Monday, December 11, 2017

Susan Collins (R-ME) Begins To Realize The Terrible Mistake She Made

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 5: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) walks to the Senate floor as she leaves a meeting with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill, December 5, 2017 in Washington, DC. After the Senate passed their tax reform legislation last week, the next step will be a conference committee with members of the House to iron out the differences between the two bills. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
No wonder she doesn't look happy. She screwed Mainers and herself.
You may recall Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) basking in the limelight last week during the run-up to the GOP’s vote to ram through its catastrophic tax giveaway to corporations and other Billionaires at the expense of the rest of the American public.

As one of the so-called “moderate” Republicans, her vote was solicited with tender care by Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, who apparently promised her that the American middle class might, just might still retain some meager crumbs left over from his Party’s loot-fest of the public treasury in the form of keeping their property tax and medical expense deductions. She also obtained an “assurance" from McConnell that a 4% cut to Medicare would certainly never be included in the final Bill, once it was reconciled with the version devised by the good, caring Republicans in the House. Hey, she had it in writing!
“There's a real fear that the tax bill is going to trigger a 4% cut in Medicare," Collins added. "I am absolutely certain that 4% cut in Medicare that I mentioned will not occur. I have it in writing from both the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and also Senator Mitch McConnell.”
But even these tiny, miserable morsels casually tossed to ordinary Americans were coldly eliminated and deemed too much of a sacrifice to the Superyacht class and their proxies in the Republican Congress:
News reports this week revealed that House Speaker Paul Ryan told congressional staff after the Senate vote that he was not a party to McConnell’s promise to pass the provisions that Collins demanded.
“She made a political error that’s going to cost Mainers and cost people across the country basic lifelines while [helping] the wealthy,” said [MarieFollaytar] Smith,” [an activist and co-founder of Mainers for Accountable Leadership].
In fact it’s absolutely clear that Medicare is next on the chopping block for Ryan’s willing executioners, precisely as a result of the tax scheme Collins voted for:
As the tax cut legislation passed by the Senate early Saturday hurtles toward final approval, Republicans are preparing to use the swelling deficits made worse by the package as a rationale to pursue their long-held vision: undoing the entitlements of the New Deal and Great Society, leaving government leaner and the safety net skimpier for millions of Americans.
Now faced with a severe backlash back home, the former It-girl with well-known aspirations for the Maine Governorship is feverishly backtracking on her blunder:
Republican Sen. Susan Collins said she may change her vote on the Senate tax bill if amendments she added are not included in the final bill.

Collins believes the amendments she added in the Senate version on property tax and medical expense deduction for retirement funding improved the bill and that in time, it will lower the debt.

But as she told WMTW’s media partner, WABI, if those changes are not included in the final package, she will consider changing her vote.

That’s what tends to happen when you have nine religious leader activists getting themselves arrested occupying your office back home to protest what can most charitably be described as your utter naivete if not outright stupidity:
It was the second group of protesters this week to be arrested in the offices of Maine’s senior senator while urging her to reject the sweeping changes to the federal tax code that are presently being negotiated in Washington, D.C. On Monday, police arrested five protesters, who had staged a sit-in at Collins’ Bangor office.
But the problem for Collins is that the GOP doesn’t need her anymore. With Mike Pence available to break any ties, and Bob Corker (R-TN) the only recorded Republican “no" vote in the Senate, they already have the votes to pass this monstrosity without her, in whatever mutated form the House disgorges back.

Instead, when Collins comes home and settles down in front of the TV with a nice cup of cocoa this holiday season, she’ll be treated to this ad sponsored by a group called Save My Care:
“Senator Collins said Republican leaders promised her they would fix things,” the narrator intones, while headlines about resistance in the House to her bills flash on the screen. “Now we know they lied to her and Mainers will suffer the consequences.”
But had she done the right thing by her constituents to begin with instead of trusting in a Party that actively recruits child molesters into its ranks, she wouldn’t be in the position she finds herself now, when it's too late.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Tax experts have finally had a chance to read the Republican tax bill: 'Holy crap'

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 26:  A protestor holds up a sign during a rally against the GOP health care plan, on Capitol Hill, July 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. GOP efforts to pass legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, were dealt setbacks when a mix of conservative and moderate Republican senators joined Democrats to oppose procedural measures on the bill. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
What happens when you jam 479 pages of hand-scribbled legislative text through the Senate in the middle of the night? You get a mess. Tax experts—who didn't have the opportunity to sit in committees and work with senators on a series of mark-ups—are now reading this thing and are agog at its sloppiness.
Some of the provisions could be easily gamed, tax lawyers say. Their plans to cut taxes on "pass-through" businesses in particular could open broad avenues for tax avoidance. […]
Some provisions are so vaguely written they leave experts scratching their heads, like a proposal to begin taxing the investment earnings of rich private universities' endowments. The legislation H.R. 1 (115) doesn't explain what's considered an endowment, and some colleges have more than 1,000 accounts. […]
"The more you read, the more you go, 'Holy crap, what's this?'" said Greg Jenner, a former top tax official in George W. Bush's Treasury Department. "We will be dealing with unintended consequences for months to come because the bill is moving too fast."
Then we get to the part where we say "fuck you" to Politico reporter Brian Faler, who's writing this story. "Some liken it" (and you know you're doing it wrong when you start a sentence with that) "to when Democrats rushed the Affordable Care Act through Congress and ended up with scads of legislative snafus." You must be new around here, Mr. Faler. If you have some time, here's a really great history lesson on the 25 days the ACA was debated on the Senate floor for 169 hours of total consideration, the weeks it spent in two committees, and the 1,064 bipartisan amendments that were brought up. You can read that or if you don't have time, just look at this.

Faler does note that the process Democrats followed for the ACA took six months, while Republicans did this in just five weeks, but he misses a larger difference.

Republicans were included in every step of the ACA process, and bogged it down at every point they could. They sat in those hours of committee meetings offering amendments. They had meetings with President Obama, and there was a whole summer of the Finance Committee chair, Max Baucus, having unending meetings where Republicans Chuck Grassley and Olympia Snowe strung him along.

In contrast, Republicans completely shut Democrats out of this one. They set the process up under budget reconciliation so that they could pass the whole thing without any Democratic votes and they didn't bother to allow Democrats any consultation. In their cursory hearings, they maintained a united front against Democratic amendments.

Yes, there were a few legislative glitches in the ACA, ones that could have been pretty easily fixed had Republicans been willing to allow it. But here we have a bill that won't just impact part of the nation's economy, like the ACA, but the whole damned economy. And it's the equivalent of scribbles on a dinner napkin.

The GOP Tax Scam is a "working definition of a tax boondoggle" for banks, big oil, developers—and it still needs to pass both houses of Congress before it becomes law.  Call your members of the House AGAIN TODAY at (202) 224-3121, and tell them you are absolutely furious and they must vote NO.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Jeff Flake lies to a dying man about the impact of his tax bill vote

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 10:  Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) speaks to reporters about President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, on Capitol Hill May 10, 2017 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Sen. Jeff Flake is a liar.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) doesn't have the monopoly in telling happy lies about the Republican tax bill in hoping constituents will let her off the hook. On a flight back to Arizona Thursday evening, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) was politely confronted by fellow Arizonan Ady Barkan, who is also founder of Center for Popular Democracy's Fed Up campaign and was returning home after being arrested protesting the tax vote.

Barkan has ALS, and wanted Flake to know that stretching out his lifespan for at least a few more years, so his very young son has the chance to really know and remember him, depends on his ability to continue to afford a respirator. The conversation was recorded in a series of tweets starting here. The one to focus on for the moment, though, is this. At that link, you can watch Flake tell Barkan that there won't be cuts to his and other disabled people's care triggered by the sequester—"pay-go" cuts—because Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell said so.

"Pay-go has been triggered several times," Flake tells Barkan, "but it has never been implemented." Tell that to the thousands of people cut off from cancer treatment starting in 2013, when pay-go cuts on Medicare were most definitely implemented, Mr. Flake. "Both Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan have already issued statements," he continued, "saying that they're not going to implement pay-go, or they're going to waive pay-go."

And then look at what Flake said hours before having that conversation with Mr. Barkan.

Flake tweeted after the exchange to Barkan: "I enjoyed the conversation, Ady. We won’t always agree, by I admire your courage and knowledgeable advocacy." He didn’t mention the fact that the very same day he was giving Ady assurances that his care would be safe, he was advocating for cutting him—and plenty of other disabled people—off.

So much for the principled Senator Flake. If you are in Arizona, let him know how disappointed you are in him, and tell him he can redeem himself by voting against the tax bill when it comes back to the Senate. 

Sen. Jeff Flake contact numbers:
DC: 202-224-4521
Phoenix: 602-840-1891
Tuscon: 520-575-8633

Friday, December 8, 2017

Minnesota Public Radio Owes Public an Accounting

Garrison Keillor, June 19, 2014. (photo: Jean Pieri/Pioneer Press)
Garrison Keillor, June 19, 2014. (photo: Jean Pieri/Pioneer Press)

By Marc Ash, Reader Supported News
08 December 17
s it stands now, the career and legacy of one of America’s most beloved authors and storytellers have been destroyed by innuendo.

The statement on MPR’s website says, in part:
“Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) is terminating its contracts with Garrison Keillor and his private media companies after recently learning of allegations of his inappropriate behavior with an individual who worked with him.”
“Allegations” being the key word. Substantiation being conspicuously absent. That amounts to innuendo. Or effectively, “Trust us, we really checked this out.” They then go on to make the case that their investigation was objective and thorough. Let’s hope so, the man’s life lies in tatters.

Since MPR chooses not to present the facts on which they relied in making their decision, we are left with Garrison Keillor’s version of events from his email to the Minnesota Star Tribune:
“I'm doing fine. Getting fired is a real distinction in broadcasting and I've waited fifty years for the honor. All of my heroes got fired. I only wish it could've been for something more heroic. I put my hand on a woman's bare back. I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open and my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized. I sent her an email of apology later and she replied that she had forgiven me and not to think about it. We were friends. We continued to be friendly right up until her lawyer called. Anyone who ever was around my show can tell you that I was the least physically affection person in the building. Actors hug, musicians hug, people were embracing every Saturday night left and right, and I stood off in the corner like a stone statue. If I had a dollar for every woman who asked to take a selfie with me and who slipped an arm around me and let it drift down below the beltline, I'd have at least a hundred dollars. So this is poetic irony of a high order. But I'm just fine. I had a good long run and am grateful for it and for everything else."
Later in a Facebook post, he seemed to reveal a deeper sense of disillusion:
(photo: Facebook)
If Keillor’s account is true the alleged conduct amounts to a fairly minor infraction. Such contact, if not accompanied by further complicating factors such as a pattern of behavior, multiple complaints, career manipulation, physical or psychological intimidation, would seem not to rise to the level of workplace misconduct.

Indeed MPR appears to want more to go on, saying, “We encourage anyone with additional information to call our confidential hotline 1-877-767-7781.”

Garrison Keillor is one of the most beloved and respected storytellers of our time. A statesman for reason in a time of unreason. His work has touched the lives of millions in a decent and meaningful way. None of that excuses sexual harassment in the workplace or anywhere else.

MPR, however, does owe it to their public, to their supporters, and to the nation to be more forthcoming and make clear their reasons for publicly shaming and dismissing this man whose career and work have meant so much to literally millions.

Masha Gessen at The New Yorker sounded a quiet alarm recently, asking the question, When Does a Watershed Become a Sex Panic? It’s a difficult question to answer definitively, but a warning sign could be when brilliant lives are destroyed in dark places.

Marc Ash is the founder and former Executive Director of Truthout, and is now founder and Editor of Reader Supported News.

Susan Collins forced by irate constituents to walk back tax bill lie

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 5: Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) walks to the Senate floor as she leaves a meeting with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill, December 5, 2017 in Washington, DC. After the Senate passed their tax reform legislation last week, the next step will be a conference committee with members of the House to iron out the differences between the two bills. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Sen. Susan Collins is feeling the heat of her dishonest vote on the tax bill.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) easily had the most disingenuous and embarrassing performance among Republicans, letting her vote-in support ride on promises from Mitch McConnell that she knew were absolutely worthless. Then she had the gall to go on national TV and lie about it. She's facing the music for that back home, as she should, and has been forced to walk back the lie, sort of.
Nearly two hundred people chanted “bullshit” outside the Portland office of Senator Susan Collins Wednesday afternoon, one day after the Republican attempted to walk back claims that the widely unpopular GOP tax bill would pay for itself. It’s actually projected to create at least a trillion dollar deficit, threatening bedrock government programs including Medicare and Social Security.
Collins has been under fire since voting for the widely unpopular bill this weekend and is now facing even more pushback after it appears she tried to justify her vote with a series of false statements. […]
When called out on the misleading statement, Collins' spokesperson Annie Clark said the senator "did not mean to state definitively that the tax cut would pay for itself."
"I can see why you would think that reading the transcript," Clark added, "and, to be clear, she does believe that the cuts could potentially pay for themselves."
So she doesn't definitively believe this massive tax cut will pay for itself, just potentially believes it. Like her constituents, I call "bullshit." Which is not what these folks who are currently occupying her Portland office are going to say, but it's what they mean. 

If you live in Maine, add your voice. Call her and tell her to reverse course.

DC office = (202) 224-2523
Portland = (207) 780-3575
Lewiston = (207) 784-6969
Bangor = (207) 945-0417
Augusta = (207) 622-8414
Biddeford = (207) 283-1101
Caribou = (207) 493-7873

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Paul Ryan Says Republicans Are Planning Major Cuts to Medicare and Social Security

House Speaker Paul Ryan said on a radio show on Dec. 6, 2017, that
House Speaker Paul Ryan said on a radio show on Dec. 6, 2017, that "we're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit." (photo: Mark Wilson/Getty)

By Jeff Stein, The Washington Post
07 December 17
ouse Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Wednesday that congressional Republicans will aim next year to reduce spending on both federal health care and anti-poverty programs, citing the need to reduce America's deficit.

"We're going to have to get back next year at entitlement reform, which is how you tackle the debt and the deficit," Ryan said during an appearance on Ross Kaminsky's talk radio show. ". . . Frankly, it's the health care entitlements that are the big drivers of our debt, so we spend more time on the health care entitlements - because that's really where the problem lies, fiscally speaking."

Ryan said that he believes he has begun convincing President Donald Trump in their private conversations about the need to rein in Medicare, the federal health program that primarily insures the elderly. As a candidate, Trump vowed not to cut spending on Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. (Ryan also suggested congressional Republicans were unlikely to try changing Social Security because the rules of the Senate forbid changes to the program through reconciliation - the procedure the Senate can use to pass legislation with only 50 votes.)

"I think the president is understanding that choice and competition works everywhere in health care, especially in Medicare," Ryan said. ". . . This has been my big thing for many, many years. I think it's the biggest entitlement we've got to reform."

Ryan's remarks add to the growing signs that top Republicans aim to cut government spending next year. Republicans are close to passing a tax bill nonpartisan analysts say would increase the deficit by at least $1 trillion over a decade. Trump recently called on Congress to move to cut welfare spending after the tax bill, and Senate Republicans have cited the need to reduce the national deficit while growing the economy.

"You also have to bring spending under control. And not discretionary spending. That isn't the driver of our debt. The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said last week.

While whipping votes for the tax bill, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, attacked "liberal programs" for the poor and said Congress needed to stop wasting Americans' money.

"We're spending ourselves into bankruptcy," Hatch said. "Now, let's just be honest about it: We're in trouble. This country is in deep debt. You don't help the poor by not solving the problems of debt, and you don't help the poor by continually pushing more and more liberal programs through."

Trump has not clarified which specific programs would be affected by the proposed "welfare reform," though congressional Republicans are signaling that they aim to impose work requirements on food stamps and direct cash assistance for the poor.

"We have a welfare system that's trapping people in poverty and effectively paying people not to work," Ryan told Kaminsky on Wednesday. "We've got to work on that."

Liberals have alleged that the GOP will use higher deficits - in part caused by their tax bill - as a pretext to accomplish the long-held conservative policy objective of cutting government health-care and social-service spending, which the left believes would hit the poor the hardest.

"What's coming next is all too predictable: The deficit hawks will come flying back after this bill becomes law," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking Democrat on the finance committee, during a speech on the tax debate. "Republicans are already saying 'entitlement reform' and 'welfare reform' are next up on the docket. But nobody should be fooled - that's just code for attacks on Medicaid, on Medicare, on Social Security, on anti-hunger programs."

On the Senate floor during the tax debate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., asked Rubio and Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., to promise that Republicans would not advance cuts to Medicare and Social Security after their tax bill. Toomey said that there was "no secret plan" to do so, while Rubio said he opposed cuts to either program for current beneficiaries. However, neither closed the door to changing the programs for future beneficiaries.

"I am not going to support any cuts to people who are on the program and need those benefits. But I want this program to survive," Toomey said. To which Sanders responded: "He just told you he's going to cut Social Security."

Many conservatives have long argued for cutting and changing social safety net programs, arguing that anti-poverty programs have failed and that Social Security spending is growing at an unsustainable rate.

Still, members of both parties have long been reluctant to cut benefits, especially for seniors, due in part to the potential political cost of doing so. And in discussing changes, Republicans, including Rubio, have largely confined their ideas to plans that would affect new beneficiaries, rather than current ones.

But it may be particularly difficult for Republicans to push those measures ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, in which many in swing states and districts face well-funded Democratic challengers hoping to ride an anti-Trump wave into office.

Ryan said he's optimistic, adding that Republicans could target the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid next year in addition to Medicare, despite their failure to repeal the health care law in 2017.

"What it is we really need to convert our health care system to a patient-centered system so we have more choices and more competition. Choice and competition brings down prices and improves quality; government-run health care is the opposite of that," Ryan said. "So I think these reforms that we've been talking about, that we're still going to keep pushing, that will help not just make Medicaid less expensive . . . but it will help Medicare as well."

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Protect Internet Freedom

George Lakoff, 2012. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)
George Lakoff, 2012. (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

By George Lakoff, George Lakoff's Website
03 December 17

onald Trump and the Republicans are trying to restrict American freedom and destroy the Internet as we know it.

They want to hand control of a crucial public resource – the Internet – over to corporations. These corporations will then be able to restrict the flow of information, effectively censor voices of dissent, and charge outrageous prices for access to online services.

This is an attack on American freedom, and it should alarm every citizen who cherishes the free flow of information in the digital age. We can’t allow corporations take control of our Internet. But stopping this nefarious scheme requires urgent action on this issue, most commonly known as Net Neutrality.

I don’t like the term Net Neutrality because it obscures what’s really at stake: FREEDOM. Our freedom to access the information and resources we need to keep our democracy healthy is under threat. Yet, Republicans on the Federal Communications Commission – led by former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai – seek to hand our Internet over to private corporations.

But the Internet is a public resource that belongs to the People. That’s because the Internet was developed by our federal government in the 1960s and 1970s. The idea was to “build robust, fault-tolerant communication via computer networks.” The result was the Internet, which allows me to type these words on my laptop and share them with all of you immediately.

The US government funded the research and technology to create the Internet. This means American taxpayers paid for it. So, if the Internet belongs to anyone, it should belong to Citizens, not corporate fat cats.

According to Scientific American: “In truth, no private company would have been capable of developing a project like the Internet, which required years of R&D efforts spread out over scores of far-flung agencies, and which began to take off only after decades of investment. Visionary infrastructure projects such as this are part of what has allowed our economy to grow so much in the past century.”

The Internet belongs to us. But we have to fight for it right now, or we may lose it.

There’s ample evidence that fake bots have flooded the Federal Communications Commission’s inbox with over a million fake comments supporting corporate control of the Internet. The corporations are working hard to take away your Internet freedom. It’s time to make sure the real voices of American citizens are heard on this matter!

Internet freedom is especially important because our entire economy now depends on the Web. Online sales on shopping holidays like Black Friday are overtaking in-store sales. This means the private profit of corporations in this digital age now depend on the use of a public resource we created through our government decades ago. The Internet – like roads, bridges, ports, and telecommunication systems – is a publicly funded resource that makes all private profit possible. The private depends on the public! We must never forget this, and we must make a point of saying it – especially at a time when Republicans are trying to sign away our property to corporations.

It’s time for us to make our voices heard. Please join me in standing up for American freedom and the public’s right to maintain fair control of a crucial public resource, the Internet.

Please click on the link below to make your voice heard – and share this with your friends and family.
  • Republicans are attacking our freedom and trying to destroy the Internet as we know it. We must stop them from giving control of our public Internet to corporations.
  • The Internet was developed by the US government and paid for by American taxpayers. This publicly funded resource must remain fair, open and neutral to benefit the American people.
  • All private profit depends on public resources – roads, bridges, ports, telecommunications, and the Internet. We must never hand public resources over to private corporations.
  •  The Internet is a public resource. Say it!
Please make your voice heard!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Bernie Makes Moves Pointing to 2020 Run

Bernie Sanders. (photo: AP)
Bernie Sanders. (photo: AP)
By Gabriel Debenedetti, Politico
28 November 17

The Vermont senator is taking aggressive steps to address long-running political weaknesses, like his lack of foreign policy bona fides.

ernie Sanders is taking steps to address longstanding political shortcomings that were exposed in 2016, ahead of another possible presidential bid in 2020.

From forging closer ties to the labor movement to shoring up his once-flimsy foreign policy credentials, the moves have provided the senator inroads into party power structures that largely shunned him in favor of Hillary Clinton last year. They've also empowered the progressive icon to harness his newfound political power and help Democrats fight President Donald Trump's administration.

Sanders has been working closely with figures who are close to the party establishment he's long railed against, like American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. And he's been meeting with international affairs experts such as Bill Perry, a defense secretary in the administration of President Bill Clinton, around a series of speeches designed to define his international vision, one year after running a campaign heavy on domestic policy and light on the rest of the world.

The Vermont independent hasn't decided whether to run for president again in 2020.

To his closest allies, his efforts represent a natural next step in his role as "outreach chairman" for Senate Democrats, a new position created for him late last year by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.

Yet the maneuvers could form an important part of a Sanders 2020 effort, a dozen of those allies acknowledged to POLITICO — one that looks markedly different from his surprise 2016 bid, which often suffered from a lack of mainstream political support.

"He is now in a very different position than he’s ever been in before. He’s just stepping into the role,” said senior adviser Ari Rabin-Havt, insisting Sanders doesn't see the changes as prep for 2020. “Let’s be clear: He’s in charge of outreach for the caucus. So when people say he’s doing a better job of reaching out? Well, yeah, he’s doing his job. This is a new phase of his career.”

Much of Sanders’ time is now spent fighting Republican plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act and helping organize a constellation of outside liberal groups against GOP tax proposals. But while Sanders himself bristles at questions about 2020, multiple operatives in his political orbit have been gaming out what such a campaign might look.

Constantly reminding themselves and others that the senator is now the country's most popular active elected official, they believe other candidates will have to build their campaigns around him — the unparalleled center of gravity on the left. Their prep now includes game-planning for a handful of other progressives trying to chip into his political lane.

As Sanders monitors his post-2016 political group Our Revolution and the Democratic National Committee's reform efforts, he has also slightly expanded his tight circle of 2016 aides. Campaign manager Jeff Weaver has returned to the senator's political payroll after helping build Our Revolution — which still hosts Sanders' campaign email list and provides him a nationwide foothold.

In contrast to the run-up to 2016, the group of counselors also now includes pollster Ben Tulchin, who joined that year's campaign only after Sanders was convinced that hiring a pollster was worth it. A pair of senior advisers in Sanders' Senate office have also joined. Rabin-Havt, a former Harry Reid aide, has been directing political outreach, and Matt Duss, former president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, is working on foreign policy.

Recognizing the senator’s post-campaign national platform and 99 percent name ID across the country — and aware that his status as a potential 2020 front-runner draws further eyeballs — his team has stopped sticking to just a few pet issues. Now it tries to inject him into as many productive national conversations as possible, sometimes with the support of his wife's new Sanders Institute think tank.

Sanders has often stated his wish to win over other lawmakers to his theory of grass-roots change, and his new Facebook Live show and podcast are largely designed to amplify his voice and grow his audience, in pursuit of that goal.

At times, his team has also tried smoothing over potentially controversial situations that could turn into the kind of political headaches a 2020 hopeful would prefer to avoid, but which would not likely have bothered Sanders four years ago. For example, he ditched a speaking gig at the Detroit Women’s Convention in October after his expected presence ignited a firestorm, instead opting to visit storm damaged areas of Puerto Rico.

To allies on the outer rings of Sanders’ political circles, the flurry of moves looks like the beginnings of a full-fledged political operation, in contrast to last year's relatively bare-bones organization. But it’s a complex balance for someone who hates any perception that he could be an insider.

“Does he do as much politics as we’d like him to? No, but now he’s actually playing the game,” said one of Sanders’ close political advisers. “Before, he’d say he was going to play by his own rules.”

Nonetheless, one year after running an anti-establishment campaign that had the support of just one other senator, Sanders is clearly aiming to improve his standing inside the party. He has worked closely with Schumer and others on defending Obamacare. He has traveled in conjunction with giant liberal advocacy group to hold health care-focused rallies.

And he has headlined events and conference calls back in Washington with progressive organizations like the Working Families Party.

"I see him taking more responsibility," said Weingarten, one of Hillary Clinton's most prominent labor supporters in 2016, who backed Sanders' pick to lead the DNC after that election. The pair have worked together on Puerto Rico recovery efforts and on a community college unionization drive in Vermont, and Weingarten backed Sanders' signature health care proposal this fall.

"That's why you saw so many 'mainstream Democrats' sign on to his Medicare-for-all bill," she said.

After resisting advisers’ pleas to give more foreign policy-oriented speeches during his campaign, Sanders has also now been working with Duss to build a public record on international affairs. That work has entailed more than just his trio of major public speeches on the topic this year — a February address to J Street on Trump, Israel and anti-Semitism; a speech on authoritarianism, in June, at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; and a September talk at Missouri’s Westminster College to stress the importance of partnerships “not just between governments, but between peoples.”

He has also been meeting with veteran policymakers — including Perry; former Obama administration National Security Council Middle East official Robert Malley; and Sarah Chayes, a former special adviser to retired Adm. Mike Mullen, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — to discuss foreign developments.

Sanders' moves to bolster his political presence have largely been confined to Washington. He inherited a political infrastructure in the early voting primary states in 2015 after Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren decided not to run. Now, however, he has refrained from dispatching aides to such states, and he has yet to order up polling there.

He has visited Iowa and New Hampshire twice each this year, in addition to other politically important states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia, to talk health care and other policy issues. But his traditional political outreach in early voting states is largely limited to occasional check-ins with local leaders like former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, according to Democrats familiar with the discussions.

Instead, his in-state supporters have maintained their own networks. In New Hampshire, his roughly 75-person steering committee still meets monthly behind closed doors, but the tightly organized group refuses to let local allies know even the location or timing of their meetings, Democrats in the state told POLITICO.

Even to some of Sanders’ biggest cheerleaders, that dynamic reveals an operation that’s revving up but still far from a fully fledged campaign. Yet to the allies dedicated to converting his newfound popularity into results in Washington, it’s significant progress.

After all, the party needs the 13 million voters who enthusiastically backed Sanders last year to show up again in 2018 and 2020, said Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the DNC deputy chairman and Sanders’ most prominent ally on Capitol Hill.

“Anything that makes Bernie more effective at reaching that movement and continuing to build a powerful progressive base of engaged Americans," Ellison said, "is good for the Democratic Party."

Monday, December 4, 2017

Trump's Swamp of Billionaires and Lobbyists Revealed in Secret White House Visitor Logs

President Donald Trump. (photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty)
President Donald Trump. (photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty)

By Chris Riotta, Newsweek
04 December 17
all Street billionaires, corporate lobbyists and far right conservatives flooded the White House almost immediately after Donald Trump’s presidential victory, newly released White House visitor logs reveal.

The White House was forced to release the list of visitors to five federal offices after the Washington transparency group Property of the People sued under the Freedom of Information Act. The searchable logs, published last Tuesday by ProPublica, provide a glimpse into the creation of the president’s political agenda, spearheaded almost entirely by business interests, with little input from consumer advocacy or humanitarian groups.

Officials at the Office of Management and Budget, for example, met periodically with CEOs from the health care industry and big businesses, a handful of lobbyists representing Koch Industries and several billionaires intent on shaping White House policy, including casino magnate Steve Wynn—a close friend of the president—and corporate leader Charles Schwab.

Logs were also released for the U.S. Trade Representative, National Drug and Control Policy, Council on Environmental Quality and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

It's certainly not the first time that the Office of Management and Budget has heard from private business leaders and lobbyists, but the sheer variety of corporate interests and lack of consumer representation during policy conversations marks a clear departure from previous White House norms. Former President Barack Obama’s OMB typically met with consumer rights groups and philanthropic representatives under its director, Peter Orszag.

The logs also reveal how much money can be spent by lobbying groups just to get their foot in the door inside the West Wing. Budget chief Mick Mulvaney’s former congressional Chief of Staff Al Simpson was hired by the lobbying firm Mercury in February, soon after Trump appointed Mulvaney to run the management and budget office. Since then, Mulvaney and Simpson met at least seven times and had one phone call, as the lobbyist brought his clients to meet his old boss. Those clients, including powerhouse corporations like Cemex and pharma firms like AmerisourceBergen, paid Simpson’s lobbying firm $360,000 throughout 2017, ProPublica reported.

Meetings at the Office of Budget and Management have become far less inclusive under Mulvaney, who recently told Politico, "I don’t think anyone in this administration is more of a right-wing conservative than I am.” The director has met frequently with representatives from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy think tank that has stirred controversy over its stances on issues including immigration and health care.

The purposes behind several White House meetings remain shrouded in mystery. For example, Mulvaney met with Jeff Bell, a member of the controversial religious group Opus Dei, which has been said to use cult-like recruitment practices, on March 28.
Meanwhile, out of the 8,807 meetings and people listed in the logs, 2,169 names and subject matter are redacted—nearly 25 percent of the data dump. Property of the People is reportedly negotiating to get some of the identities unmasked.

The Trump administration handled the visitor logs differently than its predecessor. After the Obama administration was sued for its logs, it released them without a court fight. But the Trump administration waged a legal battle to keep the records sealed. 
In the end, the Obama administration released three million records.