of the Democrats. A Morning Consult/Politico poll today says that 65% of Americans support higher corporate taxes to pay for infrastructure and that 82% want infrastructure in any case. To make matters worse for the Republicans, counties that voted for Biden provide 70% of the nation’s gross domestic product, the value of goods and services in the nation. The large corporations Republicans used to be able to count on for money and support are now eager to court these young, liberal producers.

So, to combat the nation’s drift toward popular government, it appears the current-day Republican Party has taken up the cause of elite rule.

Like Williamson, Arizona state representative John Kavanagh has mused that getting rid of voters might be good for the nation. He has said of voting that “[q]uantity is important, but we need to look at the quality of votes as well.”

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Coming soon to a Republican Party organization near you. MAGA's crazy coups.

Daily Beast Congressional Reporter Sam Brodey exposes ’A Whole Bunch of Crazy’: Inside the South Carolina GOP’s MAGA Coup. Local Tea Party leader Pressley Stutts said Trump’s instructions to the faithful were clear: “‘Go purge, get rid of the RINOs in the Republican Party.’ So we took him seriously.”

Following is the opening part of Brodey’s report.

When Lenna Smith arrived at her precinct’s annual Republican Party organizing meeting last month, she didn’t expect to be greeted by a dozen strangers.

Smith has been a fixture in GOP politics in Greenville, South Carolina, for 30 years. As a prominent anti-abortion activist, she has in her rolodex nearly everyone notable or influential in conservative circles in the state’s most populous county. She is on a first-name basis with past governors.

So, when Smith walked into a church function room for her precinct meeting on March 22 and saw people who’d never participated in local GOP politics, she was a little unnerved. As precinct president, it was Smith’s job to run the meeting, and she simply chalked up the new faces as “neighbors I’ve never met.”

But what happened next was totally out of her control. When it came time to elect the precinct’s president for the coming year, one of the newcomers nominated a fellow newcomer, but not a single person nominated Smith. Stunned, she had to nominate herself. “That was a little disheartening,” she said.

When it came time to vote, the outcome was a foregone conclusion: Smith had lost the president position she’d held for years. For the vote on the next most senior office, the same thing happened, and then the next, until there were no more offices left. Smith had been totally shut out.

“I came home, and told my husband, I was just booted out,” Smith told The Daily Beast. “Do these people see me as what I’m not?” she recalled wondering. “Did I offend them?”

What happened in Smith’s precinct was no one-off oddity; that night, longtime party activists were similarly ejected from their positions at meetings across Greenville County after hundreds of new faces showed up, seemingly out of the woodwork. The GOP loyalists did not know them, but the newcomers seemed to know the process, and they took advantage of it to jettison longtime officials.

Smith, and others, seemed to offend simply by having a whiff of experience in local politics, a black mark that was linked to the worst possible offense to the GOP base: not doing enough to support Donald Trump in the wake of the 2020 election.

Since Trump’s defeat and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the MAGA faithful around the country have been restless. State-level activists have led the charge nationally in loudly criticizing and plotting against any Republican perceived to be an enemy of the Trump movement, from members of Congress who voted to impeach the ex-president to local officials seen as being weak or soft when it counted.

The phenomenon is not unique to this pocket of South Carolina, but the fight unspooling here is a powerful microcosm of the dynamics in a national tug-of-war over the direction of the Republican Party after Trump’s presidency.

“A behind-the-scenes battle is happening,” said a Republican operative in the state, “between establishment forces, such as they are in the current GOP, and the far-right, QAnon-believing Trump supporters who want to take over this county party.”

“It’s frustrating to think the party may be turned over to people who have different goals from what we’ve had for years. Their goal is to replace us all. They may succeed. ”Suzette Jordan, longtime South Carolina GOP activist

See Brodey’s report for more, many more, instances of GOP warfare that seems certain to result in MAGA victories.

The curious record of Senator Sinematic

You might recall, from years past, that I (your Scriber) have flipped and flopped when it comes to U. S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema. I’ve complained about her voting record in the House. But then I’ve published data showing that she voted mostly progressively and against Trump. If you want to sample her voting use the search feature on this blog for “Sinematic”. Most recently she dramatically, Sinematically we could say, nixed the $15 minimum wage and then joined Sen. Joe Manchin in rejecting filibuster reform. Following are two posts on the latter matter.

On the filibuster’s future, Arizona’s Sinema makes a flawed case What should happen when Republican senators are asked to “change their behavior,” and they respond, “No”?

When it comes to efforts to reform the Senate’s filibuster rules, proponents of institutional changes clearly have plenty of momentum. Many senators who, as recently as a few years ago, wanted to leave the chamber’s status quo in place indefinitely have changed their minds.

But in the Senate Democratic conference, support for an overhaul is not yet universal. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) receives the bulk of the attention in this debate, in part because he’s Congress’ most conservative Democrat, and in part because he’s been quite vocal in his opposition to major institutional changes.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), however, is every bit as opposed to filibuster reforms as Manchin – and by some measures, more so. She just tends not to talk about it as much.

In early March, the Arizonan wrote a relatively long letter to a constituent, making the case for leaving the filibuster alone. It was good to see the senator tackle the issue in some detail, but Sinema’s letter included suspect historical claims.

This week, the Democratic senator elaborated on her perspective to the Wall Street Journal.

“When you have a place that’s broken and not working, and many would say that’s the Senate today, I don’t think the solution is to erode the rules,” she said in an interview after two constituent events in Phoenix. “I think the solution is for senators to change their behavior and begin to work together, which is what the country wants us to do.”

I read this paragraph several times, trying to better understand where Sinema is coming from, but it’s a difficult perspective to understand.

To be sure, it’s encouraging to see the senator acknowledge concerns that the Senate is “broken” and “not working.” After all, the status quo is awfully tough to defend. But by all appearances, it’s the abuse of the rules that has turned the chamber into such a mess. Restoring the Senate to a majority-rule institution – the way it operated for generations before the routinization of abuses – would allow it to start functioning again, but that’s a change Sinema will not consider.

To restore majority-rule, she says, would be to “erode the rules” that are being abused.

But it’s that next sentence in her quote that I found especially important: “I think the solution is for senators to change their behavior and begin to work together.”

Wouldn’t it be great if it were that simple?

Senate Republicans have broken the institution, refuse to compromise, and have abandoned any interest in responsible governance? This could be fixed if GOP senators simply “changed their behavior.”

And while I can appreciate the appeal of such a wish – I’d be delighted if Senate Republicans behaved more responsibly – there’s an unavoidable follow-up question: what if senators don’t “change their behavior and begin to work together”?

What if Americans elect a Democratic House, Democratic Senate, and Democratic White House, expecting elected officials to deliver on a Democratic agenda, and Republicans stand in the way of constructive policymaking? What if GOP senators are asked to “change their behavior,” and they respond, “No”?

Sinema appears to believe that, at that point, the nation should simply tolerate a Senate that is “broken” and “not working,” leaving it intact until voters elect members who’ll behave more responsibly. Given the ideological direction of the Republican Party, that’s a recipe for indefinite dysfunction.

In my thinking, it also does a disservice to her constituents.

Kyrsten Sinema is misleading her constituents. And she almost surely knows it.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is one of the Democratic caucus’ most determined opponents of doing away with the filibuster. If Democrats are ever going to pass sweeping new voting rights measures, they must be prepared to end the filibuster if necessary, but that will likely remain impossible as long as Sinema — and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia — remain unmovable.

Which means Sinema’s current arguments could have enormous consequences, both for the future of the Democratic majority in Congress, and for our democracy more generally.

Sinema recently made the case to constituents for keeping the filibuster on grounds that it will smooth a “bipartisan process” that will respect “the opinions of senators from the minority party” and “result in better, common sense legislation.”

Now Sinema has expanded on this argument in an interview with the Wall Street Journal:

"When you have a place that’s broken and not working, and many would say that’s the Senate today, I don’t think the solution is to erode the rules,” she said in an interview after two constituent events in Phoenix. “I think the solution is for senators to change their behavior and begin to work together, which is what the country wants us to do.”

This argument is not only misleading; it’s cynically misleading.

After all, Sinema concedes that the Senate is in fact “broken,” in that the parties aren’t working together. Yet we still have the filibuster. That means by Sinema’s own lights, its existence isn’t doing what she has claimed it does, i.e., facilitate bipartisanship.

So instead of addressing that, Sinema moves the goal posts. Now the problem is the conduct and lack of civic virtue of individual Senators, irrespective of the rules. If only they would “change their behavior and begin to work together,” the Senate would no longer be broken. So changing the rules is not necessary.

But the conduct of senators actually is influenced by the chamber’s rules — in exactly the opposite way from what Sinema has suggested.

In reality, the filibuster frustrates bipartisanship. We have direct experience of this from the last Democratic presidency, that of Barack Obama: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell relied on the filibuster to facilitate the withholding of bipartisan cooperation.

Here’s how this works. Precisely because a partisan Democratic majority cannot pass things alone in the face of GOP filibusters, the handful of GOP senators who might be inclined to reach compromises with Democrats are actually incentivized not to. The pressure is on them to deny Democrats bipartisan victories, because that’s bad for Democrats and good for their own party.

By contrast, if things can pass by simple majority, that actually has a better chance of incentivizing bipartisan cooperation. That’s because, if a partisan majority can pass something anyway, those few opposition senators now have reason to negotiate with the majority to try to influence the measure en route to passage.

It actually makes sense that the rules would shape incentives, and by extension, the individual conduct of lawmakers. Generally speaking, that’s what institutional rules are designed to do. When they don’t have the influence on individual actors we want them to, and incentives go awry, we seek to change them.

In this regard, Sinema’s position is deeply self-contradictory. First she defends the filibuster’s existence by noting that keeping the rules as is will result in virtuous, public-spirited conduct. But then, when forced to admit this isn’t happening, she declares that this conduct can be attained outside of any incentives created by the rules.

What’s so frustrating about this is that Sinema seems to be relying on an awareness that her arguments seem superficially plausible. It sounds true that the filibuster facilitates bipartisanship. It sounds true that the real problem is that lawmakers just won’t “work together.”

But relying on such superficial plausibility to tell your constituents these things is to mislead them. It risks scrambling their expectations about what’s really possible under the status quo, and confusing them about why it isn’t happening and how that might be changed. The self-contradictory progression of Sinema’s arguments suggests she is aware of this.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Number of the Day - zero

The GaetzGate continues to chug along in the national news.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) considers the number of GOPlins publicly abandoning Matt Gaetz. Will Gaetz’s GOP critics drop their anonymity and call for his ouster? The grand total of congressional Republicans publicly calling for Matt Gaetz’s ouster is still zero.

As the scandal surrounding Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) continues to intensify, there are a corresponding number of reports about the inevitability of his ouster. The Hill published this report late Friday:

A defiant Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) says he has no plans to resign from Congress amid a federal investigation into whether he paid women — and a 17-year-old girl — for sexual favors. Yet behind the scenes, a growing number of Gaetz’s Republican colleagues are predicting his days on Capitol Hill are growing short. “In reality, yes, he won’t last long,” one member told The Hill on Friday.

To be sure, there’s been plenty of speculation along these lines in recent days. The Hill also noted last week, for example, that “a number of Republicans” were privately welcoming and expecting Gaetz’s political demise. Business Insider had a related report quoting a GOP congressional aide saying Republican leaders, eager to be rid of the grandstander, “will likely watch him completely implode in a matter of days without having to do a thing.”

At face value, the assessment seem obvious. Gaetz found it easy to persevere after his DUI controversy, but his ongoing scandal is vastly more serious. Common sense – and basic human decency – suggests the Florida Republican’s days on Capitol Hill are numbered.

But each of these reports about Gaetz’s future has something in common: the articles quote Republicans who did not want to be named on the record. These GOP insiders are willing to take rhetorical shots at their flailing colleague, but only if granted anonymity to speak freely.

In other words, Gaetz is a scandal-plagued mess, but we’re not yet at the stage at which Republicans are willing to call him out publicly. Maybe these GOP officials are afraid of Donald Trump – Gaetz is one of the former president’s most flamboyant and sycophantic allies – or perhaps they’re afraid of conservative media and the party’s far-right base.

Whatever the explanation, it’s been six days since the New York Times first reported that the Justice Department is investigating Gaetz over allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a minor, possibly violating federal sex trafficking laws in the process, and the grand total of congressional Republicans publicly calling for his ouster is still zero.

Rep. David Valadeo (R-Calif.) received a campaign contribution from Gaetz, and last week the Californian donated the money to an organization that supports victims of domestic abuse. But to date, that’s the only real action we’ve seen from GOP lawmakers distancing themselves from the Floridian.

Monday, April 5, 2021

A model GOP creep Gaetz exposed

In the Daily Beast Erin Gloria Ryan summarizes how Matt Gaetz Is the Model GOP Representative: A Creep No One’s Surprised About. She asks: If so many of his colleagues knew about his dirtiness, why are they only speaking up now and on background?

Cara Christ on ending COVID restrictions - 'It’s really about that personal responsibility'

Scriber thinks she is using the wrong metric. So does this RN in a Letter to the Star.

Dr. Christ defies logic, and maybe her oath

Dr. Cara Christ, Arizona’s top health official, defied all logic with her statement in which she basically said, “Go out in public, behave as you will, and don’t worry if you get sick or cause others to get sick, we have plenty of hospital beds available.”

This shows a total disregard for the safety of individuals and those they contact.

If I said to my diabetic patient, “Don’t worry about your sugar consumption, we have plenty of hospital beds,” or told my lung cancer patient, “It’s OK to smoke, we have plenty of hospital beds,” I would lose my job and quite possibly my license to practice nursing.

A social contract with the community means that I will behave as best I can, to protect my health and well-being and those I have contact with. I don’t know what social contract Dr. Christ follows or if she can recall the Hippocratic Oath.

Steve Gottlieb, RN

Did she really say that?

Yep.

Arizona ended COVID restrictions because hospitals have bed space, health chief says By Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services Mar 27, 2021 Updated Apr 2, 2021

PHOENIX — The state’s top health official said Friday there’s no reason to continue to limit business occupancy, prohibit large group gatherings and require customers to wear masks because Arizona hospitals now have plenty of space.

Dr. Cara Christ’s explanation came the day after Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, saying the pandemic is under control, abolished all limits that remained on businesses and public gatherings and allowed bars to reopen. He also ordered local governments to lift mask mandates, but Tucson’s mayor said he will have to take the city to court to do so.

Christ said the main reason restrictions had been imposed and bars closed was the fear of overwhelming the state’s health-care system with COVID–19 patients.

Now, she said, the use of hospital and intensive-care beds is way down.

Christ said she and Ducey made the decision that Arizona has to return to a point where people make their own decisions about the risk the virus poses to their own health.

She said that’s no different than any other disease, like the flu, where her department makes various recommendations but ultimately leaves it up to individuals to assess their own health risks.

“It’s really about that personal responsibility,” she said.

So your decision to engage in risky behavior puts me in danger and that’s OK?

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Gaetz scandal reporting reveals pattern of misconduct - to say the least.

Following are just two of the possibly dozens of stories about the Matt Gaetz scandal threatening to blow up Washington.

The scandal is so salacious as to prevent being aired on national news.

CNN’s Dana Bash says she’s being flooded with messages from those who have worked with Gaetz. “If you could see my text messages from some of his current and former colleagues,” said Bash. “I actually can’t repeat what some of them say on morning television.”

Allegations against the GOP’s Matt Gaetz become even more serious reports Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog). Gaetz was already facing accusations of possibly having violated federal sex trafficking laws. The story has now advanced in a dramatic new direction.

It was Tuesday night when the New York Times first reported that the Justice Department is investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) over allegations that he had a sexual relationship with a minor and may have paid for her to travel with him, possibly violating federal sex trafficking laws in the process.

The allegations, which the congressman has denied, came to the attention of federal law enforcement as part of a larger investigation into one of Gaetz’s political allies: Joel Greenberg, an almost comically scandalous figure, who has been indicted on a variety of crimes, “including sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, at least one of whom was an underage girl.”

Overnight, the New York Times advanced this story in dramatic ways.

A Justice Department investigation into Representative Matt Gaetz and an indicted Florida politician is focusing on their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and received cash payments, according to people close to the investigation and text messages and payment receipts reviewed by The New York Times.

Practically every paragraph in the Times’ report, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, adds to the appalling nature of the allegations. The article added, for example, that federal investigators believe Greenberg would meet women “through websites that connect people who go on dates in exchange for gifts,” and then introduce the women to the Republican congressman, “who also had sex with them.”

Gaetz, one of Donald Trump’s most flamboyant congressional allies, continues to deny the allegations.

Nevertheless, according to the reporting, the alleged sexual encounters occurred as recently as 2019 and 2020, with Gaetz and Greenberg allegedly instructing women on where to meet them and receive financial offers. “Some of the men and women took ecstasy,” the Times reported, “an illegal mood-altering drug, before having sex, including Mr. Gaetz, two people familiar with the encounters said.”

The Florida congressman also allegedly asked women to help recruit others “who might be interested in having sex with him and his friends.” Should potential recruits ask, the article added, Gaetz told the women “to say that he had paid for hotel rooms and dinners as part of their dates.”

Of particular interest, the newspaper went on to note that it had reviewed receipts from Cash App and Apple Pay “that show payments from Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Greenberg to one of the women, and a payment from Mr. Greenberg to a second woman. The women told their friends that the payments were for sex with the two men, according to two people familiar with the conversations.”

If accurate, this suggests there may be a financial paper trail – in effect, receipts – that investigators can follow as part of the ongoing investigation.

And while it’s worth emphasizing that there’s nothing inherently controversial about a man providing a woman with gifts such as meals and hotel stays, the Times added, “[I]f prosecutors think they can prove that the payments to the women were for sex, they could accuse Mr. Gaetz of trafficking the women under ‘force, fraud or coercion.’ For example, prosecutors have filed trafficking charges against people suspected of providing drugs in exchange for sex because feeding another person’s drug habit could be seen as a form of coercion.”

The same article went on to note, “It is also a violation of federal child sex trafficking law to provide someone under 18 with anything of value in exchange for sex, which can include meals, hotels, drugs, alcohol or cigarettes. A conviction carries a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence.”

This reporting came on the heels of CNN reporting – which has also not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News – that said federal investigators are examining whether Gaetz used federal campaign funds while “paying for travel and expenses for the women.” CNN added that the Florida Republican “showed off to other lawmakers photos and videos of nude women he said he had slept with,” including boasts made while on the floor of the U.S. House.

Congress isn’t holding formal legislative sessions this week, so Capitol Hill is relatively quiet, though it shouldn’t surprise anyone if there’s quite a bit of talk today about Gaetz resigning in disgrace.

Mark Sumner of the Daily Kos Staff reports that The floodgaetz are open: Matt Gaetz growing scandal is a threat to the whole GOP.

… the growing scandal around Gaetz is not something that took place in a vacuum. In addition to Gaetz and Florida Republican Joel Greenberg, there’s at least one other unnamed Republican official involved in this sex trafficking ring. More importantly, there are a lot more unnamed people involved—like the women who Gaetz, Greenberg, and associates paid to travel across states for the purposes of having sex. At least one of these women was reportedly under the age of 18. There may be more.

As the story expands, so does the possibility that Gaetz was involved in repeated acts that were both more serious, and more extensive, than early reporting suggested. That includes new information that indicates that Gaetz may have been directly involved in providing false IDs to the underage targets of his sex trafficking organization.

New reporting from The Daily Beast shows that the relationship between Gaetz and Greenberg extended beyond the 2019–2020 time frame originally reported elsewhere. That’s because a tip to the FBI shows Gaetz accompanied Greenberg on a late-night trip to his office in 2018 that triggered a security alarm. As it turns out, the FBI was already investigating Greenberg for something he was doing in that office: making fake IDs.

Gaetz has denied having sex with a 17-year-old, calling it “verifiably false.” However, the connection to an operation generating fake IDs certainly extends the possibility that not only did Gaetz knowingly recruit underaged girls for sex, but that this might not be a one-time incident.

Greenberg is now facing an astonishing 33-count indictment. According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, those charges include bribery, theft, stalking a political opponent, using a state database to create fake IDs, and sex-trafficking involving a minor. The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Greenberg “flaunted his close ties” to Gaetz, Donald Trump, and Roger Stone. Stone also made an appearance in the Sun Sentinel this week, claiming that Gaetz was the victim of “a smear.”

This is scandal that started out ugly and is getting worse by the hour. The long-standing connection to Greenberg and the late-night office visit suggests that Gaetz was aware of, if not involved in, the scheme to create fake IDs. Multiple sources have reported that Gaetz is under investigation for paying for minors to engage in interstate travel for the purposes of sex. That “game” that Gaetz was reportedly playing with other Republican congressmen involved “extra points” for sleeping with virgins. And at the same time all this was happening, Gaetz had a teenage boy living at his home despite that boy having a father and other relatives in the area.

Gaetz may be innocent. He relationship with Galban may be innocent. But at the moment, all of this looks extremely bad.

It’s far from over. On Friday morning, Gaetz’s communications director resigned “out of principal.” And CNN’s Dana Bash says she’s being flooded with messages from those who have worked with Gaetz. “If you could see my text messages from some of his current and former colleagues,” said Bash. “I actually can’t repeat what some of them say on morning television.”

What may be the most disturbing thing about Gaetz’s reported actions is his own sense that he was apparently untouchable. According to sources at ABC and The New York Times, Gaetz kept up his recruitment and pay of women well after Greenberg had been arrested, and even after Gaetz had announced his engagement.

What may be most disturbing about everyone else is that they’re just coming forward with their statements about Gaetz now, even though they’ve known exactly what he is for years. This is a scandal with boundaries that are still growing. And it’s not going to stop with Gaetz.

Friday, April 2, 2021

COVID vaccine effectiveness sustained over time

The Washington Post reports on some good news about a COVID vaccine.

[Good] news emerged from an ongoing trial of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine: Six months of follow-up on 12,000 study participants show that the inoculation’s efficacy and safety are sustained over time. The results also suggest that this vaccine is effective against the B.1.351 coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa, which has caused concern for its ability to evade some forms of immunity.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Trump might have to testify under oath in civil case

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports that a New York court adds to Trump’s legal troubles in Zervos case. Zervos’ lawyers have expressed an interest in quizzing Trump under oath, and that now appears to be far more likely to actually happen.

Donald Trump may not have much to do, but he’s clearly keeping his lawyers busy. After all, the former president is already facing investigations in Georgia and New York, and the Republican is reportedly concerned about the prospects of being held criminally liable for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 riot.

But don’t forget: there are civil cases, too.

Former President Donald Trump could face questioning under oath about a former “Apprentice” contestant’s sexual assault allegations against him, following a ruling from New York’s highest court Tuesday.

For those who may need a refresher, let’s review how we arrived at this point.

Shortly before the 2016 presidential election, Americans heard a recording in which Donald Trump was heard bragging about committing sexual assaults. The Republican said, among other things, that he kisses women he considers attractive – “I don’t even wait,” Trump claimed at the time – which he said he can get away with because of his public profile.

“When you’re a star, they let you do it,” Trump said on the recording. “You can do anything. Grab ’em by the p***y.”

After Trump denied having done what he bragged about doing, more than a few women came forward to accuse the Republican of sexual misconduct – one of whom, Summer Zervos, is currently suing the president for defamation, after Trump insisted each of his accusers were liars.

Trump and his lawyers have spent years trying to make the case go away, insisting that a sitting president is immune to civil suits in state courts. Yesterday, New York’s highest court issued a one-sentence order, rejecting Trump’s appeal – the question about a case involving a sitting president obviously no longer applies since the Republican is now a private citizen.

“Defendant’s appeal should be dismissed, and this matter should be remanded for further proceedings,” the order said.

For Trump, the legal setback likely stings, but it’s the next steps that will probably be a bigger problem. Zervos’ defamation lawsuit is poised to begin its evidence-gathering phase. As the Associated Press’ report added, the plaintiff’s lawyers have expressed an interest in quizzing Trump under oath, and that now appears to be far more likely.