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Why Is Mick Mulvaney Complaining About CBO’s Score of the Republican Health Care Bill?

Mother Jones

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Republicans have a problem. The party of fiscal discipline and a balanced budget really, really wants to pass a tax cut for the rich that will blow up the deficit. Unfortunately, Senate PAYGO rules don’t allow this,1 and Democrats can filibuster any attempt to change those rules.

But there’s a metaphysical issue embedded here: how can you know—really know—that a bill will increase the deficit? That’s like seeing into the future! What godlike intelligence could possibly do that? It’s impossible!

Nonetheless, in our fallen state this task has been given to the Congressional Budget Office. And they have an annoying tendency to produce results that Republicans don’t like. So Trump’s budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, is making the case that we should get rid of the CBO entirely:

“I would do my own studies here at OMB…And other folks would do their studies from the outside. And those would come with their natural biases. The Heritage Foundation comes in and says it’s going to cost a lot. Brookings comes in or the Center for American Progress says the benefits would be great.

….Asked what would happen in a scenario in which, say, a Democratic administration says a bill costs $500 billion and Heritage Foundation puts out a report saying the same bill would cost trillions, Mulvaney responded, “Then they would do it and if it works, they would get re-elected and if it doesn’t, they don’t. And that was the way it worked before the Congressional Budget Office.”

In other words, there would be no rules at all. You’d just do whatever you wanted, and if you get reelected it must mean you were right. This is a fascinating ontological approach to budget estimation.

But what’s more fascinating is Mulvaney’s pretense that what he’s really upset about is the CBO’s score of the Republican health care bill:

Mulvaney was particularly critical of the CBO’s recent estimate that the House-passed healthcare bill would result in 23 million fewer people with health insurance. He argued that the CBO’s model assumed that the mandate requiring individuals obtain coverage has a lot more influence on people’s decisions than it does in real life.

“Did you see the methodology on that 23 million people getting kicked off their health insurance?” he said. “You recognize of course that they assume that people voluntarily get off of Medicaid? That’s just not defensible. It’s almost as if they went into it and said, ‘Okay, we need this score to look bad. How do we do it?'”

But CBO’s most recent estimate says the health care bill will reduce the deficit by about $100 billion. Mulvaney has no beef with this, nor any reason to be upset about the estimate of 23 million people losing insurance, since that’s the very thing that reduces costs enough to make the bill compliant with PAYGO rules. So why is Mulvaney kvetching about this?

In fact, Mulvaney doesn’t care a fig about AHCA. He’s just preparing the ground for an assault on the CBO when it comes time to score his cherished tax bill. A few years back Republicans finally badgered the CBO into accounting for the “dynamic” effects of tax cuts, but they’ve never been satisfied with CBO’s refusal to use the most fanciful dynamic models, which assume that tax cuts pay for themselves entirely. And CBO is obstinate about this even with a Republican in charge! What to do?

Answer: Get rid of the CBO. But Democrats would filibuster any attempt to do that. So what is Mulvaney up to? Just this: it turns out that the Senate Budget Committee isn’t actually required to use CBO estimates. They always have in the past, but that’s a custom, not a rule. They have the authority to make their own estimates, and all it takes to make them stick is a majority vote in the committee.2

Mulvaney is basically trying to start up a campaign to put some spine into the SBC’s Republican members to ignore the CBO and simply score the tax bill using a model that will pronounce it deficit-neutral. That’s what this is all about.

1The House has no PAYGO rules for tax cuts.

2There are also Byrd Rule problems with the tax cut bill, but Republicans already think they might have a way around those.

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Why Is Mick Mulvaney Complaining About CBO’s Score of the Republican Health Care Bill?

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Trump Is Already Guilty of Aiding Putin’s Attack on America

Mother Jones

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The Trump-Russia scandal is the subject of multiple investigations that may or may not unearth new revelations, but this much is already certain: Donald Trump is guilty.

We don’t need additional information about the Russian covert scheme to undermine the 2016 campaign, or about the curious interactions between Team Trump and Russia, or about Trump pressuring and then firing FBI Director James Comey, to reach the judgment that the president of the United States engaged in wrongdoing.

From the start, Trump and his crew have claimed they had nothing to do with the hack-and-leak operation mounted by Russian intelligence to help Trump nab the presidency. They have dismissed the matter as fake news, and they have insisted there is no issue because there has been no proof that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia. In May, for instance, Trump proclaimed, “Believe me, there’s no collusion.” Nothing to see; move along.

Explicit collusion may yet be proved by the FBI investigation overseen by special counsel Robert Mueller or by other ongoing probes. But even if it is not, a harsh verdict can be pronounced: Trump actively and enthusiastically aided and abetted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plot against America. This is the scandal. It already exists—in plain sight.

Did Team Trump conspire with the Kremlin? Here’s a timeline of everything we now know about the attack on the 2016 election.

As soon as the news broke a year ago that the Russians had penetrated the Democratic National Committee’s computer systems, Trump launched a campaign of denial and distraction. For months, he refused to acknowledge the Kremlin’s role. He questioned expert and government findings that pinned the blame on Moscow. He refused to condemn Putin. Far from treating these acts of information warfare seriously, he attempted to politicize and delegitimize the evidence. Meanwhile, he and his supporters encouraged more Russian hacking. All told, Trump provided cover for a foreign government’s attempt to undermine American democracy. Through a propaganda campaign of his own, he helped Russia get away with it. As James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, testified to Congress this spring, Trump “helps the Russians by obfuscating who was actually responsible.”

On June 15, 2016, the day after the Washington Post reported that the DNC had been hacked and that cybersecurity experts had identified two groups linked to the Russian government as the perps, Trump’s campaign issued a statement blaming the victim: “We believe it was the DNC that did the ‘hacking’ as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader.” The intent was obvious: to impede somber consideration of the Russian intervention, to have voters and reporters see it as just another silly political hullabaloo.

Help us dig deep on Trump’s ties to Russia. Make a tax-deductible monthly or one-time donation to Mother Jones today.

In the following weeks, Trump continued to claim the Russia story was fiction. After WikiLeaks dumped nearly 20,000 DNC emails—a move that nearly blew up the Democratic convention—Trump tweeted, “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me.” Two days later, he proclaimed at a news conference, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” Trump supporters including Rep. Mike Pompeo, who would become Trump’s CIA director, and Roger Stone, the longtime political dirty trickster, cheered on WikiLeaks.

By midsummer, numerous cyber experts had bolstered the conclusion that Russia was behind the hacks. And President Barack Obama echoed those findings. So anyone paying attention to the facts—say, a presidential candidate and his advisers—would have been aware of this fundamental point. Indeed, in August, during his first intelligence briefing as the Republican presidential nominee, Trump was reportedly told that there were direct links between the hacks and the Russian government.

Still, he didn’t change his tune. During a September 8 interview with RT, the Kremlin-controlled broadcaster that has been accused of disseminating fake news and propaganda, Trump discounted the Russian connection: “I think maybe the Democrats are putting that out. Who knows, but I think it’s pretty unlikely.” (Yes, he did this on RT.) He repeated a similar line at the first presidential debate at the end of that month, with his famous reference to how the DNC hacker “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, okay?”

The Spy Who Wrote the Trump-Russia Memos: It Was “Hair-Raising” Stuff

Private experts and US intelligence had already determined that Russia had pulled off this caper. Trump had been told this. Yet he continued to deny Russia’s culpability, actively protecting Moscow.

Many Republicans followed his lead. Trump’s stance—treating a widely shared conclusion as controversial speculation—essentially foreclosed a vigorous and bipartisan response to the Moscow intervention. It is hard to imagine how this did not embolden Russian intelligence and reinforce Putin’s belief that he had backed the right horse.

On October 7, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence blew the whistle on Moscow, issuing a statement that the DNC hack and related cyberattacks had been authorized by “Russia’s senior-most officials.” Yet Trump remained on the side of the enemy. That same day, the now notorious grab-them-by-the-pussy video surfaced—and less than an hour after that story broke, WikiLeaks began releasing thousands of stolen emails from John Podesta, the Clinton campaign’s chairman. Trump’s response, at the second presidential debate: “I notice, anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say ‘the Russians.’ Well, Hillary Clinton doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking.” The next day at a campaign rally, Trump, citing some of the Podesta emails, exclaimed, “I love WikiLeaks!”

What could be better for Putin? The US government had called him out, yet the GOP presidential candidate was discrediting this conclusion. Trump made it tougher for Obama and the White House to denounce Putin publicly—to do so, they feared, would give Trump cause to argue they were trying to rig the election against him.

At the final debate, Clinton accurately summed up Trump’s position: “It’s pretty clear you won’t admit that the Russians have engaged in cyberattacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people.” Trump replied, “Our country has no idea” who pulled off the hacks.

Read about the disturbing Trump-Russia dossier, whose existence was first reported by MoJo’s David Corn.

After the election, he maintained this stance. “It’s time for the country to move on,” he said in December. Two weeks later, after the US intelligence establishment released a report concluding Putin had implemented this covert op to install Trump in the White House, the president-elect compared the intelligence community to Nazi Germany. Though he did at one point concede Russia was the culprit, Trump continued calling the Russia story a hoax whipped up by Democrats and eventually reverted to form, asserting that the hacks might have been waged by China or others. And he still showed no signs of confronting Putin. At the Russian leader’s request, he jovially hosted the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the Oval Office—and then disclosed top-secret information to them. Moreover, he did this the day after brazenly ousting Comey, who was overseeing the bureau’s probe of Moscow’s meddling and links between Trump associates and Russia.

It’s been common for political observers to say the Trump-Russia controversy has generated a great deal of smoke, but the amount of fire is yet to be determined. It’s true that the various links tying Trump and his associates to Russia have yet to be fully explained. Many questions remain: Was there any specific coordination? If not, did the Trump camp privately signal to Moscow that Russia would get a better deal if Trump were elected? That alone would have provided encouragement for Putin to attack.

This country needs a thorough and public investigation to sort out how the Russian operation worked, how US intelligence and the Obama administration responded, and how Trump and his associates interacted with Russia and WikiLeaks. But whatever happened out of public view, the existing record is already conclusively shameful. Trump and his crew were active enablers of Putin’s operation to subvert an American election. That is fire, not smoke. That is scandal enough.

See our entire updated Trump-Russia timeline dating back to the 1980s.

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Trump Is Already Guilty of Aiding Putin’s Attack on America

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The Blue-Slip Rule Is On Its Last Legs

Mother Jones

The Washington Post confirms what we’ve already heard about Senate Republicans doing away with the blue-slip rule:

Leaders are considering a change to the Senate’s “blue slip” practice, which holds that judicial nominations will not proceed unless the nominee’s home-state senators signal their consent to the Senate Judiciary Committee….Removing the blue-slip obstacle would make it much easier for Trump’s choices to be confirmed. Although Trump and Senate Republicans have clashed early in his presidency, they agree on the importance of putting conservatives on the federal bench.

….The Senate acted Thursday on Trump’s first appeals-court nomination, elevating U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar of Kentucky to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.

….“Eliminating the blue slip is essentially a move to end cooperation between the executive and legislative branch on judicial nominees, allowing nominees to be hand-picked by right-wing groups,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, wrote in a memo this week. She pointed out that the vacancy for which Thapar is nominated exists only because McConnell refused to return a blue slip for Obama’s nominee, Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Lisabeth Tabor Hughes. The seat has been vacant since 2013, and Tabor Hughes never received a hearing, because blue slips were not returned.

Christopher Kang, who advised Obama on judicial nominations, said that was the reason 17 of the president’s picks did not receive hearings, killing the nominations. But the impact was even greater than that, because Obama gave up on trying to find nominees in some states, such as Texas, with two Republican senators. One vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which covers Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, has been open for five years.

Were Republicans snickering in private for six years because Democrats continued to be Boy Scouts during the Obama presidency, respecting the blue-slip rule despite blanket Republican opposition of the kind that Republicans now say will prompt them to kill it? Probably. Was it the right thing to do anyway? I guess I’m still unsure. But it sure doesn’t look like it.

The Brookings table above shows the effect of all this for circuit court vacancies. The absolute numbers aren’t huge, but both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama simply gave up nominating judges in states where there were any Republican senators. They would object as a matter of course and their objections would be honored. George Bush, by contrast, continued nominating judges everywhere. Democratic senators sometimes objected, but not always—and Republicans often ignored their objections anyway when they controlled the Senate.

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The Blue-Slip Rule Is On Its Last Legs

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A Fishing Hole Spat Could Give Democrats a Shot at a Montana House Seat

Mother Jones

With Thursday’s special election approaching, the race for Montana’s vacant House seat has gone national. The president’s son Donald Trump Jr. flew to the small town of Hamilton to raise money for Republican businessman Greg Gianforte; Bernie Sanders made a four-stop swing through the Big Sky to stump for Democrat Rob Quist. Both parties have tried to nationalize the race: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee injected $600,000 into the contest, and its Republican counterpart has already spent several times that.

With the congressional midterms still 18 months away, Democrats have seized on House special elections as an early test of their political energy and an opportunity to steal a few seats. In a historically red Georgia district, Democrat Jon Ossoff has raised more than $10 million in his bid to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and is approaching 50 percent in the polls ahead of the June 20 runoff. Kansas Democrat James Thompson narrowly lost his bid to replace CIA director Mike Pompeo, in a district Donald Trump won by 27 points.

Quist, a country singer rarely seen without his white cowboy hat, thinks he can kickstart a Democratic turnaround in the House by betting big on the smallest of issues: a fishing hole.

In the race to fill the seat vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in March, Quist has tapped into deep-seated fears about the fate of Montana’s public lands in Republican-dominated Washington. He has held six rallies “for public lands” across the state and been buoyed by a massive “hands off public lands” protest in Helena and a growing network of progressive grassroots groups. At the heart of his critique of his rival is a decade-old story about a river, a trail, and a legal threat that just a few months ago helped dash Gianforte’s bid for governor.

Gianforte, a wealthy businessman who moved to Montana from New Jersey two decades ago, should have had the wind at his back in the gubernatorial race in a state Trump won easily. But Gov. Steve Bullock, the Democratic incumbent, succeeded in positioning himself as a champion of the outdoors—and Gianforte as its greatest threat.

The acquisition of federal lands in the West was a huge issue during the Obama years, culminating in a string of high-profile showdowns between members of the Bundy family and federal agents in Nevada and Oregon. Many Republican state lawmakers, including in Montana, pushed legislation that would compel the federal government to transfer the deed to some of its public lands to their states. Bullock was fiercely against the idea; Gianforte suggested that such a move might be appropriate at a later time. But Gianforte had also donated money to the Republican lawmaker who chaired the American Lands Council, the primary driver of the lands-transfer movement.

Maybe that alone wouldn’t have been enough to sink Gianforte, but Bullock had a trump card: a 2009 legal battle. Gianforte’s property abutted the East Gallatin River outside Bozeman and included an easement long used by locals for fishing. (The easement was granted through an agreement with the property’s previous owner.) Gianforte argued that the easement was ruining his property and sued the state of Montana to have to have the area closed off. He eventually reached a compromise with the state, but the dispute fed into Bullock’s narrative. It was one thing to campaign on the fear that Republicans would try to limit public access to public lands, but it was far easier when Gianforte had actually tried to do it.

“Montanans have been locked in a battle against wealthy out-of-state land owners buying up land and blocking access to places Montanans have literally enjoyed for generations,” Bullock said at the time. He hammered Gianforte’s river-access suit in speeches and ads.

When, at their final debate, Gianforte sought to dispute the governor’s version of events, Bullock pulled out a copy of the complaint, ignoring the agreed-upon prohibition on props.

“I just want to note the governor violated the rules,” Gianforte said.

“I just want to note Greg Gianforte sued all of Montana,” Bullock said.

Bullock won by four points.

“I’ve been doing this a while and it was one of the most damaging negatives I’ve ever seen,” says Eric Hyers, Bullock’s 2016 campaign manager.

When the DCCC got involved in the race in April, it wasted no time jumping on the easement fight. “You’ve seen it before: millionaires buying trophy ranches in Montana, then suing to block you out,” a narrator intoned in the group’s first ad, over an image of a “no hunting” sign. “Well it’s exactly what this millionaire from New Jersey did.” Last week, Quist went a few steps further; in two new ads running statewide, he walks along the very riverside trail Gianforte sought to block access to, declaring, “You shouldn’t have to be rich to get outdoors in Montana.”

Other Democrats have tried this line of attack with less success. Zinke, who hails from just outside Glacier National Park, easily won reelection and then the Interior job in part because of the perception that he was more of a conservationist than other candidates. (It was Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the nonprofit that helped organize the public-lands protest and whose director ran a dark-money group that helped Democratic Sen. Jon Tester win reelection in 2012, that reportedly lobbied Donald Trump Jr. to consider Zinke for the Interior job.) The key to the public lands movement’s success in resisting the land-transfer push has been that it comprises more than just crunchy environmentalists. It also has the backing of hunting and fishing groups and trade associations such as the Montana Wood Products Association.

After President Trump’s inauguration, fears grew that public lands would come under threat. In late January, one week after the Helena women’s march drew record crowds to the capitol grounds, 1,000 demonstrators, organized by a coalition led by the Montana Wilderness Association, crowded inside the capitol building with luminaries such as Bullock, Tester, and Hilary Hutcheson, a fly-fishing guide who hosts a popular TV show on Trout TV. They had a specific concern in mind: that the Trump administration would sign off on a push by congressional Republicans to sell off public lands.

Similar events, dubbed “Public Lands in Public Hands,” were held across the West—500 people in Santa Fe; 200 in Boise. A few days later, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), who had sponsored the sell-off proposal, backed down. “I hear you and HR 621 dies tomorrow,” he wrote in an Instagram post.

With Zinke running the Interior Department, the status of Montana’s lands is no less fuzzy. In May, Zinke announced that he was reviewing the status of some three dozen national monuments established over the previous three presidential administrations, with the possible end result of revoking their protected status. Among the monuments on the chopping block: Montana’s own Upper Missouri Breaks.

The clearest sign of how potent the public-lands protests—and messaging—have been is that Gianforte himself is using the protesters’ language. “I’ve been very clear all along that public lands must stay in public hands,” he told Montana Public Radio in an interview earlier this month, echoing the language used by the demonstrators. “I’ve been very clear. I don’t support deed transfer of lands. Public lands have to stay in public hands.”

The race to replace Zinke is in some ways a fitting coda to the political fights of the Obama administration, which saw a new “Sagebrush Rebellion”—the name for the ’80s anti-government movement led by Western ranchers— that featured, most sensationally, the antics of the Bundy clan. These new Sagebrushers were backed up by a new crop of local law enforcement leaders who resisted federal authority, as well as legislators, in Washington and state capitals, bent on redistributing federal lands to the states.

The Trump administration’s push to reconsider places like Upper Missouri Breaks, which have been in the sights of conservative groups for a long time, represents a high-water mark for this movement. Quist is hoping his race is the beginning of another kind of wave.

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A Fishing Hole Spat Could Give Democrats a Shot at a Montana House Seat

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Trump Defends Decision to Fire Comey and Accuses Democrats of Hypocrisy

Mother Jones

In a series of early morning tweets Wednesday, President Donald Trump angrily defended his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, taking aim at Democrats for criticizing the stunning development.

Trump’s response comes hours after he similarly railed against Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), after the Senate Minority Leader appeared to suggest the White House was orchestrating a cover-up by firing the man charged with leading an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including possible collusion by Trump associates.

Trump’s stated justification for the firing, which cites Comey’s unfair treatment of Hillary Clinton, has been lambasted by Democrats. After all, Trump frequently praised Comey’s actions, saying it “took guts” to reopen the bureau’s probe into Clinton’s use of a private email server less than two weeks before the election. And as recently as last month, the president indicated he supported the former director.

According to reports, however, Trump had been increasingly furious over the ongoing investigations into possible ties between Trump associates and Russia and what he saw as Comey’s failure to defend him.

Dozens of lawmakers, including some Republicans, are now calling for an independent prosecutor to move forward with the probe.

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Trump Defends Decision to Fire Comey and Accuses Democrats of Hypocrisy

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Voting for Obamacare Cost Him His Job. Now It Might Be His Ticket Back.

Mother Jones

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At the People’s Climate March in Washington, there were old ladies dressed as beekeepers, vegetarians in full-body carrot suits, and a clean-energy marching band in matching green hard hats, but Tom Perriello was the only person I saw wearing a tie. It was probably a bad idea. Saturday was one of those steamy afternoons in DC, more August than April, that leaves you with the sensation of being inside the mouth of a dog—a good day to make the case for catastrophic global warming, but a bad one to walk outside in a pressed blue shirt and dress shoes. The 42-year-old former congressman, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor of Virginia, was running a few minutes late after a morning event in the suburbs and was undeterred. Clutching a bottle of water and an apple his sister had handed him, he wanted to explain to me what people had gotten wrong when he ran for reelection to Congress in 2010.

Republicans looking to take him down spent a lot of time and money talking about climate change. Perriello, a first-term Democrat in a rural, red, New Jersey-sized patch of “Southside” Virginia, had cast a key vote for Waxman-Markey, the House’s cap-and-trade bill that would go on to die in the Senate. Ads by the National Republican Congressional Committee, which supported his challenger Robert Hurt to the tune of $1.1 million, dubbed it an “energy tax.” The US Chamber of Commerce piled on too. When Perriello eventually lost by 4 points, the NRCC claimed his climate advocacy, along with his vote for the Affordable Care Act, was a big reason why.

But unlike a lot of other Democrats who were swept out to sea in that 2010 wave, Perriello had run on, not from, his support for the Obama agenda. “I think we convert more people by being bolder on climate instead of soft on climate,” he said as we moved toward the sound of drumming and tambourines along the parade route. “People thought that was a bad vote for me, but we didn’t just vote for it; we went out and made the case to farmers and small-business owners—literally got down to the level of cow manure and capturing methane off of cow manure for farmers to be able to power their own farms.” He cited an election-eve poll that showed voters trusted him by 24 points on energy issues.

Democrats have been winning big races in the Old Dominion for more than a decade, and they currently hold every statewide elected position, from the two US Senate seats to the state attorney general, but it has never been easy. Gov. Terry McAuliffe, an ur-Clinton loyalist and former Democratic National Committee chair, will be term-limited this fall, and the Democratic nominee will likely face well-funded Republican Ed Gillespie, a Trump-backing former lobbyist and Republican National Committee chair, who narrowly lost a US Senate bid in 2014. The race, an expensive fight in the shadow of the Capitol, will be the most serious test yet of the Democratic Party’s resiliency in the age of Trump. But somewhat unexpectedly, the primary has also become an early referendum on where the Democratic Party is heading.

Perriello’s opponent, Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, was also elected to a red-leaning seat in 2007, held onto it, and moved up the ladder in 2013. Northam, a 57-year-old former Army doctor with a genteel Southern cadence, looked like the de facto nominee last year, but Perriello announced his candidacy in January—amid a period of postelection soul-searching—and has made a race of it. He has pulled together a coalition that includes Bernie Sanders supporters and Obama loyalists, who appreciated his tough votes. Polling has been limited and all over the place; the only sure thing is that with a little more than a month to go before the June election, a large chunk of Virginia’s Democrats are still undecided.

Comparisons to Sanders don’t quite hold water, but in a few key ways Perriello’s message tracks closely with that of the Vermont senator. Perriello is pushing for a $15 minimum wage (which Northam also supports) and free community college, and he’s campaigning hard in rural areas of the state, such as the southwestern coal country and farm belt of Southside Virginia (his old district) that have booted out Democrats in recent years and swung hard toward Trump. And like Sanders, he’s going all-in on fracking, promising to block two natural gas pipelines from being constructed, if elected, and rejecting donations from Dominion Power, which has proposed the pipeline.

Perriello believes that conservatives, and many Democrats, have long talked about environmental regulations in a way that elides the real impediments to economic growth in those areas. “People know I’m a climate hawk, but it’s also worth knowing the two biggest killers of coal jobs have been automation and natural gas,” he said. He described spending time in Virginia’s struggling coal country trying to engage voters by pointing to new economic drivers. He insists the state needs “to get beyond looking at just distributed energy—though that can be a part of it. We need to actually be looking at how to relocalize some percent of food production, both because it’s more sustainable but also creates greater economic resiliency in communities that feel a real loss of sovereignty.”

As an example of what he means by “relocalizing,” Perriello points to a favorite example of his: the beer industry. “A decade ago, two companies controlled 96 percent of the beer market,” he said. Now, because of the growth of microbreweries, that figure is down to 84 percent. “We’re still talking about an industry that’s overwhelmingly dominated by two companies, but just that 10 percent delta of relocalizing beer production has had massive implications for jobs and economic renewal on main streets like Winchester and rural counties like Nelson County,” he said, referring to Shenandoah Valley communities that have embraced the “brew ridge” economy.

“So,” he continued, “we’re not talking about that going back to being 80 or 90 percent of the economy—but even if it’s a 10 percent plus-up, there are huge implications for jobs and sustainability.”

Relocalizing? Distributed energy? Delta? Perriello can sound like either an economic populist who speaks like a think-tanker, or the other way around. His ability to move between those two identities has been a key factor in his rise. A Yale-educated native of Ivy, Virginia, just outside Charlottesville, Perriello worked as a war crimes prosecutor in West Africa after college before returning at the end of the Bush administration to run against six-term incumbent Virgil Goode, an archconservative Republican and an occasional embarrassment who had once raised a ruckus about the first Muslim member of Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison, being sworn in on a Koran. After his stint on the Hill was up, Perriello took a post as CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, the DC-based progressive think thank, only to return to Africa a few years later for a series of State Department postings.

Outside the Canadian embassy, a leader of a local Indivisible chapter, in a pink “Resist” hat and clutching half a dozen signs that say “Protect the Sacred,” approaches Perriello to tell him he has her group’s full support. As he speaks with another voter, a sign from a passing marcher, with a long quote from Ansel Adams, blows away onto the ground and Perriello stops to pick it up. He asks his young staffers if he should do a Facebook Live from the march, and one of them whips out a smartphone and starts filming. A few minutes later, he recognizes a sixtysomething man in crocs and a bucket hat wearing a blue T-shirt that says “no pipeline,” and they talk shop for a few minutes about the fracking fight. The man’s friend tells Perriello that some of the land that will be seized for pipeline construction through eminent domain has been in the same family since Emancipation. Perriello nods, concerned.

Northam, who has already been elected statewide and enjoys the backing of the entire state Democratic establishment, has campaigned hard on gun control and reproductive rights, two issues where Perriello holds different positions now than when he entered Congress. Perriello received donations (and an A rating) from the National Rifle Association during his single term, and he supported the failed Stupak amendment to the Affordable Care Act, which would have prohibited the law from subsidizing insurance plans that cover abortion. He now condemns the NRA as an organization “for gunmakers and survivalists,” and has said he regretted the Stupak vote.

Democrats have sparred in recent weeks over the role of abortion within the party’s coalition, after Sanders endorsed Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello, a former backer of a bill requiring doctors performing abortions to first offer women ultrasounds. When I ask Perriello if it’s possible to be progressive and pro-life, he chooses his words very carefully. “We’re running a campaign here that is focused on advancing reproductive justice, where we’re not just looking at the right to choose, but the right to affordable and dignified access to that choice,” he says. “I believe that we can’t separate issues of economic fairness and justice from issues of reproductive access. So I believe that those are fights that can and should be integrated, and that’s certainly what we’re gonna do here in Virginia.” Abortion, in other words, is an economic populist issue.

On combating climate change and protecting the environment, though, there is only so much the next governor of Virginia can do with Trump in the White House. Perriello would be able to stop those pipelines, of course, and he can push to lower the amount of money utilities are able to spend on state elections. But he has no delusions about the impact of the federal government on climate, and no inhibitions about turning his race in Virginia into a national one. “One of the things we’re seeing this year is the potential for a wave election that could set the trend for a wave election next year,” he says.

He’s banking on it; immediately following the passage of the Obamacare repeal in the House of Representatives on Thursday, Perriello put out a new ad, pegged to the vote, in which he stands in front of an ambulance being crushed in a junkyard:

First he has to win his primary. That evening, a few hours after the march, Perriello and Northam met up for their first debate of the campaign, at an elementary school in Fairfax sandwiched between NRA headquarters and H Mart, the Asian grocery superstore. The event was co-sponsored by EMERGE USA, an organization that aims to boost the political clout of Muslim, South Asian, and Arab-Americans. Both candidates mostly kept their powder dry, save for a brief dust-up over gun control when Northam brought up the NRA backing. Trump was a recurring villain, but Gillespie was hardly mentioned; when voters are mad at Washington, you don’t mess with a good thing.

Outside, evenly matched groups of young volunteers formed a gauntlet along the approach to the venue and exchanged rudimentary chants— “I say Ralph, you say Northam!”; “Go Tom Go!” A few supporters of the Atlantic pipeline gripped posters calling Perriello a “job killer” for his environmentalist objections—just like the old times—but no one paid them much attention. A few feet away, behind the scrum of shouting youths, a supporter clutched a sign that said “Perriello ♥’s Obamacare.” In a time when everything seems upside-down, it was a simple image of how Tom Perriello landed on his feet.

Continued here: 

Voting for Obamacare Cost Him His Job. Now It Might Be His Ticket Back.

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Puerto Rico Files for Bankruptcy the Day After Trump Admin Brags About Blocking Funds

Mother Jones

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After a day of sometimes violent demonstrations in San Juan protesting austerity measures and government handling of the debt crisis, Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló, announced Wednesday morning that he would move the island’s crushing debts into the bankruptcy-like process created under federal legislation to deal with the crisis. Unlike public entities and cities in the states, Puerto Rico, essentially a colony of the US, is prohibited from filing for bankruptcy under federal law. This legislation created a different option that allows a federal court to restructure more than $70 billion—the largest such restructuring in the history of the US municipal bond market.

The announcement comes after a flurry of lawsuits filed against the island’s government by creditors Tuesday morning, the first to land after local officials’ proposal for partial repayment of the debt was rejected by lenders last weekend. Under legislation passed last summer, known as the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA), the island had until May 1 to negotiate a plan to address the debts while also providing basic services for the island’s 3.5 million residents. The deal from the local government last Friday offered as much as 77 cents on the dollar to some lenders while offering 58 cents on the dollar to others, according to Bloomberg, but the lenders called the deal unworkable. Hedge funds such as Aurelius Capital Management and Monarch Alternative Captial, and Ambac Financial Group, Inc., an insurer that owned Puerto Rican bonds, had been prevented from filing suit until May 1 under PROMESA.

The suits came a day after thousands took the streets in a national strike throughout Puerto Rico protesting cuts proposed by the board that was created under PROMESA, which increased water rates, while cutting funds to schools, public-sector jobs and pensions, health care spending, and the island’s university system totaling roughly $450 million over three years. After a day of largely peaceful protests, police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse some protesters, according to local reports, and at least 17 people were arrested. Students and other protesters have demanded an independent audit of the debt, among other things, as the island grapples with the issue.

“As time goes by and austerity measures start to strike on more and more people, people are going to stand up and respond to what is the government violence against the people who are left in very difficult conditions,” Mariana Nogales Molinelli, an attorney in Puerto Rico and former candidate for the island’s non-voting representative to the US Congress, tells Mother Jones.

Nogales Molinelli says that the cuts by both the government and the control board to public sector workers and collective bargaining rights have made a lot of people angry—and not just university students. On April 18, the Puerto Rican Senate approved a bill that eliminated the publicly-funded audit commission responsible for insuring the debts were issued lawfully and were not in violation of island’s constitution. Some of the protesters at the capital were retired police, according to Joel Cintrón Arbasetti, a journalist with the Center for Investigative Reporting in Puerto Rico. Nogales thinks more police will join the protests.

“My guess is that part of the police force will be joining the people because they are going to be affected also,” Nogales Molinelli says. “Their kids’ schools will be closed, and they will not have enough medical insurance. The situation could explode because of all the austerity measures and they are going to have to work under much more pressure and in conditions that are going to be very difficult for them.”

Nogales says there have also been reports of some violent responses by police towards protesters and those perceived to be organizing protests. During a protest at the capital, she saw a police officer take a protester’s sign and hit her over the head with it. The Puerto Rico Police Department is currently under a consent decree with the US Department of Justice in an effort to become more professional and accountable after years of documented corruption and violence against the population.

Back on the mainland, Puerto Rico has been a political football for Trump and Congress during negotiations for a federal spending bill, with the president implying that Puerto Ricans, who have been US citizens for 100 years, were not.

When the budget deal was announced Monday morning, Democrats managed to get “an emergency injection of $295 million” to help shore up the island’s Medicaid program through the end of the year, according to Reuters. On Tuesday, Office of Budget and Management Director Mick Mulvaney bragged during a White House Press briefing that Republicans and the president had actually prevented any money from going to Puerto Rico, and that the $295 million had come from funds not previously allocated.

“You had the Democrats crying out that they got $295 million for Puerto Rico,” Mulvaney told reporters, “Did not cost the taxpayer a penny. They wanted new money, they wanted a bailout. We wouldn’t give it to them.”

It’s unclear how the restructuring will proceed as the provision in PROMESA has never been used, but the New York Times reports that Chief Justice John Roberts of the US Supreme Court will now appoint a bankruptcy judge to handle the case.

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Puerto Rico Files for Bankruptcy the Day After Trump Admin Brags About Blocking Funds

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Trump Plans to Cram His Entire Legislative Agenda Into Days 96-99

Mother Jones

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Did Mack Sennett ever make “The Keystone Cops Go to Washington”? No? No matter. That’s what it feels like right now.

Let’s see if I can do justice to our current legislative follies. For starters, it appears that we’re going to get health care, tax reform, and infrastructure all in one week. Why? I guess so that President Trump can say he got going on all of them in his first hundred days. Which totally doesn’t matter and Trump couldn’t care less about it. But he released a truly comical list of all his accomplishments anyway. Not that he cares. But anyway. Let’s move on.

Health care: The House Freedom Caucus has allegedly agreed to an amendment to the previous House bill—the one that crashed and burned last month thanks to the HFC’s opposition—that now makes it acceptable. They haven’t actually said so in public yet, but maybe tomorrow they will. Maybe. Basically, it allows states to opt out of the essential coverage requirements of Obamacare. Except for Capitol Hill, that is. Members of Congress will continue to get every last thing on the list. And there’s no change to pre-existing conditions except for one teensy little thing: insurance companies can charge you more if you have a pre-existing condition. How much more? The sky’s the limit, apparently. Does $10 million sound good? In practice, of course, this means that they don’t have to offer coverage to anyone with a pre-existing condition.

Tax reform: It turns out the Treasury Department really was taken by surprise on this, so Wednesday’s announcement will be little more than the same stuff Trump released on the campaign trail. Corporate taxes get cut by nearly two-thirds, to 15 percent. Ditto for “pass through” corporations like, oh, just to pull an example out of the air, The Trump Organization. There will be no offsetting spending cuts. There will be no border tax. There will be nothing much for the non-rich except a modest change to the standard deduction. There will, of course, be no details about which deductions and loopholes, if any, Trump plans to plug. It will be a gigantic deficit buster. And just for good measure, it’s probably literally unpassable under the Senate’s rules.

Infrastructure: In a laughable attempt to get Democratic support for his tax bill, Trump plans to add infrastructure spending and a child tax credit to it. The problem is that Trump’s infrastructure plan is little more than a giveaway to big construction companies, and his child tax credit—designed by Ivanka!—is little more than a giveaway to the well off. In other words, instead of one thing Democrats hate, the bill now has three things Democrats hate. I’m just spitballing here, but I’m not sure this is how you make deals.

This is lunacy. The barely revised health care bill probably won’t pass the House, let alone the Senate. Tax reform is just a PowerPoint presentation, not an actual plan. Plus it’s such an unbelievable giveaway to the rich that even Republicans will have a hard time swallowing it. And the infrastructure stuff is DOA. It will almost certainly be opposed by both Republicans and Democrats.

This is like watching kids make mud pies. I guess that’s OK, since this is all terrible stuff that I hope never sees the light of day. Still, I guess I prefer even my political opponents to show a little bit of respect for the legislative process.

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Trump Plans to Cram His Entire Legislative Agenda Into Days 96-99

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Let’s Talk About Bubbles and James Comey

Mother Jones

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I have frequently made the case that Donald Trump is president because of FBI director James Comey. On October 28, Comey wrote a letter to Congress telling them that the FBI was investigating a new cache of Clinton emails that it found on the laptop of Huma Abedin’s estranged husband, Anthony Weiner. That was the turning point. Clinton’s electoral fortunes went downhill from there and never recovered.

As shocking as this may sound, not everyone agrees with me. A new book, Shattered, makes the case that Clinton was an epically bad candidate and her campaign was epically badly run. That’s why she lost. Yesterday, Shadi Hamid took aim at me for my continued Comey obsession in the face of the story told in Shattered:

Let’s talk. There’s a reason I blame Comey, and it’s not because I live in a bubble. It’s because a massive amount of evidence points that way. Today I want to put the whole case in one l-o-o-o-o-ng post so everyone understands why I think Comey was the deciding factor in the election. If you still disagree, that’s fine, but this is the evidence you need to argue with.

NOTE: I want to make clear that I’m talking solely about Hillary Clinton and the presidency here. Democrats have been badly pummeled at the state level over the past six years, and that obviously has nothing to do with Comey. It’s something that Democrats need to do some soul searching about.

Ready? Let’s start with some throat-clearing.

First: Keep in mind that Clinton was running for a third Democratic term during a period when (a) the economy was OK but not great and (b) Barack Obama’s popularity was OK but not great. Models based on fundamentals therefore rated the election as something of a tossup. Clinton was not running as a sure winner.

Second: For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Hillary Clinton was an epically bad, unpopular candidate who ran a terrible campaign. She foolishly used a private email server while she was Secretary of State. She gave millions of dollars in speeches after leaving the State Department. She was a boring speaker with a mushy agenda. She was a hawkish Wall Street shill who failed to appeal to millennials. She lost the support of the white working class. Her campaign was a cespool of ego, power-mongering, and bad strategy. Let’s just assume all that.

If this is true, it was true for the entire year. Maybe longer. And yet, despite this epic horribleness, Clinton had a solid, steady lead over Trump the entire time. The only exception was a brief dip in July when Comey held his first presser to call Clinton “extremely careless” in her handling of emails. Whatever else you can say about Hillary Clinton, everyone knew about her speeches and her emails and her centrism and everything else all along. And yet, the public still preferred her by a steady 3-7 percentage points over Trump for the entire year.

Third: Every campaign has problems. If you win, they get swept under the rug. If you lose, bitter staffers bend the ears of anyone who will listen about the campaign’s unprecedented dysfunction and poor strategy. This is all normal. Both the Clinton and Trump campaigns had all the usual problems, and in a close election you can blame any of them for a loss. But two things set the Comey letter apart. First, it had a big effect right at the end of the race. Second, it was decidedly not a normal thing. It came out of the blue for no good reason from the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. There is nothing Clinton could have done about it.

With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the final two months of the campaign. All of the poll estimates look pretty similar, but I’m going to use Sam Wang’s EV estimator because it gives a pretty sharp day-to-day look at the race. Wang’s final estimate was wrong, of course, like pretty much everyone else’s, but don’t worry about that. What we’re interested in is the ups and downs. What Wang’s estimate tells us is that, with the brief exception of the July Comey presser, the race was amazingly stable. From January through August, he has Clinton at 330-340 electoral votes. Let’s pick up the story in September:

At the beginning of September, Clinton slumps after her “deplorables” comment and her stumble at the 9/11 memorial. After Trump’s shockingly bad performance at the first debate she starts to regain ground, and continues to gain ground when the Access Hollywood tape is released. By the end of October she’s back to where she started, with a big lead over Trump. THIS IS IMPORTANT: despite everything — weak fundamentals, the “deplorables” comment, her personal unpopularity, her mushy centrism, her allegedly terrible campaign — by the end of October she’s well ahead of Trump, just as she had been all year.

On October 25, HHS announces that Obamacare premiums will go up substantially in the following year. This doesn’t appear to have any effect. Then, on October 28, Comey releases his letter. Clinton’s support plummets immediately, and there’s no time for it to recover. On November 8, Trump is elected president.

But how much did Comey’s letter cost Clinton? Let’s review the voluminous evidence:

Nate Silver estimates the Comey letter cost Clinton about 3 points.
A panel survey from the Institute for the Study of Citizens and Politics suggests the Comey letter produced a net swing of 4 points toward Trump.
Sam Wang estimates the Comey letter cost Clinton 4 points, though she may have made back some of that in the final days.
Engagement Labs tracks “what people are talking about.” Immediately after the Comey letter, they registered a 17-point drop in favorable sentiment toward Clinton.
Google searches for “Hillary’s email” spiked 300 percent after Comey’s letter.
The tone of news coverage flipped enormously against Clinton after the Comey letter.
A trio of researchers who looked at the evidence concluded that Comey’s letter was decisive, probably costing Clinton 3-4 points in the popular vote.
Trump’s own analysts think the Comey letter was decisive.
The Clinton campaign agrees that the Comey letter was decisive, and adds that Comey’s second letter hurt her too.1

I’m not sure how much clearer the evidence could be. Basically, Hillary Clinton was doing fine until October 28. Then the Comey letter cost her 2-4 percent of the popular vote. Without Comey she would have won comfortably — possibly by a landslide — even though the fundamentals predicted a close race.

That’s it. That’s the evidence. If you disagree that Comey was decisive, you need to account for two things. First, if the problem was something intrinsic to Clinton or her campaign, why was she so far ahead of Trump for the entire race? Second, if Comey wasn’t at fault, what plausibly accounts for Clinton’s huge and sudden change in fortune starting precisely on October 28?

One way or another, it appears that all the things that were under Hillary Clinton’s control were handled fairly well. They produced a steady lead throughout the campaign. The Comey letter exists on an entirely different plane. It was an unprecedented breach of protocol from the FBI; it was completely out of Clinton’s control; and it had a tremendous impact. That’s why I blame James Comey for Donald Trump’s victory.

1The second letter was the one that cleared her. However, merely by keeping the subject in the news, it hurt Clinton.

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Let’s Talk About Bubbles and James Comey

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Gerrymandering Is Headed Back to the Supreme Court

Mother Jones

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The New York Times reports that gerrymandering is headed to the Supreme Court again:

A bipartisan group of voting rights advocates says the lower house of the Wisconsin Legislature, the State Assembly, was gerrymandered by its Republican majority before the 2012 election — so artfully, in fact, that Democrats won a third fewer Assembly seats than Republicans despite prevailing in the popular vote. In November, in a 2-to-1 ruling, a panel of federal judges agreed.

….In Supreme Court cases in 1986, 2004 and 2006, justices variously called partisan gerrymanders illegitimate, seriously harmful, incompatible with democratic principles and “manipulation of the electorate.” But they have never struck one down….One participant in the 2004 decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, may prove the fulcrum in the court’s deliberations….“The ordered working of our Republic, and of the democratic process, depends on a sense of decorum and restraint in all branches of government, and in the citizenry itself,” he wrote then.

At a time of soaring concern over hyperpartisanship, those words could resonate. That sentence “is the most important line” in the court’s decision, said Edward B. Foley, director of the Election Law Project at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. “He’s going to look at what’s going on in North Carolina as the complete absence of that. I think that helps the plaintiffs in any of these cases.”

Today’s gerrymandering is not your grandfather’s gerrymandering. It’s a practice that’s been around for a long time, but back when it depended on humans it was necessarily limited. There were a few legislative geniuses who could wreak real havoc, and anyone could gerrymander well enough to gain a seat or two. But computers have changed the game fundamentally. Every legislature is now a supergenius at gerrymandering, which is why estimates of the number of congressional seats attributable to gerrymandering have been going up for years.

There’s a point, I think, where the Supreme Court has to recognize that quantitative changes over time have finally produced a qualitative change. Modern gerrymandering is just too good. The silver lining here is that if computers can revolutionize gerrymandering, they also hold out hope of revolutionizing the detection of gerrymandering. You can no longer say that there’s no possible standard for ruling that a particular district map is unconstitutional. In fact, there are several plausible candidates. Hopefully the court will finally recognize this.

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Gerrymandering Is Headed Back to the Supreme Court

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