Monday, January 30, 2023

Two Americas

The word "trifecta" has been used to describe states where one party holds the governorship and a majority in both houses of the state legislature. With that in mind, here is an outcome of the 2020 midterms that hasn't gotten enough attention.

  • The Democratic Party gained trifectas in Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Minnesota.
  • The Democratic Party lost a trifecta in Nevada.
  • The Republican Party lost a trifecta in Arizona.
As a result, there are now 40 states with trifectas - 23 Republican and 17 Democratic. 

As of January 2023, over 80% of Americans live in states with governments entirely controlled by one of the two major parties - 41.7% live in Democratic states and 39.6% in Republican states.  Here is how that has changed over the last 30 years:

As state governors and legislators get to work in 2023, it is easy to get freaked out over what is happening in those Republican trifecta states on "culture war" issues like women's rights, voting rights, schools, guns, crime, immigrants, etc. But we should also not lose sight of the fact that things are playing out very differently in blue states. 

It's not just that Democrats are doing things like codifying a woman's right to chose and passing gun safety measures. They know that governing is also about the so-called "kitchen table issues." So as Greg Sargent wrote, "they're fusing an attack on right-wing culture-warring with a focus on economic fairness." So as red states continue to go backwards on every front, blue states will move forward - widening the divide that already exists on quality of life issues. 

I don't have a lot of predictions about how all of that is going to end, but we really are becoming the divided states of America. Frankly, at this point I'm just relieved to be living in a state that went with Team Blue.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Feminism Must Be Part of Police Reform

Please take a minute and a half to watch this powerful ad. I promise that, unless you've seen it before, you will never guess what the ad is selling. 

As Brian Klass wrote, the ad is part of New Zealand's effort to attract a different kind of cop. His point was that focusing merely on what police officers do (ie, training, body cameras, etc.) isn't enough. We also have to focus on who they are. I wrote something similar a couple of years ago. 

In his piece, Klass summed up the problem by writing, "To put it bluntly, white men with authoritarian personalities are disproportionately likely to be drawn to policing." As long as the "warrior mentality" dominates policing, the profession will continue to attract authoritarian personalities. As we see with the killing of Tyre Nichols, that includes Black men with authoritarian personalities. 

The anecdote to the warrior mentality in policing is the guardian approach.
Both Warriors and Guardians seek to protect the communities they serve, of course, but the guardian mindset takes both a broader and a longer view of how to achieve that goal. Put simply, the guardian mindset prioritizes service over crime-fighting, and it values the dynamics of short-term encounters as a way to create long-term relationships. It instructs officers that their interactions with community members must be more than legally justified; they must also be empowering, fair, respectful, and considerate. It emphasizes communication over command, cooperation over compliance, and legitimacy over authority. In the use-of-force context, the Guardian mindset emphasizes restraint over control, stability over action. But the concept is even broader; it seeks to protect civilians not just from crime and violence, but also from indignity and humiliation. 
The warrior model of policing is steeped in dominance as a response to fear, whereas a guardian mentality is rooted in the long-term strategy of building partnerships with the community via trust. 

The reason it has been so hard to reform policing in this country is that the qualities needed for a guardian mentality have generally been associated with the feminine in our patriarchal society. That's why, back in 2015, Katherine Spillar wrote that "more female police officers would help stop police brutality." 

I don't necessarily agree. The issue isn't gender, but confronting the fact that we've elevated the toxic attributes that have traditionally been assigned to men in a patriarchal culture. Here is Riane Eisler talking about the way that gender stereotypes are the foundation on which domination (ie. authoritarian) systems are built.

Let's go back to the video above from New Zealand. The final graphic contained the question: "Do you care enough to be a cop?" That is a powerful way of elevating qualities like empathy and caring. Contrast that with this recruitment video:

Those recruitment videos tell you all you need to know about the vision of the two police departments. New Zealand was looking for guardians and Newport Beach wanted warriors. 

So yes, we need more female police officers. But we need to go much deeper than that. Feminism (ie, elevating characteristics that have been stereotypically assigned to women) is a foundational part of any real police reform.

Friday, January 27, 2023

Russiagate Has Been in the News a Lot Lately

The story about Trump's collusion with the Russian government has been in the news a lot lately. Most recent is a piece from Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman, and Katie Benner about the Durham investigation. It is clear now that the special counsel appointed by former Attorney General Barr was unable to prove Trump's claims that Russiagate was a hoax. But as the authors note, "the main thrust of the Durham inquiry was marked by some of the very same flaws...that Trump allies claim characterized the Russia investigation."

The authors also demonstrate that the arc of the Durham investigation was initially an attempt to prove that the Russia probe was a CIA operation targeting the Trump campaign. When they got nowhere with that one, they switched to: "let's blame it on Hillary Clinton!"

Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham did not shut down their inquiry when the search for intelligence abuses hit a dead end. With the inspector general’s inquiry complete, they turned to a new rationale: a hunt for a basis to accuse the Clinton campaign of conspiring to defraud the government by manufacturing the suspicions that the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia.

When they didn't get anywhere with that one, Barr admitted that the whole thing was just a propaganda stunt.

Mr. Barr...suggested that using the courts to advance a politically charged narrative was a goal in itself. Mr. Durham “accomplished something far more important” than a conviction,...asserting that the case had “crystallized the central role played by the Hillary campaign in launching as a dirty trick the whole Russiagate collusion narrative and fanning the flames of it.”

In other words, while Barr and Durham couldn't prove their case in court, they used the investigation to advance their "politically charged narrative."

Earlier this week we learned that Charles McGonigal, a former FBI counterintelligence chief, has been accused of working with Oleg Deripaska - a Russian/Ukrainian oligarch with close ties to Putin. There are a lot of questions swirling about what McGonigal's role was in the Russia/Trump investigation. But I would simply point out that, beginning in October 2016, he led the counterintelligence efforts at the FBI's New York Field Office...the one that James Comey described as having a cadre of senior people "who have a deep and visceral hatred of Secretary Clinton."

Just three days before that news broke, we heard that not only had a federal judge thrown out Trump's suit against those he blamed for the "Russiagate hoax," the former president and his lawyer have to pay a $1 million fine for filing it in the first place. The judge made it clear that Russiagate is no hoax.

Middlebrooks described the legal complaint as “a hodgepodge of disconnected, often immaterial events, followed by an implausible conclusion.”... 

The judge also said Trump’s suit misrepresented the 2019 report by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III by saying it had exonerated him.... 

“The Plaintiff consistently misrepresented and cherry-picked portions of public reports and filings to support a false factual narrative,” Thursday’s judgment found. 

Finally, it was just three weeks ago that the New York Times published a piece by Jim Rutenberg titled, "The Untold Story of ‘Russiagate’ and the Road to War in Ukraine." Rather that breaking ground with new revelations, this one takes what we're learning today and uses that to help inform us about what happened in the past. In doing so, it becomes clear that the fate of Ukraine played a central role in the collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. 

Putin’s assault on Ukraine and his attack on American democracy have until now been treated largely as two distinct story lines...

To a remarkable degree, the long struggle for Ukraine was a bass note to the upheavals and scandals of the Trump years, from the earliest days of the 2016 campaign and then the presidential transition, through Trump’s first impeachment and into the final days of the 2020 election.

Rutenberg focuses mostly on Paul Manafort's ties to Ukraine - and specifically his connections to Oleg Deripaska and Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian agent. Central to that story is the so-called "Mariupol Plan," which was then being shopped to the Trump campaign as a plan for peace in Ukraine. It involved bringing former Ukrainian President Yanukovych back from exile in Russia to be the head of the war-torn eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. IOW, it would put Putin's puppet in charge of the areas Russia wanted to claim as their own. 

That's the plan Kilimnik passed off to Manafort as the quid pro quo for Moscow's assistance in getting Trump elected. But to demonstrate how deeply Ukraine's fate was embedded in Russiagate, there were actually two "peace plans" being floated to the Trump campaign. The other one arrived via Michael Cohn - Trump's bagman. 

I had forgotten that Cohn had long and deep ties to Ukraine. As Josh Marshall documented here, he is not only married to a Ukrainian American, he had forged deep ties with Ukrainian businessmen long before he even started working for Trump. I have no idea whether those ties carry any significance in the Trump/Russia probe, but given the central role that country has played in all of this,  it's worth keeping in mind. 

Of course, the election of Zelensky in Ukraine and Biden in the U.S. eventually sent both of those "peace plans" up in flames. The Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine a year ago was the result. Even now, Putin's apologists in this country are suggesting that Ukraine make concessions of sovereignty similar to those contained in the two plans, which the nation’s leaders categorically reject.

To summarize all of this, the past few weeks demonstrate two things (1) Russiagate was never a hoax, and (2) we still haven't gotten to the bottom of this story - a major national security threat - yet.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

McCarthy is threatening to hold our economy hostage for spending cuts that he won't identify

As we've seen over the last few weeks, Kevin McCarthy is an incredibly weak speaker who succumbed to the most extreme members of his caucus in order to gain power. And now those forces have laid down the gauntlet: they plan to refuse to raise the debt limit unless they get major reductions in spending. 

But as Catherine Rampell points out - the speaker has a math problem. 

Republicans say they want lower deficits — in fact, they have pledged to balance the budget (that is, no deficit at all) within seven or 10 years. But they have not laid out any plausible mathematical path for arriving at that destination. They promise to cut “wasteful spending” ... but can’t agree on what counts as “waste."...

In short, virtually every possible avenue available for reducing the deficit would be unpopular. Which probably explains why supposedly fiscally conservative Republicans chose not to take them when they controlled both houses of Congress during Trump’s presidency.

This is a breakdown of what Republicans have to work with:

  • 62% of federal spending is on "mandatory programs" like Social Security and Medicare,
  • 30% of federal spending is on "discretionary programs" - with military spending accounting for about half that amount, and
  • 8% of federal spending is on interest payments.
Within the Republican caucus there are disagreements among different groups about cutting mandatory and/or military spending. But there is no way the extremists can meet their goals without taking an ax to one or both of those items.  

On Tuesday, Mitch McConnell put the ball squarely in McCarthy's lap and today Chuck Schumer pilled on.  

For his part, McCarthy is spending his time whining about the fact that Biden won't negotiate with him. The Speaker might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he's smart enough to know that he has zero consensus within his own caucus about where to cut spending and that, even if he was able to put a proposal on the table, the vast majority of voters would hate it. So he wants to pass that buck to Biden.

The bottom line is that McCarthy is threatening to hold our economy hostage for spending cuts that he won't identify. Oh wait...he did mention one thing.

“Does defense getting more than $800 billion, are there areas that I think they could be more efficient in? Yeah. Eliminate all the money spent on ‘wokeism.’ Eliminate all the money that they’re trying to find different fuels and they’re worried about the environment to go through,” McCarthy added. “I want our men and women trained to be able to defend themselves, to secure, to have the best weapons systems possible.”

That statement sums up the GOP agenda in a nutshell. When it trouble - use the word "wokism." Then hide behind "patriotism" to defend your ultimate constituency - the fossil fuel industry.  

It was during the Obama administration that DOD decided to "go green." That wasn't a political move, but a plan to address a national security threat. Here's what Lt Gen (ret) Norman R. Seip, USAF wrote about that in 2014:

Energy is the lifeblood of the military, and our armed forces remain heavily reliant upon fossil fuels. In combat zones, everything on a forward-operating base is powered by oil, including the heating and cooling of tents, the powering of vital communications equipment, and the patrol vehicles themselves.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, our servicemen and women were put at great risk in order to protect supply routes for the fuel convoys that provided vital power supplies to remote forward-operating bases. These convoys were quickly recognized as easy targets for the enemy. From 2003-2007, one in twenty-four fuel convoys resulted in a service-member killed or injured, claiming the lives of over 3,000 Americans.

The national security threat of our single-source dependence is not limited to the battlefield. As the largest institutional consumer of fuel in the world, the Department of Defense is extremely vulnerable to price shocks, which puts strain on the military’s budget...

The impacts of climate change – including severe droughts, record heat waves, extreme storms, food shortages, mass migration, and rising sea levels – will be felt worldwide. Destabilization in already weak states will exacerbate existing security threats and pose a serious threat to those whose mission it is to protect and serve.

For the reasons identified in that quote, the commitment to climate change mitigation and sustainable fuels is already deeply embedded at the Pentagon. McCarthy and his donors in the fossil fuels industry probably couldn't pry things loose, even if they tried. 

So that particular idea is DOA. But it's indicative of the kind of nonsense Republicans are putting out there about the federal budget. That's why McCarthy doesn't want to specify any actual cuts. If he did, even a simple-minded blogger sitting on her couch in Minnesota could see through the bullshit.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Courts Are the Cornerstone of Our Fight for Democracy

Over the last few months, I've written quite a bit about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis - focused mostly on his efforts to punish Disney. To put that into some context, it was shortly after the governor signed the bill stripping Disney of it's special tax status that I learned more about the so-called "National Conservatives" who have been embracing fascism  (ala Viktor Orban) as a way to fight the culture wars. It was clear to me that DeSantis was doing more to advance that cause than any other Republican. Almost every day brings yet another revelation about his intentions.

As I was writing the most recent piece about where things stand between DeSantis and Disney, it became clear that the whole fiasco might wind up being decided in the courts. Actually, that's where a lot of the governor's agenda has landed. 

According to the Miami Herald, DeSantis's stunts have resulted in 15 lawsuits that have cost Florida's taxpayers $17 million in legal fees to date. The Herald summed up the results with this: "In case after case, courts have scaled back, thrown out, or left in legal limbo rules and laws that impose restrictions on social media giants; limit voting; curb gender-related health care; influence speech in the workplace, college campuses and classrooms; and create new crimes for peaceful protests.” 

The good news is that the courts don't seem to be buying what the governor is selling. But here's the bad news: I doubt DeSantis cares. There are several reasons why.

First of all, DeSantis - like most Republicans these days - is into performative politics. He grabs headlines with these moves and the GOP base loves them. Months later, when the courts weigh in, no one notices. And if they do, the governor will simply undermine our judicial system by claiming it is proof that the courts are "too woke." 

Secondly, to the extent that National Conservatives continue to follow in the footsteps of Hungary's Viktor Orban, they will corrupt the court system. After documenting DeSantis's attacks on the First Amendment, Ian Millhiser provides this warning:

The greatest danger, if DeSantis continues to consolidate power, isn’t that he will sign more amateurish laws that are ultimately struck down. It’s that some of these laws may be upheld in precedent-setting decisions that could do considerable violence to the First Amendment...

The most troubling thing about DeSantis’s war on free expression, in other words, isn’t that he’s signed several unconstitutional laws that seek to suppress viewpoints he does not like — or even that he’s used his authority as governor to target institutions that dared to criticize him. It’s that, if DeSantis someday becomes president, he could fill the courts with more judges like Thomas, Alito, and Gorsuch.

Of course, that effort to corrupt the courts has been underway for years now by Mitch McConnell and Leonard Leo

If all of that fails, at least one National Conservative has articulated the plan.

“I tend to think that we should seize the institutions of the left,” he said. “And turn them against the left. We need like a de-Baathification program, a de-woke-ification program.”...

“And when the courts stop you,” he went on, “stand before the country, and say...the chief justice has made his ruling. Now let him enforce it.”

The man who said that is J.D. Vance - who is now a member of the U.S. Senate. 

Keep in mind that these are the same people who fomented an insurrection when a presidential election didn't go their way. Does anyone really think that, when push comes to shove, they'll abide by rulings of the courts?

I hate to be such a Debbie Downer, but those are the stakes at play these days. That's why, flying under the radar, Biden and Democrats in the Senate have done this

The effort continues. Just this week Biden announced his 29th round of judicial nominations - bringing the total to 154. While a lot of attention is focused on the Supreme Court (which hears about 80 cases a year), courts of appeals handle tens of thousands of cases annually — often making them the last word in cases that impact the lives of Americans.

As the GOP-controlled House works on blowing things up, Democrats in the Senate will work on healing our broken judiciary. Those efforts won't garner much attention, but they are the cornerstone of our fight for democracy. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Fighting to Reverse the Civil Rights Gains of the Last 50 Years is the Core of the GOP Agenda

Even Mitch McConnell admitted, after losing Senate seats in 2020, that "candidate quality matters." But recent events indicate that Republicans still haven't learned that lesson. On Tuesday, Rep. Jim Banks announced that he will run for the Indiana Senate seat being vacated by Mike Braun. 

You might remember that Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to allow Banks to serve on the January 6th Committee because he had voted against certification of the 2020 presidential election. Other than that, and the fact that he recently served as chair of the Republican Study Committee, Banks hasn't made much of a name for himself in Congress. 

Perhaps to distinguish himself, Banks made an announcement four days ago that he would form an "anti-woke caucus" in the House. It worked - he was able to garner a spot on Fox News. He also wrote an article about it at the right wing web site "American Mind" - a publication of the infamous Claremont Institute. His opening statement tells you all you need to know about the Republican agenda.

We no longer live in a normal America. The issues that Congress used to take up, like healthcare, the economy, or our withdrawal from Afghanistan, all regrettably pale in comparison to the creeping tyranny which nearly all Americans now feel.

The nation’s most powerful forces—our intelligence agencies, corporations, the press, our universities, and even our military—are all pressing further and further into uncharted territory from which it’s not clear America can return...

The most toxic part of this tyranny is its doctrine—“wokeness.”

Banks did us all a favor by saying the quiet part out loud. His party is no longer interested in things like healthcare, the economy, or foreign policy. Their only agenda is fighting the "woke wars." 

For Banks, wokeness means that "all the so-called oppressor groups must be punished for their past and present alleged sins." For the oppressed, he says it means having a "privileged status." In other words, the straight white man (who calls Tom Cotton a model senator) thinks that striving for equality means that he is being punished and everyone else is gaining privilege. I can't help but think of that old saying: "when you're accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

It's also worth taking a look at what Banks thinks Congress can do about wokeness. He wants Republicans to rescind Biden's Executive Order On Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities. I guess it somehow threatens Banks that the president would want to ask every federal agency to "assess whether, and to what extent, its programs and policies perpetuate systemic barriers to opportunities and benefits for people of color and other underserved groups" and "develop policies and programs that deliver resources and benefits equitably to all." Here is who is included in the term underserved communities: "Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality." The only people excluded would be white, heterosexual, Christian, able-bodied, rich people who live in metro/urban areas. In other words, people like the congressman.

Another thing Banks wants Congress to do is use their oversight power to make woke companies "fear public exposure and congressional scrutiny." I almost dropped my laptop when I saw his example of a woke company...Wells Fargo. I'm old enough to remember that the Justice Department reached a $175 million settlement with that bank in 2012 because they "engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers in its mortgage lending from 2004 through 2009." From court filings, we learned that Wells Fargo loan officers referred to black customers as “mud people,” and to the subprime loans they sold them as “ghetto loans.” But it didn't end there. Last April Wells Fargo was sued for race discrimination in their mortgage lending practices.

Of course, none of that bothers Rep. Banks. He's concerned that Wells Fargo is tying corporate loan interest rates to the company’s success in meeting internal diversity targets. 

What we have is a company that is obviously still mired in systemic racism. But Banks wants to punish them for any effort they make to climb out of that hole. That is how he's gearing up to impress the MAGA crowd in his run for the Senate. 

If Banks is an indication of where the GOP is going in preparation for 2024, they're making it clear that fighting to reverse the civil rights gains of the last 50 years is the core of their agenda - but some of us knew that already. 

Monday, January 16, 2023

What would happen if we paid as much attention to rural schools and hospitals as we have to the so-called "border crisis?"

A map like the one above of the 2020 presidential election is perhaps the best way to capture the political divide between urban and rural America. It is so deep that Republicans have beaten Democrats in rural counties by a margin of about 47 points. Hence, we see endless articles on the left about how the party can improve that performance.

I recently wrote about how impressed I've been with Jessica Piper, who ran as a "dirt road Democrat" in rural Missouri. As a teacher, she has focused on how efforts in Missouri to use taxpayer dollars to fund private schools are decimating rural public schools.  Take a listen.

One of the main reasons so many rural public schools in Missouri have gone to a 4-day week is because of a teacher shortage due to the fact that the state ranks last in the nation for average starting teacher salary. Now Republicans in the state are considering legislation that would pull even more money out of public schools. As Piper points out, rural Missourians don't have access to the private schools the state is funding. As she says, there are no private or religious schools within 60 miles of where she lives in northwest Missouri. 

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and her Republican colleagues in the state legislature also want to take money from public schools to fund so-called "school choice." J.D. Scholten outlined how that will affect the rural areas of his state.

Scholten notes that 75% of the school districts in Iowa don't have a private school. So the Republican voucher program will only benefit students in 25% of the state's school districts - which are obviously concentrated in urban/metro areas. 

While it's true that Republicans are nationally working on policies to defund schools, it is likely that their success will be felt first and foremost in rural areas where public schools are already feeling the pinch financially. On the ground, Democrats like Piper and Scholten are sounding the alarm. The rest of the party should be supporting their efforts. 

The other issue that could be important for rural Democrats is the continuing collapse of rural hospitals. 

Since 2010, 120 rural hospitals have closed, according to University of North Carolina researchers. And today, 453 of the 1,844 rural hospitals still operating across the country should be considered vulnerable for closure.

The factors affecting this crisis are multiple. But it is clear that the states where the situation is most dire are those that have refused the expansion of Medicaid that was included in Obamacare. According to a report from the Chartis Center for Rural Health, "being in a Medicaid expansion state decreases by 62 percent the likelihood of a rural hospital closing. Conversely, being in a non-expansion state makes it more likely a rural hospital will close."

When I think of these two issues facing rural Americans, I am reminded that Republicans and right wing media have managed to convince us all that there is an immigrant crisis at our Southern border. Those claims are a bit specious. But I have to wonder what would happen if Democrats and mainstream media were to give the same kind of attention to collapsing public schools and hospitals in rural communities all over the country. It would sure be nice to find out.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Why Republicans Are Afraid of Rep. Adam Schiff

The new Speaker of the House is making it clear that he doesn't want Rep. Adam Schiff to continue serving on the House Intelligence Committee. 

I'll take just a moment to point out that McCarthy refers to Adam "Shift." Since that seems to be catching on in GOP circles, it's probably no simple slip of the tongue. 

The line about an impeachment lasting four years might just be a gaffe from McCarthy. It's true that Rep. Schiff was in charge of the first impeachment of Donald Trump (which lasted 1 1/2 months), but what McCarthy and his allies want to focus on is the idea that Russiagate was a hoax - and Schiff is the one to blame.

On Friday, Rep. Greg Murphy (R-N.C.) took things a step further. He said that Republicans will complete an ethics investigation of Rep. Schiff - even as they continue to ignore the fraudulent serial liar in their midst - the one currently going by the name George Santos.

Why are Republicans so intent on going after Schiff? It's because, even before the Mueller investigation began, the congressman said that there was ample evidence that in 2016 the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government in their attempt to influence the election. He's still pointing to that evidence. Here's how Schiff summed it all up after the Mueller report was released:

That goes directly against the claims made by Trump and his enablers that Mueller found no collusion. But here's what the report by the special counsel actually said (emphasis mine). 
Collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law,” Mueller writes. “For those reasons, the Office’s focus in analyzing questions of joint criminal liability was on conspiracy as defined in federal law.”

What Meuller did say was that there was insufficient evidence to prove that the Trump administration had been directly involved in a criminal conspiracy with the Russian government. That is because then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein limited Mueller to a criminal investigation. In doing so, he effectively ended the FBI's counterintelligence investigation - something Schiff noticed and talked about openly at the time.

Let's tie those two threads together, shall we? What does the difference between collusion and conspiracy have in common with the difference between a counterintelligence and a criminal investigation? Ryan Goodman answered by suggesting that, "as a shorthand, we may use the term 'collusion' to refer to these kinds of activities which would be implicated in a counterintelligence analysis" (ie, coordinate, cooperate with, encourage, give support). 

Goodman goes on the list all of the examples of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia that Meuller documented. They mirror what Schiff identified in the Youtube video above. 

As a country, we have never really come to grips with the fact that a presidential campaign colluded with the Russian government in an attempt to influence the election in their favor. The Republicans have a vested interest in ensuring that we never do. Attempting to discredit and silence Adam Schiff is a major part of that effort.  

Saturday, January 14, 2023

DeSantis Is Trying to Take Control of a Private Company

Recently Jonathan Chait captured why I've been keeping an eye on Florida's Governor, Ron DeSantis. 

The threat of right-wing authoritarianism in the United States has lodged itself in the public mind in the model of January 6: A candidate for office refuses to accept defeat and then gins up phony legal complaints escalating into violence. But the more durable and successful model is the pattern used by strongmen like Viktor Orban, which does not require a violent assault on the state but instead employs a combination of legal methods...

The methods Chait identifies as those used by Orban include:

  • stacking legislative districts, 
  • using state power to bully corporations into support for the ruling party, 
  • marginalizing independent media and exploiting state-controlled pseudo-journalistic alternatives, and 
  • seizing control of the education system.
Chait goes on to point out that DeSantis is employing all of those methods. For a good run-down on how the governor is doing that, check out an article by Heather Digby Parton titled: "Ron DeSantis is tripling-down on the culture war — and running hard toward 2024." Parton provides us with an outline of how right wing authoritarianism is being rolled out in Florida in a way that is "more durable and successful" than the model used by Trump.

It is also important, however, to point out that several of the initiatives DeSantis has rolled out haven't been all that successful. That part of the story isn't getting told very often because clickbait media is geared toward soundbites, not how things develop over time. Such is the case with the governor's battle with Disney. To re-cap, here's a summary of what has happened so far:
  1. Disney took a public stand against the governor's "don't say gay" bill.
  2. In retaliation, DeSantis signed a bill to terminate all Florida special tax districts created prior to 1968 (including Disney's Reedy Creek District). It is set to go into effect on June 23, 2023.
  3. Reedy Creek holds about $1 billion in bond debt that would be passed on to Florida taxpayers if the special district is terminated. 
  4. Reports surfaced that the governor was working behind the scenes to come up with a plan that would make minor changes, but leave the special district in place.
The latest development is that last week a notice was posted on Osceola County's web site announcing that a bill will be introduced in the Florida legislature that will amend, reenact, and repeal portions of the legislation that created the Reedy Creek District. 

Under the original legislation, a board of supervisors governs the district. They must own land in the district and a majority must live in either Orange or Osceola County. The five members of the board are elected by landowners in the district. All of that is why Disney controls Reedy Creek - the district was drawn to contour the land owned or controlled by Disney.

According to spokespersons for DeSantis, a big part of his plan is to revise that so that the governor appoints the board of supervisors...and declare victory. 

Let's unpack some of that, shall we? The only thing that threatened Reedy Creek's responsibility for their outstanding debt was the governor's move to eliminate their status as a special district. When it comes to the district paying its fair share of taxes, here's what you need to know:

In addition to collecting and remitting sales taxes to the state (including the percentage that goes to each county) and Tourist Development Taxes from hotel guests, Disney pays property taxes to Orange and Osceola County at the same millage rate as all other county taxpayers (totaling nearly $300 million from 2015 to 2020). The Florida Constitution does not allow taxpayers within a county to be treated differently unless those taxpayers consent to the creation of a special taxing district to levy additional taxes on top of the regular county property taxes.

And that’s exactly what RCID has been doing for over 50 years. Disney pays additional taxes to RCID (at the highest millage rate in the state) to cover expenditures for government-type functions like building permitting, fire and emergency medical services, a power plant, water and waste treatment, trash and recycling, and construction and maintenance of roadways and waterways.

The annual budget for fiscal year 2022 is more than $160 million, and RCID uses those funds to maintain a higher standard for these various functions than any local, state, or federal government entity would be able to accomplish.

The only part of Frenske's statement that isn't total bullshit is the fact that DeSantis wants to impose a "state-controlled board." As state house representative Anna Eskamani put it, "the main goal is to give DeSantis control over a private company." 

Will the governor get away with doing that? Writing for Bloomberg Tax, attorney Jacob Schumer says "not likely."

If Florida attempts to place Reedy Creek under state control, Disney will have a much stronger court case than if the state simply dissolved the district...

Disney’s right to elect its representatives is much stronger than its right to have Reedy Creek exist at all. Disney, as property owner, was granted the statutory right to elect the district’s board of supervisors. If Florida tried to replace it with state political appointees...the state [would be] taking away a landowner’s right to vote for its local representatives—an action courts are much more accustomed to stepping in to prevent.

It is clear that DeSantis is a long way from solving this mess he created. Almost no one in the media is covering that part of the story. Reports tend to accept that the governor's attempt to dissolve Reedy Creek is a fait accompli. That is hardly the case.  

Monday, January 9, 2023

During Trump's Presidency, the Deficit Ballooned and Congress Raised the Debt Ceiling Three Times

Now that House Republicans have finally elected a speaker, talk has turned to their agenda. It will likely come in three forms. The first is that they'll pass a lot of "show bills" that have no chance of clearing the Democratic-controlled Senate - much less being signed by President Joe Biden. For example, first up will be an attempt to defund the addition of IRS agents passed by the last Congress.

The second item on the agenda will be a return to Benghazi-style committee "investigations" designed to hurt Biden and his administration - perhaps even lead to impeachment votes. 

What these two items have in common is that they continue to employ the performative politics that have come to define the current GOP. Nothing will actually be accomplished, but they'll allow the stars of the show to produce sound-bites for right wing media. 

The third item on the agenda is actually the one to be concerned about. House Republicans have made it pretty clear that they will refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless they get concessions on a reduction in federal spending - even though failure to raise the debt ceiling would trigger a global economic crisis. 

Much of the discussion about the GOP agenda has focused on this danger. What hasn't been addressed is how utterly hypocritical it is. You might remember that it was in 2011 that Republicans first tried to use the debt ceiling to hold the country hostage. 

As is now the case, they were demanding deep cuts in federal spending. That became a pattern during Obama's presidency. The claim was that the federal budget deficit was crippling the economy both now and for future generations. 

But then came the Trump presidency. Even before covid hit in 2020, here's what was happening:
The U.S. government’s budget deficit ballooned to nearly $1 trillion in 2019, the Treasury Department announced Friday, as the United States’ fiscal imbalance widened for a fourth consecutive year despite a sustained run of economic growth...

It is unusual for the government to run such a large budget deficit during a period of economic growth, because spending on unemployment and other benefits tends to contract and tax revenue often grows. But the White House and Congress have contributed to the deficit’s surge by enacting large spending increases and passing the 2017 tax cut law.
Of course the deficit ballooned exponentially when the pandemic hit - culminating in a familiar pattern: deficits go up under Republican presidents and down under Democratic presidents.

Republicans never expressed concern over the federal deficit during Trump's presidency. What is even more important to keep in mind is that, as the deficit ballooned during those four years, Congress raised the debt ceiling three times - with zero complaints/threats from Republicans. 

There are only two things that have changed since those years: (1) a Democrat was elected president in 2020, and (2) that Democratic president reduced the deficit by over $1 trillion.

Any Republican who sets their hair on fire over the federal deficit in the coming weeks should not just be challenged, but booted off the stage. It's all a sham. Now run and tell that!

When it comes to the presidential race, are polls all that matter?

A little more than five months from the 2024 presidential election,  conventional wisdom  suggests that  Biden is losing . But according to ...