Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Sherrod Brown to HHS secretary: Tell Trump to stop lying about preexisting conditions

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 14:  Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) speaks during a markup of the Republican tax reform proposal November 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. Today, Senate Republicans announced their intention to include a repeal of the mandate for taxpayers to have health insurance in the Affordable Care Act as part of their tax reform proposal.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Donald Trump knows how important health care is to voters these days. He saw a blue wave surge in 2018 largely because voters were torqued about Republicans’ repeated attempts to scuttle Obamacare and its ironclad protections for people with preexisting conditions. (Those attempts include a current lawsuit, backed by the Trump administration, that would throw out the ACA and all its consumer protections.)

So was Trump’s solution to this political problem to work with Democrats on new legislation that preserves such protections?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

You naif. Of course not. He just gets up at the podium and lies his ass off, telling voters that, not only are Republicans not trying to fuck them sideways, they’re the only ones interested in protecting people with preexisting conditions.

In other words, the polar opposite of the truth.

Sen. Sherrod Brown has noticed, and he recently called on Trump’s HHS secretary, Alex Azar, to tell his boss to stop lying:
BROWN: “Would you, the next time you’re in a cabinet meeting or the next time you see the president — I don’t know if he knows he’s lying about this or if he’s just used to doing it — but would you correct him when he says he’s supporting the consumer protections for preexisting conditions? Because he’s trying to take them away with the Texas lawsuit, he tried to take them away legislatively here.
I assume it won’t change, he’ll still go on the campaign trail and talk about how he supports preexisting conditions, but if somebody of your stature tells him he’s lying, maybe that would be helpful.”
As Sherrod noted, not only is Trump still trying to strip away consumer protections for preexisting conditions, the Republican ACA replacement bills he supported when his party controlled both houses of Congress failed to include the same levels of protection as the ACA.

Of course, trying to determine whether Trump is lying or just being ignorant and stupid is a little like asking whether light is a wave or a particle (or, if you’re a Trump supporter, whether there’s one right way to eat a Reese’s).

My guess? He’s lying his ass off. That, of course, doesn’t preclude the near certainty that he’s also being stupid.

Unfortunately, I doubt that Secretary Azar can easily resolve either of those problems.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Trump shows Collins lesson from impeachment: Don't let anyone listen to your criming

Sen. Susan Collins has done her best to walk back her ridiculous statement that impeached president Donald Trump learned a lesson from the impeachment process, and to absolve herself of any responsibility for a now totally unfettered Trump. The thing is, though: She can't. Because Trump himself is yelling out the real lessons he learned every damn day. Like on Thursday, when he trashed another presidential norm meant to keep chief executives in check and to protect national security.

In a radio interview with Geraldo Rivera, Trump talked about one of the lessons he’s learned: not to let officials listen in on his phone calls with world leaders. "Well, that's what they've done over the years," Trump said. "When you call a foreign leader, people listen. I may end the practice entirely. I may end it entirely."

This came about in a discussion about Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who Trump was bitching about in the interview, calling him "insubordinate" for raising his concerns about Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. "I'm not a fan of Vindman," Trump added. Surprise.

Given his cavalier attitude toward classified intelligence, this latest lesson learned by Trump has the national security community freaking out. "Right now, President Trump is a nightmare to every intel and [national-security] officer, and this is all stuff he's done with their knowledge," a former senior National Security Agency official told Business Insider. "Allowing him to conduct these calls in private would be catastrophic for us."

A former National Security Council senior director under President Barack Obama, Edward Price, told Business Insider that allowing intelligence and national security people to listen to calls "is indispensable to the coordination and implementation of sound foreign policy and national-security practices,. […] No president—but especially not this one—can or should be relied upon to backbrief senior advisers on details that can often be extraordinarily nuanced." 

Of course it has happened with this impeached president. And it wasn't just a phone call, but also face-to-face meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin: On several occasions, Trump has talked with Putin without U.S. staff present.

So the lesson he did learn from Collins and the rest of the Republicans who let him off the hook is that that's the way he should always conduct foreign policy, with no one around him who can alert the rest of the government—including Congress—about the crime-doing.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Trump says 'redemption money' paying for his 'wall,' a bizarre moment in another bizarre rally

DALLAS, TEXAS - OCTOBER 17: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a "Keep America Great" Campaign Rally at American Airlines Center on October 17, 2019 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Does this man have not even one family member who cares about him enough to get him help?
Via Attorney General Bill Barr, Donald Trump is now overtly transforming the Department of Justice into his personal agency bent on drumming up false charges against his enemies while protecting those that break laws on his behalf. It is catastrophic. And it is all happening on behalf of a would-be tyrant who is steadfastly incompetent and a habitual liar, and whose behavior strongly mirrors that of someone rapidly declining into dementia.

A particularly bizarre moment during his Monday rally had Trump again going on about his wall, "illegal aliens," and "redemption." It is worth picking apart, because even in the midst of a rally that featured "Lock her up" chants about his political enemies and claims that "we should impeach" former President Barack Obama," it appeared to be the result of a short-circuiting mind.

It's difficult to make out just what this gibberish is intended to mean. There is the overtly racist use of "illegal aliens," par for the mini-Mussolini course. But "redemption money"? And it's "paying for the wall"? What? 

Working backward, though, we might be able to decipher it. By "redemption money," Trump appears to mean "remittances," the term used for money sent by migrant workers back to their families in their home nations.

Trump's vocabulary has been declining precipitously in recent years, and it is likely he could not call up the right word here—something that happens to all of us, but that happens with increasing frequency in the middle stages of dementia. (Feel free to chastise me for making such diagnoses; after watching too many hours of Trump holding forth to be able to count, I stand firmly behind it.) So the first bit is Trump forgetting a key word underpinning whatever thought he was attempting to have.

"Illegal aliens" is straight racist-bait. He means undocumented migrants, but we can assume he is intentionally using the aliens language rampant in white nationalist and white supremacist circles, which has been scrubbed from most government speech. Or at least had been.

The last part is the head-scratcher. How would remittances, small checks sent to families abroad by those working in this country, either illegally or not, be paying for a Trump border erection? What the hell is this angry and strange man going on about now?

Reaching waaaaaay back, he might be referring to an absolutely batshit insane plan floated in the earliest months of the Trump presidency, only to be ditched because of the aforementioned batshit insanity. The proposed 2016 plan would have barred Mexican migrants from sending money back home, period, until the Mexican government agreed to pay for Trump's border wall. (Trump's plans for most things appear to revolve around extortion—perhaps it is only a case of the man going with his strengths?)

There were numerous problems with this, all of which revolve around it being extremely stupid. There's no plausible way for money transferrers to tell which transactions would be illegal under this scheme. There's no plausible way to prevent money from being sent in myriad other ways, either as cash in an envelope, through nonbank transactions, or by having a traveling third party simply take the cash with them.

Money sent home is a boon for the United States, boosting economic activity in those other countries, raising living standards, and resulting in higher demand for U.S.-produced goods. And finally, not even Republicans really want to stifle the flow of migrant workers into the United States.

It would be a disaster for a great many industries in a great many states. It is not clear that Devin Nunes' family's not-in-California dairy farm, for example, would survive a true shutdown of migrant labor.

The plan, then, was dead on arrival. So what's Trump going on about, nearly three years later? He said, "The redemption money is paying for the wall," and every bit of that eight-word phrase is wrong. It's not paying for the wall. The plan was never enacted, and we've heard nothing about it.

What is actually paying for the wall is the United States military, as Trump has repeatedly used emergency powers to seize money allocated for military base housing, schooling, medical facilities, and other improvements to redirect toward his wall.

So what's going on? That part we don't know. It could be one of several things.

Trump might simply be lying, and he might know he's lying. He's telling his base that "redemptions" are paying for the wall, while forgetting the proper word but knowing full well it’s never happened. A possibility.

Trump might be lying, but not know he's lying. Trump's staff members, who regularly lie on his behalf to the public in what are now well-documented efforts to keep Trump from unleashing his bizarre narcissism-fueled temper on them, might have simply told him that his plan worked and the money is flowing into government coffers, somehow. Also a possibility, and you and I both know it.

Trump might be in the throes of a dementia episode, in which past memories become both vividly recent and haphazardly jumbled. He might truly remember that his once-upon-a-time plan was a plan, and truly remember that it was implemented, and worked, and that he emerged a hero with a paid-for wall.

His strange language tends to suggest as much: not remembering the key phrase, not remembering the details. (The remittances were a tool for forcing Mexico, somehow, to pay for the wall, but were themselves never(?) going to be outright seized by the Trump government to pay for it. He's talking gibberish even in the context of his gibberish.)

That's possible too. And you know it, and I know it.

There aren't any other immediate explanations, though. It is absolutely impossible for Trump to have been really seizing the money or that secretly, well, Mexico is funding the wall and Trump's emergency declarations taking cash from U.S. troops are actually just sending that cash into the Mar-a-Lago accounts for safekeeping. He's either lying or he's lying, as usual.

It's the shape of the lie here that is the strangest thing. We could eventually parse out what Trump was attempting to say, but it would take a great deal of work, because what he was actually blurting out, in his words, was so far afield from it that it was simply incoherent.

He's not well. He is in fact in some sort of extreme distress, and the only question is what sort of distress it is.

Is his narcissism so great that he truly believes he can lie new facts into being? Is his mental decline so severe that he genuinely cannot remember the outcomes of his acts a mere three years back?

There is no answer that does not disqualify him from his office for rank dangerousness. If Mike Pence were anything but a supplicating toady, he and the rest of the Trump staff would long ago have admitted to the nation that this man cannot continue to govern, not in this condition.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Trump charging Secret Service premium rates at his hotels: $650 for rooms, $2,000 for golf carts

TURNBERRY, SCOTLAND - JULY 15:  U.S. President Donald Trump waves whilst playing a round of golf at Trump Turnberry Luxury Collection Resort during the U.S. President's first official visit to the United Kingdom on July 15, 2018 in Turnberry, Scotland. The President of the United States and First Lady, Melania Trump on their first official visit to the UK after yesterday's meetings with the Prime Minister and the Queen is in Scotland for private weekend stay at his Turnberry.  (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Trump is taking taxpayer dollars and pocketing them, deliberately, openly, and in larger quantities than most people even realize. Of all the crimes Donald Trump has committed while in office, the violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution may be the most obvious and consistent. It was clearly an issue before Trump ever stepped through the door of the White House. And ever since then, the failure to do a thing about it has been just as blatant.

Trump may not have built a wall that can stand up to a breeze, but he has built a reliable pipeline that funnels money from both foreign governments and the U.S. government straight into his bank accounts. And the latest numbers show that, far from being concerned about how fast the money may be flowing through that pipe, Trump has cranked the valve open wide—overcharging taxpayers and supercharging the flow into his own pocket.

That includes booking Secret Service agents into rooms at Trump’s own hotels, for the low, low price of $650 a night.

Since taking office, Trump has made an astounding 114 visits to his own golf resorts, racking up a $127,000,000 bill to taxpayers in the process. Each one of those visits requires that the Secret Service and other White House staff come along. But they don’t come along for free. Trump charges each of those he drags off to Doral or Mar-a-Lago as if they were visitors on a holiday—on a holiday at special opposite-of-discount rates.

By August of 2019, the Secret Service had given Donald Trump over half a million dollars for the privilege of driving golf carts around his courses. Check that again. Trump plays golf, then charges the Secret Service rental on the carts they drive while protecting him—a rate of $2,000 dollars a day.

But, as The Washington Post reports, that’s far from the only place where Trump is charging the country a premium rate to remain in his presence. Federal records show that Trump has been billing rooms for Secret Service agents at rates up to $650 per night. Trump has previously stated that he charges minimal fees … but the records don’t support those claims.

That $650 rate wasn’t just a one-off fee that landed on agents squeezing into Mar-a-Lago at some kind of peak season. That was the rate Trump charged dozens of times in 2017 alone, the Post said. But then, not every Secret Service agent had a plain old room. When visiting his Bedminster club, Trump rented the service a so-called cottage for the bargain rate of $17,000 a month. That includes billing for days when neither Trump nor the agents were present.

None of this squares with claims from Eric Trump that when Trump travels, agents “stay at our properties for free—meaning, like, cost for housekeeping.” But then, that was Eric.

To make things more fun, an appeals court ruled on Friday that individual Americans, even if they are members of Congress, have no standing to sue Trump for violating the emoluments clause. Which is just what this week needed: even more evidence that Trump is beyond the law.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Moscow Mitch won't let Senate vote to secure the election, but he will allow anti-abortion bills

Smart move, McConnell. You definitely want to incentivize more of this.

There are dozens of critical bills from the House Democrats in Mitch McConnell's trash can, never to see the Senate floor. Gun safety, environmental protection, election security, voting rights, healthcare bills—dozens and dozens of things that matter to the American public. What will he do, besides churn out dozens of unqualified judges for Trump? Bring up extreme anti-abortion bills that are unconstitutional and cannot pass in the Senate because they won't reach 60 votes.

But it gives his vulnerable Republicans, including Susan Collins, "gimme" votes they can take back home and tout.

McConnell teed up two such bills Thursday for votes later in the month, one that bans abortions after 20 weeks and one that does nothing, because the thing it bans does not exist. That would be the "Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act." The bills have never reached a 60-vote threshold, but by holding votes, he can shore up the rabid forced-birther base and give his vulnerable senators something they can say they did.

On the flip side, it gives Collins something to vote against, so she can try to prop up her supposed pro-choice credibility. As if she hadn't voted to put the Supreme Court firmly in the forced birth lane with her vote for Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

It won't work for Collins, it won't work for McConnell. It will motivate more women to end the Republican majority in the Senate.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Moscow Mitch's Republicans issue another invite to Putin to interfere in 2020's election

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 10: Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) speaks at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on April 10, 2019 in Washington, DC. The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee is questioning whether large tech companies are biased towards conservatives. (Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)
Republican Marsha Blackburn, today's henchwoman for McConnell, Trump, and Putin.
Senate Democrats tried again Tuesday morning three times to bring election security legislation to the floor. Democratic Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Oregon's Ron Wyden all tried to bring bills to the floor for unanimous consent. Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn was Moscow Mitch's henchwoman for this round.

"America is 266 days away from the 2020 election, and Majority Leader McConnell has yet to take any concrete steps to protect our foreign elections from hacking or foreign interference," Wyden said. He added that refusing to take the simple step included in one of the bills of banning states from connecting their voting machines to the internet is like "stashing our ballots in the Kremlin."

Blumenthal warned that after the Senate Republicans' acquittal of Trump, "There is no doubt that he will only be emboldened in his efforts to illegally enlist foreign governments in his reelection campaign."

Warner and Blumenthal have legislation that would require campaigns to notify law enforcement when foreign nationals offer assistance. "The appropriate response is not to say thank you, the appropriate response is to call the FBI."

Blackburn, who apparently wants to make sure Putin knows that Republican doors are still open to him, didn't just object to the unanimous consent requests, she got nasty. "You would think that after spending weeks in this chamber litigating the finer points of their disagreements with the president's foreign policy that our friends in the minority would be weary of picking another partisan fight, but here we go again." Because keeping foreign government out of our elections is now a partisan thing.

To prove how virulently partisan she is in calling out partisanship, Blackburn then introduced her own bill to have the Government Accountability Office "look into the debacle in Iowa."

It's hard to come to any conclusion other than Republicans inviting interference from Russia or any other country they think will help them win. It's okay if their impeached president does it, so they must figure why the hell not.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Trump's budget guts Social Security, Medicare: 'There is no 'third rail' in a cult of personality'

MANCHESTER, NH - FEBRUARY 10: Supporters cheer as U.S. President Donald Trump leaves a rally at Southern New Hampshire University Arena on February 10, 2020 in Manchester, New Hampshire. New Hampshire holds its first-in-the-nation primary tomorrow. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Donald Trump’s proposed budget for upcoming years guts Social Security and Medicare. It cuts the core of the Centers for Disease Control despite the looming threat of a pandemic. It leaves behind only enough of the Environmental Protection Agency to oversee the unraveling of four decades of progress. And, most importantly, it makes permanent the idea that billionaires and corporations need never again worry their busy heads about taxes. Anyone upset that Amazon or Exxon paid $0 in taxes in 2019 can just multiply that number by infinity. Because in this kleptocracy, with great power comes no damn responsibility at all.

For decades, Social Security has been called the third rail of American politics, after the dangerous high-voltage line in the New York City subways: Touch it and die. But while it might seem reasonable that Trump supporters might back away from the suggestion that they surrender their own futures to poverty and their children to relabeled indentured servitude … they won’t. Of course they won’t. In a cult of personality, there is no third rail.

Crushing the social safety net isn’t just the realization of an authoritarian dream; it’s the political equivalent of Trump’s Fifth Avenue claims. He can shoot people’s financial security, and they won’t just forgive him for it—they’ll thank him.

Who are they going to believe, their own lying eyes or Donald Trump? That’s not even a contest. When Trump issues a call of “fake news” or “crazy Nancy,” it’s treated like a call from the pulpit of the responder’s church. The response it generates is every bit as fervid.

Even before the election, Trump recognized the difference between the support he enjoyed and the experience of any other politician. Elizabeth Warren might have found her numbers dipping when opponents attacked details of her healthcare plan. Trump would never face such an issue—because he doesn’t have issues. He could tell the American people tomorrow that his plan calls for bad health care, for no health care, or for requisite snake-handling. It would not make a 2% difference in his approval rating. That is not how his support works.

From the moment he landed at the White House, Trump has been probing the limits, just to see how far that support will flex. Can he pardon people obviously guilty of crimes because they said nice things about him? Of course he can. Can he spend a third of his time on the golf course after campaigning on the idea that he would be too busy to ever take a day off? Don’t even ask. Can he fire the director of the FBI and call him a criminal? Please do. Can he use his office to extort foreign allies? Sure. For political dirt? Why not. To cheat in the next election? Go for it!

Donald Trump doesn’t have to worry about stepping over the line on positions, or going against Republicans’ core beliefs, because the Republican Party no longer has those. It has no underlying theme, no central message, no framework of ideas.

It is free, utterly free … so long as it understands that means absolute obedience to Trump. And a majority of Republicans in the House and Senate understand that very, very well.

That Trump is offering a budget that savages those things Americans say they hold most dear should be a concern to him, and to everyone allied with him. It’s not. After all, poll after poll has demonstrated that when it comes to political positions, the majority agrees with Democrats on every point.

Trump’s budget should be an issue. If the nation still has those. Because what remains of American democracy is only exactly as much as Trump allows.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

For shame Washington Post, and to all the reputable newsgroups that misled the public

It was sickening to see legitimate new groups post, “TRUMP ACQUITTED” in giant headlines last week giving Trump some perfectly, undeserved bragging rights using what he calls “fake news.” Bigger bucks, I imagine. 

I could see Right-Wing rags doing it, but to see the Washington Post sell their soul after their “Democracy dies in the darkness” official mantra, it’s very disappointing. They know a good portion of this country could not afford to watch all the hearings and are not aware that there was no legitimate acquittal—because there was no fair trial—because Republicans would not allow witnesses and evidence.

What most of the country is going to take away from the whole impeachment trial is that Trump was “acquitted,” and unfortunately many will see that as Trump is innocent and Democrats lost.

And look at the first paragraph on the WaPo front page. Sometimes it’s all that people read as they pass by a newsstand.
“Democrats fell far short of the two-thirds majority required to remove President Trump from office, as senators voted 52-48 to acquit him on the abuse of power allegation and 53-47to clear him of obstruction.”
So it’s the Democrat’s fault? What WaPo also knows, is that many Americans do not understand that Republicans have the majority in the Senate, and Republicans were calling the shots all along.

Democrats didn’t “fall short.” They were outnumbered, from the start. Democrats refused to be complicit to one of Trump’s biggest crimes regarding Ukraine and now WaPo decides to blame them for the acquittal?

Don’t wag your ‘do the right thing’ flag, Washington Post, if you’re going to sabotage Democrats by making them look like losers during an election year when they did the right thing and “right matters.”

We live in a time when the majority of the country sees headlines and they believe them. You’re actually keeping people in that darkness you hype. Surely you could have come up with a better headline and first paragraph. Surely you can do better. I know you can do better.

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Trump Recession. It's already happening.

Donald Trump’s says that America should re-elect him in 2020 because he’s doing such a great job with the economy.  Never mind that he’s been caught soliciting and cooperating with foreign interference in elections and obstructing justice, has locked kids in cages, and has been impeached. His foreign policy has also been a disaster. But according to Trump, he’s created “the best economy in history”, and that’s why we should vote for him.

Of course, it’s nowhere near the best economy in history, but it’s still a strong economy. At least that’s what most people believe. But is it really? A closer look reveals that the economy isn’t really all that great, and rather than an asset to Trump’s re-election, it should be a liability.

We can look at GDP growth numbers that have fallen far short of Trump’s promised 4-6% annual growth and clocked in at just 2.1% in the 4th quarter, similar to 2016 levels. We can look at job growth, which Trump loves to brag about, but has actually slowed since he took office. We can look at the slowdown in consumer spending.

But let’s talk about manufacturing. Bringing back manufacturing jobs was one of his top 2016 campaign promises.
Trump has said he will revitalize manufacturing in various iterations (i.e. "I’m going to be the greatest jobs president God ever created") and laid out how in his June 28 speech on the economy.
"I am going to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (and) I’m going tell our NAFTA partners that I intend to immediately renegotiate the terms of that agreement to get a better deal for our workers," he said. "I will use every lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes, including the application of tariffs."
Guess what? Not only has he failed to deliver, but right now, manufacturing is in the midst of a recession.
America's manufacturing downturn isn't letting up. Factory activity contracted for the fifth consecutive month in December, registering a worse drop than expected.
The Institute of Supply Management's manufacturing purchasing managers' index logged its lowest level since June 2009 at 47.2, compared with the consensus forecast of 49. It stood at 48.1 in November. Any number below 50 denotes a contraction.
Often, the president is given undeserved blame or credit for the performance of the economy under his watch. But this recession can be traced directly to Trump’s policies. His trade war is a major culprit.
Last week, the Federal Reserve argued in a paper that import tariffs hurt US manufacturing. "A positive effect from import protection is offset by larger negative effects from rising input costs and retaliatory tariffs," it said.
This is the Trump Recession. Never mind forecasts of whether or not there will be a recession in 2020. The Trump Recession is happening right now
Worse, that slowdown in manufacturing is hitting places Trump needs to win. Unemployment is rising in Ohio and Pennsylvania for the last six months, albeit from low levels, and manufacturing employment is slowly eroding through the Midwest, including Michigan and Wisconsin. Trade policy is a big reason why, and its fingerprints are all over today’s GDP report.
And that’s not the end of the bad news for Trump. The job numbers Trump has been touting are misleading. While there are a lot of people working, 57 million American workers are part of gig economy. That’s more that 1/3 of all employed Americans.

Gig economy jobs don’t provide benefits such as health insurance. It’s also hard to argue that Trump is in any way responsible for the creation of these jobs.

Trump has been the most divisive president ever, he’s up to his eyeballs in corruption, and he’s damaged America’s standing in the world. He has no choice but to run on the economy. But Democrats should not let him get away with it.

We’re in the midst of the Trump Recession, and we must make sure voters know it.