Thursday, October 31, 2019

Senate GOP votes to allow insurers to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions

While the House was busy with impeachment procedures, the Senate was up to no good.  Senate Republicans almost unanimously voted Wednesday to endorse Donald Trump's sabotage of the Affordable Care Act, defeating the Senate Democrats in their effort to repeal a Trump administration rule allowing states to offer crappy insurance. It failed 43-52.

The lone Republican voting with Democrats was Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. Which pretty much shows how effective a political issue health care remains going into 2020. Although no states have taken the Trump administration up on its offer allow Obamacare's subsidies for coverage to plans that don't meet the essential benefits standards of the law, this vote was politically important. 

Because what the administration was trying to destroy, along with the rest of the law, is the prohibition of discrimination against people with preexisting conditions.

These plans that Trump wants taxpayer dollars to subsidize could do just that—deny coverage to people who have preexisting conditions. Every Republican senator running for reelection in 2020 is now going to have to answer for that. 

That even includes Collins, because voters back home are going to see through this, and will know just how opportunistic this one vote is. Besides, it isn't a vote that matters. Republicans were going to win with or without her. 

No, it's her make or break votes that matter, that show who she truly is. Like her vote for alleged sexual assaulter Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Trump campaign is ignoring rally security bills for more than $1 million from U.S. cities

MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE - AUGUST 15: President Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a rally in Manchester on August 15, 2019 in Manchester, New Hampshire. The Trump 2020 campaign is looking to flip the battleground state of New Hampshire with the use of a strong economy and appeals to his core voters on immigration and guns. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Donald Trump’s aversion to paying his bills is going strong, with his campaign now owing U.S. cities more than $1 million in unpaid expenses from Trump’s rallies. In fact, the number could be close to $1.7 million.

Albuquerque is seeking $211,000 after a September rally. Minneapolis is looking for $530,000 after Trump’s rally there earlier this month—in fact, the city tried to get the campaign to pay up in advance, knowing Trump’s history. El Paso has added a $99,000 late fee to its original invoice of more than $569,000.

These cities shouldn’t hold their breaths—they didn’t have binding contracts with the campaign, so it’ll be that much harder to collect from an experienced deadbeat. But people across the U.S., in red and purple and blue states alike, should understand that this is how Trump treats America’s cities because this is how little he thinks of anyone but himself.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Report: Baghdadi raid succeeded ‘in spite of,' not thanks to, Donald Trump’s actions

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 27:  U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House October 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump announced that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has been killed in a military operation in northwest Syria.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
I’ve had bosses before who always seemed to do everything they could to disrupt our team’s progress, either through interjecting nonsense or making decisions that impacted the project without thinking things through. In the end, if we still managed to pull it off, the guy would humbly try to take all of the credit for his great “leadership.” Thankfully, these guys usually didn’t get beyond middle management, where they were stuck due to the Peter Principle.

It’s very rare to excel in a high-level position without demonstrating any sort of talent for the job, or at least a baseline of leadership and competence. Unfortunately, the presidency is one of those few exceptions where a fake reality star with just the right amount of easily-impressed dupes from strategic areas can amass enough delegates to win our archaic Electoral College. Thus, a man with no moral compass, no concept of service, no experience or knowledge of anything related to the military or government, and the literal temperament of a four-year-old can be exalted to the highest government official and become Commander-in-Chief. 

Syrian government forces drive along a road in the countryside of the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli on October 25, 2019. - Damascus and Moscow deployed extra forces to Syria's border with Turkey, even as Washington partially reversed a drawback to boost its own military presence near key Syrian oil fields. (Photo by - / AFP) (Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images)
Assad’s forces
Case in point: Trump. After being browbeaten on the phone by Turkey’s strongman, Recep Erdogan, Trump impulsively submitted to all of his demands. Trump agreed to immediately pull our troops out of Syria and deploy them elsewhere in the Middle East, pleasing our enemies and putting our allies in danger. Erdogan instantly prepared for bombing raids,  and Bashir al-Assad and Vladimir Putin sent forces into Kurdish territory. 
Trump told no one of this, not even his closest sycophants like Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. He just did it. 
When the Pentagon found out, officials were livid. They had several operations planned in the area, including the one to kill al-Baghdadi, where intelligence was being provided directly by Kurdish intelligence officials. 
Losing control of the area put the Pentagon in a serious dilemma. According to military officials, as reported by The New York Times, they decided to go with a “risky, night raid before their ability to control troops and spies and reconnaissance aircraft disappeared.” The Times continued that, according to officials familiar with the mission, “Mr. al-Baghdadi’s death...occurred largely in spite of Mr. Trump’s actions.” 
Thankfully, due to the competence and adaptability of our special forces, they were able to pull it off despite Trump jeopardizing the mission. Pentagon officials also had significant praise for Kurdish intelligence, who helped the C.I.A. even after Trump decided to abandon them to fight Turkey and their insurgent-backed forces. 
Think about that: The Iraqi and Syrian Kurds provided intelligence that directly led to the whereabouts of al-Baghdadi and even loaned a facility to practice the raid.
They did this as Trump was stabbing them in the back and insulting them. Trump had forgotten that it was the Peshmerga who achieved full territorial victory against ISIS—something he had recently promised he’d never forget. 
Trump did mention the Kurds when he was thanking people, other than himself, during his “big announcement.” Yet he did it in the most snarky way possible. 
Trump chided them for not participating directly in the raid militarily—failing to mention that they are in the fight of their lives, thanks to Trump. However, even he had to acknowledge that the information they provided “turned out to be helpful.” Because he’s that much of an ass. 
In fact, as at least one official admits, without the Kurds, this victory might not have happened. Why? As reported by The Times, one official said the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds “provided more intelligence for the raid than any single country.” 
The president did profusely thank Russia in his announcement, however. Even though they too did not participate militarily, Trump gushed and fawned all over them. What’s worse, he heaped praise on Putin’s army even before once mentioning the U.S. troops who conducted the operation. 
This was surprising since Russia said they had nothing to do with the raid.

Our military should be highly praised for conducting a flawless raid, despite the executive interference. At least Trump was able to get his photo-op...sort of.

However, I would also like to thank our allies, the Kurds, for once again helping our country and our military. The Russian asset in the White House consistently goes out of his way to do harm to both.

Trump could really learn something about American patriotism from the Kurds.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Why is Facebook trying to re-elect Trump?

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg testified before the House Financial Services Committee on Oct. 23, 2019.
Bullying works. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been on a GOP charm offensive, and it seems to be working for the social media behemoth as it makes its allegiance to the Republican Party more open. In the days preceding his latest testimony before Congress, Zuckerberg had been "hosting a series of dinners with conservative journalists, right-wing celebrities, and at least one Republican lawmaker, Sen. Lindsey Graham, who grilled Zuckerberg about Facebook’s market dominance when he testified in a Senate hearing last year," Politico reported. Among those who attended the conservative-only dinners at Zuckerberg’s home were Fox News' Tucker Carlson, the Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro, radio host Hugh Hewitt, Guy Benson of Townhall, and Byron York of the Washington Examiner. All of them function as public apologists for Donald Trump, who has spent years bullying Facebook for supposedly trying to "censor" conservative voices. 

Facebook's reward for that outreach effort came last week when "Republican members of the committee were generally more supportive of Mr. Zuckerberg," when he appeared before Congress, The New York Times reported.

Indeed, Facebook's political transformation from a quasi-progressive outpost that revolutionized information sharing into a bullied GOP lapdog now seems complete, as the company gives Republicans a green light to use the social media platform to lie their way through Trump's re-election campaign next year and create a sea of online disinformation. "Facebook is actively helping Trump spread lies and misinformation," Elizabeth Warren warned this month. "Facebook already helped elect Donald Trump once. They might do it again—and profit off of it."

There's no question about the profit part. "Trump’s reelection campaign is far outspending other candidates on Facebook ads and boosted posts—to the tune of more than $20.7 million between May 2018 and October 2019, more than all the Democratic presidential candidates combined," Slate reports.

Here's why Facebook now comes across as a digital errand boy for Republican campaigns: It's because the Republican Party today revolves around telling lies. And it's not a bug—it's a feature.

Republicans proudly lie about taxes, and they lie about immigration. It's become like breathing for them. (Trump is on pace to tell 16,000 lies in four years.) They lie about everything and that has become the fuel that drives the party. So naturally it's also the fuel that drives Trump's re-election campaign. And no, we've never seen anything like this in American history.

Note, however, that there is no such mirror embrace of wholesale untruths by the Democratic Party, which simply does not traffic in misinformation the way the GOP does. And in that environment, Facebook has decided that it will unilaterally allow politicians to lie via paid Facebook ads under the auspice that it's news. "In a democracy, I think that people should be able to hear for themselves what politicians are saying," Zucker recently told The Washington Post, defending the company's official shoulder-shrug policy to allow massive misinformation campaigns. Well, guess who benefits from that? The GOP. And guess who looks like they created a really bad policy in order to appease the Republican Party?


Meaning: Facebook walking away from the truth in political ads is a de facto gift to Republicans, and specifically the Trump campaign, because spreading misinformation is what Republicans do. It is not what Democrats do.

Meanwhile, it doesn't help that Zuckerberg has trouble telling the truth about Facebook's own fact-checking procedures. (Yes, they use the right-wing outlet The Daily Caller to help on out that front.) It also doesn't help that Facebook touts its hands-off policy regarding political advertising, yet back in the spring the company stepped in and removed several of Warren’s political ads over content. (Warren has called for the breakup of tech and social media giants, such as Amazon and Facebook.)

Today, Zuckerberg likes to pretend Facebook's radical do-nothing policy makes him a "free speech" advocate, which is comical. After Trump’s re-election campaign released, without evidence, an advertisement accusing former Vice President Joe Biden of using his office to pressure Ukrainian officials to drop an investigation into a company where his son, Hunter Biden, sat on the board, CNN refused to run the ad and its false claim, and no serious players accused the network of "censorship." Facebook, though, gladly accepted the Trump campaign's payment, telling the Biden team that the false Trump ad was staying up because Facebook considers statements by politicians to be newsworthy, even if they are false.

Facebook's CEO defended that soggy policy at a recent speech at Georgetown University. "Zuckerberg’s unsophisticated thoughts on free speech generated a manifesto that can only be called incoherent," noted Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor of media studies at the University of Virginia. And that raises the key question: Why would Facebook embrace such an incoherent policy for such an important issue, like safeguarding democracy? One obvious answer is that the company is so focused on doing the GOP's bidding, and has been so thoroughly bullied by Trump, that it has backed itself into an incoherent corner.

Here's the bottom line: Facebook is under political pressure from both the left and the right in the U.S., and the company only seems to be actively caving to one set of concerns—Republicans'. Liberals want Facebook to take down much more of the demonstrably false content that floods Facebook. The right claims Facebook censors conservative voices, which remains an utterly false claim, considering data constantly shows right-wing voices are routinely among the most seen and shared "news" voices on Facebook.

"For decades, Republicans have bashed the supposedly liberal mainstream media in an effort to work the refs," Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii recently explained. "Now that two-thirds of Americans get their news from social media, Republicans have a new boogeyman to target—big tech."

The sad fact is that social media and tech giants are doing exactly what traditional media companies did when they faced bogus cries of "bias" from the right-wing swamp: They're running around trying to curry favor with conservatives, desperately trying to explain that they're not really anti-GOP. In the process, they're clearing the field for Trump's re-election campaign to lie its way back into office. 

Eric Boehlert is a veteran progressive writer and media analyst, formerly with Media Matters and Salon. He is the author of Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush and Bloggers on the Bus. You can follow him on Twitter @EricBoehlert.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

William Taylor's opening statement is out, and it provides everything needed for impeachment

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 22: Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, arrives at a closed session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees October 22, 2019 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Taylor was on Capitol Hill to testify to the committees for the ongoing impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
On Tuesday, Ambassador William Taylor, who has headed up the U.S. diplomatic mission in Ukraine since Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was forced out with a collection of lies and conspiracy theories, appeared before the House impeachment inquiry to provide his testimony. Representatives who left the session at breaks throughout the day have described that testimony as powerful, and those who were present for his opening statement have said gasps came from the assembled committees as Taylor made his opening remarks. 

Taylor’s opening remarks have now been made public, and they are at least as powerful, if not more so, than any charges leveled in the original whistleblower complaint. As usual, Taylor begins by outlining his own years in service. While many of those testifying can offer accounts of years of national service, few have a background that matches Taylor’s. His personal history includes being a West Point cadet, service in Vietnam, and six years as an infantry officer. His extensive service with the State Department includes working in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as in Ukraine. But Taylor made it clear that Ukraine service was the one he considered the most vital, for a particular reason.

“Ukraine is, right at this moment while we sit in this room, and for the last five years, under armed attacked by Russia,” wrote Taylor. “The security assistance that we provide is crucial to Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression.” Taylor spoke directly to the role of Ukraine as both a strategic and a symbolic partner, one whose success in fending off Russia is being closely observed by every other nation threatened by the Russian military.

Taylor spoke to how he was offered the role of chief of mission in May by Mike Pompeo. It was a post he had held under the Bush administration, and one he considered vitally important, but he took it reluctantly after seeing how Yovanovitch had been treated. Taylor says he took on the role only after securing from Pompeo a promise of “strong support” for Ukraine and after expressing concern about the interference being generated by Rudy Giuliani.

However, once he was in Kyiv, Taylor found himself facing what he described as a “weird combination” of circumstances in which, even as he attempted to initiate formal contacts with the new government of President Volodymyr Zelensky, his efforts were being undercut by “an irregular, informal channel of U.S. policy making” that included special envoy Kurt Volker, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland. Even before Taylor arrived in Ukraine, that irregular channel had been at work, and it was clear that its goals were not strong support for Ukraine and regular diplomatic relations.

What the group wanted was Ukraine to announce investigations into Joe Biden and into conspiracy theories around the 2016 election. That was made clear to Taylor, as well as to Zelensky, and the group made it clear that the status of the U.S.-Ukraine relationship hung on giving Trump that announcement.

Sondland in particular communicated repeatedly to Taylor that if Ukraine wanted to play ball, it had to give Trump the investigations he wanted.

On June 27, Sondland called Taylor to tell him that Zelensky had to make it clear he wasn’t “standing in the way” of investigations.

On June 28, Taylor joined a call with Sondland, Perry, Volker, and President Zelensky. Before Zelensky joined, Sondland informed the Americans on the line that he wanted to make sure no one was taking notes on the call. On the call, Volker made it clear that he meant to have a one-on-one meeting with Zelensky in which he would “be explicit” in asking for investigations in exchange for a meeting with Trump. This call concerned Taylor strongly enough that he wrote a note to Deputy Secretary of State George Kent, warning him of the contents of the conversation.

The “three amigos” of Perry, Sondland, and Volker were not being subtle in their statements to either Zelensky or Taylor.
By mid-July it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelensky wanted was conditioned on investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.
On July 10, Taylor met with disappointed Ukrainian officials who told him that they had learned the call between Zelensky and Trump was unlikely to happen—they had been told this by Rudy Giuliani.

In July 18, Taylor learned that Trump had placed a hold on any further aid to Ukraine and saw clearly for the first time that the two different diplomatic tracks weren’t just “weird,” but were operating in opposite directions.
I and others sat in astonishment—the Ukrainians were fighting the Russians and counted on not only the training and weapons, but also the assurance of U.S. support. … In an instant I realized that one of the key pillars of our strong support for Ukraine was threatened. The irregular policy channel was running contrary to the goals of longstanding U.S. policy.
The next day, Taylor learned of multiple efforts of the “irregular” team, including a meeting that featured Giuliani and Volker. By July 20, Sondland wasn’t just insisting on investigations—he was actually writing lines for Zelensky to deliver in announcing those investigations.

And following Trump’s eventual July 25 call to Zelensky—Taylor wasn’t allowed to listen in and was not given a transcript—Sondland responded to his texts with very clear information.
Ambassador Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations — in fact, Ambassador Sondland said, “everything” was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance,
What Taylor notes is that the Trump team was not just extorting Ukraine by withholding aid—it was also well aware that it was wrong. If that wasn’t clear enough, Sondland put it in even clearer terms right before the text that Taylor produced calling the whole policy “crazy.”
During our call on September 8, Ambassador Sondland tried to explain to me that President Trump is a businessman. When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessperson asks that person to pay up before signing the check. 
It’s not quid pro quo. It’s just making someone pay up before getting a check.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Why William Barr is the greatest threat to America—and also utterly ridiculous

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 11: U.S. President Donald Trump makes a statement on the census with Attorney General William Barr in the Rose Garden of the White House on July 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump, who had previously pushed to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, announced that he would direct the Commerce Department to collect that data in other ways.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Here is a rundown of a few of the things that have occupied William Barr’s time over just the last three months.
The results of those actions? The Italian prime minister told Barr to leave them out of it; Australian officials refused to take any part in this fantasy; the lawsuit to protect Trump’s taxes failed in court; and Barr couldn’t manage to achieve a single indictment against McCabe. Also, that whistleblower complaint? It got out.

But while Barr’s batting average may look to be in the low-nothings, he doesn’t have to put one between the lines every time. He doesn’t have to be right at all.

After all, what Donald Trump requested of Ukraine wasn’t actual investigations into anything; it was just the announcement of investigations. And even if Barr hasn’t convinced anyone else to play along with Trump’s favorite conspiracy theories, he’s perfectly adequate at suppressing information and distorting findings.

Trump isn’t after facts. He doesn’t require convictions. The announcement that the DOJ is conducting a criminal investigation focused on James Comey, or Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama … that’s more than enough for Trump. And Barr is exactly the Roy Cohn-Joseph McCarthy hybrid who will give it to him.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Build that Colorado wall, Mr. Presidnt; Just let us out when this nightmare is over

Don't waste a lot of money on that Colorado wall @realDonaldTrump. Everyone's so high you could just do like a 6ft fence. Ain't nobody want to climb shit when they're high.

And the only gay governor in America, our very own Jared Polis, observed...

Well this is awkward ...Colorado doesn’t border Mexico. Good thing Colorado now offers free full day kindergarten so our kids can learn basic geography

Blue state New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s press secretary Nora Sackett was less amused.

“Wouldn’t surprise me if he really did forget about a state that he lost by such a significant margin, especially when that seems to be the only thing of importance to him and given that he can expect more of the same in 2020,” Sackett told HuffPost in an email. “No one wants his wall, whether it’s on the Mexican border, the Colorado border, or the Canadian border.”

In a follow-up statement, a different member of Lujan Grisham’s press office emphasized: “Yes, we are a state.”

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Brooks Brothers Riot 2.0—Republican congressmen create a day that will go down in absurdity

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 23:  Staffers deliver pizza to a closed session before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees on Capitol Hill on October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper was on Capitol Hill to testify before the committees as part of the ongoing impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)
Republican staffers seek pizza guidance
In the future, it’s possible that everyone will be asked, “Where were you when 20 white guys in suits invaded a closed-door hearing, violated the security of an electronics-free environment, tampered with a witness, and basically brought the impeachment of Donald Trump to a temporary halt on the orders of Donald Trump?”

But if they are asked this question, it won’t be because it was a Great Moment in History. It will be because it was was a sad low point in human affairs.

But it’s not as if the day did not include a genuine demonstration of ethical behavior. That came when Republicans, after holding up the process for hours, had stacks of pizzas delivered. Apparently realizing that, unbelievable as that may seem, chowing down on a double-meat in the middle of the House chamber might just cause a rethink among Democrats who had at that point not called the sergeant at arms, the Republican Rep. Mark Meadows instead had the pizzas stacked outside and tried to lure the press into eating them. ““There is no quid pro quo,” shouted Meadows. “You can eat it!” However, reporters pointed out that they were not allowed to take gifts from Congress. The pizza sat uneaten, and eventually the same Republican gnomes who had stacked it in the hallway appeared to take it away.

Proving, if it needed to be proven, that the Capitol Hill press corps had infinitely more concern about following ethical guidelines than had Republicans in Congress.

Making the whole event even more ridiculous was the fact that a full dozen of the men who were staging a finger-wagging faux sit-in that included sending, “Here I am in a secure area where I’m not even allowed to have a phone!” tweets, popping out every now and then to whine for the cameras, and beating their chests loudly enough to be heard across the Potomac, were on the committees that were there to participate in the hearing. Not only were they not being cut out of this “secret” hearing, but they were participants, able to question the witness. 

Even if Wednesday does not become the subject of “Where were you when …?” questioning, it will still be marked down as an important date. Because it was the date on which Republicans surrendered. They surrendered the idea that they could fight the impeachment of Donald Trump on either the facts or the proceedings. And they decided there was only one way left: destroy the institution they were elected to defend.