Nel's New Day

May 29, 2018

Congress Decisions, Destructive or Failed

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) couldn’t even get a farm bill passed after 18 hardline far-right and 12 moderate GOP representatives sided with the Democrats to vote against it after a difference of opinion about immigrants. Conservatives also didn’t like the idea of “too much” funding for food stamps, and the Dems hated the drastic food stamp cuts. On the other hand, farmers and relatives could be eligible for up to $125,000 annually per person. Food stamps cost $125.41 per month.

DDT has signed a bank deregulation bill that puts the United States into almost the same lack of oversight that sent the nation into a recession at the end of George W. Bush’s two terms. The excuse is to help the economy, but, thanks to the tax cuts for the wealthy and big business, Wall Street netted $56 billion in the first quarter of 2018. That’s the industry’s most profitable quarter in history. The new law allows banks to take irresponsible risks that can primarily hurt the bottom 90 percent. Supposedly the lack of regulations help small banks, but rules moved big banks into the “mid-sized” level (up to $250 billion in assets) permitting them to lower compliance costs, expand trading opportunities, substitute costly debts with deposits, and kick back more money to shareholders. Consumers have lost their protection. Lobby money paid off 33 Democrats as well as the Republicans who voted for the bill.

The Senate showed that it understands the disaster of FCC’s repeal to net neutrality by passing a bill in opposition with all 49 Democrats and GOP Sens. Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and John Kennedy (LA) voting for the bill. The House will ignore the bill, but it’s a start. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had to deal with the bill because supporters used the Congressional Review Act to force action with a simple majority vote. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pointed out that new net neutrality rules hurt “public schools, rural Americans, communities of color and small businesses” while protecting “large corporations and special interests, leaving the American public to pay the price.”

Congress has failed to overturn requirements on payday lenders that protect borrowers from paying excessive interest on these short-term loans. Conservatives touted these loans as the way that poor people could save themselves from disaster, but a typical two-week payday loan had an annual percentage rage of 400 percent. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau may still try to change the rules itself, but that requires public input. The rules required under a former CFPB administration don’t go into effect until August 2019.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) formally requested that Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) schedule a public hearing for Donald Trump Jr. because of evidence that Jr. gave “false testimony.” He told a congressional committee that foreigners did not “offer or provide assistance” to DDT’s campaign and did not seek any foreign assistance. Lying to Congress is a crime even if a person is not under oath. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley defended Jr. by saying that a different witness may have lied to the panel instead.

Crowdfunding (aka cyberbegging) has been used for-profit ventures as well as medical and legal expenses, travel, and community projects. Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) wants to use crowdfunding to build DDT’s wall and has introduced a bill to “allow the secretary of the Treasury to accept public donations.” The bill also states that funds can be used “for other purposes” including a mile-long “commemorative display” to honor donors. During her announcement of the bill on Fox, host Farris Faulkner asked, “What happened to Mexico paying for it?” Black said that she didn’t know “what kind of pressure” DDT is putting on Mexico for funding. He is threatening to close the U.S. government if Congress doesn’t approve funding from taxpayers. USA Today has an interactive map of barriers to the wall.

John M. Gore, acting head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division has both refused to appear before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and refused to answer questions about his request for a citizenship question on the census, but under the leadership of Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), GOP members refused to issue a subpoena to Gore with no reason. Two weeks ago, Tom Brunell, DDT’s choice for Census Director, said that the decision to add this question was based on politics. He said, “They have made a political decision. And they have every right to do that, because they won the election.”

Republicans believe in no regulations—unless they serve personal interests. Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) declared he will stop banks from new rules on guns that restrict credit card and banking services to gun retailers and cease lending to gun manufacturers that fail to comply with the banks’ age limits and background checks. Bank of America will no longer lend money to companies that make the AR-15. Kennedy plans to file complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—that doesn’t protect consumers because regulations have disappeared—and wants colleagues to write legislation that prevents banks from “discriminating” against gun buyers. Other GOP senators threatening banks for their rules regarding guns are Mike Crapo (ID) and Ted Cruz (TX). Michael Piwowar, a SEC commissioner whose term ends this year, told banks that they would have trouble getting GOP support for easing derivatives regulations.

Dumbest statement from a member of Congress this month? It’s hard to pick, but this one is good. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) has never known to be that sharpest tool in the shed, but his reason for sea-level rise may top earlier comments. “Every time you have that soil or rock whatever it is that is deposited into the seas, that forces the sea levels to rise. Because now you’ve got less space in those oceans because the bottom is moving up.” He looked over the fact that his solution would be accurate only if the top five inches of the 9.1 million square miles in the U.S. went into the ocean—every year. At least, he’s figured out that the seas are rising. He’s making progress.

Rep. Thomas Garrett (R-VA), member of the conservative Freedom Caucus, dropped his run for a second House term and announced that he’s an alcoholic. Former staffers had accused Garrett and his wife of treating them like servants—carrying groceries, walking the dog, and even cleaning up after the animal’s waste when he forgot to take the dog home from his office. Chief of staff, Jimmy Keady, was ready to leave Garrett when he made the announcement. Garrett’s resignation makes the 44th GOP resignation from the House this year. He had no opposition in the June 12 primary; the House district RNC will select an opponent against a strong Democratic candidate in the November midterm election.

No matter what Congress does, its rating stays low. Among Republicans, the approval rating dropped from 50 percent when DDT was inaugurated to 22 percent this month. And the GOP is in control!

State-wise, felons are beginning to regain their voting rights after they leave prison. Louisiana has passed a bill, which will probably be signed into law, that gives voting rights to people on probation or parole if they have been out of prison for at least five years. In other states:

  • Alabama: thousands of felons were added to voter rolls following a law clarifying specific crimes that bar felons from voting.
  • New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) restored the first pardons giving the right to vote to over 24,086 parolees.
  • Virginia: Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) restored voting rights to over 155,000 convicted felons who completed their sentences.
  • Florida: A November ballot measure could restore voting rights to felons after they complete their prison sentences. (Florida is one of ten states where felons permanently lose their voting rights.)
  • Mississippi: Two pending federal suits seek automatic voting rights after the completion of the sentence.
  • New Jersey: Lawmakers are considering a measure allowing people in prison to vote, legal only in Maine and Vermont.

Republicans want to keep felons from voting from fear that they will vote against the GOP, but states have another method to keep white supremacy: eliminating all non-citizens from the census that determines the number of seats per state in Congress. Alabama has a lawsuit to exclude immigrants from the count, and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) are supporting that position. The 14th Amendment requiring the census states that congressional seats are designated on the basis of the number of “persons.” Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) and Alabama’s AG Steve Marshall are using the argument that “persons” did not include undocumented people in the 18th and 19th centuries. Alabama may lose a congressional seat after the 2020 census. Missouri state legislators are considering a law that would base state legislative districts entirely on citizen population.

In all but six states, legislatures will be adjourned by the end of June. Next week, however, the Senate comes back to meet 12 weeks before midterms—less time for the House schedule. Both chambers disappear in August. We’ll see how much damage they can do in that time.

March 27, 2018

Conservatism on Trial

Lawyers continue to earn salaries from the outrageous edicts of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) and GOP laws. Some of the ones from just last week:

Decisions:

Women may legally bare their breasts in public, according to a federal ruling on a 2015 Fort Collins (CO) law preventing female bare breasts in public except for breastfeeding and girls under the age of ten. Fort Collins said that male and female breasts are different and the law is to prevent disrupting order. The group Free the Nipple won’t disband because Fort Collins isn’t giving up.

For the second time, the Supreme Court rejected a GOP request to stop a Pennsylvania court mandate for redrawing the state’s congressional map in a way that removes some of the massive GOP gerrymandered advantage. State legislators considered impeaching the Pennsylvania Supreme Court justices who voted in favor of redrawing the map, but the Chief Justice, a GOP appointee, may have embarrassed them out of the idea.

Two class-action lawsuits over contaminated water in Flint (MI) can go to trial, according to the Supreme Court. Federal Judge John C. O’Meara earlier ruled that the federal Safe Drinking Water keeps the cases out of his jurisdiction, but the 6th Circuit Court reversed O’Meara’s dismissal and allows plaintiffs to seek monetary damages.

A unanimous SCOTUS ruling sent a case back to the 5th Circuit Court after it ruled that indigent prisoners must expect success to get funding for investigating a case. SCOTUS disagreed. In Ayestas v. Davis, the petitioner, sentenced to death for his part in a 1995 murder during a robbery, claimed ineffective trial and post-conviction counsel.

A federal judge temporarily blocked a new law in Mississippi banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, the strictest limit in the nation that violates the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.

Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker (R) refused to hold special elections for empty legislative seats in violation of state law after a Democrat upset in a January special election. A circuit court judge appointed by Walker told him that he will hold the elections. Walker had erroneously claimed that he didn’t need to hold elections because they didn’t occur in an election year. State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald plans to get GOP legislators to overturn the judge’s ruling and called on the state Supreme Court to discipline the judge for “politicizing” her ruling.

A federal judge slapped down the Federal Election Commission (FEC)—again—for wrongly dismissing a 2012 complaint against the conservative American Action Network (AAN) that failed to register as a political committee and report the millions of dollars it spent for House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) 2010 campaign.

New York Supreme Court Judge Jennifer G. Schecter ruled that a sexual harassment defamation lawsuit against DDT by former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos can proceed. Schecter used the court precedent in a lawsuit against Bill Clinton—that “a sitting president is not immune from being sued in federal courts for unofficial acts”—as the basis for her decision. Former Playboy model Karen McDougal also filed a lawsuit against owner of the National Enquirer, American Media, to be released from her contract to keep quiet about an affair with DDT.

The Supreme Court refused to roll back the ability of federal agencies to interpret their regulations. Under DDT, agencies are pushing abstinence-only regulations affecting women’s reproductive rights, net neutrality, and otherwise burdening people in the U.S. with religious and business-oriented advantages. Even so, ultra-conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch disagreed with the majority.

Ongoing trials:

The “anti-trust trial of the century” has started in the government’s fight against AT&T’s desired $85 billion merger with Time Warner. The merger’s lawyer claimed that they would never charge people more or block any content.

Filings:

Consumer groups are suing DDT for its elimination of standards for treatment of animals if the meat is designated “certified organic.” The Department of Agriculture claims that it lacks the authority and that the regulation would be costly despite the agency’s economic analysis of only minor costs.

Civil rights groups are suing DDT for document about the decision blocking a rule requiring companies with over 100 employees to track wages based on race and gender.

Environmentalist and animal welfare groups are suing DDT on his new stand allowing people to bring elephant trophies into the U.S. after he described big-game trophy hunting as a “horror show.” The new suit is an amendment to an ongoing case against Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s lifting the ban last year on lion trophies from Zimbabwe. Zinke’s International Wildlife Conservation Council is composed of “celebrity hunting guides, representatives from rifle and bow manufacturers, and well-heeled trophy collectors,” according to AP. One board member, Peter Horn, co-owns a private New York hunting preserve with DDT’s big-game hunting sons, Eric and Donald Jr.

 

 

Pending:

The strangest case comes from a 1990s capital murder case involving two Native Americans that could restore tribal sovereignty to almost half of Oklahoma for the first time in a century. Patrick Murphy, death-row inmate and member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, claimed that the state cannot try him for the murder of another tribal member on land that was part of the Creek Nation’s reservation. In the late 19th century, Congress took courts, governments, and laws from the Creek Nation and forced them to change tribal lands into privately-owned allotments for the tribe’s members before selling surplus land to white settlers.

Last summer, however, a three-judge panel in the 10th Circuit Court ruled that Congress had never specifically abolished the Creek Nation’s reservation which left it intact. The panel ruled that Royal v. Murphy had to be tried in federal court like other major crimes between Native Americans. In effect, the ruling returned the territory to the tribe and opened the door to other Oklahoma tribes, including the other four of the Five Civilized Tribes. They were all moved from southeastern U.S. on the Trail of Tears that killed over 4,000 people and promised the Oklahoma land in perpetuity. The land for just the Creek Nation comprises 4,600 square miles with 750,000 inhabitants including most of Tulsa. The five tribes together would take over 40 percent of Oklahoma.

Changing the land to reservation would restrict state criminal jurisdiction to minor offenses such as traffic violations. Federal and tribal courts would be in control of all other crimes. State taxation would also be impacted, and oil companies are concerned. Murphy has a lot at stake in this case: federal government bans the death penalty for crimes on tribal land.

In Solem v. Bartlett (1984), the Supreme Court ruled that each reservations keeps its original boundaries unless Congress specifically changes the borders or completely abolishes the reservation. The 10th Circuit ruled that this had not happened “and if it never did, that post–Civil War reservation is still intact.” [Above map showing 1866 boundaries of the Creek Nation.] That ruling stays unless the Supreme Court decides to take the case.

During March, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the man determined to disenfranchise every Democratic voter, took up eight days in court to defend his state law that requires prospective voters to prove their citizenship before they can register. He tried to present new information after the deadline, tried to testify to a document that he couldn’t find, and couldn’t phrase questions for cross examination or impeach a witness. Federal Chief District Judge Julie Robinson, a George W. Bush appointee, accused Kobach of engaging in “gamesmanship” and skirting her orders. Calling the 11 illegal voters of 1.8 million on the voter rolls the “tip of the iceberg,” Kobach kept 35,000 people from voting. Kobach stands accused of violating federal law by refusing to register these legitimate voters who signed up to vote through driver’s license offices.

The question of the trial is whether widespread voter fraud is credible, and Kobach had to admit it isn’t. On the first day of his trial, he said that federal databases cannot identify noncitizens—although that was the mission of DDT’s now-disbanded federal commission he headed up to find illegal voters. His witnesses confessed that their research is unreliable because it isn’t subject to peer review and suffers from flawed methodology. The “expert” who testified that noncitizen voting didn’t change the outcome of the popular vote, in opposition to Kobach’s claim about three million noncitizens voting in 2016, and testified that he identified potential noncitizens in Kansas by how “foreign-sounding” a name was. Another “expert” disclosed that his belief in Kansas voter fraud was entirely based on a list of about 30 voters that Kobach’s office gave him and he used incomplete information which could make it appear that more noncitizens tried to vote than those who existed. He, too, could not name any election swayed by noncitizens. Kobach’s legal opponent, Dale Ho (also a “foreign-sounding” name, concluded, “The iceberg, on close inspection your honor, is more of an ice cube.”

Koback’s latest attempt to remove Democratic voters was to tell DDT that the census should ask about everyone’s immigration status. May Kobach be brought down by creatures that he considered much smaller than himself. May he become afraid.

 

March 6, 2018

CPAC Represents Today’s Republican Leadership

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is past, but there is no doubt that it represents the Grand Old Party of Republicans. Embarrassed by the radical performance at this year’s annual conference, a National Review writer tried to justify CPAC’s racism and attempted to whitewash this statement from Ian Walters, the fundraiser’s communications director from the podium at the Ronald Reagan Dinner:

“We elected Mike Steele as chairman because he was a black guy, that was the wrong thing to do.”

The first black chairman of the Republican National Committee, Steele served from 2009 to 2011. Five years later, two percent of registered Republicans were black—the same percentage as in 1992 and down from 11 percent in 2012. DDT got eight percent of the black vote.

Last year, the GOP was good for white supremacists; they had a 20 percent increase of neo-Nazi groups over 2016. Anti-Semitic events increased almost 60 percent last year with much of the increase in schools. K-12 schools saw a 94 percent increase from 2016, and anti-Semitism on college campuses were up 90 percent. Because many students don’t report being bullied, the number could be double.

It’s impossible to cover up the flagrant racism at CPAC. It brought Marion Marechal Le Pen from France who wants to unite standard conservatives with “Identitarians,” including white supremacists and fascists. Matt Schlapp, the man who invited Le Pen to address CPAC members, pretended to not understand her politics.  Standard U.S. fringe conservatives Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity joined the lesser known Le Pen as did Nigel Farage, supporter of the economically disastrous Brexit.

The NRA had a strong message at CPAC.

  • Dana Loesch said that “many in the legacy media love mass shootings.”
  • Wayne LaPierre declared Democrats aim to “eradicate all individual freedoms.”
  • Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) told his crowd that Democrats would repeal the 2nd Amendment and bizarrely asked the crowd if they preferred tax cuts or the 2nd Amendment.

Over four decades ago, 400 conservatives met during the crisis of Watergate and Richard Nixon, arguing whether to dump the president. Honored speaker in 1974 was Ronald Reagan, and an honored guest was POW John McCain, who DDT insulted at the 2018 CPAC. In the 1990s, Newt Gingrich led the group farther right, and DDT brought the conspiracy theory surrounding President Obama’s place of birth to CPAC in 2011. Last year, Dan Schneider, executive director for the American Conservative Union, banned the “alt-right” from CPAC, and the RAISE act to eliminate almost all immigration was considered outside the mainstream. This year white supremacists were largely accepted, and the creator of the RAISE Act, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), has led the charge against DACA legislation. CPAC and the GOP require a superiority, even hatred, toward Muslims and almost all people of color.

CPAC members have given up pretending that the conference about “ideas” and the “conservative agenda.” Star Dinesh D-Souza explained their mission in his book Letters to a Young Conservative:

“One way to be effective as a conservative is to figure out what annoys and disturbs liberals the most, and then keep doing it.”

That statement epitomizes DDT’s rallies, and he used the CPAC audience for a rally. After trashing his prepared remarks, he admired his hair in the monitors and returned to lies about how much he has accomplished.

Speakers who wanted to address the importance of conservatism were booed.  Columnist and author Mona Charen decried the “sophomoric clownishness” of the movement when she appeared on Morning Joe. She said:

“But there’s this ethic, this mood of trolling the opposition, that if you can create liberal tears, then anything goes. And even to the point of inviting the granddaughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, a Nazi, an anti-Semite from France. And what was the point of inviting her? It was again to create a response, to jab a needle in the eye of liberals. And they think this is a game, it’s not. It’s not a game.”

At her CPAC speech, the crowd jeered when she called out Republican “hypocrites about sexual harassers and abusers of women.” Her criticism was directed at “sexual harassers and abusers of women, who are in our party, who are sitting in the White House, who brag about their extramarital affairs, who brag about mistreating women — and because he happens to have an ‘R’ next to his name we look the other way.” Charen needed security to get her safely out of the room. Her impressions of the event are here.

CPAC used to be a big deal, but the media attention for this annual event has waned even more than its attendance. Missing this year were most elected officials including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), and libertarian-when-it-serves-him Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). Instead DDT’s appointees, including four Cabinet members, dominated as speakers. Front and center was VP Mike Pence, who tried to defend DDT’s agenda and rally activists for the 2018 elections. White House counsel Don McGahn told his audience that DDT picked judicial nominees who he “could relate to.” Other speakers included Mike Mulvaney with other high-level DDT officials such as Kellyanne Conway, three far-right governors, and a sprinkling of minor congressional members. Sebastian Gorka, the gone but not forgotten White House aide beloved by neo-Nazis, called DDT “only accidentally the GOP candidate” and claimed that the GOP is “riding his coattails.”

Conservative celebrity Ben Shapiro, who started writing his political blog as a teenager and now claims that the Florida teenagers advocating gun safety laws have no insight, did complain to CPAC about DDT’s lying, calling it “nonsense” and “immoral.” But he was an outlier and received little publicity. Radical anti-Muslim Pamela Geller canceled her panel after her sponsor, American Principles Project, told her to pull Jim Hoft, founder of the right-wing fringe website The Gateway Pundit, who spread false conspiracies about the Florida shooting survivors being paid “actors.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), headed for the 2020 presidential election, complained about how reporters’ questions are “never about substance,” after his inability to successfully answer questions about the shutdown and the easy accessibility to AR-15s. His speech comparing characters on the animated TV show The Simpsons was far from substance. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-simpsons-main-characters-137323  His argument that Homer, Bart, Marge, and Maggie are Republicans describe his party as greedy, stupid, juvenile, vandals, and—in the case of Marge—enabling these characteristics. Witty and over-achieving Lisa, defined by Cruz as the Democrat, looks out for others. She doesn’t compromise her values but doesn’t force them on others, and she refuses to be a corporate shill. (Okay, maybe then she isn’t a Republican.)

Also “substance” from Cruz’s speech, “We can stop [the shootings] by going after criminals,” and “freedom works.”

Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote:

“Now CPAC encapsulates the GOP. Adherents of President Trump’s brand of Republican politics do not bother to disguise their extremism, conspiracy theories, paranoia or xenophobia. In a real sense, the party of CPAC and Trump — who is scheduled to speak on Friday, and will surely feel entirely at home with the hyperventilating rhetoric and contempt for facts on display — have displaced the rest of the party. The GOP used to contain, cool and generally outvote the extremists who showed up to CPAC each year for a ritual display of their ideological fervor. Now, the extremists — spitting venom and brandishing the Fox News view of the world (in which the FBI not Russia is the bad actor) — are the predominate voice in a party that has shed intellectual and moral integrity, as well as any pretense of concern for serious policy.”

Bill Kristol said:

“About CPAC, what needs to be said was said by Eric Hoffer: ‘Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.’”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremism, called this year’s gathering like “a carnival of conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, and mainstream Republicans all uniting under President Trump.” HuffPo shows some of them. The SPLC continued:

“In many ways, CPAC has become an annual measure of how far the radical right has moved into the mainstream of the conservative right, especially in recent years as anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT groups have found political friends in the United States and Europe.”

Fifty-five years after George Wallace blocked a school door to keep black students from going in, CPAC celebrated its legacy of racism, led by DDT, who was supported by almost every Republican speaker. The group continued to ridicule Hillary Clinton, as if she were president, and brought out the cry, “Look her up!” The American Conservative Union gives a platform to the new “normal” of the Grand Old Party that spreads hatred and rejects anyone except white men as leaders of a multi-cultural country.

February 21, 2018

Federal Administration’s Personnel, Legal Issues

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 8:19 PM

The last couple of weeks have seen the usual huge number of problems concerning officials and legal problems swirling around Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) not connected to his Russia connections. An overview:

Appointments:

Kurt Engelhardt, nominated for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, has received committee approval despite his rulings covering for police, not holding them accountable for shooting six unarmed black people on Danziger Bridge after Hurricane Katrina. His decisions also refused to support women’s legal right to be safe from harassment in their employment.

Charles Rettig, nominee to head the IRS, has a history of defending clients against the agency, including Joe Francis who was indicted on tax evasion after he made a fortune selling videos of topless young women. At the same time, he was charged with sexual battery. If confirmed, Rettig, who defended DDT’s refusal to release his tax returns, would oversee an audit of these returns.

Andrew Wheeler, former coal-industry lobbyist, has been approved 11-10 to move to the full Senate for the second in command at the EPA. He was also chief counsel for climate denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK). 

Resignations:

Rachel Brand, DOJ’s #3 attorney, resigned to take a position with Walmart possibly because she was concerned about being asked to oversee the Russia investigation if DDT fires Rod Rosenstein. Brand worked for both Barack Obama and George W. Bush. If Rosenstein leaves, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, connected with the far-right Christian Alliance Defending Freedom, is next in line at DOJ to oversee the Russia investigation after Rosenstein. The announcement of the 13 indictments and DDT’s furious tweets, however, may make Rosenstein a bit more bullet-proof.

Heath Hall has resigned as acting director of the Federal Railroad Administration after public knowledge that he is still working as a public relations consultant in Mississippi. His staff reported that they fielded calls for his second occupation. With no permanent leader since the time of President Obama, the FRA has seen deadly crashes, including one in Washington when a train went off the track on top of a freeway, one in Columbia (SC), and the collision in Virginia between a truck and a train carrying GOP lawmakers. Recently, a train broke apart from a “mechanical error.”  The news comes at a time of strain for the Federal Railroad Administration, which hasn’t had a permanent leader for more than a year while it investigates a string of fatal train crashes and deals with a rising trend of rail-related deaths.

Problems?

Greg Sheehan, acting Fish and Wildlife Service director, attended a convention to promote killing big game and import the bodies back to the U.S. for trophies.

Ajit Pai, FCC chair opposing net neutrality, is under investigation by his own agency for his push to approve rules that would let television broadcasters vastly increase the number of stations they own. Immediately after his success, extreme-conservative Sinclair Broadcasting announced its deal to buy Tribune Media for $3.9 billion that would increase its viewership to 70 percent of the U.S. public. Pai and his staff members had met with Sinclair executives several times, including days before he took over the FCC. Sinclair is now “asking” its employees for donations to its far-right PAC.

Missing—among over 200 others—is director of the DOJ Office on Violence Against Women.

The revolving door of DDT’s White House staff is now at 34 percent with at least 37 high-level aides and advisers who either resigned or were fired. left, either fired or resigned. That figure compares to nine percent for President Obama during his first year, Bill Clinton’s 11-percent turnover, and Ronald Reagan’s 17 percent. Even The Apprentice fired only 15 people each season.

Whither Jared:

After the revelation of over 100 White House officials who have no permanent security clearances, Chief of Staff John Kelly announced that some personnel with interim security clearances cannot have access to top-secret information, a category that includes Jared Kushner, DDT’s son-in-law. In the past year, Kushner, who has complete access to anything in the White House and met frequently with foreign officials, failed to report financial assets and contacts with foreign officials. His “complicated” business relationships make him highly vulnerable to coercion. Kushner’s wide range of responsibilities included creating peace in the Middle East, improving government efficiency, acting as liaison with such allies as China and Saudi Arabia, reforming the VA and criminal justice, and solving the opioid crisis.  Other than members of the National Security Council, he makes more requests for information to the intelligence than any other White House employee.  Some resolution about Kushner may be public by this Friday.

Lawsuits:

After the state’s Supreme Court demanded redrawing the gerrymandered districts in Pennsylvania, SCOTUS Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative, rejected a GOP appeal to reinstate misshapened districts designed to elect only Republicans. [An overview of the eight states in which cases are still pending, five of them before the Supreme Court without the update from PA.] GOP legislators suggested impeaching the state justices and drew another map that was rejected by Gov. Tom Wolf. The state court has now redrawn the map, and GOP legislators plan to file a lawsuit to appeal the decision. DDT is egging them on.

For the second time, a court blocked DDT’s order to end DACA, granting 700,000 young immigrants the right to renew permits to work and stay in the U.S. without deportation. U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn ruled that DDT can end the program but that the administration did not provide legally adequate reasons for its decision. Garaufis used DDT’s tweets about DACA being unconstitutional to overturn his order and called DDT’s termination of DACA “arbitrary and capricious.”

A second federal appeals court, the 4th Circuit Court, has ruled, 9-4, against DDT’s latest travel ban executive order because the ban on visitors from six majority-Muslim countries and two other nations is based on anti-Muslim reasons. This court also used DDT’s tweets for its decision. The U.S. Supreme has agreed to hear arguments on the ban, probably in April.

U.S. District Judge Vince Girdhari Chhabria gave 12 states a victory in forcing the Department of Energy to advance several energy efficiency rules, despite DDT’s move to eliminate them. Rules include increased energy efficiency standards for portable air conditioners, uninterruptible power supplies (the battery backup systems used to keep computers and other electronic devices running when the power goes out), air compressors used in a variety of commercial and industrial applications, and packaged boilers that heat one-fourth of the nation’s commercial space. U.S. consumers can save $8 billion in energy bills.

U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte Jr. ruled that the LA Sheriff’s department violated the Fourth Amendment rights of detained ICE inmates because holding them beyond their release dates constitutes a new arrest. They can only be re-arrested if there is probably cause of criminal activity. Immigration offenses are civil, and so-called ICE warrants are administrative, not judicial. Fairfax County (VA) no longer jails people past their ICE release dates unless the agency has a court order and decided to cancel its detention contract with ICE.

A federal judge has reinforced the ruling that requires DDT to pay $25 million to his former “students” of Trump University. Three pending cases include one for $40 million in restitution.

A federal lawsuit filed last year in Oklahoma has been expanded to obtain class-action status for thousands of state residents extorted by a sheriff- and court-sanctioned collections company. Oklahoma, which uses debt-collections to pay for its justice system, ranks first in locking up women and second in locking up men. The company orders arrest and jailing of people who cannot afford their court debts without legally mandated court hearings. The suit alleges violations of civil rights and extortion under the RICO Act. Civil Rights Corps has already reformed collection practices in Tennessee, Missouri, Alabama and Mississippi as well as bail practices in other states.

Roberta Kaplan, the lawyer who won marriage equality in United States v. Windsor, is taking on the white supremacists at Charlottesville (VA). Her nine plaintiffs, injured during the rally, maintain that the 15 defendants conspired to incite racial hatred and violence. Kaplan’s lawsuit is reminiscent of the 20-year-old suit against the Nuremberg Files, the anti-abortion website posting names and addresses of doctors who performed abortions that led to their murders. Although the judgment of $100 million was lowered, the site was removed. Conspiracy may be difficult to prove, but the defendant openly communicated their intent to inspire, commit, or support violence. “The First Amendment does not protect a conspiracy to engage in violence any more than it protects a conspiracy to rob a bank,” said Kaplan. And social media has given her a lot of evidence for the neo-Nazis’ violence in their plans.

New York AG Eric Schneiderman plans a multistate coalition to keep the Clean Water Rule expansion protecting streams and wetlands. Schneiderman sued DDT 28 times last year.

More of these issues in the end of the week roundup on Friday or Saturday.

February 5, 2018

Dueling Memos Accompanied by Dropping Stock Markets

Remember when Congress passed the last stall to the spending bill on January 22, 2018? That was the one they passed because they couldn’t meet the December 21, 2017 deadline when they couldn’t meet the October 1, 2017 deadline. No problem! They claimed they could get a spending bill in three weeks. Everyone knew they couldn’t. The House passed an unconstitutional anti-abortion bill that lost in the Senate, and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) deliver the dud memo that DDT thought would save him from an investigation. It did garner Nunes’ opponent, Democrat Andrew Janz, $300,000 for his campaign in 72 hours. And Congressional members also wandered off to West Virginia for most of a working week while hitting a garbage truck on the way.

The next deadline is this Thursday, and nothing has been done to move forward on it. Republicans promised to deal with the immigration issue but only holds the DACA Dreamers hostage. The next spending bill delay piles the bill on top of a DACA immigration deadline on March 5 and the debt ceiling, a month closer to early March because the Treasury is giving handouts to the wealthy and big corporations.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is already taking extraordinary actions to pay the nation’s bills by suspending payments into federal employee retiree, health and disability funds. This time of the year is harder on the treasury because of income tax returns. Last year’s budget deficit was $666 billion, the largest since the recession recovery in 2013.

DDT claimed that he fired former FBI director James Comey because the agency was in “turmoil, but it was the firing that created chaos within the FBI. Both Comey’s and Andrew McCabe’s firings from DDT’s politicization have been responsible for the demoralized environment that has grown only worse from the smear memo from Nunes’ memo. about the surveillance warrant request for Carter Page. Even some Republicans are withdrawing from Nunes and his memo, rejecting the idea that the memo exonerates DDT.

If not outright “misrepresenting” facts, the memo omits information about the research and documents including the background going back at least three years before Page’s involvement with DDT. In August 2013, Page bragged about being an “informal advisor” to the Kremlin. In the memo, Nunes claimed that the FBI didn’t know anything about Page’s Russian connections until Christopher Steele’s dossier of summer 2016 that was paid for by Democrats after conservatives stopped paying for the investigation into DDT.

Discovering that people were not buying his take on the FISA warrant for Page, Nunes switched his focus to George Papadopoulos, asking why there was no warrant for him. Then Nunes left out information about Papadopoulos when he said he didn’t deserve a warrant, claiming that he only got drunk in London and criticized Hillary Clinton instead of the report that he told a diplomat about getting hacked emails with “dirt” on Clinton. He even claimed that DDT had never met Papadopoulos (center left), but a small meeting with the two of them in 2016 is documented in a photo from a campaign meeting.

In an effort to take attention away from his nothing-burger memo, Nunes told Sean Hannity that the real Russian collaborator is the Hillary Clinton that weaponized the FBI against DDT. Nunes claimed that the memo shows a “clear link” between Russia and the Clinton campaign, although the memo only mentions that the Clinton campaign paid for part of Steele’s dossier. Missing from the memo—and Nunes’ talking points—is that a conservative group initially commissioned the investigation on DDT because he was obviously the GOP presidential campaign.

Ellen Nakashima explained in the WaPo that another Nunes point in the memo was also wrong: the application for surveilling Page came from a political source, according to the request. Asked about this discrepancy on Fox & Friends, Nunes said the information was not good enough because it was in small print in a footnote:

“A footnote saying something may be political is a far cry from letting the American people know that the Democrats and the Hillary campaign paid for dirt that the FBI then used to get a warrant on an American citizen to spy on another campaign.”

Failing to successfully communicate his lie about the memo vindicating him, DDT grew more desperate last Monday morning with a smear tweet about the Democratic senator from California with fake stories about his leaking information, “Little Adam Schiff …. Must be stopped!” During his tweets last weekend, DDT clearly indicated he approved the memo in order to block the investigation into Russian meddling with the presidential election.

The popularity of #release the memo came from “bots,” computational propaganda capable of sending massive numbers of social media messages which led to bots claiming they weren’t bots. The “fake” news from bots is changing behavior as shown in this detailed explanation of how a bot “personalizes” with “fake” photos and disseminates fake information about progressive causes.

The House Intelligence Committee has unanimously voted to release the Democratic memo that refutes much of what Nunes wrote. Once again, the ball is in DDT’s court. He has five days to decide whether to release or block it—probably while spweeting (sputter-tweeting?) more about Schiff “leaking” information. The committee can vote to override DDT if he blocks the release, and it can be read into the House record.

DDT has called Nunes a “Great American Hero.” The committee chair said he is keeping secret his “Phase Two” of the GOP investigation to focus on the State Department’s role in the early states of Russian investigation. Almost a year ago, Nunes recused himself from any investigations related to Russia because of an ethics charge that he was giving information to the White House. Charges were dropped last December, but his behavior may call on more ethics charges. Republicans report that as many as five more memos may appear, sure to provide more cover for DDT and avoid the nasty problems of the spending bill and the debt ceiling.

While the media buzz was primarily about Nunes’ memo, DDT set another record: today’s Dow Jones fall of 1,179 was the biggest ever, not even close to the 777 points lost on September 29, 2008. On the same day, the S&P lost its entire January gain, and the Nasdaq was down for the seventh of the last nine days. The Dow loss is on top of over a 1,000+ drop last week; the value equals a loss of over $1 trillion in the first five days of February. Although some people blame the upcoming increase in interest rates by the Federal Reserve, others say the reason is the rising bond market as the U.S. Treasury is borrowing more money. It has to pay for all those tax cuts to the wealthy and big corporations.

Last year, investors ignored the possibilities of a trade war with China, a nuclear war with North Korea, and other fear that might have been discouraging to the stock market. The removal of regulations, especially for Wall Street, encouraged them to buy, buy, buy—driving the Dow Jones index up 10,000 points in the ninth year of its boom. Now the cheap money from global central banks may disappear with rising interest rates.

GOP said that the tax cut would cause big corporations to invest in businesses and hire more workers. Instead, corporations are sheltering more and more of their money or buying back ownership in their companies, an action that briefly drove up stocks. Rising wages and interest rates are a sign of inflation which the Fed will try to ward off by raising the interest rates again. Janet Yellen, who kept rates low, is no longer the Federal Reserve chair, and investors don’t know what the new chair, Jerome H. Powell, will do.

Energy corporations lack high earnings, resulting in the biggest drops in stock value, and health stocks were badly hurt by three large companies creating their own health care company for their employees. Tech stocks went down, and the new Apple I 8 and X phone suffered a downturn in sales. Oil prices went down. There’s not a crash, but the market may be “correcting,” a euphemism for going down.

Kellyanne Conway celebrated her one-year anniversary after inventing the term “alternative facts” by doubling down on the appropriateness of the GOP fictional perspective. In a radio interview, she decried the practice of fact-checking by saying that “Americans are their own fact-checkers” and they “have their own facts.” She added that “the stock market is something [Americans] know about because they’re part of the investor class,” forgetting that fewer than half of those “Americans” have any involvement in the stock market and pretending that the stock market equals the economy. (Maybe her next statement could be “ignorance is knowledge”?) All these people who Conway referenced will now know that the stock market dropped eight percent in as many days.

 

January 17, 2018

Say No to Medicaid Work Requirements

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 10:32 PM
Tags: , , ,

While the media obsesses about the coarse language of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), the GOP has found ways to destroy the health and lives of people throughout the United States. Republicans claim that they don’t have enough money for nine million children’s health care in the CHIP program after they gave over $1 trillion to big corporations and the wealthy. A growing number of people are going uninsured after DDT’s work to ruin the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Now they want work requirements and payment for Medicaid, a program created in 1965 to help people with limited income obtain health benefits that includes nursing home care. The only eligibility for participation was the level of income. The last few years of expanded Medicaid in some states has shown remarkable advantages to everyone–$3.4 billion of reduced unpaid bills in its first two years. Healthier people are better able to pay more taxes, and the increased treatment for substance abuse greatly reduced rates of robbery, aggravated assault, and larceny theft.

A major problem for tens of millions of people in the past week is the decision to allow states to impose a work requirement for people on Medicaid, primarily minorities. Seema Verma, the person in charge of this plan, helped design the Indiana Medicaid expansion that required recipients to make monthly payments. The basis for this decision is not to improve health—although that is the claim—but to siphon more money from the poor to the wealthy. Behind this plan are the Koch brothers, the Mercers, the Ricketts, and other multi-billionaire families, already benefiting from millions of dollars after the GOP tax plan.

These decision-makers ignore the fact that at least half of all non-disabled adults with Medicaid already work, and 80 percent of them live in households where at least one adult works. Of those who don’t work, 36 percent are ill or disabled; 30 percent are caregivers; 15 percent are students; and nine percent are retired. Of all the Medicaid recipients, only one-third are non-elderly adults and spend under twenty percent of total costs.

The new guidelines make “suggestions” for these classifications other than the “able-bodied adult” but don’t mandate them. To continue getting health care, these people, many of whom have trouble navigating the system, will be forced to get a doctor’s letter proving that they are within the requirements for exemptions. Doctors are responsible for deciding who lose their insurance in many cases because they must determine who is “medically fragile.” As for pay, those who cannot meet the monthly payments will then lose their coverage.

DDT’s administration announcement about the loss of Medicaid based on lack of “work” was preceded by the Treasury Department’s proposal to reduce federal rules requiring banks to provide mortgage financing in minority neighborhoods. Rules will be expanded to businesses and infrastructure projects that don’t serve the poor.

Ten states have already applied for waivers: Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin. Kentucky was the first to be accepted. Until Kentuckians elected a GOP governor, its Medicaid program was a shining example for the nation, and people loved it. The state’s adult uninsured rate fell from 18.8% in 2013 to 6.8% in 2015. Unfortunately, voters didn’t connect the program with “Obamacare” and rejected the Democrats in the 2014 election, much to their current disappointment. The result is this Medicaid proposal with these mandates:

  • Monthly charges from $1 to $15 that increase in the third year, as much as four percent of income;
  • Loss of insurance with a six-month hiatus before requesting enrollment following failure to pay for two months unless the person completes a financial or health literacy course;
  • Disenrollment for not timely reporting changes to income or employment or making false statements regarding work for six months unless the person completes a health or financial literacy course;
  • Requirement of 20 hours weekly of employment activities for most adults;
  • Waiver of non-emergency medical transportation for adults;
  • Addition of a high deductible health savings account (funded by the state) to existing capitated managed care coverage with an incentive account to purchase extra benefits by specified health-related or employment activities (aka quitting smoking, losing weight, and/or exercising);
  •  and/or up to half of any remaining annual deductible funds;
  • Mandatory Medicaid premium assistance to purchase cost-effective employer sponsored insurance after the first year of Medicaid enrollment and employment for adults and their Medicaid and CHIP-eligible children;
  • Use of federal Medicaid matching funds for short-term Institution for Mental Disease (IMD) services for non-elderly adults in certain counties;
  • Removal of a proposed expansion of presumptive eligibility sites to county health departments and certain safety net providers.

If, like me, your eyes have glazed over at the complexity of these mandates, you will understand that the waiver’s goal is to greatly decrease the number of people on Medicaid and manage their personal behavior, not to make their health better. The huge cost of administering such convoluted regulations puts the money into administration instead of helping people with no money for the government to help pay for program administration.

Kentucky expects to save almost $500,000 a year with the new program, but that comes from making 95,000 people uninsured. Those are the people who will get their health care in hospital emergency rooms that will cost the state more than they save. In typical GOP doublespeak, Verma said, “We see moving people off Medicaid as a good outcome because that means they do not need the program anymore and have transitioned to a job or can afford insurance.” In the same way, the Clinton administration said changes to welfare would encourage “needy” people to find work, move out of poverty, and up the economic ladder. None of those advantages happened. TANF assistance dropped, and more people moved into poverty.

Gov. Matt Bevin said that he will drop 400,000 people off Medicaid if he doesn’t get his way to require work for the health insurance plan for the poor. Kentucky is already one of the unhealthiest states in the nation, ranking worst in cancer death rates, the second-highest smoking rate, and seventh highest obesity rate. Eight of the 13 counties in the U.S. with the largest declines in life expectancy are in Kentucky.

People who support the waivers staunchly declaim that only “able-bodied” people will be affected. Yet the exception in the new rules apply only to those who have gone through the rigorous and restrictive process of obtaining Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Their definition of disability:

“The inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity (SGA) by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.”

Seriously disabled people who fail this stringent definition are considered healthy and able to work, according to Republicans. Left out of the disabled definition are people with cancer, substance abuse, mental health disabilities, and other health issues. Last year, 10,000 people died while they waited for their appeals to be processed. The waivers would stop any Medicaid help for wheelchairs and other medical equipment, caregivers, and—of course—“non-emergency medical transportation.”

White people will benefit from the waivers because states can provide exemptions from work requirements in areas of high unemployment. Thee areas tend to be rural, more likely populated with white people, because they have fewer job opportunities, less reliable transportation, and fewer social services. Black people living in cities will be more burdened in the waivers.

Moms Rising listed more serious problems in a work requirement for Medicaid, a program that composed of 62 percent female and one-third children:

“This misguided policy punishes the most vulnerable members of our society and has the potential to cause millions of people to lose their health coverage just when they need support the most. It will perpetuate poverty and inequality, jeopardize the health of families, disproportionately harm women, undermine our economy, and do little to help anyone find or keep a job.

“[Work requirements] push people to accept low-paying, short-term jobs that provide no long-term stability, and they punish seasonal and hourly workers who may lose health coverage if their hours change suddenly….

“Ultimately, the only outcome of implementing work requirements will be that tens of thousands of low-income people will lose access to health care, making it that much harder for them to find jobs. Not to mention that this is just the first of many anticipated cuts to Medicaid and other essential programs that Republicans in Congress and the White House will put forward to pay for their outrageous tax law….”

As with most DDT dictates, the waivers will face court cases because the goal of the Medicaid program is to encourage work. The argument that “work promotes health” is as twisted as the German statement “Arbeit macht frei” (“work sets you free”) above the entrances to Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps.

January 14, 2018

Fill the Swamp

All presidential nominations expired at the end of 2017, but these are some people Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) wants for his legacy.

Appointments:

Robert Weaver, nominee to head up the $6 billion federal agency Indian Health Service (HIS) overseeing medical care for over two million Native Americans, has been found to “misrepresent” his work at St. John’s Regional Medical Center (Joplin, MO) in Senate confirmation hearings. He described his “entry level” job as “variously hospital administration positions.” Copies of his employment records were destroyed in a tornado, but no one at the hospital at that time can remember him. Asked about his IHS experience, a DHS spokeswoman said Weaver needed the system as a child.

Andrew Wheeler has reemerged as nominee for deputy administrator of the EPA. Called “overwhelmingly unfit for such a crucial position,” he worked for the lobbying company that supported Murray Energy in erasing environmental regulations at EPA. Wheeler is accompanied by other unfit nominations, including Kathleen Hartnett White, head of Council on Environmental Quality; Barry Lee Myers, head of NOAA; and Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), administrator of NASA. White, for example, thinks that science should not “dictate policy.” Lee owns a weather company and hopes to privatize NOAA. Bridenstine has no scientific credentials and wants to defund research into climate change which he denies.

Thomas Homan, acting head of ICE and nominee for Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security, was picked by DDT because he looks “nasty” and “mean.” Some of his outstanding features:

  • He arrested both parents with a sick infant and a ten-year-old girl with cerebral palsy on their way to the hospital as well as arresting a transgender domestic abuse survivor at the courthouse where she was requesting a protective order against her abusive ex-partner.
  • He supervised a department allowing the removal of medications of a Dreamer before ridiculing him for his disability and failing to investigate thousands of sexual assault complaints by detained immigrants. ICE agents have given people unnecessary strip searches, forced them to eat moldy food, and denied pain medication for debilitating diseases.
  • He told DOJ that he wanted to sue and possibly imprison anyone responsible for complying with any of his agency’s demands.

Until DDT came into his life, Homan didn’t seem to be an extremist; he was set to retire. Obama officials say, “None of us recognize this guy.” Criticized by ICE hardliners, he switched to being tough and unyielding—just what DDT wants.

Kevin McIntyre, long-time corporate attorney for energy companies, was appointed as chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC), the nation’s top energy regulatory agency with no need to be confirmed. This past week FERC, with four DDT appointments of five members, unanimously rejected Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s proposal to support struggling nuclear and coal power plants. Perry wanted utility companies to pay all plants, no matter how obsolete, “for all their costs and all the power they produce, whether those plants are needed or not.” FERC also supported the right of New York state to oppose the Constitution Pipeline. Other states—Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania—are also opposing pipelines on the basis of their impacts. Nebraskans are again appealing the route that the state Public Service Commission picked for the Keystone Pipeline.

Marie Royce, wife of the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has been nominated for assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) announced his retirement from Congress at the same time. He is the eighth committee chair and the 31st House Republican to resign thus far. Term limits would cause him to lose the chair position. Believing he could not win, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) is another of the Republicans leaving the House  although it is rumored that he might run in an adjoining district if GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) resigns. Hunter suffers from ethics investigations for misuse of campaign funds but says he doesn’t plan to resign.

Taylor Weyeneth, a 24-year-old former low-level campaign worker, is being elevated from deputy “drug czar” to a White House liaison role with the agency that coordinates the government’s multibillion dollar anti-drug initiatives and the opioid epidemic curbs.

On the Judicial Side:

In a confirmation hearing this past week for a seat on the 5th Circuit Court, Kurt Engelhardt defended two of his rulings against women in sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination cases. In one case, a Rite Aid employee said that male co-workers brushed up against her, cupped her breasts, and asked to go home with her. Engelhardt rejected the case because the harassment was neither “severe nor physically threatening and the plaintiff liked her job and performed well in it.” When asked about whether “cornering an employee [is] not physically threatening?” Engelhardt waffled for a while before he said he did not remember the specifics of the case.

In another case, a woman was fired two weeks after giving birth following bed rest for the last 16 weeks of her pregnancy because of complications. She declared discrimination because a male colleague was not fired although he took medical leave for the same length of time because of a gangrenous toe. Engelhardt ruled for the employer because “the fact that plaintiff’s absence was cause of pregnancy does not dispense with the general requirement that employees must show up for work.” In the hearing, he said that he didn’t remember the specifics of that case either although his ruling was that she wasn’t treated any worse than the man who was not fired.

During a speech to the Federalist Society, Engelhardt praised the dissent of Justice Clarence Thomas in Lawrence v. Texas, striking down sodomy laws, as “one man’s submission of personal preference in favor of adherence to constitutional principle.”

In the hearing for Howard Nielson, nominated as federal district judge in Utah, questions addressed his defense of California’s Prop 8, the ballot initiative recognizing marriage as only between a man and a woman. He had argued that homosexuality was a choice and that Judge Vaughn Walker should have recused himself for being gay and in a long-term relationship. Nielson said that he was only using his clients’ arguments and that he had called homosexuality a “maladjustment,” not a choice. Later Nielson co-wrote an amicus brief in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized marriage equality.

Nielson also worked in the Office of Legal Counsel for George W. Bush and defended the “torture memos.” He wrote a memorandum to remove protections for people in custody under the Geneva Conventions, arguing that the protection of civilians in enemy custody or detention applies only to civilians held on U.S. territory. His position that the U.S. could torture civilians outside its boundaries would mean that others could do the same to U.S. civilians outside their countries’ boundaries.

Civil rights leaders argue that Thomas Farr, nominee for a North Carolina federal court, is “a product of the modern white supremacist machine.” Counsel to former Sen. Jesse Helms, great fan of racial segregation, Farr defended voter oppression, a serious problem in the area over which Farr would preside. During Farr’s work on the Helms campaign, postcards were mailed to 100,000 black voters telling them that they could be arrested and prosecuted if they voted because were ineligible to vote. Despite Farr’s denial about involvement, an investigation showed differently.

Stuart Kyle Duncan is back as nominee for the 5th Circuit Court. Staunchly anti-choice and pro-Christian control, he maintained that harms to a lesbian mother who lost her parental rights were “overstated.” He also argued for the voter suppression laws against blacks in North Carolina before the Supreme Court and represented Hobby Lobby as lead counsel to remove women’s reproductive rights. Duncan claims to have been Appellate Chief in Louisiana and then the Solicitor General, but that job doesn’t exist. Instead he worked for a private firm, making hundreds of thousands from taxpayer funds. Also troubling is his connection with the religiously conservative Alliance Defending Freedom, a hate group.

DDT’s failed judicial nominees are sticking round. Highly ignorant and bigoted Brett Talley stayed as the deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Policy, which oversees DOJ’s vetting of candidates for judicial nominations, and dumb-as-a-post Matthew Petersen is on the FEC to help determine the enforcement of campaign finance laws.

Sexual Misconduct:

Top on the week’s list is DDT. According to the conservative Wall Street Journal, DDT’s lawyer Michael Cohen paid $130,000 to former adult-film star Stormy Daniels (aka Stephanie Clifford) a month before the 2016 election to shut her up about a sexual encounter with DDT. The newspaper had reported before the election that Playboy model Karen McDougal was paid $150,000 by the DDT-supporting National Enquirer to conceal her story of a 2006 affair with DDT, a year after DDT’s marriage to Melania.

Missouri GOP Gov. Eric Greitens has been accused of having an affair with his hairstylist and then threatening to release nude photographs of her if she publicized the relationship. At their initial sexual encounter, he taped her hands to exercise rings and blindfolded her before taking the nude photos. Greitens admitted the affair but refused to talk about the blackmail. He switched from the Democratic party to being a Republican after he said he was running for governor.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin called for the resignation of the state’s GOP speaker of the house, Jeff Hoover, after information was released about Hoover’s secret settlement of a sexual harassment claim by a woman staff member. Hoover resigned as speaker but stayed on the legislative body.

And on it goes.

 

January 4, 2018

What Government Shutdown? GOP Needs Democrats

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 8:04 PM
Tags: , , , ,

In Congress, last September was supposed to be a difficult time—except Republicans put off the hard decisions until December. Busy with the destructive tax bill, they moved it to January. It’s January. Without passing a long-term spending bill by January 19, the government shuts down. The GOP can’t agree on what they want to do so both congressional chambers need Democrats, especially because the Senate requires 60 votes to move the spending bill forward unless Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) kills the filibuster. The new year has brought another Democratic senator to Washington, making the GOP majority 51-49. And the world is focused on a new “tell-all” book about how the friends of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) thinks he is a fool, an idiot, or mentally deranged–or all three.

Major problems for Congress:

Spending Caps:

The strict sequestration law to control the budget passed in 2011 and needs congressional approval for any increases. Part of congressional members wants to lift the cap to help people, and others want far more money to throw at the military. A third segment of legislators don’t want to raise the caps at all. DDT wants an extra $100 billion over the existing $549 billion for the Pentagon. To support this increase, Democrats want the equivalent sum for domestic spending such as housing programs, Pell grants, and food and job assistance. Without a decision on spending caps, Congress cannot make any decisions about the spending bill.

“Dreamers”:

Some Republicans say that they want to help the young people who were illegally brought to the United States involuntarily, but they have shown no evidence of following through, many of them afraid that constituents opposing the idea won’t re-elect them. At risk is the DACA program, eliminated by DDT last fall, that permits vetted young undocumented immigrants to get jobs and go to school. At the start of December, 34 House Republicans signed a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) calling for a vote before the end of 2017 on legislation to protect DACA recipients, but Ryan promised to take up the issue in January if they passed the tax bill. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) helped pass the horrible tax bill because he was told that he could stay in the room during any discussion of the issue.GOP Sen. Marco Rubio (FL) joined Flake (AZ) in supporting Dreamer legislation, but they both have a reputation for caving in at a crisis vote.DDT waffles about saving the Dreamers—as he does with all other policy—and now demands his wall in exchange for protecting them. Over two years ago, Paul Ryan promised he would not bring any immigration bill to the House floor that wasn’t supported by a GOP majority, but he wasn’t facing a government shutdown then.

Children’s Health Insurance Program:

CHIP, the program for nine million children close to poverty, was saved until March while the tax bill was in play. For some Republicans, helping children is one of those programs that they oppose.

The Affordable Health Care Act:

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) pried a vote for the tax bill from Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) by promising that people would be keeping their health care. Without the yes votes from Flake and Collins, the tax bill would have failed. Conservatives who hate domestic spending reject the Alexander-Murray Obamacare stabilization bill, which has lost some of its value after the tax bill removed the individual mandate for everyone to purchase health care. Collins wants two years of cost-sharing reduction payments and a “reinsurance” programs. Like Flake, she isn’t going to get what she was promised for her vote.

Disaster Relief:

Another postponed issue from last year is the $81 billion package to give aid for Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, and Texas after a series of destructive hurricanes and the massive wildfires in California. While DDT held an opulent party at Mar-a-Lago for hundreds on New Year’s Eve, one-half the people in Puerto Rico are still without electricity.

Surveillance Reform:

Because of disagreements, Congress passed a short-term extension of electronic surveillance in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The conservative Freedom Caucus voted for the tax bill with McConnell’s promise that they could offer amendments to a FISA reauthorization that limits the collection of communications of foreigners abroad with people from the U.S. without a warrant. The Freedom Caucus maintains that this law violates constitutional protections.

Infrastructure:

Even worse in January is the possibility that DDT may introduce infrastructure into the swampy mix. The GOP has already given $1.5 trillion that they don’t have to the wealthy and corporations, leaving nothing for infrastructure so that DDT’s “infrastructure package” relies heavily on state expenditures. States have been increasingly impovrished as the federal government lays more fiscal responsibilities on them while giving money to the military and wealthy. The reduction of deductions for taxpayers in the new tax bill benefiting the wealthy and corporations will make them more unable to pay additional taxes to states.

Debt Ceiling:

Once Republicans survive the spending bill—or shut down the government again—they need to move forward to raise the debt ceiling by March. They have just increased the debt by $1.5 trillion, but the conservative caucus will certainly balk at an increase in the debt ceiling without spending cuts. The current leadership think that not increasing the debt ceiling is not a big problem because the U.S. can refuse to pay the bills that it already incurred or offer to pay less. If Congress passes the spending bill in January but fails to deal with raising the debt ceiling, the country faces another government shutdown in March. DDT has said that a “good shutdown” can benefit the nation. Even the possibility of failing to meet the nation’s fiscal responsibilities in 2011 led to a four-percent drop in the stock markets and a first-time ever downgrading of ratings which increased the percentage of loan interest. Support for the controlling GOP decreased, and the international community criticized the “dangerously irresponsible” actions of the U.S. government. 

Cuts to Entitlement, including Those That Are Earned:

Republicans bragged that the $1.5 trillion deficit would not exist because of magnificent growth in the economy, but they plan to cover the money with cuts to Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. That may be the big fight this year when the white people who supported DDT and other Republicans discover that their vote means less money for living and health care.

The top four GOP and Dem congressional leaders met yesterday and said that the meeting was “positive and productive,” meaning “pointless.” A major question is whether the Republicans can convince people to put off the Dreamers and other issues by promising them that they will pass legislature in this area. DDT has slowed down negotiations on the spending bill because he hasn’t issued specific demands for his wall while the DHS talks about technology and personnel instead of a 30-foot high wall for 2,000 miles. Republicans hope that the spending bill will be independent of immigration; Democrats are pushing for its inclusion. Hopefully, the Democrats understand that not including the Dreamers in the spending bill will leave them in the cold and headed toward Mexico.

Since McConnell pushed through the GOP-owned punitive tax bill for most of the people in the U.S. by keeping the Democrats away from any participation, he is asking for “a renewed spirit of comity, collegiality and bipartisanship.”

Republicans plan to spend $10 million selling the new tax plan so that they can get re-elected in 2018. The above chart comparing the tax cuts from President Obama’s first full year and DDT’s tax bill make be difficult to spin as an advantage of DDT’s bill:

Congress has two weeks before a possible government shutdown. If the GOP operates as usual, they’ll wait ten days to do anything about the spending bill and then panic while blaming the Democrats.

December 21, 2017

Disastrous Tax Bill Leads to GOP Fractures over Spending Bill

In their contempt for democracy, the Republicans, the epitome of “makers” exploiting the so-called “takers,” passed their social reform bill in the dead of night to benefit large businesses and wealthy people. The process, carried out in great haste with extreme chaos and negligence, allowed for neither hearings nor debate—not even the opportunity for congressional members to examine the 1,097 pages. If one considers democracy, the way that Republicans passed the bill may be even worse than the contents. If the tax bill were a good deal for most of the people in the U.S., Republicans wouldn’t have to lie about it. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) summarized the GOP position when he said, “It’s always fun when you win” about his defeat of the people who voted for him. “Fun” also means that he gained billions of dollars from the tax bill.

“Fun” for DDT also means destroying Puerto Rico. The tax bill requires the federal government to treat the territory in the same way that it treats foreign countries in bringing operations and jobs to the U.S. from overseas. Forty-seven percent of PR’s GDP comes from manufacturing, primarily pharmaceuticals and medical devices generating revenue from patented drugs and technologies. The 12.5 percent tax levied against profits in PR for “intangible assets” of U.S. companies abroad plus a minimum of ten percent tax on their profits abroad, as in foreign countries, means that businesses will pay more to operate in PR than on the U.S. mainland. It will cost U.S. citizens their jobs and destroy PR’s economy after DDT went to the island to complain about the cost of recovery from Hurricane Maria, something he did not do at any of the summer’s disasters on the mainland.

DDT may not have his “fun” of signing the bill until January 3 because he is afraid to let the 2010 “pay-as-you-go” law automatically cut Medicare and other programs. These would take effect in 2018 if he signed it in 2017. To avoid bad press, he is hoping that Congress will waive these cuts by 2019. Spending caps went into effect under a GOP-created law in 2011 and have received two two-year waivers–also from the GOP. The most recent one expired on October 1, 2017, and Republicans didn’t get around to lifting it again.

To pass the waiver, the GOP needs Democrats who are raw from the GOP pushing through the tax bill and plan to negotiate for restoration of the health-insurance mandate, due to expire in 2019. The schedule is not set, but Congress will most likely not pass this bill by the end of this week while they struggle with other expiring laws, like the spending bill that keeps the government from shutting down.

One vote to transfer the Great Society into Ayn Rand’s idea of plutocracy came from Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) who earlier gained the support of her constituents when she refused to vote for an earlier bill because it would drive at least 13 million people off health insurance. The new bill does the same thing, but she claimed that her vote was okay because Congress would shore health insurance markets and undo Medicare cuts guaranteed by the tax bill that she supported with her vote. Even after House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that the House wouldn’t support the deal, she voted for the tax bill. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who made the promise to Collins, is not known for truthfulness. Collins decried media coverage as “unbelievably sexist” because it describes her as being “duped.” She may have to eat her words after discovering that’s exactly what happened.

After the beautiful togetherness and self-backslapping of GOP leaders following the tax bill’s passage, Republicans are back to fighting over the spending bill that must be passed in two days to avoid a government shutdown. Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) described the altercation following the joint communion for the tax bill:

“It’s kind of like leaving the hospital, just finding out you’re cancer free, and getting run over by a Mack truck.”

Ryan already refused to allow Collins’ funding for the Affordable Care Act in this year’s spending package. Gone—at least temporarily—is the agreement for legislation to reduce health care premiums for nine million people without government subsidies. House Republicans refuse to address Collins’ proposal to continue the health care subsidies without attaching Hyde Amendment language prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortion. Democrats oppose this demand because it expands the existing amendment by discouraging private insurers from covering abortions. Insurers must keep funds for insurer subsidies separate from abortion services, but Republicans want more. Many Republicans are totally against the ACA, and abortion makes a good excuse to block Collins’ proposal. Collins and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) have withdrawn their bill for these subsidies until next year’s full spending bill.

The stopgap also fails to address funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) reauthorization and funding for Community Health Centers. Without CHIP, nine million children lose their health insurance, even those in the middle of such serious problems as cancer treatment.

In the Senate, at least eight Democrats or independents must support all Republicans for a stopgap measure to overcome a filibuster. Without a stopgap measure, the federal government shuts down at midnight Friday. GOP leaders want a bill that expires on January 19, 2018 to stop the shutdown. They call is the “CRomnibus” proposal, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has other names for it:

“Some people are calling it the ‘punt’-ibus, just punt this down the road. I call it the ‘none’-tibus because it’s not going anywhere.”

The GOP House leadership had trouble with its representatives from large blue states because the tax bill penalized their residents disproportionately by reducing deductions for state property and income taxes. Now GOP representatives from Texas and Florida are opposing a bill without the $81 billion disaster bill. Lawmakers in states badly hit by hurricanes vow to stay in Washington until they get their disaster funding. Conservatives object because the disaster relief isn’t paid for by cuts in other parts of the budget, a scenario that takes everyone back to the fight over funding after Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast. Democrats in the Senate oppose the disaster bill because, according to the Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) “still does not treat Puerto Rico, California and the U.S. Virgin Islands as well as Florida and Texas.”

In another contentious issue, the GOP had planned to take a separate vote tomorrow to reauthorize Section 702 spying powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for three weeks. After opposition from the Freedom Caucus today, that plan was dropped. Schumer agreed, saying that they need a clean spending bill:

“We cannot do a short-term funding bill that picks and chooses what problems to solve. We have to do them all together, instead of in a piecemeal fashion. It has to be a truly global deal. We can’t leave any of those issues behind.”

The Republicans claim that they can’t shut down the government because it would ruin their win with the tax bill. They have 48 hours pass a bill in the House, send it to the Senate who might make changes if they pass it and then send it back to the House who will then have to agree. That’s before the bill gets sent to the president for signing. The 2880 minutes are ticking away.

December 19, 2017

Tax Bill a Lump of Coal for the Holidays

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 10:05 PM
Tags: , , ,

During his campaign, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) promised to bring coal back, and he’s lived up to his promise: most people in the United States will get a lump of coal in their holiday stockings, thanks to DDT and the GOP. This morning, 227 Republicans passed a disastrous social reform bill, masked as tax cuts, in opposition to all Democrats and 12 other Republicans. Their desire was to “do something,” just as serial killers want credit for their negative actions. GOP leadership is preening over a bill that has only 33 percent support among the public with 66 percent of the nation knowing that it benefits the wealthy rather than the middle and lower classes.

After its success in the House, the tax bill ran into a small glitch because the rush in the Senate kept it from living up to requirements that would avoid any filibustering. Tonight the Senate is working on a revised bill that will go back to the House after it passes the Senate. There is little hope that the bill will fail.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claims that the GOP made major accomplishments in 2017. Other than potentially passing a bill with less than one-third approval and packing the courts with judges who believe in discrimination, the GOP Congress has no other successes. The greatest accomplishments have been in energizing the Democrats. Thus far they have far more viable candidates than the Republicans and flipped the Virginia House of Delegates with a 50-50 tie between the two parties. The last recount resulted in a Democrat winning by one vote to change 16 seats from red to blue. [Update: After a court decided that one of the the discounted votes is for a Republican, the result is a tie. In that case, the winner may be chosen by drawing a name for a glass bowl. The loser may then seek a second recount. A Republican win would leave the Virginia House of Delegates with a 51-49 majority for the GOP.]

McConnell blamed the negative polling for his tax bill on the press and Democratic resistance. Yet the media, except for the far-right such as Fox and Breitbart, publishes the facts—such as the revisions of the bill to capture both chambers of Congress gives 83 percent of the tax cuts to the top 1 percent by 2027, an increase of 62.1 percent with the original Senate bill. Over one half the people in the United States will pay more in taxes. Even in the bill’s first year, the top 20 percent gets almost two-thirds of the bill’s benefit.

The tax cut fails four Republican rules:

  • It increases the debt by at least $1.5 trillion—or possibly more.
  • It doesn’t benefit the middle class.
  • The wealthiest, including DDT), are the primary beneficiaries.
  • It likely won’t supercharge the economy, according to independent experts in the field.

DDT had promised to get rid of the carried interest loophole that gives massive tax breaks to managers of private equity funds, venture capital funds, and hedge funds. Instead of paying taxes at the higher rate of ordinary income, they can use the low rates of capital gains. The new tax bill allows them to continue saving money with that practice if they hold the investment for at least three years.

House Speaker Paul Ryan claimed that the bill would deliver revenue neutrality, simplicity, and fairness. None of those happened—not even simplicity. The tax bill still has seven tax brackets, and the revision of “pass-though” income in businesses confuses even most tax experts. The business revision will create many jobs for people who magically become independent contractors or part of LLCs.

Fairness? The bill gives breaks to businesses owned by trusts. The marriage penalty returns because the maximum deduction of ten thousand dollars for state and local taxes is the same for individual filers and for couples. And far more.

Robert Reich lists other flaws in GOP arguments about their tax plan:

It won’t make U.S. corporations competitive with foreign corporations, which are taxed at a lower rate. (1) With all the loopholes for U.S. corporations, they pay the same as foreign-based corporations. (2) Most other countries require a “Value Added Tax” on top of the tax. (3) Other countries will cut their tax rates to be competitive. (4) Most corporations benefiting aren’t “American” because over 35 percent of their shareholders are foreign, 20 percent of the employees are foreign, and U.S. citizens work for foreign-based corporations. (5) The “competitiveness” of U.S. corporations depends on U.S. workers, diminished in education, health, and infrastructure through shrinking public investments. (6) Profits of U.S. corporations, already at record levels, are used to buy back stocks and raise executive pay—the same thing that corporations will do with the $1 trillion that the GOP is giving them.

Big corporations and the rich won’t use the investment to invest and create more jobs. (1) Job creation doesn’t trickle down as proved by Reagan and George W. Bush’s tax cuts. (2) Demand for goods and services causes corporate expansion and new jobs. The middle class and poor could provide this demand if they had additional money, but the rich, far more benefited by the bill, won’t create this demand. (3) Financing the wealthy by losing health coverage for 13 million low-income people and subsequent cuts in Social Security and Medicare won’t create more jobs.

Small businesses will have no incentive to invest and create more jobs. (1) At least 85 percent of small businesses earn so little they already pay the lowest corporate tax rate. (2) The larger rewards for big business will give them more ability to squeeze out small firms and force them out of business.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin repeated the myth that “wages will go up” because of “lowering business taxes.” Businessman and former mayor Michael Bloomberg said that “sitting on a record amount of cash reserves: nearly $2.3 trillion. It’s pure fantasy to think that the tax bill will lead to significantly higher wages and growth.”

A prize last-minute tweak that originally appeared in neither the House nor the Senate costs less-advantaged people $418 billion. Known as the “Corker Kickback,” because Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was against the bill until that provision was put in, allows real-estate developers through LLCs to deduct twenty percent of the income that these properties generate. Corker denies that he knew about that provision in the bill because he hadn’t read it before he changed his vote. Corker said: “Deficits matter. They’re a greater threat to us than North Korea or [the Islamic State].” Now he’s willing to take almost $2 million away from poorer people with his vote for the tax bill. Only the Republicans could turn tax cuts into such an unpopular bill.

Corker isn’t alone in supporting the bill that pays him back. Twenty-three other leading GOP lawmakers responsible for crafting the bill will also see this windfall, but they were supporting the tax bill before the change.

DDT will make even more money off this part of the tax bill. Once the tax bill goes into effect, people who voted for DDT may have concrete proof of how he and the GOP will cheat them just as DDT swindled contractors without promised pay or students at Trump University with dishonest marketing. Without DDT’s releasing his tax returns, people are highly unlikely to believe that his own taxes are going up, a claim that received four Pinocchios for falsehood.

Vice President Mike Pence also lied about the tax bill to avoid going to the Middle East at this time. It’s natural that he would want to avoid the hostility that he would face after DDT claimed Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the Western Wall as belonging to Israel. Thus Pence said he was postponing the trip to break a tie on the bill. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has gone back to Arizona for the holidays and won’t be present for the vote. That leaves 99 people left in the Senate for the vote, making a tie impossible.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) tried to blame Democrats for any of the bill’s problems. The GOP refused to allow any participation from Dems, and it is doubtful that Dems could keep Republicans from paying back all the wealthy donors who have been buying the GOP for years.

DDT supporters are clinging to their choice, many of them even with the possibility of paying higher taxes and health care premiums. Will they stay loyal when DDT breaks another campaign promise and tries to take away some of their Social Security and Medicare?

[Update: After a court decided that one of the the discounted votes is for a Republican, the result is a tie. In that case, the winner may be chosen by drawing a name for a glass bowl. The loser may then seek a second recount. A Republican win would leave the Virginia House of Delegates with a 51-49 majority for the GOP.]

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