Thursday, July 18, 2019

Republicans Have Rejected Our System of Government and Are Replacing it With Their Own

WASHINGTON - APRIL 19:  A man identifying himself only as "Colonel Hurtz" holds up a mock gun made from foam core and shouts "Wolverines!" while joining about 500 pro-gun demonstrators near the Washington Monument April 19, 2010 in Washington, DC. Known as Patriots' Day, April 19 is also the anniversary of the American Revolutionary War battles of Lexington and Concord, the Oklahoma City bombing and the attack of the Branch Dividian compound.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Republicans are building a State within a State

With all of the outrages perpetrated by Republicans every day on every front it is easy to miss the forest for the trees.  When Trump attacks the press as “fake news” he is not pressuring them to be nice to him or trying to fend off their criticisms, he is signalling to his base who they should or should not listen to.   He really could care less what anyone outside his base has to say about him.

When McConnell violates every Senate norm to stack the courts with far right judges who openly reject 150 years of legal precedent he is not shifting the courts to the right, he is throwing out the laws that have been written over that period of time.  When conservatives talk about “originalist” interpretation of the law they are saying that any laws passed after the signing of the Constitution are basically illegal.  So say goodbye to labor, civil rights and environmental law.

When McConnell shuts down lawmaking, when state legislators and governors gerrymander their states and throw Democratic voters off voter roles, when McConnell stops efforts to protect elections from foreign hacking, they are not simply tying the hands of the Democrats, they are rendering our government inoperative in order to shut it down.   And they are asking for help from our enemies abroad to do so.

Meanwhile, by gutting regulatory law and authority they are setting up the libertarian corporatocracy they have always envisioned to operate in place of our government.  They are “drowning government in a bathtub” and giving free reign to a plutocracy run by the likes of the Kochs, Mercers, Adelsons, and so on.

The Republicans are not playing the same game that we are playing.  Neither are they playing by the same set of rules.  They are engaged in open rebellion against the United States and are intent upon sidelining our government, rendering it obsolete and irrelevant in favor of an autocracy with a Machiavellian madman at the helm.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

2020 Democratic Field About to Get a Lot Smaller

Democratic presidential candidates wave to the crowd at the first round of primary debates in June. (photo: Jayme Gershen/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidates wave to the crowd at the first round of primary debates in June. (photo: Jayme Gershen/Getty Images)

By Eric Lutz, Vanity Fair

16 July 19

New financial disclosure forms show that all but five 2020 Democrats are rapidly running out of money.

ith such a large Democratic primary field, all competing for the same resources, it was only a matter of time before candidates started running out of money. New financial disclosures reveal just that: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg are chugging along, while the remainder of the jam-packed field appears to be struggling to fundraise, or spending more than they’re bringing in, suggesting the end may be nigh.

As Politico reported Tuesday, eleven campaigns—close to half the field—spent more than they raised in the second quarter of the year, a number that includes John Delaney, the former congressman who launched his campaign close to two years ago; Beto O’Rourke, who’s so far failed to capture the energy of his 2018 face-off with Ted Cruz; and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Amy Klobuchar, all of whom have struggled to break free from the pack. Even those not in the red are feeling the pinch. Julian Castro had a breakout performance in the first round of Democratic debates last month, but is nevertheless spending more than 80 percent of the money he’s taking in, leaving his campaign in dire straits.

“Some of these candidates need a miracle,” Mathew Littman, a Democratic strategist and former Biden speechwriter who now supports Harris, told Politico. “It’s like if you’re a baseball team and you’re 15 games behind in mid-July, the odds are that you’re not making it to the playoffs.”

The “playoffs,” in this case, would be the first contests of the Democratic primary in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, which are still half a year away. On one hand, that means struggling candidates still have time to right the ship. On the other, they’ll have to maintain campaigns that are already short on resources, a problem that’s likely to worsen as frontrunners become entrenched. As the New York Times noted Tuesday, the best-funded candidates raked in a combined $96 million last quarter—about three-quarters of the money brought in by the entire field—and are significantly outspending their less-monied counterparts.

Resources, in other words, are becoming increasingly concentrated at the top. “This is the doomsday scenario for a lot of campaigns, where they’re grasping for air to keep their campaigns alive and to live another day,” Democratic strategist Andrew Feldman told Politico. “You can’t build an operation that turns enthusiasm into votes without having resources to do it.”

Of course, the winnowing was bound to happen sooner or later. As my colleague Chris Smith reported back in February, the field was primed for a life-or-death battle for limited cash and staff. “They are not all going to be able to raise enough money to get from here to Iowa,” Mark Longabaugh, a top Sanders strategist in 2016, told Smith. “By the time we get to the end of this year, you’re going to know the three or four who have a legitimate shot at the nomination.” There’s still time for some jockeying— the second round of debates is set for later this month, and bubble candidates are scrambling to qualify for the third debates in September. But several campaigns seem doomed. Eric Swalwell, the California congressman, has already dropped his bid, and a number of others who have failed to ascend from anonymity are circling the drain. For months, the story has been the growing 2020 field. In the coming months, the story is likely to be that field’s shrinking.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Republicans don't even pretend to be offended as they embrace Trump's racism

Over the last three years, Republican politicians have learned. But what they have learned is that no matter what ugly, insulting, or downright evil thought Donald Trump shoves onto the national stage, it will not be too much for his followers.

Because ugly, insulting, and downright evil is what his supporters want from Trump. What the alt-right calls “not being politically correct” and everyone throughout the rest of history knew simply as “being an ignorant, mean-spirited son of a bitch,” is the core of Trump’s support.

What Republicans have learned is that when Trump attacks an ally, demeans a respected official, or simply spews his own thick mix of hate-lies, they should just mumble, dissemble, and generally sit on their hands … until whatever new subbasement in hell Trump has uncovered becomes not merely acceptable, but the new “standard” for American political discourse, and the new truth for the Republican Party. And that has never been more clear than in the last few days.

Following Donald Trump’s explicit, direct, and inexcusable racist statements aimed at a group of progressive congresswomen, a few Republicans initially raised limp “I wouldn’t say it like that” flags of wincing disagreement. But by far the majority of Republicans followed one of two paths—staying silent, or explaining why Trump was right to claim that disagreeing with him while brown was sufficient cause for exile.

And there’s something here for everyone to learn: Trump’s racism hasn’t just become worse since he moved into the White House; it’s become more acceptable at every level of the GOP. Just ask Ivanka. When her father called Nazi marchers at Charlottesville “good people,” the spa magnate issued a statement that there was “no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis.” But this week, Ivana Trump Jr. has not just failed to tweet about her father’s racist hate-mongering; she has also declined to comment when asked.

That blatant racism isn’t just something that Trump feels more free to spread. It’s something that other Republicans now feel free to ignore, or to outright endorse.

As The New York Times reports, Trump has carefully weeded out any morality in the White House. What remains is those who follow the lead of would-be Bond villain Steven Mnuchin in claiming, “I do not find them racist,” and those who, like Rudy Giuliani, claim that Trump is right to want to toss democratically elected congresswomen back to … wherever, because they “attack America.” 

However, there does remain a comic chorus in the White House claiming that Trump can’t possibly be racist. As evidence, Mike Pence’s chief of staff pointed out that Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is Asian. So clearly this isn’t about race. “So when people write the president has racist motives here,” said Short, “look at the reality of who is actually serving in Donald Trump’s Cabinet.”

Sure. Let’s look. Trump’s cabinet contains one black man, Ben Carson, and one Asian woman, Elaine Chao. It also contains two white women, Gina Haspel and Betsy DeVos. Other than that, Trump’s cabinet consists entirely of white men—making it the whitest and most male cabinet in decades.

“This is not a universal statement that he’s making,” said Short. “He’s making it about an individual member of Congress.” Except Trump didn’t make it about an individual; he made it about a group. And if anyone missed the color of the women in that group, Trump made the point explicit by declaring that they should “go back” to wherever it is Trump believes they originated. Some shithole countries, no doubt.

The silence, acceptance, or outright support of Trump’s blatant racism didn’t stop at the White House. It’s on its way to being the baseline for the Republican Congress. As The Washington Post reports, those responses included excusing Trump’s statement by simply denying that he said what he said, as did Republican Rep. Andy Harris, who declared that Trump “could have meant go back to the district where they came from.” That statement complemented that of campaign director Matt Wolking, whose “Anyone who says the president told members of Congress to go back to where they came from is lying” is a mini-master class in refusing to see what Trump put on the screen in black and all-too-white.

Many Republicans followed Mitt Romney in his long-held position of being utterly spineless on every issue. But Romney didn’t just fail to rebuke Trump for his racism—this time he joined in, declaring that it was the fault of the congresswomen that Trump attacked them. “I certainly feel a number of these new members of Congress have views that are not consistent with my experience and not consistent with building a strong America,” said Romney. 

And of course, whenever Trump digs a new basement, Sen. Lindsey Graham can be counted on to furnish it with slime. When Trump was running for office, Graham accused him of using “race-baiting” and employing “xenophobic” language to generate hate. But this week Graham ran straight to Fox & Friends so he could be front and center on Trump’s screen as he claimed, “We all know that AOC and this crowd are a bunch of communists. They hate Israel. They hate our own country.

They’re calling the guards along our border — Border Patrol agents — concentration camp guards. They accuse people who support Israel of doing it for the Benjamins. They’re anti-Semitic. They’re anti-America."

Donald Trump found his Roy Cohn in William Barr.  With Lindsey Graham, he has his new Joe McCarthy.

What Republicans have learned over the last three years is what Trump knew all along: Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and plain old hate sell. And they’re all becoming his salesmen.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Probe Could Cost NRA Its Nonprofit Status

The NRA's fortunes go from bad to much, much worse. (photo: Sopa Images/Getty Images)
 The NRA's fortunes go from bad to much, much worse. (photo: Sopa Images/Getty Images)
TOP: Wayne LaPierre
MIDDLE: Pierre with The Donald
BOTTOM: NRA fish in a barrel

By Casey Michel, ThinkProgress

14 July 19

The subpoenas add to the piling issues for the imploding organization.

n Friday, the DC attorney general formally issued subpoenas requesting financial information from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its charitable arm, the NRA Foundation — the latest in a long ling of piling issues threatening to bring down the entire organization.

The subpoenas are focused on whether or not the NRA breached DC’s nonprofit regulations. “We are seeking documents from these two nonprofits detailing, among other things, their financial records, payments to vendors, and payments to officers and directors,” DC Attorney General Karl Racine said.

If the NRA refuses to comply with Racine’s demand, or if the DC attorney’s general office finds the NRA in breach of nonprofit regulations, Racine’s office can bring court proceedings seeking to dissolve the NRA in its entirety, or to place the organization in receivership.

The NRA has replied that it will comply with Racine’s request. “The NRA has full confidence in its accounting practices and commitment to good governance,” NRA counsel William Brewer III said.

The subpoenas are the latest in a litany of developments ratcheting concerns about the NRA’s financial future — and the future of the organization itself.

To wit, Racine’s request also follows a similar request in New York, where the NRA was first chartered in 1871. New York Attorney General Letitia James requested similar documents pertaining to the NRA’s tax-exempt status, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed “insurance and financial services companies to review their relationship with the organization,” the Washington Post reported.

The document demands come amidst a background of roiling internal strife, and ongoing questions about the NRA’s involvement in Russian interference efforts in 2016.

On the Russian front, Russian national Maria Butina was jailed earlier this year for failing to disclose that she was working as an undeclared Russian agent. While schmoozing with NRA higher-ups — and while helping organize trips to Moscow to meet with sanctioned Russian officials — Butina collaborated with a now-sanctioned former Russian official to plot out how best to continue growing close to the NRA. She is due to be released from prison later this year, and will likely return immediately to Russia.

As a source familiar with congressional investigations told ThinkProgress, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) is planning to issue a formal report on the NRA’s interactions with Russia over the coming weeks. The questionable links between Russia and the NRA were first highlighted by ThinkProgress in late 2016.

Internally, the group is facing unprecedented stress. For instance, after the NRA’s longtime advertising agency Ackerman McQueen refused to comply with an internal audit, the NRA moved to end the relationship entirely. As such, the NRA announced they would no longer provide new programming on NRATV, a propaganda arm that Ackerman McQueen had been operating.

On the executive level, things have hardly been better. Former NRA President Oliver North stepped down a few months ago in a contentious ouster. Prior to his departure, North alleged that NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre had engaged in a raft of financial improprieties, including spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on clothing and travel, among other expenses. LaPierre denied the charges, and eventually forced North out of his position.

Along the way, the NRA’s top lobbyist, Chris Cox — who had been accused of also trying to help extort LaPierre into resigning — left the organization. 

The NRA’s declining financial situation shows no sign of changing anytime soon. As The Trace reported, NRA membership revenue also dropped nearly a quarter between 2017 and 2018, and the company revealed it no longer offers free coffee for employees.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Billionaires Are Against Bernie - and the Rest of Us

Sen. Bernie Sanders. (photo: Joshua Lott/Reuters)
Sen. Bernie Sanders. (photo: Joshua Lott/Reuters)

By Luke Savage, Jacobin

Bernie Sanders just released a list of all the billionaires and plutocrats who can’t hide their hatred for him. The “anti-endorsements” underscore his campaign’s core message: it’s the oligarchs versus the rest of us.

arlier this week, the Bernie Sanders campaign debuted a webpage quoting condemnations from twelve “anti-endorsers” that included the following words from right-wing plutocrat Haim Saban:
We love all 23 candidates. No, minus one. I profoundly dislike Bernie Sanders. He thinks every billionaire is a crook. He calls us “the billionaire class.” And he attacks us indiscriminately.
It’s difficult to imagine even an actual endorsement so effectively boosting the Sanders’s core message. A loathsome oligarch (and Democratic mega donor, no less) whining about being called a billionaire while singling out the only candidate that genuinely makes him nervous? The ads practically write themselves.

A veritable rogue’s gallery of corporatist malefactors, the list also includes the likes of Jamie Dillion, CEO of JPMorgan Chase; Jeffrey Immelt, former CEO of General Electric; Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve; and Jon Cowan, president of the Democratic establishment think tank Third Way, among others. Variously opposed to raising the minimum wage, pro-sweatshop, supportive of deep cuts to Medicare and Social Security, every man named is both exorbitantly wealthy and visibly terrified of Bernie Sanders.

Throughout his career, the Vermont senator has regularly proven willing to buck convention and call out the rich and powerful by name — a tendency that has long separated him from the Democratic mainstream. Since the collapse of New Deal liberalism in the 1970s and ’80s, material and social inequality have become increasingly nebulous concepts for many liberals. By becoming an explicit vehicle for finance capital during the near-wholesale transformation that consolidated during the Clinton era, Democrats in effect underwent a merger with corporate America — radically narrowing their political horizons and the scope of their ambitions in the process.

Instead of promoting equality as such, many retreated to more abstract ground, preferring to advance innocuous and market-friendly conceits like “opportunity” that ultimately reproduce rather than challenge social or class hierarchies. As a consequence, some now seem unable to deal in the language of conflict at all: expressing only vague social concern while blaming acrimony rather than injustice for the nation’s ills.

For a recent example of this in action, look no further than Joe Biden’s quixotic pursuit of a frictionless class harmony where nothing needs to change, nobody (especially your friendly neighborhood billionaire) has to be “demonized,” and the rich are “just as patriotic” as the poor. This is where a politics that jettisons the very idea of conflict inevitably ends up: on an arid terrain without villains, exploiters, or malefactors of any kind.

Sanders, in contrast to Biden, isn’t just rejecting this phony politics of unity: he’s calling out his foes by name and openly broadcasting their hatred for his candidacy and the vision of equality it represents.

It’s hard to think of a better endorsement than that.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

How Trump swallowed the GOP whole, or why Paul Ryan should never be allowed in public life again

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 04:  U.S. President Donald Trump congratulates House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R), after Republicans passed legislation aimed at repealing and replacing ObamaCare, during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House, on May 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. The House bill would still need to be passed by the Sebate before being signed into law.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Never, ever forget this.
There's another book coming about the ascendancy of Donald Trump to the White House, penned by Politico chief political correspondent Tim Alberta. The Washington Post got an advance copy of American Carnage and highlights the parts that demonstrate just how irredeemable the Republican Party is.

There's former Republican National Committee aide Madeleine Westerhout, who "broke down crying, 'inconsolable' over Trump winning the election." That was election night, 2016. Now? "To the amusement of her RNC peers, she was later chosen as the president’s executive assistant and now sits just outside the Oval Office," Alberta writes. "Westerhout now tells others she would do almost anything for Trump, and he calls her 'my beautiful beauty.'" There's plenty more in the article about all the pre-election "never-Trumpers" who rolled over for the guy once he won: Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. But three stand out: Mike Pence, Mick Mulvaney, and Paul Ryan.

Alberta writes that Karen "Mother" Pence didn't want to appear in public with her husband after the infamous "grab 'em by the pussy" tape was released, and that Pence fundamentally disagreed with Trump on most key issues. And now his "oldest friends" joke about whether or not Trump is blackmailing him. According to the Post, Alberta writes in the book that "Pence's talent for bootlicking" has earned him the nickname "the Bobblehead" from fellow Republicans because he is so obsequious, nodding along to everything Trump says in meetings. With him, Pence brought the whole evangelical right, or "Those fucking evangelicals," as Trump called them in a meeting with Republican lawmakers, according to Alberta. In a subsequent meeting with evangelicals, he reportedly told them, "I owe so much to [Christianity] in so many ways […] because the Evangelical vote was mostly gotten by me." Attendees "walked out of the room in a daze," but they still love them some Trump.

Then there's Mulvaney. Before Trump's inauguration, when he was still a lowly House maniac, he told Alberta that "We’re not going to let Donald Trump dismantle the Bill of Rights," and that they'd fight Trump trying to overreach just like they did President Obama. "When we do it against a Republican president, maybe people will see it was a principled objection in the first place," he said. Then he got the nod as Office of Management and Budget director, with the side job of taking over the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and eventually the other side job as acting White House chief of staff—a job in which he tells people he "lets Trump be Trump." Incidentally, his salary is tens of thousands more than it would be as permanent White House chief of staff because he's still drawing pay for the job he's on paper as doing at OMB. There's some principle for you.

Taking the cake, however, is Paul Ryan.

The former House speaker fully admits that he used retirement in 2018 as an "escape hatch" from Trump because he couldn't face having to deal with him for another two years. Now he tells Alberta, "We've gotten so numbed by it all. […] Not in government, but where we live our lives, we have a responsibility to try and rebuild. Don't call a woman a 'horse face.' Don't cheat on your wife. Don't cheat on anything. Be a good person. Set a good example." Says the guy who refused to stand up to Trump for the two years in which he had the ultimate power to do so. 

Like in the fight over the 2018 spending bill that didn't include border wall funding. Trump apparently reamed Ryan over it in person, but then "said he would sign it if Ryan were to give him time to build suspense on Twitter." Not only did Ryan agree to that,  but he "publicly sang the president's praises after the meeting."

The hypocrisy is one thing, a thing that so defines the Republican Party that it's hardly worth talking about anymore. It's the utter blindness that the likes of Pence and Ryan have for their own moral failures that's galling. It's the fact that Ryan, who presumably still sees a future for himself in national politics, and plenty of other Republicans willing to criticize Trump absolutely refuse to take responsibility for having created him in the first place, much less for rolling over entirely for him now. For this alone, Paul Ryan should be condemned to washing already-washed pots and pans for eternity.

Friday, July 12, 2019

GOP mailer darkens Colin Kaepernick's skin, just in case its supporters missed the obvious racism

A fundraising email sent by the National Republican Congressional Committee isn’t content with the ordinary level of racism involved in attacks on Colin Kaepernick. It ups the ante by purposely darkening the former NFL quarterback’s skin tone substantially. This is just the latest of several incidents in which Republicans have made such changes when directing appeals to their base.

As Yahoo News reports, the ad went out under a banner meant to make an none-too-subtle point: “WHO DO YOU STAND WITH?” it asks in all bold, capital letters.

”DONALD TRUMP AND THE BETSY ROSS FLAG OR ANTI-AMERICAN FLAG COLIN KAEPERNICK?” The implicit racism in the framing of the image is staggering, but the NRCC didn’t stop there. It made the racism of the image deliberately more explicit in a way that was also done with images of Barack Obama, and with images of other African Americans going back decades.
In what is surely not a coincidence, not only is Kaepernick’s skin tone altered, but his jersey has been altered, and the placement of the banner across the image hides the fact that his tattoos are mainly Bible verses reflecting his faith.