Nel's New Day

June 9, 2017

Comey on DDT: ‘Lies, Plain & Simple’

Fox network and Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) may have tried to paint former FBI director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee as a success for the White House, but headlines throughout the United States say otherwise—concentrating on the words “lies,” “lied,” and “liar” in reference to DDT. In some cases, Comey gave direct evidence of how DDT had lied about their interactions; in other cases, he answered questions such as whether DDT colluded with Russia by saying that he couldn’t “answer in an open setting.” Translation for that statement is likely “yes, but it’s classified.”

DDT wasn’t the only person who took hits in Comey’s testimony; AG Jeff Sessions suffered too. To another question he couldn’t “discuss in an open setting,” Comey indicated a relationship between the new attorney general and Russia.

Comey also pulled VP Mike Pence into the DDT morass with his answer to Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) question about whether Pence knew about Michael Flynn’s Russian connections during the transition after the election. Comey’s response was “my understanding is that he was,” meaning that Pence lied about his ignorance.

Not one GOP senator refuted Comey’s testimony; instead they praised him and his testimony. About DDT’s lies, however, they seemed nonchalant. The Intelligence Committee’s chair, Richard Burr (R-NC), expressed no concern about DDT’s demand for loyalty or his lying about requiring this from the FBI director.  Ezra Klein wrote:

 

“Trump’s behavior, in Comey’s telling, is more befitting of a Mafioso than a president. He asks, repeatedly, for loyalty, and shows no evident understanding of the norms or institutions that bind American presidents. His actions would be worrying if they came from the regional manager of a Scranton paper firm; they are terrifying coming from the most powerful man in the world.”

Michael Winship wrote that “the testimony of the fired FBI director revealed a president who sees himself more crime boss than chief executive.” Maybe that’s what New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose lawyer Christopher Wray has just been appointed as FBI director, meant when he called DDT’s statements “normal New York City conversation.”

Other politicians argued that DDT only expressed “hope” that Comey would let the Michael Flynn thing go because he’s a “good guy.” (Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) pointed out that the word “hope” carries great weight if it’s delivered by a man pointing a gun.) House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) justified all of DDT’s lying, asking for special favors from the FBI director in private meetings called by DDT, and his possible obstruction of justice by saying that “he’s just new to this.” This is a GOP claim who lectured the U.S. nonstop about obstruction of justice after Bill Clinton had a casual conversation with then AG Loretta Lynch.

Conservative media pundits aren’t that sanguine. WaPo columnist Jennifer Rubin called Comey’s testimony “a devastating day for the president” that “could spell the beginning of the end of his administration.” She said, “What [Comey] painted was not any one incident but a portrait of the way this guy operates.”

On the other hand, Tucker Carlson, Bill O’Reilly’s replacement on Fox, used his show to  smear Comey. Carlson’s news operation, Daily Caller, received $150,000 from DDT’s campaign.

The oddest part of Comey’s almost three-hour appearance came from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), allowed time for questioning because he chairs the Armed Services Committee. With muttered, sometimes slurred, and occasionally incoherent speech, he referred to Comey once when talking about DDT. McCain seemed confused when Comey said that the FBI was done with investigating Hillary Clinton and stated that she was clearly involved in whole Russian situation because she was a candidate for president. Later McCain tried to explain away his highly confusing questioning to sleeplessness. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) also failed to understand how the FBI’s extensive investigation into Clinton’s private mail server exonerated her in testimony about the GOP blocking the possible GOP campaigners’ colluding with the Russian interference in a U.S. election.

With his keepers in the room during the testimony, DDT kept his Twitter quiet, but his namesake didn’t. Lindsay Gibbs wrote:

“Donald Trump Jr. tweeted or re-tweeted a total of 50 times during Comey’s testimony, proving once again that the apple does not fall far from the tree. There were poorly threaded rants, out-of-context reactions, and dozens of RTs of right-wing accounts, one which had the name ‘CNN is ISIS & Hitler.’”

DDT’s privately retained lawyer has his own limitations. His first response to James Comey’s testimony began with “I am Marc Kasowitz, Predisent Trump’s personal lawyer.” His smears of Comey and defense of DDT may not be taken seriously when he can’t correctly spell his client’s position. Kasowitz then made an error in a main point about when the New York Times published information about Comey’s memos. (Surely, DDT’s lawyer wouldn’t lie to support his premises.) The rest of Kasowitz’s brief talk largely misrepresented Comey’s statements.

Comey testified that he took copious notes on their meetings because he “was honestly concerned [DDT] might lie about the nature of our meeting.” DDT’s lawyer has stated that he will file a complaint against Comey’s “leaking” his notes to the press, but legal experts have indicated that there is nothing illegal because a private citizen provided non-classified information. Others think that DDT’s lawyer’s action could at least be abusing DDT’s authority if not committing obstruction of justice if they ask the DOJ to open an investigation without clear merits.

Regarding the responses to the GOP expressions of their victory from Comey’s testimony, Christian Schneider, USA Today’s Board of Contributors, has the best response to GOP expressions of victory from Comey’s testimony:

“To say that Comey’s testimony ‘vindicates’ Trump in any way ignores giant swaths of what the former FBI director actually said — it’s like leaving the theater after seeing Wonder Woman and telling people it’s a World War I documentary. This is the place where Trump’s supporters exist: Rather than seeing the president for who he clearly is, they construct an entirely different Trump in the negative space around him.”

The day before Comey’s testimony, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Adm. Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, refused to answer questions from the Senate Oversight Committee, in violation of the oath they gave when they took those positions. If they don’t answer the questions, they must legally invoke the 5th or claim executive privilege. Rogers merely said that he didn’t “feel” like answer the questions. Coats said he no “legal basis” for his refusal. It appears that this is their approach to keep their jobs.

In an attempt to divert attention from Comey’s testimony, DDT announced Christopher Wray as his nominee for FBI director. One reason might be that Wray was the lawyer who got Chris Christie out of “Bridgegate” trouble after he closed the George Washington bridge, but the nomination may be awkward. Wray’s firm works for the Russians and advises DDT’s untrustworthy “trust.”

Asked if he would be willing to testify under oath, DDT said, “100 percent.” At least for now.

Nicole Serratore has an excellent opinion piece in the New York Times about DDT and Comey called “James Comey and the Predator in Chief.” She wrote that the interaction was like “the experience of a woman being harassed by her powerful, predatory boss. There was precisely that sinister air of coercion, of an employee helpless to avoid unsavory contact with an employer who is trying to grab what he wants.” DDT demanded “dinner for two” and loyalty, both of which Comey didn’t want to provide. Yet Comey didn’t know how to get out of the situation. He tried to avoid any contact with DDT and even asked Sessions to not leave them alone. In claiming to Comey that “we had that thing,” the manipulator seducer DDT insinuates a non-existent shared intimacy to make his victim complicit. Now DDT supporters are blaming Comey for not being “stronger,” another parallel to victimizing victims. They claim that the problem belongs to Comey when DDT is at fault.

As one tweet pointed out about Mike Pence’s declaration that he could never have a meal alone with a woman not his wife. Everyone should avoid having dinner alone with DDT.

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February 24, 2017

DDT: Week Five – Part 1

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) can make his supporters believe anything—including a fondness for a country that conservatives have traditionally hated. Since 2015, approval of Vladimir Putin has increased 20 points to 32 percent among Republicans and 11 points to 23 percent among Independents. Putin’s popularity with Democrats has decreased five points to ten percent. The 32 percent is the highest since 2003 when George W. Bush looked into Putin’s eyes and liked what he saw—before he didn’t. Conservatives like Putin in spite of—or perhaps because of—the Russian hacking to influence the presidential election, Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, suppression of the press, brutality toward LGBTQ people, murders of people opposed to Putin, lack of free elections, violation of the nuclear treaty, and national control by oligarchs.

FBI Director James Comey got DDT elected, and now the White House wants Comey’s help to keep DDT in the White House by telling reporters that the connection between DDT’s campaign staff and Russia weren’t true. The communication violates a Department of Justice memo during George W. Bush’s time that the White House should advise the department on criminal and civil enforcement “only where it is important for the performance of the president’s duties and where appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.” DDT still has Attorney General Sessions in his pocket to keep the current DOJ from investigating him, but the GOP legislators are getting antsy about the situation after their crowd’s anger expressed during the “Resistance Recess.”

DDT also asked legislators to tell reporters that he has no ties to Russia, and they did it. Last week, senior lawmakers, who should be in charge of investigating the Trump-Russia connections called news organizations and challenged these stories. This is not a rumor; the lawmakers admitted that they called the reporters to dismiss the information of DDT associates’ contacts with Russia as infrequent and inconsequential. Press secretary Sean Spicer said the White House asked the legislators to do this, but he claimed that there was nothing wrong with asking them to contact reporters and tell them what DDT wanted. Two members of Congress who followed DDT’s orders are Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees. Nunes has refused to investigate the Russian connection.

In the Washington Post Greg Miller and Adam Entous wrote:

“U.S. intelligence reports cite multiple contacts between members of Trump’s team and Russians with links to the Kremlin, during the campaign and afterward, according to officials who have seen them. Such reports were based on intercepted Russian communications and other sources, the officials said.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), who has seen this information as the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, concluded that the investigation “may very well be the most important thing I do in my public life.”

Other DDT news from the past week:

DDT Cooks the Books: DDT has figured out how he can prove his GDP growth target of 3 to 3.5 percent a year: just start with that fantasy number and then put in statistics to show that it’s right. Forget the old-fashioned way of figuring out how policies either increase or decrease the rate. DDT’s projections are at least one percentage point above the consensus reality projection. DDT also told economists to change the way that the trade deficit is calculated by omitting as exports anything that is imported and then sold to another country. For example, a car sold to a company in the United States from Mexico and then re-sold to one in Canada is considered only an import and not an export which inflates the overall trade deficit. DDT plans to use his artificial system to rail against trade deals or demand border taxes. It’s hard to understand why he bothers to create this system  because he invents his own numbers for anything, for example citing a $800 billion deficit when it’s only $500 billion. He also consistently argued that the employment rate of 4.6 percent is, in Trumpland, 42 percent because he includes everyone without a job such as retirees, college students, and many other people who don’t want jobs.

DDT Reduces Military Child Care: DDT’s promised to provide “all men and women in uniform [with] the supplies, support, equipment, training, services, medical care, and resources they need to get the job done incredibly well and perfectly.” But DDT’s hiring freeze has caused at least two Army bases to suspend childcare programs including preschool. An exemption in the hiring freeze includes “child care to the children of military personnel,” but another Army memo has caused personnel shortages by putting another layer of bureaucracy on its already burdensome hiring system.

Christie Turns DDT Down: The New Jersey governor has crawled to get crumbs from DDT, but the meatloaf may have been the last straw. On Valentine’s Day, Christie lunched at the White House and was told that he would have the meatloaf. Then DDT asked Christie if he wanted to be the Labor Secretary after Andrew Pudzer left in disgrace—hard to do when one considers DDT’s nominees. Christie said no. He’s considering a gig as host of a sports talk radio show when his term has expired.

DDT Employees Fail Background Checks: Gerrit Lansing, White House Chief Digital Officer, is only one of at least six staffers dismissed because they failed their FBI checks. Some of them were “walked out of the building by security” because they could not muster security clearance. Caroline Wiles, director of scheduling and daughter of DDT’s Florida campaign director, was one of those who left, but she said she’ll get another job in Treasury.

Conway Gets in Hot Water: DDT’s counselor, Kellyanne Conway, had been pulled from doing interviews after White House officials claimed that she repeatedly made statements “at odds with the administration’s official stance.”  Even DDT sycophant Joe Scarborough said she wouldn’t be on The Morning Show because she didn’t tell the truth—although he didn’t use the “T” word. Now 15 law professors have filed a professional misconduct complaint against her, calling on Conway to be sanctioned for violating government ethics rules and “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”

Among other concerns, the complaint cited Conway’s lie that President Obama had “banned” Iraq refugees from coming into the country for six months after the non-existent “Bowling Green Massacre” and for her hawking Ivanka Trump’s products. Another issue was her claim that the White House put forth “alternative facts.” The filing stated, “Alternative facts are not facts at all; they are lies.” The complaint stated that Conway “is currently acting in a way that brings shame upon the legal profession.” One of the filers, Abbe Smith, said she had never before filed a complaint and goes not generally believe that lawyers should face discipline under the stated rule, which includes conduct outside the practice of law, but called Conway’s conduct “so outside the norm for a member of the legal profession.”

DDT’s Conflicts of Interest, Profit Making from the Presidency Continues: No new businesses. That was DDT’s promise in January. Sons, Eric and Donald, Jr. cost the taxpayers more big bucks on their weekend in Dubai when they opened a new Trump golf course. The club still hasn’t gotten its liquor license from the United Arab Emirates which means that DDT will need to provide his standard “pay for play” deal. The government also has to provide all the club’s services including water and roads. It’s a guarantee that the sons will take part in the negotiations. DDT deals are pending in India, Indonesia, Uruguay, and Canada, and another one may be created in the Dominican Republic where Eric visited on February 2. Meanwhile, DDT’s DC hotel, another illegal venture at this time, was bankrolled by Deutsch Bank, currently under DOJ investigation. At least, taxpayers can follow the plans because we pay for Secret Service to follow Eric and Donald Jr. everywhere.

China may be breaking its own laws by giving trademarks to DDT, something that they refused to do until DDT achieved the candidacy for president. Once again DDT may have violated the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bars public servants from accepting anything of value from foreign states unless approved by Congress. The one trademark that DDT received for construction services, but he’s wants them for condoms, toilets, and many other items. DDT brings a new definition to presidential dignity.

In a movement toward further dictatorship, DDT is blocking reputable news outlets from Spicer’s briefings. The Huffington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times CNN, Politico, Buzzfeed, and reporters from several foreign news outlets were not allowed in this afternoon’s closed-door briefing. Associated Press and Time boycotted in the meeting because of that decision. A reporter from Wall Street Journal attended but said that he would not go again if other outlets were excluded.

Before DDT’s inauguration, Spicer had said that he might skip televised briefings in exchange for off-camera briefing or gaggle with reporters. Yet in December, Spicer said that news organizations can’t be banned from the White House because “that’s what makes a democracy a democracy versus a dictatorship.” At least he understands what he’s doing. Conservative, tabloid-type outlets such as Breitbart, Washington Times, and One American News Network were still allowed to attend.

The other big story today was the report from the Department of Homeland Security refutes the need for DDT’s Muslim ban. But that’s a story for tomorrow.

 

September 19, 2016

Media Focuses on Clinton’s Non-Stories, Largely Ignores GOP Zombie Issues

Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s emails are two issues that Republicans refuse to let die, despite tens of investigations into each one that fail to prove anything that the Democratic presidential candidate has done wrong. Today, the Clinton Foundation zombie problems returned when a headline referencing a quote from Bill Clinton read “‘Natural’ For Foundation Donors to Seek Favors.” As usual, the media, determined to make something out of nothing, took this headline out of context from Bill Clinton’s response in an NPR interview:

“It was natural for people who’ve been our political allies and personal friends to call and ask for things. And I trusted the State Department wouldn’t do anything they shouldn’t do.”

Leaked emails show that people aren’t getting the favors that they request, and all the aggressive searching by Hillary haters has found absolutely no “pay for play” from the Clinton Foundation that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

While dwelling on Clinton non-stories, Sunday talk shows ignored the real story about the “pay for play” Trump Foundation already fined for illegal campaign donations to Florida’s AG Pam Bondi in exchange for her dropping an investigation into the fraudulent Trump University. A less biased media would have covered the New York investigation into Trump illegally using the Trump Foundation charity funds to purchase at least one oil painting and one football helmet. Trump has not donated one cent to his “foundation” since 2008 while he gets credit for donating funds that other people gave to his foundation. Instead of reporting on Trump’s “pay for play” violations, the media concentrated on Clinton’s pneumonia diagnosis and Trump’s infomercial on Dr. Oz’s show.

The same media largely ignored Kurt Eichenwald’s detailed cover story in Newsweek which reported that Trump’s business interests “will constantly jeopardize the security of the United States” if Trump wins the presidency and does not sever all connections to the Trump Organization. As Eichenwald wrote, the Trump Organization has been “largely ignored” by media despite its “serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires” in nearly all foreign policy decisions during a Trump presidency. Eichenwald provides information about the Trump Organization’s “deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians, and even criminals” and “a web of contractual entanglements that could not be just canceled” which could conflict with presidential major national security decisions and negotiations.

GOP members zombies:

Donald Trump desperately wanted to drop the birther issue after claiming for many years that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States. His giant mistake, however was blaming Clinton for initiating the theory. A strategist had suggested that the 2008 Clinton campaign could use the idea that Barack Obama was “not American,” but Clinton immediately quashed it. There’s no fire where Trump is blowing smoke. Yet campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus repeatedly accused Clinton of starting the birther theory on Sunday talk shows.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie went one better. He told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Trump hadn’t said anything about the issue “for a long time.” Fortunately, Tapper, a journalist who believes in telling the truth, reminded Christie that Trump continued birthering for five years after the president released the long-form birth certificate to the public in 2011. A lively exchange of “true” and “not true” ensured followed by Christie saying, “It wasn’t like he was talking about it on a regular basis.” In fact-checking Christie’s claim, the Washington Post wrote:

“This is such bogus spin that we have to wonder how Christie manages to say it with a straight face…. [C]learly Christie is either lying or he is so misinformed that he has no business appearing on television.”

Christie should shift to protecting himself. His involvement in the closure of the George Washington Bridge that created havoc and physical danger to people has returned. While his allies and employees have pled guilty or gone to court in this issue, Christie has stuck to his position that “I had no knowledge or involvement in the planning or execution of this act.” In today’s trial for two of those accused of closing the bridge, both both prosecutors and lawyers for the defendants agree that Christie “knew his close associates were involved in a plan to shut down lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge as it was happening and that the closings were intended to punish a local mayor for declining to support him.”

In 2013, at the time of the event, Christie ridiculed the controversy because his office would never be so petty and partisan. After evidence proved that it was a petty and partisan vendetta, Christie claimed ignorance. The micromanaging governor swore that he had no idea that his top aides used his name to abuse their power. Today Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Khanna has told jurors that David Wildstein and Bill Baroni “bragged” to the governor directly about the scheme to close lanes onto the George Washington Bridge in order to deliberately cripple Fort Lee. The trial is against former top Christie aides Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, but Christie may suffer the fallout, perhaps to the point of being impeached. It already lost him being a potential GOP vice-presidential candidate, and last May, Christie’s approval rating had fallen to 29 percent.

Dick Cheney, another zombie, has come to life in the body of GOP vice-presidential candidate, Mike Pence who said that his role model is the vice-president who put the United States into the preemptive war with Iraq costing the country millions of jobs and trillions of dollars. Cheney’s career as VP was a time of incompetence, lies, opaque ruling, scandal, missing emails, and deadly bad judgment. When he left office, Cheney’s approval rating was 13 percent, about half Richard Nixon’s support at the height of Watergate. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called Cheney an “idiot.” If Trump were elected and followed his plans, Pence, who sees himself a Cheney clone, “would be in charge of domestic and foreign policy” while Trump would focus on “making America great again.”

The zombie of Ralph Nadar, which may have led to George W. Bush’s appointment as president in 2000, may have returned in the name of Gary Johnson. A rumor circulated last week that Bill Weld might drop out of the race as Libertarian vice-presidential candidate because he didn’t want to be another Nadar. “No chance,” says Gary Johnson, top of the Libertarian ticket. Polling at 9 percent, Johnson is far away from the 15-percent threshold for participating in a presidential candidate debate, an advantage for him because he doesn’t interview well and might lose votes in a debate. Asked on public radio whether he was worried about votes for him leading to Trump as a president, he responded that he didn’t care and that it wouldn’t be his problem.

A pattern in GOP campaigning is to have one message in English and a different one in Spanish. For example, during his successful Nevada senatorial run in 2012, Dean Heller put his hardline immigration policy into English with a softer approach in Spanish. Another shift came from the GOP response to the State of the Union address last year when the Spanish version supported immigration reform—opposite to the message in English. This last spring, Kansas printed the wrong voter registration deadline, six days after the deadline, in the Spanish version and omitted the use of a passport for identification.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) brought this zombie to life in his struggling re-election. In Spanish, McCain brags about seeking comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship for children brought illegally to the United States; the English skips over these policies and draws an image of McCain as hardcore immigration control. After this “translation” was questioned, a campaign spokesperson said that the website versions were “never intended to be identical.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) blocking the budget bill has aroused the zombie of shutting down the government. Congress has only 11 more days—two “working weeks” before a the government closes down, but McConnell “delayed” a procedural vote until 2:15 pm tomorrow. At least the bill may allow Puerto Rico’s Planned Parenthood clinic to access federal grants to fight the Zika virus, a provision that had held up the bill for several months. In his arrogant manner, McConnell said that “Senate Republicans stand ready to move forward” and wants Democrats to “complete negotiations,” something that they have been willing to do for some time.

Asked about the agreement, Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said, “Close is relative.” The Dems also want funding for the Flint (MI) water crisis to be in the mix, something the GOP turns down.

Ideally two weeks is enough time, but the bill must be sent to the House, returned, and then reconciled while ultra-conservatives in that chamber demand itty-bitty budget bills instead of an omnibus which go into next year instead of being a stopgap that returns—in zombie fashion—on December 9 this year.

Just a few zombies from people who ignore history.

July 17, 2015

Time to Protect People from Gun Violence

A couple of articles about guns caught my eye in yesterday morning’s newspaper. One was about a proposed sales tax on guns and ammunition in Seattle to pay for the costs of gun violence and research its prevention. The sales tax would follow one in Cook County (IL), and Seattle would be the second major U.S. city to help offset costs—more than $12 million paid by taxpayers for treating 253 gunshot victims at Harborview Medical Center in 2014.

The second article was about Texas gun owners afraid of Jade Helm 15, a routine military two-month exercise that started Wednesday in seven states with about 1,200 people from Texas to California. To extremists, however, it’s a ploy by the U.S. to take over Texas, one of the “united states.” (Personally, I don’t understand why they would think the U.S. wants Texas.) The New York Times reported an interview with a woman who owns a hair salon in Christoval (TX). About the “conspiracy-theory-type people,” she said, “All they’re worried about is their beer and their guns.” That may describe most of the extremists down there.

The state governor, Greg Abbott, ordered the Texas Guard to “monitor” the exercises after Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) checked on a possible takeover with Pentagon officials and a three-star Air Force general. As recently as mid-May, one-third of the Republicans believed that “the government is trying to take over Texas.” Abbott’s Texas Guard has help from Counter Jade Helm Operation, civilian watchdogs who plan to observe and report military activity every day as they search for suspicious activity. The director tried to explain that “we are not the radical extreme groups.”  I would still check them out to see if they’re wearing tin-foil hats.When the exercises peacefully end in September, conservatives will pat themselves on the back for having prevented President Obama’s dastardly martial law.

The big story about guns yesterday, however, was the murder of four Marines at two military facilities, a recruitment center and a Naval and Marine reserve center, in and near Chattanooga (TN) followed by the death of the shooter.  The right-wing bloggers are in full glory about the tragedy, blaming it on the facilities being designated as “gun free zone” and the shooter being an immigrant to the United States. Nothing was said on right-wing blogs, however, about yesterday’s news that a Colorado jury found James E. Holmes guilty of 165 counts of murder and attempted murder for the mass shooting in an Aurora movie theater almost exactly three years ago. Born in the United States, Holmes was a graduate student at the University of Colorado.

Killing the children in Newtown (CT) seems acceptable to many people in the United States—especially conservative members of Congress—and the deaths of nine people in a Charleston (SC) church inflamed a debate about the Confederate flag which the right-wing supports. The question is whether people will be upset enough about the death of four Marines to allow the “politicization” of change in gun laws.

The editorial board of the conservative USA Today stated, “The guilty verdicts in the James Holmes murder trial and a Tennessee shooting re-enforce the need to tighten gun laws in order to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of those who pose a danger to society.” It pointed out that the number of mass shootings is almost tripling, and laws need to do something about this increase. Without any congressional action, President Obama could tighten gun sense protection through executive orders:

Help prosecutors go after black-market gun sellers: Although it is a federal crime to “engage in the business” of selling firearms without a license, the definition is too fuzzy to shut down most unlicensed dealers who flood the black market with guns that go to criminals. Only 18 states, recently including Oregon, require private sellers to run background checks on handgun sales.

Require the FBI to inform local law enforcement when someone fails a background check: Telling local law enforcement about people trying to buy guns who aren’t allowed to do so could raise red flags about potential crimes. For example, a man trying to buy a gun after a woman takes out a restraining order against him is committing a crime. Passing along that information could save the woman’s life.

Penalize states that fail to report to NICS in a timely manner: Many states are “irresponsibly slow” in reporting people barred from buying guns to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Withholding grant funds to states failing to report in a timely fashion could encourage a faster response.

Differentiate between private gun sales and licensed dealer sales: The FBI does not ask whether a sale is private or through a licensed dealer when a seller calls NICS for a background check. Better information would determine the success of stopping sales to people not allowed to buy guns from private individuals.

Prohibit dealers who lose their licenses from selling off stock through private sales: In 2006, DOJ allowed gun dealers who lose their licenses for violating gun sale regulations to sell their stock privately without background checks. A revision of the rule requiring the leftover inventory to be sold to another licensed dealer would remove the advantage of people who have already proved that they have acted illegally and irresponsibly. For example, a Baltimore dealer with more than 900 infractions of federal regulations was allowed to sell the remaining 700 guns with no background checks.

A study from Harvard University has shown the importance of these changes—and even more stringent gun sense laws. More guns equal more crime, including more firearm robberies, firearm assaults, and homicides by firearms. The rate of all homicides is two times higher in states with the highest number of gun owners. The new study compliments a 2013 study that increased gun ownership corresponds to an overall increased rate of non stranger homicides. A 2014 Boston University study shows that the overall homicide rate increases 0.7 percent for every one percent increase in gun ownership.

States with the highest numbers of gun owners had 6.8 times more firearm assaults than states with the lowest numbers of gun owners. Firearm homicides were 2.8 times higher. Additionally, the rate of firearm robberies was found to increase, point by point, in correlation to an increase in gun ownership. The theory that people are safer by buying more guns is wrong. Increased gun ownership preceded the increased crime rate, indicating that increased gun ownership leads to more crime.

The new study is one of many that show a correlation in recent years between increased gun ownership and increased crime rates. Last year a Stanford University study revealed that relaxed gun laws led to an increase in crime, instead of a decrease, in spite of NRA predictions that the opposite would happen. NRA focuses on just one study, conducted before the organization succeeded in deregulating firearms in large parts o the United States and at the same time that the NRA convinced Congress to cut off any funding for more research on the impact of these lax gun laws. The study negates the theory expressed on a right-wing blog that “the U.S. is just experiencing a run of phenomenal bad luck.”

On a day-to-day basis, people with guns in the United States are the greatest threat to other people in the U.S.—greater than Russia, China, North Korea, and ISIS, the threats listed by General Joseph Dunford, President Obama’s nominee to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.Every day 30+ people are murdered with guns in the United States. The five youth killed each day by gun violence is 11 times more than any other “high income” nation. The 33,636 killed by gun violence in this country in 2013 is more than the number killed by terrorists in the last 14 years, including 9/11. Only 48 have been killed since then by terrorism. Of these deaths from gun violence, about 20,000 are from suicide—fatal 85 percent of the time in contrast to the 3-percent fatality rate from pills.

Republicans reluctant to link themselves with gun sense laws include the presidential candidates. For example, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has failed to say whether he will to sign a bill, passed three weeks ago, to reduce gun possession by domestic abusers. After the woman’s death that moved the bill out of committee, Christie created a commission the night before he announced his campaign for president to determine if any state gun laws “infringe on New Jerseyans’ constitutional rights” and require modification. Gun groups oppose laws that bar suspected domestic abusers, abusers under protective orders, or convicted stalkers from owning guns. The proposed law would attempt to ensure that the subject of a restraining order actually surrenders his or her guns.

Republicans responded to the woman’s death with a bill to expedite the gun permitting process for victims of domestic abuse. A California shows that the percentage of women who purchased a handgun before being killed jumped to 45 percent from the 20 percent of women shot to death by an intimate partner.Christie supported the state’s tough gun laws until he considered a run for president when he vetoed the .50 caliber rifle ban in 2013.

The United States has a special department to protect people from terrorism but no department to protect people from gun violence. It’s time for an agency to coordinate efforts to keep the people within the United States safe from the clear and present danger from guns.

July 1, 2015

Chris Christie: Bridge to Disaster

Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s governor, became the unlucky #13 in the GOP presidential race when he declared his candidacy in the same week with media-obsessed Supreme Court decisions. This week, he lost all visibility after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced that he will save the country with his magnificent leadership. Even Donald Trump may have to briefly take a back seat to Christie as the two huge egos battle for the front of the “clown car” of GOP candidates.

Chris christie

Although he told Matt Lauer that he has controlled his temper and uses it only for injustice, he told the press corps to buzz off after asked about the recent shortages of press conferences. He finished by saying, “Get over it” and called reporters “you people.” Christie tried to explain to them that he didn’t want to answer questions because reporters will decide what to talk about and it will “muddle the message of the day” that he wants. His bombast brings back the memory of Rudy Giuliana, who “now occupies the role in American politics as the crazy uncle who starts media trash fires by saying things like Obama doesn’t love America,” according to Jack Shafer.

Before “Bridgegate,” in which he dodged his involvement in closing the George Washington Bridge between his state and New York for retribution against a mayor who wouldn’t support his gubernatorial candidacy, Christie had his admirers. Many of them have disappeared after his continual childish, bullying behavior and the information about his excesses and failures. His in-state approval rating is 30 percent, just two points above Jindal’s, and the 6.5 percent unemployment, worse than 48 states, reflects the fact that the state hasn’t regained even half of the jobs lost during the recession.

His governor’s record shows how he would lead the country:

Scrapping a tunnel project which would have alleviated New Jersey residents’ commutes and created jobs so he wouldn’t have to raise the gas tax.

Cutting $2.1 billion in taxes for corporations by taking money from New Jersey residents.

Falling credit rating nine times, the second worst among all the states, during Christie’s five years.

Reducing the earned income tax credit.

Vetoing legislation to raise the minimum wage to $8.50, and calling it “truly ridiculous” before voters approved an increase last November.

Driving the state to the brink of a pension disaster until the state Supreme Court let him off the hook for $1.57 billion in payments, leaving it $80 billion in the red. (Public workers are still insisting that he pay the promised pensions to 800,000 working and retired employers.) Christie wants to cut back Social Security for anyone making over $80,000 and eliminate payment for those making over $200,000, despite the payments that these people made into Social Security.

Settling with Exxon for $225 million in a $8.9-billion pollution lawsuit after the corporation donated over $1.9 million to the Republican Governors Association.  Christie’s first AG worked for Exxon for seven years, and his deputy chief of staff left for a job with Exxon’s lobbying firm. New Jersey law allows Christie to take money from the environmental litigation to the general fund where it covers budget gaps.

Passing on the state health care exchange by vetoing for the second time legislation directing him to set this up.

Vetoing bills to expand early voting, a ban on the Barrett .50 caliber rifle, and a bill to prevent gender wage discrimination in public contracts.

Cutting $7.4 billion in family funding for Planned Parenthood to provide such health care services as mammograms to women. (The program never funded abortions.)

Enacting strict and unneeded quarantine practices for Ebola, raising questions about his management of public health issues as president.

Christie, who wants candidates who “believe in what they say and don’t change depending on what state they’re in,” also has a strong record of flip-flopping:

Citizenship: From advocating for immigrants in 2008 to describing it as an “extreme way to go” and not “where the American people are.”

Reproductive rights: From supporting a woman’s right to choose and donating to Planned Parenthood to becoming anti-choice and defunding Planned Parenthood five times.

Common Core education guidelines: From criticizing the GOP for their “knee-jerk” opposition to the president in 2013 to saying that it is “simply not working.” (He is still using the same Common Core tests.)

Gun violence protections: From speaking out against the NRA in 2012 and signing a bill to keep terror suspects from buying guns in New Jersey to claiming that he would change the gun violence protections if he had a GOP legislature.

Climate change: From agreeing that climate change is real and impacting his state in 2011 to no proof that it had an affect on Superstorm Sandy to agreeing that human activity contributes to climate change.

What reporters have discovered about Christie:

Anger: “His Jersey-style directness is … often mean-spirited and vicious. Challenge him at your own risk. He’s a bully.”

Revenge: Even before the Bridgegate scandal, “Christie went after sexually abused kids, heartlessly cutting the funding to a facility that nurtures these vulnerable children in a heated budget battle with Democrats. And he killed a college internship program after the founder sided with Democrats in a redistricting fight.”

Rough play: His personal vision of being a “uniter” is negated by any YouTube video where he is challenged by an audience member. He treats legislators the same way.

A street fighter—for Wall Street: By the second year of his first gubernatorial term, he had “vetoed higher taxes on millionaires, but raised the tax burden on poor families by cutting the earned income tax credit. (He has also been blind to the needs of the poor, targeted seniors with his cuts and slashed women’s health programs.)” Under his watch, annual fees paid to New Jersey’s pension managers leapt from $200 million in 2012 to $600 million in 2014. A few hundred thousand dollars goes to Angelo Gordon that hired Christie’s wife, Mary Pat Christie, for $475,000 a year. New Jersey no longer invests with the company, but the state pays them hundreds of thousands of dollars because the state has an “illiquid” investment valued at $6.6 million in the firm. No one knows that what it.

Blind to own ethical lapses: He flies on private planes owned by executives with pending business in his state. Christie also charged $82,594 at MetLife Stadium to the state on 58 different occasions during 18 months while he had free seats. To avoid a scandal, the state GOP committee paid back the state. During five years in office, Christie spent almost $300,000 from his state allowance to buy food, alcohol and desserts. There are also 60 unofficial out-of-state travel expenses, taxpayer-fueled fundraising, potentially breaking pay-to-play laws, and 23 court battles to keep public documents secret. He has also been accused of withholding $800 million of disaster relief after Superstorm Sandy.

Contempt for women: Sheila Oliver? A liar. Loretta Weinberg? Someone should take a bat to her. Valerie Vainieri Huttle? A jerk.

Tom Moran, who covered Christie for over a decade, wrote an op-ed for the Newark Star-Ledger about Christie’s being a pathological liar. The piece is well worth reading.

Christie has fallen from 7 percent in the national primary polls in January to just 3 percent, putting him in danger of missing the first debate on Fox. In Iowa he comes in 13th. Harry Enten wrote, “Chris Christie’s bid for the presidency, which officially began Tuesday morning, is likely to fall off the George Washington Bridge and end up in the Hudson River.”

Christie tried to explain that the reason 65 percent of the people in his state thinks he would be a terrible president by saying that they don’t want him to leave.That doesn’t explain why 69 percent of New Jersey voters think he’s lying when he said he didn’t close the bridge.

The latest GOP presidential candidate is fact challenged, ethics challenged, and economically challenged while he nixes infrastructure projects, fouls traffic, bullies people, defunds pensions to give Wall Street money, and profligately spends money.

Right now Christie is spending a lot of time in Maine where Gov. Paul LePage has endorsed Christie for president. Maine’s legislature is investigating LePage for abuse of power because he threatened to withhold state funds from a private school for at-risk children until the school withdrew a job offer to Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves.

Christie said he’s happy to receive the support from somebody who “knows what it’s like to make tough decisions, knows what it’s like to engage in hand-to-hand combat.” That’s the kind of combat that people could expect from Christie if here were president.

February 2, 2015

President Releases Budget, Opposes GOP in Mandatory Vaccinations

Have you heard all that squealing coming out of Washington, D.C. today? It’s not Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) castrating pigs with the new tool that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) gave her. No, it’s the release of President Obama’s 2016 budget, the book of how to get money and where to spend it.

In brief, he wants more spending, tax breaks for the middle class and poor workers, and higher taxes on the wealthy and large banks. The entire process is symbolic because Congress passes the budget, and this year’s Congress is GOP-controlled. Therefore, Congress will largely ignore anything that the president recommends. The budget, however, is a distinct document about the values of political parties and individuals, and the president has set up the debate for these issues.

  • Expand the child care tax credit by up to $3,000 per child;
  • Establish a $2.2 billion grant program to encourage states to create paid sick and family leave programs;
  • Begin a four-year program to improve roads, bridges and railways nationwide;
  • Help pay for preschool for 4-year-olds from poor and middle-income families;
  • Expand and extend tax credits for parents paying for child care, college students paying tuition, and low-wage childless workers;
  • Increase the Pentagon’s budget by $38 billion;
  • The president’s budget wishlist:
  • Increase the pay of military and federal employees by 1.3 percent;
  • Extend unemployment insurance;
  • Provide $215 million for research known as “precision medicine,” which involves using patients’ genetic information to tailor medications specifically to their bodies;
  • Set up a dedicated fund for fighting wildfires.

Declining debt: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) accuses the president of being “fiscally irresponsible,” but according to the White House, the budget will begin to pay down the national debt while not increasing the debt. Officials say that the plan gives a $474 billion deficit, 2.5 percent of the GDP, down from $583 billion and matching the deficits of the past 50 years. The recent increase in the deficit came from tax funding because of decreased income. With cuts in federal spending and increased taxes, the deficit has declined. A growth in economy during the next decade with the president’s proposals will cause the debt to decline to represent 73.3 percent of GDP in ten years, down from the current 75 percent.

Funding sources: The president has always wanted limits on tax breaks that help the top two percent of the wealthy to keep the deficit in line. This proposal reduces the deficit by $1.8 trillion through spending cuts and tax increases, possibly one on tobacco to pay for early childhood education.

Other possible proposals:

  • Raising the capital gains tax, paid by investors when they sell at a profit.
  • Imposing a new tax on inheritances.
  • Cutting corporate tax rate to 28 percent while taxing overseas profits at 14 percent when companies bring them back to the United States.
  • Levying a tax on large banks to compensate for the advantage they gain in the market from being seen as “too big to fail.”

Affect of new taxes: Families with children would benefit from the credit for child care, but the increase in the capital gains tax and the tax on banks could mean higher prices or lower wages.

GOP response: House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that his party will not separate corporate tax reform from an overhaul of the individual tax code. They want to raise funding for the military but no one else.

The next step: The GOP will have to put together its own budget, hoping to keep both voters and the wealthy contributors to their campaigns happy. Right now, they’re worried about passing a bill that funds Homeland Security before February 28 of this year.

The budget fails to follow the sequestration that imposed automatic spending cuts, but the austerity of the past several years may be loosened because the GOP are going to want some of the same things that the president does. For example, the highway trust fund is empty by June: people in both parties understand that the U.S. infrastructure is rapidly crumbling, making this area a priority.

President Obama’s budget plan would end the strict spending caps on domestic and defense programs by raising military spending by $38 billion over the capped level and nondefense spending by $37 billion. Social Security spending would rise from $891 billion this year to $1.6 trillion in 2025, and Medicare would climb from $529 billion to over $1 trillion. These programs would increase from 13.2 percent of the economy this year to 14.8 percent in a decade, while domestic and defense programs under Congress’s discretion would shrink to 4.5 percent of the economy in 2025, from the current 6.4 percent. Tax increases on the wealthy, big banks, and fees of hedge fund and private equity managers would raise almost $1 trillion in the same time. If the House passed the former Senate bill on immigration, the deficit could shrink by $158 billion.

The GOP may not want to give a one-time corporate tax rate on overseas profits brought back into the country to be used for infrastructure construction, but it’s an idea put forward by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) who also wants to be president. Tech giants like Apple, Google, and Microsoft are some of the corporations that keep most of their cash abroad to avoid paying U.S. taxes. After the initial 14 percent tax to bring the money home, companies would have to pay at least 19 percent on future offshore earnings with no loopholes or opportunities for deferral. Companies have at least $2 trillion overseas.

The president’s goal for transportation and infrastructure of $478 billion is more than one-third above the current spending rate and a 75 percent increase for mass transit. Half of that money would come from the current taxes on gasoline and other fuels. Another $238 billion would come from the one-time surge of taxes as corporations are forced to pay 14 percent on profits now parked abroad.

The proposal of a major expansion of the earned income credit for low-income workers without children is also backed by Ryan.

The talk about vaccinations overshadowed the discussion of the president’s budget on the media today. President Obama came out yesterday and said that he thought that vaccinations were vital. With an outbreak currently at 102 cases in 14 states possibly because children were infected at Disneyland, the spread across the nation is becoming more dangerous. The 644 cases last year in the U.S. was the most since the early 1990s. About two of every 1,000 people with measles will die; others suffer hearing loss, pneumonia, and brain swelling.

Two potential presidential candidates said today that vaccinations should be optional rather than mandated. Trying to look presidential while touring a vaccine laboratory in Cambridge, England, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who forcibly isolated healthy Kaci Hickox because of her proximity to Ebola victims, asked for “some measure of choice” regarding vaccinations against measles and other diseases in children. He was followed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) who said that move vaccines should be voluntary because children end up “with profound mental disorders after vaccines.” Paul added, “The state doesn’t own your children.”

Public outcry caused Christie to back-pedal; an aide said that he believes vaccines are “an important public health protection.” On the other hand, Paul doubled down on his claim that vaccinations should all be “voluntary.” He has an anti-vaccine history with his past membership in Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a group of pro-life doctors who believe that abortion increases the chance of breast cancer in women, consider Medicare to be “evil” and “immoral,” question the link between HIV and AIDS, and protest vaccinations for health workers.

March 28, 2014

Christie’s Solution: Blame the Women

The dangerous traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge from New Jersey to New York happened almost seven months ago, but Gov. Chris Christie’s problems aren’t going away.

Earlier this week, Christie released a report from his personal lawyer exonerating him at a $1-million cost to the state’s taxpayers. The 344-page report was prepared for the man who Christie calls a “very dear friend,” the man who Christie award a lucrative corporate-monitoring contract in 2007. The $650-per-hour guy did leave a few holes. Investigators didn’t interview David Wildstein, the former director of interstate capital projects at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who was targeted as the person behind the lane closures. They also didn’t talk with Bridget Anne Kelly, the governor’s former deputy chief of staff, and Bill Stepien, the governor’s former campaign manager. Nor did they talk to David Samson, Port Authority chair and Christie ally who is also involved in the cover-up. All four of these people no longer work for Christie.

Also in the report:

  • Kelly sent the eight-word “time for traffic problems in Fort Lee” email the day after she checked on whether the Fort Lee mayor had endorsed Christie. He didn’t, and Kelly wrote that this was all she needed to know.
  • Wildstein said that Christie knew about the closure when it was happening although the governor gave different times when he was asked–maybe weeks afterward, maybe right after the lanes reopened, maybe during the closures. Although Wildstein told Christie about it at a 9/11 memorial on the third day of the closures, the report just states that Christie didn’t pay much attention to is. The lead lawyer, Randy Mastro, said, “There are traffic problems all the time with the bridges and tunnels, so that would not be a significant event, a memorable event.”
  • Stepian also knew that the closure was for retribution. Before it happened, he called it one of Wildstein’s “50 crazy ideas.” Stepian also received angry forwarded emails from the Fort Lee mayor during the closure, called the mayor an “idiot” in notes to Wildstein, and praised him for his savvy. While the report provides this information, it claims, “We found no evidence [that Stepian] knew of the ulterior motive here, besides the claimed purpose of conducting a traffic study.”

The report’s conclusion blames only two people: Wildstein and Kelly. The report insinuates that Kelly orchestrated the closures because she had been “personally involved” with Stepian and he had dumped her. Kelly is described as “emotional,” “erratic,” and a liar. The references to her as a recently divorced mom add to the “slut-shaming.” By reporting that “events in Kelly’s personal life may have had some bearing on her subjective motivations and state of mind,” the authors suggest that her female emotional distress led her to cause the traffic jam that affected tens of thousands of commuters.

Even Stepian thought the report went too far. His lawyer released a statement denouncing the report’s “gratuitous reference” to Stepian’s “brief” relationship with Kelly as “a regrettable distraction.”

The report also alleges that Kelly asked an aide to delete an incriminating email at the beginning of the investigation. Mastro’s report heaps blame on Kelly, noting that Kelly got Stepian’s old job “though she lacked Stepien’s expertise and background.” One of the criticisms of Christie was that he canceled meetings with Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop. The report accused Kelly of canceling the meetings although documentation clearly shows otherwise.

Another finding of the report is that Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claims, that Christie refused Sandy recovery funds to her city because she didn’t support a Christie-supported development, is “demonstrably false” and “do not match objective reality.”

Proof that Zimmer didn’t feel strong-armed, according to the investigators, came from a video tape of a PBS political panel. She yawned. “A person does not normally yawn when being threatened, coerced, or spoken to improperly,” according to the report. And she smiled.  “Yawning during the middle of commissioner constable’s statements and then smiling during the end of his statements is hardly the demeanor one would expect of someone who is actually being threatened,” stated the report.  There was no mention of whether any of the men involved in the scandal either yawned or smiled.

Notable about the report is that there is no documentation of what the investigators claim to have examined. No text messages, emails, or other documents. As Rachel Maddow said, “They just published this one long narrative today, with unrelenting, glowing, gauzy characterizations of Governor Christie’s strength and leadership and character throughout this difficult time.”

MSNBC’s conservative show Morning Joe, unflaggingly supportive of Christie during the scandal, is shocked by the report. Mark Halperin called the attacks on Kelly “sexist and gratuitous,” and Joe Scarborough compared Mastro to “Baghdad Bob.” Christie may escape from this one, too, because both the men are blaming Mastro, and not Christie. The man hired to prepare the report may be the next Christie associate to get thrown under the bus.

Even Norm Ornstein, a fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, found the report wanting. “The idea that this is an independent report and that [Randy Mastro is] not basically a lawyer for the defense I found almost laughable,” he said.

For $1 million, taxpayers got the following advice: administration staff should be restricted from using personal email accounts to conduct official business, and Christie should hire an ethics officer. If so, that person might want to work with Christie and his lawyers on sensitivity training.

This weekend, Christie is still following his dreams of being president as he heads to Las Vegas to get campaign money out of Sheldon Adelson at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting. He’ll need more than money to overcome his overt sexist bullying.

The bridge closure was a non-story until a transportation reporter for Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal metro New York section started to follow it. Large chunks of the report show Christie followers frantically responding to questions and articles from Ted Mann. When Rachel Maddow picked up on the story, it went viral, and the media hasn’t let go. Without the Fifth Estate, Christie might have easily sailed to the top of the GOP presidential heap and even gone on to run the country.

Although Christie claims that he had done nothing to close the bridge lanes, the constitutional question, shown by Richard Nixon’s dilemma, is whether he knew anything about it when it was happening. The report doesn’t address that issue. Yet his press conference today showed the old Christie as he responded to reporters’ questions. “I don’t know whether you can’t take notes or you can’t listen,” he said to one of them and then before called his question “awful and beneath the job you hold.” He snapped at another one when he cut off her question, “You have to get the facts right if you’re going to ask me a question.”

Christie and Mastro may have gone too far with their misogyny.  Kelly is known as a determined, honest, hard-working person. Today her lawyer issued a statement:

“There appear to be two distinct versions of the George Washington Bridge lane closings. On the one hand, Mr. Wildstein, through his counsel, has taken one clear position. On the other hand, Mr. Mastro has staked a different view. Thus, Ms. Kelly’s evidence could be critical to verifying either of the two competing versions of events… The only credible investigation into the lane closings is being conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. If Ms. Kelly were provided with the appropriate procedural safeguards, she will be fully cooperative and provide truthful and complete answers to any questions asked of her by the appropriate law enforcement authorities.”

It’s like a badly written novel that we can’t stop readingl.

February 22, 2014

Discrimination, Fracking, Christie, Net Neutrality, Economy

The past few days have brought more information on the following topics:

Arizona’s Discrimination Bill: In its attempt to give everyone in the state the right to discriminate against LGBT people, the legislature has passed a law that would permit discrimination for everyone. The bill, awaiting Gov. Jan Brewer’s signature by this coming Tuesday, would prevent the government from enforcing any anti-discrimination law if the refusing party claims religious reasons.

These are some ramifications in addition to those listed in yesterday’s Nels New Day:

 

  • Employers could pay men more than women—for religious reasons.
  • Legally accrued interest on liens or other amounts owed to private individuals or entities could be refused—for religious reasons.
  • Corporations could refuse to hire people from another religion—for religious reasons.

 

Four businesses, each with the potential of hiring over 1,000 people, have already said that they will not come to Arizona if the bill goes into law. That will happen if Brewer signs it or fails to veto it by this coming Tuesday. Hundreds of people protested in both Phoenix and Tucson yesterday against the measure. 

arizona protest

To the millions of people in the United States who think that fracking is just fine:

Fracking: Rex Tillerson, CEO of fracking company Exxon, wants to frack near everyone else’s property but not his own. He is part of a lawsuit to stop a 160-foot water tower next to his Texas home. The tower would supply water to a nearby fracking site. Plaintiffs—including Tillerson—argue that the proposed project would have too much noise and traffic. The CEO’s lawyer said that Tillerson is worried about his property being devalued. Acting as Exxon CEO, Tillerson has objected to opponents of fracking when he said in 2012:  “This type of dysfunctional regulation is holding back the American economic recovery, growth, and global competitiveness.” The company in charge of the water tower, Cross Timbers Water Supply Corporation, claims to be exempt from zoning laws because it’s a public utility. It’s a massive case of NIMBY (Not in My Backyard).

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: Once again, the GOP governor under fire has lost federal money for his state, this time $7.67 million after he reversed his opinion about setting up a state health insurance exchange. The state applied and received the grant two years ago. A year later, Christie announced that they would accept a federal insurance marketplace. Last Thursday was the deadline for the state to submit an acceptable plan for using the grant money, including marketing or expanding outreach. The state missed the deadline, keeping 95,000 New Jersey residents uninsured. Conservatives criticized him Christie for accepting the Medicaid expansion; perhaps this hopes to appease them for a future presidential run.

Net Neutrality:  One of the few GOP women in Congress, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) wants people in the United States to pay more for internet access and allow Big Business to run a monopoly. Yesterday she introduced a bill to prevent the FCC from rewriting the agency’s rules for equal access across the nation. If she stops the FCC, internet providers can block or slow access to specific websites to increase their earnings. Ironically, it’s called the Internet Freedom Act, and Blackburn proclaims that it will “return the keys to the free market.” As usual, she describes these rules as “job-killing regulations” that “restrict our Internet freedom.”

U.S. Economy:  Most of the markers for an improving economy show that the country is improving: growth in the housing market and number of jobs; drop in energy costs; and record high corporate profits and stock market. At the same time, unemployment is too high, and wages are too low, causing the huge decrease in the middle-class share of wealth. Student loan debt is at a record high, and consumer confidence is low.

These two charts show why.

Chart 1: Availability of investment money should be making the U.S. grow faster than China. Businesses are getting more and more money with lower taxes, less regulation, tax-funded price supports, loss of unions, and free new technology.

Chart 1

 

Chart 2: Businesses are using their money to repurchase their own stocks to increase management salaries and hoard their cash and bond holdings. People buy products, and businesses stash it away while complaining that they don’t have the money to hire more people.

Chart 2 

Higher tax rates during the terms of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, and Clinton increased investment. During the terms of Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush, investments dropped as taxes were cut.

Therefore this week the GOP wants to allow religious discrimination to everyone for everything, let “special people” avoid the problems of fracking, refuse health care to poor people, charge people more for unequal access to the internet, and allow Big Business to hoard money and kill jobs.

 

February 17, 2014

Gov. Christie – More than a Bridge

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:42 PM
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New Yorker cover.Chris ChristieNew Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has probably received more television minutes during the past few months than any other political figure, most of it devoted to a now-famous bridge between his state and New York. The major question is whether he is still a viable GOP presidential candidate for 2016. His humble, right-moving position shows that he’s working hard toward that position, but other GOP governors avoided him during his recent fundraising travels across the nation.

Christie has far more issues than having probably lied about helping to cause the serious and dangerous problems of the George Washington Bridge when his specially-selected underlings closed down two of the three toll lanes:

Much of the conservative media has dumped Christie: At the end of January, New Jersey’s biggest newspaper, the Newark Star Ledger, called for Christie’s impeachment if he doesn’t resign. The paper, which endorsed his re-election less than four months ago, also called for Christie to step down as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. At the same time, the conservative National Journal reporter Ron Fournier, wrote a piece headlined “Why I Was Wrong about Chris Christie,” taking back his statement a year ago that “the smartest man in politics may be Chris Christie.”

Christie’s use of Superstorm Sandy’s relief funds is suspect: Emails indicate that Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer was right when she accused Christie of extortion for support in a development project in order to get Sandy relief funding. Hoboken requested $127 million in aid to initiate projects to prevent flooding from the Hudson River during future storms. The city received $342,000 of the $300 million in federal funds provided to New Jersey—a little more than 0.001 percent for a city of over 50,000. The city has thus far received about $6.57 for storm reparations out of a budget of $300 million.

Allocations of relief funding also showed a definite racial gap: blacks were twice as likely to be rejected for these funds as whites. As much as $6 million was given to a Belleville development project started before Sandy hit. The town’s Democratic mayor endorsed Christie for re-election less than two weeks after receiving the Sandy funds. 

Federal authorities are now investigating Christie’s possible mishandling of relief funds. Although many New Jersey residents haven’t receive help over a year later, Christie put $25 of federal money into ads that starred himself and his family—before his re-election. This money went to a company fully $2 million more than another bid from a company that did not offer to put Christie into the ads.

Christie’s political connections are suspicious:  Christie’s championing the corporation that runs the Community Education Centers, called the worst immigration detention centers in the nation, may have been connected to a former vice-president of these centers, Bill Palatucci, who chaired Christie’s 2013 re-election campaign. There is no proof of illegality, but the connection has an appearance of  a conflict of interest. Christie’s long-time law firm, Wolff & Samson, also received a great deal of business during Christie’s term: its lobbying business increasing from $40,000 annually before his first election to over $1 million a year following.

Christie also has an involvement in questionable real estate deals conducted by his brother, Todd Christie, including properties within walking distance of the Harrison (NJ) PATH station in line for a $256 million renovation funded by the Port Authority. In 2008 Todd Christie also acknowledged making “hundreds of trades in which customers had been systematically overcharged” in a settlement of civil charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Christie’s leadership didn’t help create jobs: Last December the state lost 36,000 jobs, the biggest drop in other decades at a time when the economy is growing. Only 7,000 private sector jobs were created last year.

Christie is a bully: “I am not a bully,” Christie told reporters in a press conference after text messages and emails were released showing that his deputy chief of staff was responsible for deliberately closing two lanes of the George Washington Bridge. His far-right supporters tried to defend the governor.

Fox network’s Brit Hume is blaming the women’s movement for Christie’s appearance of bullying.

“I have to say that in this sort of feminized atmosphere in which we exist today, guys who are masculine and muscular like that in their private conduct and are kind of old-fashioned tough guys run some risks.”

Hume kept going:

“By which I mean that men today have learned the lesson the hard way that if you act like kind of an old-fashioned guy’s guy, you’re in constant danger of slipping out and saying something that’s going to get you in trouble and make you look like a sexist or make you look like you seem thuggish or whatever. That’s the atmosphere in which we operate. This guy is very much an old-fashioned masculine, muscular guy, and there are political risks associated with that. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but that’s how it is.”

Yet Christie’s body language and voice do not project the “old-fashioned masculine” guy. As Ezra Klein wrote: “He’s followed around by an aide with a camcorder watching for moments in which Christie, mustering the might and prestige of his office, annihilates some citizen who dares question him.” His purpose is to create a feeling of power that conservatives think is lacking in the current GOP.

Videos in this Mother Jones article show that his bullying is not a one-time situation. 

Before Dawn Zimmer’s allegations, a poll showed Christie on a downhill slide. In a nine-point increase since October, 64 percent think that the word “bully” fits Christie, even after he apologized for his staff lying to him. The all-time low of whether Christie is trustworth—27 percent—shows a 16-point drop. Half the people see him as arrogant, five points up, and “self-centered,” 11 points up. The description of “fair” has dropped 11 points to 30 percent, and effective shrank to 44 percent.

Christie’s history of bullying goes back to high school. As starting catcher on the baseball team, he considered suing to block a better player transferred to his school from getting his position. His decision against suing was based on the town turning against him if the lawsuit resulted in forfeiting the season.

At the University of Delaware during the 1980s, Christie was accused of pushing people not in his tight-knit circle out of student government. Even after he graduated, he ensured that his future wife, Mary Pat, and brother, Todd, would keep major leadership positions.

Christie has proved to be a survivor: When Christie was a U.S. Attorney, primarily between 2005 and 2007, the Bush administration fired a number of U.S. Attorneys, causing the resignations of other U.S. Attorneys as well as many members of the Department of Justice from the U.S. Attorney General on down. The dumped U.S. Attorneys had refused to open meritless voter fraud or meritless investigations on Democratic politicians. Others were fired because they were investigating lawbreaking by Republicans. Those found acceptable were U.S. Attorneys who would cover up criminal activity and create bogus investigations against innocent people. Chris Christie met that requirement.

During his term, Christie was “the U.S. attorney who most often exceeded the government [travel expense] rate without adequate justification” and someone who offered “insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification” for stays at exclusive hotels such as the Four Seasons, according to Mark Halperin and John Heilemann in Double Down: Game Change 2012 about the GOP presidential campaign. When Mitt Romney considered Christie as his vice-president, vetters raised questions about “Christie’s relationship with a top female deputy who accompanied him on many trips.”

Christie also worked as a lobbyist for the Securities Industry Association when Bernie Madoff was a senior official there and tried to get an exemption from New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. Other problems for Romney came from the way that Christie steered large government contracts to donors and political allies such as former attorney general John Ashcroft. Christie’s actions sparked a congressional hearing.

Even Fox readers are beginning to understand the Christie problem. A response to an article critical of Chuck Todd’s and Rachel Maddow’s reporting on Christie reads:

“Until we hold our Republican political officials accountable for their  incompetence and /or dishonesty, we can’t call ourselves leaders.

“Spare me the “… Obama did this.”, ” … Clinton did that.” chorus.  I believed in Christie.  I relished every story of him bringing accountability and common sense to the government.  Then I read a story and saw pictures of him lunging at a woman half his size, sticking his finger in her face and screaming at her.  My enthusiasm for Christie waned.

“Now, I’m asked by Christie and his PR machine to believe Bridget Anne Kelly acted alone to satisfy a personal agenda.  I’m supposed to believe she solely gave the order to punish the citizens of Fort Lee because their mayor exercised his right to vote for and speak out on behalf of the candidate of his choice.  Well, I can’t.”

In an interview, Sarah Palin said, “I just don’t know all the information out there, but it’s hard to be the CEO of an organization and not know what the closest people to you are up to.”

One silver lining of Christie’s problems is that the conservatives have finally decided that he’s conservative enough for them. He got an invite to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference this March after failing the extremist yardstick last year. The question is which governor will be brave enough to stand next to him.

January 21, 2014

Christie Going Nowhere on His Bridge

Almost ten years ago, Republicans in Congress got into trouble when Alaska’s s Rep. Don Young and Sen. Ted Stevens, tried to push through $320 million federal funding for a bridge from Ketchikan to Gravina Island, where the town’s airport is located. The bridge, almost as long as the Golden Gate Bridge and taller than the Brooklyn Bridge, would have saved people a 15-minute wait for a ferry to the mainland. Notoriety about the funding resulted in the appellation “Bridge to Nowhere,” which the ultraconservative Heritage Foundation described as “an embarrassment to the people of Alaska and the U.S. Congress.” The funding was removed for 2005 but kept reappearing in bills as late as 2011.

GW_BridgeLast fall, another “bridge to nowhere” reappeared. This time it was a bridge between New York and New Jersey which happens to be the busiest bridge in the world. With an annual load of 102 million vehicles, the George Washington Bridge connects to the Cross Bronx Expressway, ranked the worst roadway for congestion in 2012. Drivers waste more than six days in traffic every year.

Drivers spent a bit longer last year because the Port Authority closed two of the three access lanes from Fort Lee, on the New Jersey side, in September 9, 2011. Streets turned into parking lots for four days because no one would tell Mayor Mark Sokolich why this was being done. Not until a few weeks ago did the public learn that a top aide to Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) recommended the closing of the lanes through an email that read “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” The revelation of the email continued the number of officials abandoning the sinking ship of Christie’s bridge. Although Christie swears that he had nothing to do with the closures, he also swore that none of the people in his administration had anything to do with the closures–until it was revealed that they did.

Ordinarily this disaster would be concern only the people of New Jersey, who recently re-elected Christie to a second four-year term. The governor, however, was—until recently—considered a top possibility for the 2016 GOP presidential candidate, the only one who isn’t attached at the hip to the crazy Tea Partiers. He is so eager to stay in favor that he threw several of his friends under the bus of politics, declaring himself shocked, stunned, humiliated, etc. He repeatedly claimed that he fired these people because they lied to him, not because they did anything wrong.

A top consideration of Christie is the danger of closing the busiest bridge in the world on the 12th anniversary of two airplanes hitting the Twin Towers in New York City. School children sat on buses for hours. Problems in emergency included the search for a lost four-year-old and the delayed arrival of an ambulance for a 91-year-old woman in cardiac arrest. She later died.

Did Christie deliberately have the lanes cut down out of retribution for people who offended him? No one knows—yet. An early assumption was that Fort Lee’s Mayor Sokolich, a Democrat, refused to endorse the governor for his re-election. A later possibility came from a billion-dollar development project next to the lane closures. Shutting down the lanes would quash the development, a keystone of Mayor Sokolich’s tenure.

Or the closure could be part of feud over state Supreme Court nominees. Since Christie refused to re-appoint a Democrat justice, the Democrats have been at war with the governor. It came to a head when he also refused to re-appoint a friend of his as justice because he would not “let her loose to the animals [state Senate Democrats].” The email requesting “traffic problems in Fort Lee” came the day after Christie’s angry speech, and the leader of the Senate Democrats at the time was a senator from Fort Lee.

Many people find it difficult to believe that a governor would retaliate against people in such a way. But a pattern of Christie’s behavior indicates a vengeful person:

  • After former Gov. Richard Codey publicly disagreed with Christie, the current governor removed his state trooper protection, never before done.
  • The same day that Codey disagreed with Christie, a Codey cousin was fired from his position at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and a former Codey aide was removed from the New Jersey Office of Consumer Affairs.
  • After State Sen. Sean Kean (R) told a reporter that Christie had made a mistake in not declaring an emergency earlier during a 2010 blizzard, Kean was banned from the next news conference Christie held in Kean’s home district. A Christie aide told the newspaper that Kean “got what he deserved.”
  • After Rutgers Professor Alan Rosenthal backed a re-districting map more favorable to Democrats, his state funding was slashed.
  • After State Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R) voted against Christie’s public medical education system reorganization, the confirmation of a judicial candidate who Bateman recommended was stalled.
  • After Jersey City mayor Steve Fulop failed to endorse the governor, meetings with Christie and top commissioners were abruptly canceled.

In his press conference after the first torrent of emails were released, Christie claimed that he is definitely not a bully. Videos provide the background for these quotes from Christie:

1. [To a teacher:] “If what you want to do is put on a show and giggle every time I talk, well then I have no interest in answering your question.”

​2. [To a former Navy SEAL:] “Your rear end’s going to get thrown in jail, idiot.”

3. [To a reporter:] “You know Tom, you must be the thinnest-skinned guy in America…you should really see me when I’m pissed.”

​4. [To a constituent:] “Hey Gail, you know what, first off it’s none of your business.”

​5. [To a former White House doctor:] “This is just another hack who wants five minutes on TV…she should shut up.”

​6. [To an Occupy Wall Street protester:] “Something may be going down tonight, but it ain’t going to be jobs, sweetheart.”

7. [To a reporter:] “Are you stupid?…I’m sorry for the idiot over there.”

8. [To a person on the street:] “You’re a real big shot. You’re a real big shot. Just keep walking away. Keep walking.”

Christie’s bullying went as high up as the GOP presidential candidate in 2012. An excerpt from Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s Double Down: Game Change 2012 published last fall describes Christie’s ability as a “fundraising dynamo” with the caveat that he was a demanding person:

“Months earlier, Christie had banned Romney from raising money in New Jersey until Christie had given the O.K. to do so—a move Romney found galling, like something out of The Sopranos. Are you kidding me, Mitt thought. He’s going to do that?”

Mitt Romney had even vetted Christie for his vice-president. The only requirements were that the person be considered qualified to be Commander in Chief and that the person have no distractions in the background. The vetters used the nickname “Pufferfish” for Christie. Pufferfish didn’t make the cut.

Chris Hedges described Christie as “Wall Street’s anointed son for the presidency … backed by the most ruthless and corrupt figures in New Jersey politics, including the New Jersey multimillionaire and hard-line Democratic boss George Norcross III. Among his other supporters are many hedge fund managers and corporate executives and some of the nation’s most retrograde billionaires, including the Koch brothers.”

Hedges explained that the bridge closure “is a window into how federal agencies and the security and surveillance apparatus would be routinely employed in a Christie presidency to punish anyone who challenged this tiny cabal’s grip on power. Christie is the caricature of a Third World despot. He has a vicious temper, a propensity to bully and belittle those weaker than himself, an insatiable thirst for revenge against real or perceived enemies, and little respect for the law and, as recent events have made clear, for the truth. He is gripped by a bottomless hedonism that includes a demand for private jets, huge entourages, exclusive hotels and lavish meals.”

Part of Christie’s baggage comes from his wife, Mary Pat Christie, a bond trader currently managing director at Angelo Gordon, an investment firm in New York. Her resume includes JPMorgan Chase, Fleet Securities, and Cantor Fitzgerald.

The rest of Hedges’ comments are well-worth reading.

All these behaviors demonstrate a very bad choice for running the United States. Future blogs will focus on opinions—both right and left—about Christie, his possibly illegal activities, Christie’s current approach to the problems, and a glass-ball look into the future.

Today Chris Christie was inaugurated for his second term as governor. Mother Nature rewarded him with a snow storm that closed down parts of the Northeast.

Update: After I posted this, I received a correction about Don Young being Alaska’s representative. The person also sent the following reaction:

“Don’t get me started on Ketchikan’s Bridge to nowhere.  You haven’t arrived at Ketchikan Airport at midnight after overhearing Juneau because of weather.  The airport closes, you wait for the ferry, you pay $150.00 for a hotel… you arrive at 1 a.m., you have to be back at the airport at 4 a.m. to catch a 6 a.m. flight hopefully back to Juneau.  That means you have to get the ferry at some other ungodly hour.

“There was and is a good reason for the bridge which we aren’t going to discuss.  I’m on the side of Senator Stevens on this one. ”

 

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