Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Last Call For Wage Slaves, Con't

Five Thirty Eight's Ben Casselman and Kathryn Casteel take a look at the relative uncharted economics of Seattle's $13 minimum wage on the way to $15, and reminds us that what may work economically in King County and SeaTac may not work for say, Bracken County, Kentucky.

As cities across the country pushed their minimum wages to untested heights in recent years, some economists began to ask: How high is too high
Seattle, with its highest-in-the-country minimum wage,1 may have hit that limit. 
In January 2016, Seattle’s minimum wage jumped from $11 an hour to $13 for large employers, the second big increase in less than a year. New research released Monday by a team of economists at the University of Washington suggests the wage hike may have come at a significant cost: The increase led to steep declines in employment for low-wage workers, and a drop in hours for those who kept their jobs. Crucially, the negative impact of lost jobs and hours more than offset the benefits of higher wages — on average, low-wage workers earned $125 per month less because of the higher wage, a small but significant decline. 
“The goal of this policy was to deliver higher incomes to people who were struggling to make ends meet in the city,” said Jacob Vigdor, a University of Washington economist who was one of the study’s authors. “You’ve got to watch out because at some point you run the risk of harming the people you set out to help.” 
The paper’s findings are preliminary and have not yet been subjected to peer review. And the authors stressed that even if their results hold up, their research leaves important questions unanswered, particularly about how the minimum wage has affected individual workers and businesses. The paper does not, for example, address whether displaced workers might have found jobs in other cities or with companies such as Uber that are not included in their data. 
Still, despite such caveats, the new research is likely to have big political implications at a time when the minimum wage has returned to the center of the economic policy debate. In recent years, cities and states across the country have passed laws and ordinances that will push their minimum wages as high as $15 over the next several years. During last year’s presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton called for the federal minimum wage to be raised to $12, and she faced pressure from activists to propose $15 instead. (The federal minimum wage is now $7.25 an hour.) Recently, however, the minimum-wage movement has faced backlash from conservatives, with legislatures in some states moving to block cities from increasing their local minimums.

The reality is while an $11 minimum wage had little to no deleterious effects, going to $13 is beginning to cause issues in at least one study.

Monday’s report looks at the impact of the second wage increase under the law: the January 2016 hike to $13 an hour for large employers. This time, the findings look very different: Compared to a counterfactual in which Seattle didn’t raise its minimum wage, the number of hours worked by low-wage workers (those earning less than $19 an hour) fell by 9.4 percent over the first nine months of 2016, and the number of low-wage jobs fell by 6.8 percent. Cumulatively, those add up to the losses of 5,000 jobs and 3.5 million hours of work. The average low-wage employee, they found, saw his or her monthly paycheck shrink by $125, or 6.6 percent. 
The study is far from the last word on the impact of Seattle’s law, let alone the $15 minimum wage movement more generally. Indeed, just last week another study used similar methods to reach seemingly the opposite conclusion: A report from the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, Berkeley, found that Seattle’s minimum wage, “raises pay without costing jobs,” as a press release on the study announced. 
The Berkeley study, however, looked exclusively at the restaurant industry. That has been a common practice in minimum-wage research, because the industry is one of the largest employers of low-wage workers. But the University of Washington study suggests a possible flaw in that approach: That research, too, found essentially no job losses in the restaurant sector as a result of the city’s minimum wage hike. That suggests that studies that focused on the restaurant industry might have missed larger effects in other sectors. (Michael Reich, one of the authors of the Berkeley study, said he was confident in his findings. Bernstein said focusing on restaurants, especially fast food, was a widely accepted approach that was well grounded in economic theory.) 
The Washington study has one big advantage over most past research: The authors had access to detailed data on the hours and earnings of nearly all employees in Washington state, allowing them to measure the effects of the minimum wage much more directly than is possible with less complete datasets.3 But the study has its own weaknesses. Because the researchers had data only for Washington state, they had only a limited pool of places they could compare Seattle to — a key step for figuring out the effects of the minimum wage policy. (The Berkeley paper, by contrast, compared Seattle to similar communities across the country.4
The Washington researchers also had to exclude many multilocation businesses, which means their sample could leave out major low-wage employers such as fast-food chains. Reich, in a letter to Seattle’s mayor responding to the study, called the findings “not credible” in part because they differed so much from those of past research. But Jeffrey Clemens, an economist at the University of California, San Diego who has studied the minimum wage, said it isn’t surprising that Seattle’s minimum wage would have an unusually big impact because it is so much higher than most other minimums. 
Even if the Washington study stands up to scrutiny — and it will get lots more scrutiny — it carries important caveats. Vigdor cautioned that the study makes no claims about individual workers: It is possible, for example, that workers who lost their jobs after the wage hike quickly found other jobs outside of Seattle, or that they made up for lost hours by driving for Uber. Neither shift would show up in the researchers’ data.

It's a cautionary tale, but again the categories of jobs and employers in the studies are not complete. What this really means is that we don't know what Seattle's minimum wage hikes will mean truly without more data and more expansive research.  Meanwhile, several other cities are set to join Seattle soon at that $15 point, and we'll have more data in more locations pretty rapidly over the next several years.

I know that's all pretty clinical when we're talking about a living wage for Americans out there working every day to put food on the table, but the issue has to be dealt with in a country where the federal minimum wage isn't a livable wage in any single county in the US.  That has to increase.  The question is "by how much".  We have one set of data points, but right now we're still largely in the "here be macroeconomic dragons" section of the chart.

However, keep in mind that the answer as long as the GOP is in charge is "it will never increase because we think that's already too high."

World War 3.0

The next evolution of warfare is being carried out in Ukraine today as the country's internet-enabled infrastructure is being systematically crippled by network attacks

Ukraine’s national bank, state power company and largest airport are among the targets of a huge cyber attack on government infrastructure. 
Rozenko Pavlo, the deputy Prime Minister, said he and other members of the Ukrainian government were unable to access their computers. 
“We also have a network 'down',” he wrote. “This image is being displayed by all computers of the government.” 
The photo showed his PC displaying a message claiming a disk “contains errors and needs to be prepared”, urging the user not to turn it off. 
Images from other affected computers and disabled cash points showed what appeared to be ransomware, demanding a payment of $300 (£235) in Bitcoin to re-gain access to encrypted files. 
Analysts said the virus, named Petrwrap or Petya, appeared to work similarly to the WannaCry ransomware that infected more than 230,000 computers in 150 countries last month. 
Ukrainian state-run aircraft manufacturer Antonov was among the companies hit, along with power distributorUkrenergo, which said the attack did not affect power supplies. 
The National Bank of Ukraine said an “unknown virus” was to blame, saying several unnamed Ukrainian banks were affected along with financial firms.

“As a result of cyber attacks, these banks have difficulties with customer service and banking operations,” a statement said.

No shots fired, no soldiers parachuting in, no tanks rolling across the roads, but still billions in damage.  And there really shouldn't be any question as to who's behind it.

The secretary of Ukraine's security council said there were signs of Russian involvement in a wave of cyberattacks that hit Ukrainian institutions on Tuesday, including banks and the state power distributor.

"Already on first analysis of the virus it is possible to talk of Russian fingerprints," the National Security and Defense Council quoted Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov as saying.

This is how wars will be fought going forward: critical transportation, corporate, medical, economic, logistic, and electrical infrastructure systems all crashed at once.  Of course, there will be plenty of old fashioned shooting and bombing too, but the era of including a cyber component of warfare in skirmishes between nation-states is upon us.

After all, our good friends the Russians know damn good and well that internet warfare works.

Just ask Donald Trump.

To Heller In A Handbasket

So the theory goes that vulnerable Nevada GOP Senator Dean Heller announced his opposition over the weekend to the Trumpcare Senate bill, and that some behind-the-scenes stuff would happen where Heller would get permission to vote no on it from Mitch McConnell and the bill still passes the Senate with 51 GOP votes instead of 52 when he has to face voters in 2018.  Heller can then say "Well I heard you and I voted no on it" and gets John McCain Maverick Points™, which he can trade in for another term.  That's the theory anyway, and I'm sure that's what Heller was expecting.

That theory just got burned to the ground this week along with possibly Dean Heller's career as the White House has now declared open season on his head.

A new campaign by top White House allies targeting the GOP’s most vulnerable senator over health care sends a loud message to those resistant to the Trump agenda: We’re coming after you. 
America First Policies, a White House-backed outside group led by the president’s top campaign advisers, has launched a $1 million attack against Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who on Friday announced that he opposed the Senate’s recently unveiled Obamacare repeal plan.

That included a Twitter and digital ad campaign targeting the senator, including a video that accuses him of “standing with” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a reviled figure in conservative circles. 
“Unacceptable,” the video says. “If you’re opposed to this bill, we’re opposed to you.” 
America First Policies is set to expand its campaign early this week with TV ads that will go after the Nevada senator. 
The offensive aims both to punish Heller and to sway his vote, and it is a stunning act of political retaliation against a member of the president’s own party — one who faces a perilous path to reelection in 2018. Senior Republicans, many of whom are deeply worried about Heller’s political standing and increasingly nervous about the midterms, were shocked and spent the weekend measuring the possible fallout.

It's one thing to say "Sorry Dean, nobody's getting a pass on this one, we need a united vote" and quite another thing to spend a million bucks to take out ads going after somebody in your own party. I'm trying to imagine the Obama White House doing this to Joe Manchin or something and I just can't.  It's ludicrous.

But the cold calculus is there: there are a lot more vulnerable Dems in 2018 in red states (ten of them!) then there are blue state Republicans, which currently consists solely of Dean Heller.  Losing Heller at this point is a calculated risk to make sure there are no surprises on this Senate bill vote.  I guess the White House figures there will still be a net gain of Senate Republicans in 2018 even if Heller loses, and frankly they're probably correct.

Also, it's still early enough to primary Heller off the island.  Former Utah GOP Sen. Bob Bennett only realized how awful the Trump GOP was on his deathbed last year after the Tea Party primaried him out of a career in 2010.  Heller's only finding out now that loyalty to Dear Leader or Else is the name of the game.

But that leaves the question of "What about the other GOP senators who are holding out?"  Maine's Susan Collins, Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski have all come out against the bill as too cruel, and Utah's Mike Lee, Texas's Ted Cruz and my local blockhead Rand Paul have come out saying the bill is not cruel enough.  None of those senators face re-election in 2018, so ads aren't going to matter.

But cold hard cash certainly will.  It's time for the "Let's Make A Deal" phase of the Senate GOP healthcare bill!

White House and Capitol Hill officials are exploring potential deals to divvy up billions of dollars to individual senators’ priorities in a wide-ranging bid to secure votes for the imperiled GOP health care bill. 
A Congressional Budget office score that projected 22 million fewer Americans would have insurance under the plan sent some members fleeing Monday and left the bill in jeopardy of failing to have enough votes to even be called to the Senate floor this week.

But Republicans in the White House and in Congress were pleasantly surprised that the bill included more savings than they expected — and are trying to figure out if they can dole it out for votes. 
The Senate has about $188 billion to play with. 
Among the possible changes: More spending for health savings accounts to appease conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, according to three people familiar with the matter, and some additional Medicaid and opioid spending for moderates. 
"We are still working with leadership to change the base bill," a Lee aide said. 
Lee, Cruz and others on the right have been looking to wipe out as much of Obamacare as possible and replace it with health savings accounts, group plans and selling insurance across state lines, among other ideas. It’s not clear if the Senate parliamentarian would allow all of those proposals through under strict reconciliation rules. And Lee will likely require far more dramatic changes to be won over. 
Meanwhile, senators from Medicaid expansion states huddled after the CBO score revealed the nearly $200 billion in savings to see if they could get GOP leaders to put more money into Medicaid and to thwart drug addiction. Those modifications may take place on the Senate floor, but Republicans are divided on how to use the money.

Let's keep in mind that this "windfall in savings" of nearly $200 billion comes from throwing tens of millions of people off Medicaid coverage.  Mitch McConnell is then going to turn around and take that money and try to bribe GOP senators with it.

That's how Republicans operate.


Monday, June 26, 2017

Last Call For Running The Numbers

To recap, this is what President Obama did for white people since the middle of his first term:

White America turned the country over to the GOP anyway.  When Reagan had to deal with a first term recession and was re-elected and brought white unemployment down from over 9% to 4% in his second term, the country gladly elected another Republican to follow him because he was a hero.

Obama did the same thing in a much worse recession but was reviled for it by the very people he helped the most.

But please tell me again it was "economic anxiety".

SCOTUS-Palooza, 2017 Edition

If it's the last Monday in June, it's time for the big Supreme Court rulings for the end of spring term, and as with 2014's awful Alito Hobby Lobby decision, 2015's Scalia EPA decision wrecking President Obama's clean power plant initiative,  and 2016's Breyer strikedown of Texas's TRAP laws regulating abortion clinics out of business , this year's final rulings were big news that will have lasting effects for years.

The big ruling is actually a future one: the Supreme Court will take up Trump's Muslim travel ban in October and for now has issued a messy partial stay, partial enforcement on the ban.

The Supreme Court announced on Monday that it would decide whether President Trump’s revised travel ban was lawful, setting the stage for a major decision on the scope of presidential power. 
Mr. Trump’s revised executive order, issued in March, limited travel from six mostly Muslim countries for 90 days and suspended the nation’s refugee program for 120 days. The time was needed, the order said, to address gaps in the government’s screening and vetting procedures. 
Two federal appeals courts have blocked critical parts of the order. 
The administration had asked that the the lower-court ruling be stayed while the case moves forward. The court granted part of that request in its unsigned opinion. 
We grant the government’s applications to stay the injunctions, to the extent the injunctions prevent enforcement of” Mr. Trump’s executive order “with respect to foreign nationals who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

Which means family members of US citizens or employees of US companies can't be banned, but that means that it looks like the burden of proof of said "bona fide relationship" would have to be on the person wishing to enter the US.  That's going to be spectacularly messy to enforce.

Worse, the Supreme Court even taking this up is a majorly bad sign.  We'll see in October when SCOTUS hears the case, but my guess is a ruling would come sooner rather than later given the Trump regime argument involving national security import that the Court clearly believes is relevant here.

We'll see where this goes.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

As I keep saying, the investigation into the Trump regime by Special Counsel Robert Mueller has three components: possible collusion with Russia on the election, possible money laundering through Russian firms (as possible payoff for the collusion) and possible obstruction of justice in covering up the first two components.

A Washington Post story from Sunday ties Trump son-in-law and campaign  consultant Jared Kushner to involvement in all three when Kushner profited handsomely from a real estate deal made through Germany's Deutsche Bank just before joining the Trump campaign in an official capacity.

The Deutsche Bank deal was one of the last Kushner orchestrated before joining the White House. It is among the dozens of complex transactions that he was involved with during his decade in the real estate business. 
Although Kushner divested some properties in an effort to address potential conflicts, he retains an interest in nearly 90 percent of his real estate properties, including the retail portion of the former New York Times headquarters, and holds personal debts and loan guarantees. 
The deal that led to the Deutsche Bank loan is rooted in a holiday party held in late 2014 at the Bowlmor bowling alley, which is located in the retail portion.

At the party, Kushner decided that the four retail floors of the building, while rundown, could be transformed into a thriving tourist destination, according to his associates.

The building passed through several owners after the newspaper sold the property for $175 million in 2004 to Tishman Speyer. Tishman sold it three years later for $525 million to a company called Africa-Israel Investments. (Those transactions prompted Trump a few months ago to poke fun at the Times, tweeting that the “dopes” at the newspaper “gave it away.”) 
Africa-Israel’s decision to purchase the building was made by its chairman, an Uzbek-born Israeli citizen, Lev Leviev. He is one of the world’s wealthiest men, known as the “King of Diamonds” for his extensive holdings in Africa, Israel and Russia. He was then expanding his real estate holdings in New York City.

Leviev told the New York Times shortly after the building’s purchase that he was a “true friend” of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, largely through his work with an influential Jewish organization in the former Soviet Union. The newspaper wrote that he kept a photo of Putin in his office in Israel. Leviev’s company said in a statement to The Post that Leviev “does not have a personal relationship” with Putin but has met him “on a few occasions.” Leviev’s statement said he was referring to his belief that “Mr. Putin has been a ‘true friend’ to the Jewish people in Russia.” 
In 2008, a year after the building’s purchase, Leviev invited Trump to his Madison Avenue store, an ultra-high-end establishment called Leviev Jewelry, where they were photographed together, according to the Leviev statement. Leviev hoped to work with Trump on Moscow real estate deals, according to an article in Kommersant, a Russian newspaper. The Leviev statement said that the two “never had any business dealings with one another, contrary to speculation.”

Six years later, Kushner saw an opportunity for his own company.

Leviev, whose company was having financial difficulties, according to an Israeli press account, sold the building’s 12-floor office portion for $160 million, a transaction that did not involve the four retail floors.

Leviev’s daughter, Chagit, took charge of her father’s U.S. subsidiary and set out to find a buyer for the retail portion of the building. The company said it would entertain offers no lower than $300 million. 
Kushner’s company offered $265 million, which was rejected. Kushner himself then negotiated with Chagit Leviev and others in 2015 and succeeded with a $296 million offer, according to an official involved in the matter.

“It was a very hard back-and-forth New York negotiating style,” said Kushner’s broker, Lon Rubackin. Leviev’s partner in the deal, Five Mile Capital, did not respond to a request for comment.
Few knew it at the time, but the negotiations were nearly consummated when Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, ran into Chagit Leviev on May 4, 2015, at an after-party for a Metropolitan Museum of Art gala — an encounter that was memorialized in a picture posted on Instagram. 
“Such a pleasure seeing ­@jaredckushner and his stunningly beautiful wife @ivankatrump last night [at] the #metball­afterparty,” Chagit Leviev wrote.

The deal was signed a week later and closed in October 2015. The Leviev company said in a statement to The Post that Kushner simply made the highest offer and “there was no political element to the transaction.”

Kushner took over a property that was only 25 percent leased, according to a company official. His company recruited tenants, offering some a year’s free rent to lock in long-term contracts, according to an SEC filing. As a result, the building was nearly fully leased, with higher rents, including new tenants such as National Geographic. 
The strategy paid off when Kushner’s company went to Deutsche Bank for refinancing. An appraisal cited in SEC filings for the package of mortgage-backed securities placed the value at $470 million, a 59 percent increase in a year. The bank declined to release the appraisal, but a person involved in the deal said that such a rapid increase was unusual when New York real estate was rebounding from recession, and credited Kushner for finding stellar tenants.

So Kushner just happens to end up making a crapton of money through a bank that was fined for not keeping sufficient tabs on Russian money laundering, and did so with the help of a major Russian oligarch friend of Putin's who just happens to be an expert in a relatively easy method of moving large amounts of cash through something like, I don't know, diamonds.

All this happens a month before Trump is elected.

Kushner didn't bother to disclose this deal that by all rights he should have been very proud of, following in his father-in-law's footsteps as a real estate business tycoon.

The cases against Deutsche Bank were then both settled within weeks of Trump taking office.

So much smoke here there's a probably a small volcano under midtown Manhattan.

But remember this is all fake news because Dear Leader Don says so.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Last Call For Conway Con Job, Con't

OK, I definitely needed to be over being mad at the Dems about Jon Ossoff, as several of you pointed out in the comments.  Let's not forget who the real bad guys here are, and that's the friggin Trump regime and their Queen of Propaganda, Kellyanne Conway.

Presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway asserted Sunday that the Senate health care bill does not propose cuts to Medicaid, despite projections that it would cut the federal health insurance program by $800 billion.

“These are not cuts to Medicaid," Conway said to ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" Sunday.

"This slows the rate for the future and it allows governors more flexibility for the future with Medicaid dollars,” she said.

If you are currently in Medicaid, if you became [a recipient] ... through the Obamacare expansion, you are grandfathered in. We’re talking about in the future,” Conway said.

When pressed by Stephanopoulos on how the proposal doesn’t amount to cuts when it directly curtails funding for Medicaid, Conway said the administration sees its actions as putting Medicaid back to pre-Obamacare levels.

We don’t see them as cuts, it’s slowing the rate of growth in the future and getting Medicaid back to where it was,” she said.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is expected to release its analysis of the impact of the Senate bill this week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hopes to bring the bill to a vote on the Senate floor before the July 4 recess.

That part about being "grandfathered in" is 100% nonsense.  What will really happen is that 1) states will be free under Trumpcare to spend Medicaid funds for whatever they want to do with them, and 2) the amount of funds from the federal government will be reduced.  It'll be then the fault of the states who will have to either raise revenue dramatically to "grandfather people in" or make steep cuts to Medicaid, not Trump or the GOP-led Congress, as nearly all states have to balance their budgets and can't go into deficit spending.

What the GOP is really hoping is that enough people lose that grandfather status because they won't be able to afford the massive increase in premiums they'll have to pay under the GOP plan, with the loss of premium subsidies under Obamacare.  Then, Republicans can say "Well, you didn't come up with your fair share of your insurance payments" and then they'll of course have to lose coverage.

Getting Medicaid back to where it was means tens of millions of people will no longer be on Medicaid, and it will be everyone's fault but Dear Leader Trump.

No wonder Republican governors like John Kasich, Brian Sandoval, and Charlie Baker are in full panic mode and publicly attacking Trumpcare.  They know what's coming for the GOP brand in their states.  And they know they're the ones who will have to present and sign ruthless austerity budgets under the "new and improved" GOP healthcare system.  If it doesn't do their party in come 2018, it'll definitely end them in 2020.

Sunday Long Read: To Serve And Neglect

HuffPost Highline gives us our Sunday Long Read for the week, as America's epidemic of domestic abuse is particularly grim when it comes to the abuser being a law enforcement officer.  Who watches the watchmen, indeed?

If domestic abuse is one of the most underreported crimes, domestic abuse by police officers is virtually an invisible one. It is frighteningly difficult to track or prevent—and it has escaped America’s most recent awakening to the many ways in which some police misuse their considerable powers. Very few people in the United States understand what really happens when an officer is accused of harassing, stalking, or assaulting a partner. One person who knows more than most is a 62-year-old retired cop named Mark Wynn.

Wynn decided to be a police officer when he was about 5 years old because he wanted to put his stepfather in prison. Alvin Griffin was a violent alcoholic who terrorized Wynn’s mother, a waitress and supermarket butcher. Looking back, Wynn compares his childhood in Dallas to living inside a crime scene. “There was always blood in my house,” he said.

The cops sometimes showed up, usually after a neighbor called to complain about the screaming, but they didn’t do much. Wynn doesn’t remember them ever talking to him or his four siblings. He does remember clinging to his mother while a police officer threatened to arrest her if they had to come back to the house again. “There was no one to help us,” he said. “We were completely isolated.” Wynn has often spoken of the time he tried to kill his stepfather when he was 7—how he and his brother emptied out the Mad Dog wine on Griffin’s bedside dresser and replaced it with Black Flag bug spray. A few hours later, Griffin downed the bottle as the boys waited in the living room. Griffin didn’t seem to notice anything wrong with the wine. But he didn’t die, either.

Years later, when Wynn was around 13 and all but one of his siblings had left home, he was watching television when he heard a loud crack that sounded like a gunshot. He found his mother splayed on the floor of their tiny kitchen, blood pooling around her face. Griffin had knocked her out with a punch to the head. Wynn watched as Griffin stepped over her, opened the fridge, pulled out a can of beer and drank it. That night, Griffin got locked up for public drunkenness and Wynn, his sister and his mother finally got out, driving to Tennessee with a few belongings. Griffin never found them.

Wynn became a police officer in the late 1970s and after a few years, he wound up in Nashville. Then as now, domestic complaints tended to be one of the most common calls fielded by police. And Wynn was disturbed to find that he was expected to handle them in much the same way as the cops from his childhood had—treat it as a family matter, don’t get involved. He remembers that officers would write cursory summaries on 3 by 5 inch “miscellaneous incident” cards rather than full reports. To fit what he regarded as essential details in the tiny space provided, Wynn would print “really, really small,” he said. “The officers I worked with used to get pissed off at me,” he added. They couldn’t understand why he bothered.

But Wynn had entered the force at a pivotal moment. In the late 1970s, women’s groups had turned domestic violence into a major national cause, and abused women successfully sued police departments for failing to protect them. Over the next decade, states passed legislation empowering police to make arrests in domestic incidents and to enforce protective orders. Wynn eagerly embraced these changes and in the late 1980s, the Department of Justice asked him to train police chiefs on best practices. He went on to lead one of the country’s first specialized investigative units for family violence. By the passage of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which poured more than $1 billion into shelters and law enforcement training, the U.S. was finally starting to treat domestic violence as a crime. “It was like stepping out of the Dark Ages,” Wynn said.

And yet when officers themselves were the accused, cases tended to be handled in the old way. Wynn would hear stories around his station, like an assailant who received a quiet talk from a colleague instead of being arrested. “Officers thought they were taking care of their fellow officer,” said David Thomas, a former police officer and a consultant for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). “But what they were doing was colluding with a criminal.”

It is nearly impossible to calculate the frequency of domestic crimes committed by police—not least because victims are often reluctant to seek help from their abuser’s colleagues. Another complication is the 1996 Lautenberg Amendment, a federal law that prohibits anyone convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse from owning a gun. The amendment is a valuable protection for most women. But a police officer who can’t use a gun can’t work—and so reporting him may risk the family’s livelihood as well as the abuser’s anger. Courts can be perilous to navigate, too, since police intimately understand their workings and often have relationships with prosecutors and judges. Police are also some of the only people who know the confidential locations of shelters. Diane Wetendorf, a domestic violence counselor who wrote a handbook for women whose abusers work in law enforcement, believes they are among the most vulnerable victims in the country.

This is where America needs to start cleaning up domestic abuse, with law enforcement personnel.  But it's not going to happen as long as we keep pretending police are above the law.

It's About Suppression, Con't

Yet another massive difference between Democrats and Republicans: House Democrats want to fix the Voting Rights Act, which has been fatally broken since before the 2016 election. Republicans will never let such legislation come to a vote.

House Democrats introduced legislation Thursday to restore parts of the Voting Rights Act while pledging to make the issue of voting rights a priority if the party wins in 2018.

On the eve of the four-year anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down key parts of the VRA, Rep. Terri Sewell, D-AL, told a crowd of voting rights advocates and supporters gathered on Capitol Hill that it is time to “restore the promise of voter equality.”

“Today, I’m introducing the Voting Rights Advancement Act because I believe that the right to vote is one of the most fundamental rights in our democracy,” Sewell said. “As state after state create new barriers to the polls, our work to prevent discrimination and protect the rights of all voters has taken on a new urgency. The time to restore the vote is now.”

The Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA) aims to modernize Section 4 of the VRA that the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder was outdated on June 25, 2013. Under the new act, local and state governments with a history of voter discrimination from the past 25 years would have to obtain federal approval before making changes to voting policies or procedures.

These states would include: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.

The bill has 180 Democratic co-sponsors, but has yet to garner support from across the aisle. Without it, the bill cannot forward in the Republican-controlled chamber.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, while calling on her GOP colleagues to make it a bipartisan measure, said the bill "will be introduced on the very first day" Democrats regain control of the House in 2018.

“We want people to understand they have the right to vote and their vote will be counted and counted as cast. Many people sacrificed so much for the right to vote in our country,” Pelosi said. "You have our commitment that this will become the law when we become the majority and we want it to become the law even before then."

I'm extremely glad that Democrats are focusing on this important issue, but there's no way it will ever pass as long as Republicans control the House, Senate, and/or the Oval Office.  And it's going to be extremely difficult to fix Congress and the White House before we fix rampant GOP voter suppression.

We need to start now.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Last Call For Awful Ossoff

Salon's Andrew O'Hehir has a pretty damning analysis of the failure of Democrats in Georgia's 6th district special election last Tuesday.

Furthermore, as I hinted earlier, the dominant liberal narrative about what happened in the Georgia Sixth is somewhere between highly misleading and complete fiction. If you’ve gotten the impression that the commuter hellscape of the northern Atlanta ‘burbs saw a surge of anti-Trump, pro-Democratic enthusiasm that wasn’t quiteenough to put Ossoff over the top, that’s 100 percent fake news. Want to know how many votes Ossoff picked up with all those millions of dollars in outside donations and all those doorbell-ringing volunteers? I will tell you: Essentially none.

No, it’s true. Ossoff received almost exactly the same vote total as the district’s previous Democratic nominee got against Tom Price in 2016. (In fact, he got 24 fewer votes than that guy. Twenty-four!) The race was close because Karen Handel underperformed drastically, getting about 66,000 fewer votes than Price did in November. I’m going to say that again: There were no Democratic gains in that district at all. The “vote shift” was entirely a matter of bummed-out Republicans staying home. The dynamic in Montana was similar, if slightly worse for both sides: Democrat Rob Quist got 40,000 fewer votes than the last defeated Democrat, while the infamous Greg Gianforte fell 95,000 votes short of previous GOP incumbent Ryan Zinke.

Maybe that’s the grand Democratic strategy for 2018: Depressed voter turnout! Republicans are bewildered about Trump, and if you can run somebody so bland and inoffensive that they don’t get pissed off, they might not show up at all. It would be a measure of karmic payback for the Koch brothers, I guess.

More seriously, those startling numbers from Georgia call into question the apparently reasonable premise that the only way Democrats could possibly compete there was to run a milquetoast moderate with no discernible ideology. You can’t win in an archetypal “Panera district” like that one (the theory holds) by terrifying the polite, professional white folks with vows to tax the rich, provide health care for all and jack up the price of that Cinnamon Dolce Light Frappuccino with a $15 minimum wage.

That might all be true, as a matter of electoral calculus. But if the Democrats are now playing the Republicans’ game of trying to shrink the opposing voter base instead of expanding their own, another Rubicon has been crossed in the degradation of democracy. Maybe an activist firebrand candidate might have expanded the Democratic base or motivated the district’s modest African-American population or done something, anything, beyond spending vast sums of money to accomplish literally nothing. Such a candidate might also might have sparked an intense Republican response and lost anyway, to be sure. But isn’t it better, in terms of morale and long-term strategy, to go down fighting on principle than to go down as a calculated nonentity?

Jon Ossoff was not a whole bunch of things: He had no political experience and no discernible ideology. He did not actually live in the district where he ran for Congress. (He did not look old enough to shave.) To his credit, he was not Donald Trump, not a Republican, not vicious or venal or insane, and those things formed the entire text of his campaign. Ossoff also did not win, and it would not have mattered much if he had. Instead of engineering a symbolic victory, his campaign drained an immense amount of money and activist energy into a black hole of disappointment and defeat.

It's really hard for me to look at Ossoff's loss at this point as anything other than a massive failure.  His biggest problem was running to get Romney voters, and they simply stayed home.  Not enough of them for Ossoff to win however, and there was every indication that if he did win, we'd have ended up with another useless Democrat like Kyrsten Sinema.

I'm not as cynical as Andrew here, but I do agree that the goal here must be to expand the Democratic base, not trade in base voters for Republicans sick of Trump.  We've gotten multiple attempts at failure now running like that.  Could another candidate have done better?  Maybe.  2018 is another attempt.  I hope the lesson is learned.

Time to act like Democrats, and not Republicans.  Even in Republican districts, we have to give voters a Democratic choice.

California Love (Not Hate)

California has had a state travel and business ban in place for four states over LGBT discrimination.  Now the sixth-largest economy on earth will no longer do business with four more states, including Texas and here in Kentucky.

Decrying a “scourge of discrimination” against LGBT individuals in four states, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra on Thursday doubled the number of states subject to California’s state-sponsored travel ban.

Speaking in San Francisco, Becerra increased the number of states that California state employees cannot travel to on official government business from four to eight.

The four additions — Alabama, Kentucky, South Dakota and Texas — each passed state legislation that took effect starting in March that Becerra alleged discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families.

“The state of California is not going to participate in discriminatory conduct by other states,” Becerra said.

The states join Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee on California’s list of banned states. The first four were put in place by then-Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Thursday marked Becerra’s first action on the matter since he took office, and he blamed the delayed rollout on the complications of analyzing four separate pieces of state legislation.

Under a California law that took effect in January, there are a number of exemptions to the ban on travel. The restrictions do apply to the University of California and other state schools.

But the attorney general’s office would not say whether the rules would prevent an athletic team — the California Golden Bears, for example — from playing an away game at one of the affected states. A representative said the office was reviewing the matter.

Asked about the consequences for California in refusing to do business with those states — especially Texas, which boasts the second-largest economy in the United States behind only California — Becerra paused.

“Texas is a big state,” he said, but “the consequences are real” for LGBT people in Texas and elsewhere.

He said he would not rule out adding more states.

California refusing to do business with Texas is a big, big story.  California's GDP is over two trillion yearly, Texas is just under that number.  If that ban does include college sports, well, that's going to be a major issue, especially here in Kentucky.

But there's consequences for codifying into law that LGBT citizens are second-class and can be discriminated against in every way in the name of "religious liberty".  I'm really hoping Eric Schneiderman and New York follow suit soon, especially in regards to Texas.  States no longer having access to Wall Street or Silicon Valley investments just might make them think twice.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

The other major development this week in the Trump/Russia story comes from Senate Intelligence Committee hearings this week, as senators wanted to get the FBI's director of counterintelligence operations, Bill Priestap, under oath.

A top FBI official investigating the Russian cyberattacks on the 2016 election would not say Wednesday whether President Donald Trump acted as an “unwitting agent” of the Kremlin during his presidential campaign. 
Bill Priestap, assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that Moscow “employed a multifaceted approach intended to undermine confidence in our democratic process,” including efforts to “discredit” Hillary Clinton and help elect Trump. 
Citing Priestap’s description of Russian efforts to “sow discord” in the United States, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) asked Priestap about the term “unwitting agent,” meaning an official duped into doing the bidding of a foreign power. 
Did Donald Trump become an unwitting agent of the Russians?” Heinrich asked. 
Priestap paused for several seconds, with the hearing room silent. 
I can’t really comment on that,” he said. 
“I don’t blame you for not answering that question,” Heinrich replied, to laughter.

Not really a laughing matter, but parsing Priestap's answer reveals that he easily could have said no if Trump wasn't an agent for Moscow.  He did not say that.

This appears to mean that Donald Trump was either working for Russia as a dupe...or on purpose and for other reasons.

Either scenario is absolutely shocking and should immediately disqualify Trump from the Oval Office.   You'd better believe both the FBI and Robert Mueller know damn well that Trump was working for his real boss Vlad. When this dam bursts folks, it's going to wipe out the GOP for a generation, but they keep plugging the leaks and praying that the dam holds.

It will not save them when the flood comes.

A Potentially Fatal Case Of Moscow Fatigue

This is how Trump gets away with it: America is getting tired of Trump's Russian perfidy and voters are starting to tune it out.  They want Congress to end the investigations and get back to "real" issues.

A majority of voters believe the Russia investigations are damaging to the country and are eager to see Congress shift its focus to healthcare, terrorism, national security, the economy and jobs. 
Those are the findings of the latest Harvard-Harris poll, provided exclusively to The Hill, which paint a complicated picture of voters’ opinions about the myriad probes that have engulfed the White House. 
Sixty-four percent of voters said the investigations into President Trump and Russia are hurting the country. Fifty-six percent of voters said it’s time for Congress and the media to move on to other issues, compared to 44 percent who said the focus should stay on Russia. 
But other surveys have found strong support for the special counsel investigating the Russia probe. A Harvard-Harris poll released last month found 75 percent support for former FBI Robert Mueller’s investigation. 
There is evidence in the Harvard-Harris survey that voters are taking the investigations seriously: 58 percent say they’re concerned by allegations of obstruction of justice against Trump, with the same number worried about possible dealings between Trump and the Russian government.

But far more — 73 percent — say they’re concerned that the Russia probes have caused Congress to lose focus on the issues important to them. That figure encompasses 81 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of independents and 68 percent of Democrats. 
“While the voters have a keen interest in any Russian election interference, they are concerned that the investigations have become a distraction for the president and Congress that is hurting rather than helping the country,” said Harvard-Harris co-director Mark Penn. “Most voters believe that the president's actions don't rise to the level of impeachable offenses, even if some of them were inappropriate.”

There's a reason that the right was more than eager to use the attacks on the Russia probe by the far left as cover, and this is the exact outcome showing exactly why.

Not only is my prediction that Trump will escape impeachment coming true, it looks like that America won't give a damn if the entire investigation is dropped and Mueller fired.  Indeed, the House Oversight Committee is already dropping its Russia probe. If that happens for the Senate as well, this country is done.

Meanwhile that package of tough new Senate sanctions against Russia just ran into the buzzsaw that is the House GOP, as they are now claiming the bill is null and void because it should have originated in the House, so nothing will happen there.

This is about as grim as it gets, guys.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Last Call For Immigration Nation

While Trump's executive order on punishing sanctuary cities by withholding tens of billions in federal law enforcement grant money remains tied up in the courts, House Republicans are moving forward to try to put the regime's immigration crackdown actions into federal law.

House Republicans are preparing to take up a pair of bills next week that crack down on illegal immigration, according to leadership sources, in a bid to carry out President Donald Trump's promise of tougher enforcement. 
One of the bills to see a floor vote, dubbed Kate's Law, boosts penalties for immigrants who try to re-enter the United States after being deported. It is named after Kate Steinle, a young woman who was shot and killed in San Francisco by an immigrant who had been deported repeatedly yet returned. Trump frequently discussed the killing on the campaign trail last year.

The second is legislation that goes after so-called sanctuary cities — localities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities, including by refusing to hold an immigrant in jail longer just so federal officials can pick him or her up to be deported. Sanctuary cities, usually liberal jurisdictions such as New York, have also been a major Trump target. 
The "No Sanctuaries for Criminals Act" would toughen penalties for sanctuary cities in multiple ways. For example, it would require that cities and counties comply with orders from federal immigration officials, such as "detainers" that keep immigrants in jail so they can be picked up for deportation. It would also bar Homeland Security and Justice Department grants from sanctuary cities that don't comply.

No shocker here, especially since the reasoning behind the judiciary holding up Trump's sanctuary city punishment order was the legal argument that he was exceeding his authority under the laws Congress has passed.  Simple solution: pass laws that give Trump the authority to do just that and render the argument moot.

Of course getting such a measure through the Senate may be a different matter, but for now, this is just the latest salvo in a a long, long battle.

Black Lives Still Matter, Con't

As widely expected here in Cincinnati, the retrial of Sam DuBose's killer has resulted in a second mistrial declaration as jurors were unable to reach a verdict for the charges against former UC police officer Ray Tensing.

For a second time, a jury has been unable to agree on whether Ray Tensing was justified when he fatally shot Sam DuBose during a traffic stop. 
Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Leslie Ghiz on Friday shortly after 2 p.m. declared a mistrial, after the jury of nine women and three men said they could not agree on verdicts for either murder or voluntary manslaughter. 
"We are almost evenly split regarding our votes," the jurors wrote to Ghiz. 
Tensing’s first trial last year also ended with the jury deadlocked. Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters must now decide whether to seek a third trial. 
Jurors deliberated more than 30 hours over five days. They asked three questions during that time, court officials said. 
The last question came Friday morning, when the jury told Ghiz they were unable to reach a unanimous decision on either count. “How should we proceed?” they asked.
Ghiz called them into the courtroom and ordered them to continue deliberating, saying, “Hopefully you’re able to resolve your deadlock.” 
Jurors couldn’t resolve that deadlock in a case involving the 2015 fatal shooting of DuBose, an unarmed African-American man who tried to drive away from a traffic stop. Tensing, then a 25-year-old University of Cincinnati police officer, said he feared for his life after his arm became trapped inside DuBose’s car.

At this point I would expect County Prosecutor Joe Deters to pack it in and not seek a retrial.  It's pretty obvious that Tensing will never be convicted, as 99% of police officers charged with killings simply skate on the "feared for my life" defense.

If the victim isn't white it seems, police can kill with impunity.

But black lives matter.  I will never stop believing in that, or stop saying it, even if I'm the only one.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Today's major Trump/Russia story comes courtesy of the Washington Post, who has put together a comprehensive timeline of Moscow's interference in America's 2016 elections that involves multiple major scoop stories.  First, the basics: We know Vladimir Putin himself ordered an assault on the vulnerable US election system in order to help elect Donald Trump.

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race. 
But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump
At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election were increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks.
But at the highest levels of government, among those responsible for managing the crisis, the first moment of true foreboding about Russia’s intentions arrived with that CIA intelligence. 
The material was so sensitive that CIA Director John Brennan kept it out of the President’s Daily Brief, concerned that even that restricted report’s distribution was too broad. The CIA package came with instructions that it be returned immediately after it was read. To guard against leaks, subsequent meetings in the Situation Room followed the same protocols as planning sessions for the Osama bin Laden raid. 
It took time for other parts of the intelligence community to endorse the CIA’s view. Only in the administration’s final weeks in office did it tell the public, in a declassified report, what officials had learned from Brennan in August — that Putin was working to elect Trump
Over that five-month interval, the Obama administration secretly debated dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia, including cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin and sanctions that officials said could “crater” the Russian economy. 
But in the end, in late December, Obama approved a modest package combining measures that had been drawn up to punish Russia for other issues — expulsions of 35 diplomats and the closure of two Russian compounds — with economic sanctions so narrowly targeted that even those who helped design them describe their impact as largely symbolic. 
Obama also approved a previously undisclosed covert measure that authorized planting cyber weapons in Russia’s infrastructure, the digital equivalent of bombs that could be detonated if the United States found itself in an escalating exchange with Moscow. The project, which Obama approved in a covert-action finding, was still in its planning stages when Obama left office. It would be up to President Trump to decide whether to use the capability. 
In political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy. It was a case that took almost no time to solve, traced to the Kremlin through cyber-forensics and intelligence on Putin’s involvement. And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences.

President Obama chose to trust the American people to do the right thing.  Despite all the evidence against Trump, America failed Obama, and we failed ourselves.  It's easy to say Obama should have done more, should have revealed Trump's perfidy months before, should have shown the country that Putin wanted chaos.  You can make the argument that doing so could have gotten Putin exactly the results he wanted.

But what you cannot argue is that in the end, sixty million plus people thought Donald Trump would make a good president.  It is those voters who truly failed us, and who did the real work of destroying our democracy beyond anything Putin could have possibly dreamed.

Trump voters helped destroy this country.  Period.  This was a brazen, full-blown assault on our country, and we had a fifth column a mile-high, and right now our lawmakers are happily deciding how many millions of us will lose health care coverage so that the richest of us can get even more tax breaks.  And they enabled this.

We've seen the enemy, as the old Pogo adage goes.  They are us.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Last Call For Automation Nation

First Wendy's announced a pilot program already under way, now McDonald's is going to replace thousands of cashiers with automated kiosk terminals.

McDonald's shares hit an all-time high on Tuesday as Wall Street expects sales to increase from new digital ordering kiosks that will replace cashiers in 2,500 restaurants.

Cowen raised its rating on McDonald's shares to outperform from market perform because of the technology upgrades, which are slated for the fast-food chain's restaurants this year.

McDonald's shares rallied 26 percent this year through Monday compared to the S&P 500's 10 percent return.

Andrew Charles from Cowen cited plans for the restaurant chain to roll out mobile ordering across 14,000 U.S. locations by the end of 2017. The technology upgrades, part of what McDonald's calls "Experience of the Future," includes digital ordering kiosks that will be offered in 2,500 restaurants by the end of the year and table delivery.

"MCD is cultivating a digital platform through mobile ordering and Experience of the Future (EOTF), an in-store technological overhaul most conspicuous through kiosk ordering and table delivery," Charles wrote in a note to clients Tuesday. "Our analysis suggests efforts should bear fruit in 2018 with a combined 130 bps [basis points] contribution to U.S. comps [comparable sales]."

He raised his 2018 U.S. same store sales growth estimate for the fast-food chain to 3 percent from 2 percent.

The analyst raised his price target for McDonald's to $180 from $142, representing 17.5 percent upside from Monday's close. He also raised his 2018 earnings-per-share forecast to $6.87 from $6.71 versus the Wall Street consensus of $6.83.

"MCD has done a great job launching popular innovations within the context of simplifying the menu, while introducing more effective value initiatives that have recently begun to improve the brand's value perceptions," he wrote.

Of course Wall Street loves replacing several thousands of jobs with machines.  More profit!  Of course, if everyone automates, who's going to actually have money to pay for things?

Thirteen years ago, two prominent U.S. economists wrote that driverless cars couldn’t execute a left turn against oncoming traffic because too many factors were involved. Six years later, Google proved it could make fully autonomous cars, threatening the livelihoods of millions of truck and taxi drivers. Throughout much of the developed world, gainful employment is seen as almost a fundamental right. But what if, in the not-too-distant future, there won’t be enough jobs to go around? That’s what some economists think will happen as robots and artificial intelligence increasingly become capable of performing human tasks. Of course, past technological upheavals created more jobs than they destroyed. But some labor experts argue that this time could be different: Technology is replacing human brains as well as brawn.

When politicians talk about jobs, they tend to focus on iconic, goods-producing industries, such as mining, steel production and auto making, that have traditionally been the hardest hit by global competition and technological progress. Lately, though, the loss of manufacturing jobs in the U.S. pales in comparison to the much larger losses in parts of the services sector.

Overall, services accounted for three-fourths of the job losses among more than 350 sectors of the private economy in the last year. That’s a big shift from previous decades, when goods-producing categories tended to suffer the most losses.

In the U.S., for example, department stores employ 25 times more workers than coal mining companies. And as customers increasingly purchased goods via the internet, average employment in the first four months of 2017 was down 26,800 from the same period a year earlier, against just 2,800 job losses in coal.

The effect on labor markets of free-trade agreements and increased immigration has already caused significant political upheaval, as the resurgence of populism in the U.S. and Europe demonstrates. But some economists believe that the world is on the cusp of much bigger change, on the scale of the revolution brought about by industrialization in the 18th and 19th centuries. Researchers at the University of Oxford estimate that nearly half of all U.S. jobs may be at risk in the coming decades, with lower-paid occupations among the most vulnerable.

What jobs will today's kids actually have twenty years from now?  Odds are very good the answer will be "they won't have one."  Doctors, dentists, and CEOs will still be with America for decades, but any job that requires say, analysis, repetitive motion, or lots of math?  Kiss it goodbye.  Bookkeepers, actuaries, insurance underwriters, loan officers, and short-order cooks?  Not going to be a lot of those a couple decades from now.  If your job involves a computer and a phone, and you never meet face to face with anyone, I've got bad, bad news for you.

It's going to be a mess for the rest of my lifetime, and probably that of your kid's lifetime as well.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

As I've been saying for a while, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Trump and Russia has three components: one, possible collusion with Russian hackers to damage our elections, two, long-time money laundering through Russian firms, and three, obstruction of justice in attempting to cover up one and two.

It's that second one, the money laundering, where we have the most evidence so far.  Tim O'Brien at Bloomberg covers this angle of the story, and it's very grim for Team Trump.

Trump has repeatedly labeled Comey's and Mueller's investigations "witch hunts," and his lawyers have said that the last decade of his tax returns (which the president has declined to release) would show that he had no income or loans from Russian sources. In May, Trump told NBC that he has no property or investments in Russia. "I am not involved in Russia," he said. 
But that doesn't address national security and other problems that might arise for the president if Russia is involved in Trump, either through potentially compromising U.S. business relationships or through funds that flowed into his wallet years ago. In that context, a troubling history of Trump's dealings with Russians exists outside of Russia: in a dormant real-estate development firm, the Bayrock Group, which once operated just two floors beneath the president's own office in Trump Tower. 
Bayrock partnered with the future president and his two eldest children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, on a series of real-estate deals between 2002 and about 2011, the most prominent being the troubled Trump Soho hotel and condominium in Manhattan. 
During the years that Bayrock and Trump did deals together, the company was also a bridge between murky European funding and a number of projects in the U.S. to which the president once lent his name in exchange for handsome fees. Icelandic banks that dealt with Bayrock, for example, were easy marks for money launderers and foreign influence, according to interviews with government investigators, legislators, and others in Reykjavik, Brussels, Paris and London. Trump testified under oath in a 2007 deposition that Bayrock brought Russian investors to his Trump Tower office to discuss deals in Moscow, and said he was pondering investing there. 
"It's ridiculous that I wouldn't be investing in Russia," Trump said in that deposition. "Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment." 
One of Bayrock's principals was a career criminal named Felix Sater who had ties to Russian and American organized crime groups. Before linking up with the company and with Trump, he had worked as a mob informant for the U.S. government, fled to Moscow to avoid criminal charges while boasting of his KGB and Kremlin contacts there, and had gone to prison for slashing apart another man’s face with a broken cocktail glass. 
In a series of interviews and a lawsuit, a former Bayrock insider, Jody Kriss, claims that he eventually departed from the firm because he became convinced that Bayrock was actually a front for money laundering. 
Kriss has sued Bayrock, alleging that in addition to laundering money, the Bayrock team also skimmed cash from the operation, dodged taxes and cheated him out of millions of dollars. Sater and others at Bayrock would not comment for this column; in court documents they have contested Kriss's charges and describe him, essentially, as a disgruntled employee trying to shake them down.

These are the guys Trump has worked with for years, and now he's pretending he never did.  What sort of leverage Bayrock -- and by logic, Russia -- now has on him, well, I hope Mueller gets to the bottom of all this and soon.  That Bayrock to Sater to Putin line is blood red, emphasis on blood.

Only fitting that Trump is caught up in all this.

The Senate GOP Trumpcare Bill Is Awful Too

As widely expected, the Senate Republican version of Trumpcare is also a raging dumpster fire that will kick tens of millions off their current insurance and wreck the market for tens of millions more. In several ways it may actually be worse than the House GOP version of the bill.

Senate leaders on Wednesday were putting the final touches on legislation that would reshape a big piece of the U.S. health-care system by dramatically rolling back Medicaid while easing the impact on Americans who stand to lose coverage under a new bill. 
A discussion draft circulating Wednesday afternoon among aides and lobbyists would roll back the Affordable Care Act’s taxes, phase down its Medicaid expansion, rejigger its subsidies, give states wider latitude in opting out of its regulations and eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood
The bill largely mirrors the House measure that narrowly passed last month but with some significant changes aimed at pleasing moderates. While the House legislation tied federal insurance subsidies to age, the Senate bill would link them to income, as the ACA does. The Senate proposal cuts off Medicaid expansion more gradually than the House bill,\ but would enact deeper long-term cuts to the health-care program for low-income Americans. It also removes language restricting federally subsidized health plans from covering abortions, which may have run afoul of complex budget rules. 
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) intends to present the draft to wary GOP senators at a meeting Thursday morning. McConnell has vowed to hold a vote before senators go home for the July 4 recess, but he is still seeking the 50 votes necessary to pass the major legislation under arcane budget rules. A handful of senators, from conservatives to moderates, are by no means persuaded that they can vote for the emerging measure.

Aides stress that the GOP plan is likely to undergo more changes to garner the 50 votes Republicans need to pass it. Moderate senators are concerned about cutting off coverage too quickly for those who gained it under the ACA, also known as Obamacare, while conservatives don’t want to leave big parts of the ACA in place.

So it wouldn't be as stridently anti-women as the House version, but it would make deeper cuts to Medicaid over a longer period of time, resulting in even more long-term damage.  At this point calling your local Senate office is a really smart idea, because if this passes, tens of millions of Americans are going to lose coverage outright, will be unable to get new coverage thanks to "pre-existing conditions" and millions more will be locked out by lifetime or annual limits on treatments on group plans.

In other words, we'll be back to the bad old days of the Bush era, only with Medicaid block grants and one in five Americans not having insurance.

And believe me, my two Senators will absolutely vote to take insurance from half a million here in Kentucky and won't lose a wink of sleep.  Your state may fare better, so make those phone calls.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Last Call For A De-Pressing Development, Con't

Buried in this NYT story on Trump regime mouthpiece Sean Spicer being horrible at his job is another nasty Dear Leader trial balloon: decreeing that the daily press briefing be limited to weekly state-run propaganda blurbs with pre-approved topics only.

The biggest shift Mr. Trump is discussing is a dramatic change to the briefing room schedule, including limiting briefings that he has described as a “spectacle” to once a week and asking reporters to submit written questions. Some of Mr. Trump’s outside advisers, including the Fox News host Sean Hannity, have urged him to curtail the freewheeling — and often embarrassing — barrage of questions. Mr. Trump has been particularly irked by CNN, and other allies such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have suggested banning the cable network.

“Donald Trump might as well get behind the podium himself, as the press coverage is the part of his presidency he cares the most deeply about,” said Tim Miller, who was communications director for Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign. “You can’t be a credible press secretary when your boss makes you tell preposterous lies. You can’t be a credible press secretary when you don’t know what your boss thinks on key issues because he changes his mind depending on the last person he talked to.”

And even with Spicer being "promoted" out of the job, finding a replacement to read the weekly Trump regime press release is still pretty hard.  Trump doesn't want a press secretary, he wants a FOX News talking head.

Among the candidates: Laura Ingraham, the conservative radio host, about whom Trump advisers remain “iffy”; Kimberly Guilfoyle, the Fox News commentator who said publicly that Mr. Trump had called her in recent weeks (she said she didn’t want the job); and David Martosko, an editor for The Daily Mail who was briefly considered for the role during the transition and has been talked about for other roles now (White House aides said he was liked by Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, but was never under serious consideration and put out a statement withdrawing his name).

So we're about one more major Trump-Russia leak from Tang the Conqueror reducing the White House to being, well, the Kremlin.

But maybe he'll pivot, right press flacks?

We'll Pass, Thanks

Looks like the Congressional Black Caucus has seen the light (or the darkness in this case) as the Trump regime has consistently rolled back civil rights and voting rights protections for African-Americans, and now the caucus isn't going to let Trump bait it into being used for feel-good photo ops anymore.

The Congressional Black Caucus is expected to reject an invitation to meet with President Donald Trump, according to four sources close to the group. 
The Trump administration, sources said, has done nothing to advance the CBC's priorities since the group's executive board first met with Trump in March. And members are worried the request for a caucus-wide meeting would amount to little more than a photo op that the president could use to bolster his standing among African-Americans.

“No one wants to be a co-star on the reality show,” said one senior Democratic aide. 
Lawmakers in the 49-member group each received an invitation last week from Omarosa Manigault, the-reality-TV-star-turned-White-House-aide who has pitched herself as an unofficial liaison to the CBC. 
“As requested by the president, we would like to schedule a follow-up meeting with the entire membership of the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss issues pertinent to your members,” Manigault wrote in the invitation, obtained by POLITICO. 
But multiple CBC members said they were put off that she signed the invitation as “the Honorable Omarosa Manigault,” saying she hasn’t earned that title nor has she helped raise the profile of CBC issues within the White House as promised.

Considering how Trump treated HBCU presidents earlier this year by inviting them to meet with him and then turning around and proposing massive education budget cuts to colleges and universities, I don't blame the CBC one bit.  They should loudly oppose Trump's plans as a group and make sure that voters everywhere know exactly how much damage this regime is doing to black communities through the destruction of voting rights, civil service jobs, infrastructure scams, public housing and education cuts, Medicaid and Obamacare repeal, and stripping executive branch civil rights offices.

This is the first useful thing the CBC has done in year, frankly.  Bet you wish you had Obama back, huh?

Still Close, Still No Cigars

Democrats got awfully close last night in two special House elections, one in Georgia-06, the other in SC-05, but Republicans kept their seats in districts that voted for GOP incumbents by more than 20 points in November.  Democrats have gone 0-4 in these districts in special elections this year now, and that's prompting some to say that just running against the increasingly unpopular Trump is no longer an option.

To win in 2018, Democrats will have to find opportunities to do better, but it’s certainly an achievable goal. The fact that the district was competitive is a sign that the GOP majority is at risk; the question is simply what can Democrats do to put themselves over the top?

One thing they might want to try is developing a substantive policy agenda to run on. They came close this time, and they’ll just need to put forth an attractive package for voters in the 2018 midterms.

Ossoff, like so many losing Democratic candidates over the years, was brought down fundamentally by arguments grounded in identity politics.

Karen Handel didn’t argue that the Republican Party’s health care bill is a good idea (it’s very unpopular) or that tax cuts for millionaires should be the country’s top economic priority (another policy that polls dismally). Instead, her campaign and its allies buried Ossoff under a pile of what basically amounts to nonsense — stuff about Kathy Griffin, stuff about Samuel L. Jackson, stuff about his home being just over the district line, stuff about him having raised money from out of state — lumped together under the broad heading that he’s an “outsider.”

Much of this was unfair or ridiculous. And the stuff that wasn’t unfair — like the location of his home — is honestly pretty silly. None of this has anything to do with the lives of actual people living in the suburbs of Atlanta or anywhere else.

Ossoff’s team was aware, of course, that the district is not accustomed to voting for Democrats and that he was vulnerable to this kind of attack. They attempted to counter this move by positioning Ossoff as blandly as possible — just a kind of nice guy who doesn’t like Donald Trump — and dissociating him from any hard-edged ideas or themes. It’s a strategy that makes a certain amount of sense, but it also makes it hard to mobilize potential supporters. And by lowering the concrete stakes in the election, it also makes it easier for trivial and pseudo-issues to end up dominating in the end.

I hate to say that Yglesias has a point here, but he does.  Outrage will bring Republicans to the polls every time.  Democrats need more to bother to show up to vote.

Yes, there's no such thing as a safe seat for the GOP this year, but it still means that Democrats need more than "Trump sucks" to win in a lot of these districts where Republicans have a massive advantage due to gerrymandering.

Still, a district where the GOP won by 20 in November was only 6 now.  In a closer district Ossoff would have won.  And there are 70 or 80 closer districts out there for next year.
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