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Who Says House Oversight Isn’t Doing Its Job?

[ 101 ] February 17, 2017 |

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You might think that the presidency of the United States was enough of a prize for the EMAILS! faint echo of a scandal, but you can’t serve America a cyanide-and-shit omelet without breaking a lot of eggs:

The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, who has refused Democratic requests to investigate possible conflicts of interest involving President Donald Trump, is seeking criminal charges against a former State Department employee who helped set up Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday asking him to convene a grand jury or charge Bryan Pagliano, the computer specialist who helped establish Clinton’s server while she was secretary of state.

To paraphrase Justice Harlan, straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel is the governing credo of House Republicans. I mean, the camel might have a bad weave job but it contains upper-class tax cuts.

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Another New, and Bad, Equilibrium

[ 87 ] February 16, 2017 |

Eric Levitz has an amusing post that also has a serious conclusion:

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He continues:

This is a point that the president’s critics should take seriously. Even if one thinks that the FBI served the public interest by leaking in this specific case, the principle that our unelected law-enforcement agencies should not publicize the details of ongoing investigations is one worth protecting. For now, the FBI’s leaks are merely alerting the public to possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence agencies — and, thereby, making it more politically difficult for the president to quash existing inquiries into that matter.

But how else might the FBI use its power to selectively reveal investigatory information in the future? It is not impossible to imagine the agency actually swinging an election over baseless insinuations, by disclosing bits of information in a misleading way.

Even if it hadn’t swung the election, Comey’s grossly irresponsible and unethical actions served to demonstrate the substantive value of the rules and norms he violated. His selective interventions into the election undermined American democracy with horrible results. But obliterating the norms is also going to mean more actions by factions within the FBI to undermine elected officials. It would be much better if the old norms had held, even now that interventions are more likely to hurt Trump than help him. But expecting unilateral disarmament is unrealistic, so once the norms go it’s generally impossible to restore them. The damage Comey inflicted on American democracy will have repressions that extend well beyond the bad outcomes of the Trump administration.

Morality Plays Need Cartoon Villains, Even if They Have to be Invented

[ 453 ] February 16, 2017 |

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I fully endorse everything Erik says about 1)the contest between two ideologically indistinguishable left-liberals over who will take a position whose importance tends to be vastly exaggerated, and 2)how re-ligating the primaries — from the perspective of support for either candidate — is both counterproductive and tends to turn people’s minds into mush.

This interview contains the reductio ad absurdum of seeing the DNC race through the prism of the Assassination of Saint Bernard Sanders by the Neoliberal Coward Hillary Clinton. Most of the words here aren’t really worth engaging with. I’ll leave it to you to determine whether Democrats are DOOOOOOMED stories will hold up better than the identical stories told about Republicans in 2008, and the argument that “Hillary Clinton sucks” is the only acceptable thing to discuss about the 2016 elections is obviously useless retrospectively (many variables determined the outcome of the election in addition to the limitations and tactical errors of the Democratic nominee) and prospectively (Hillary Clinton will not be the Democratic nominee in 2020, so problem solved!) But this is revolting:

You’ve got Keith Ellison, [who] in many ways is a very promising figure. He has an idea of remaking the party from the ground up and registering people to vote. Rebuilding the party at the base. Ellison is being challenged by Tom Perez, the secretary of labor under Obama — soon to be replaced by a fast-food executive. It’s all so grim. Perez is a guy who wanted to race-bait Bernie Sanders, but now is running against the black Muslim guy on some kind of white identitarian grounds — it makes no sense at all.

[…]

Right! It’s like termites eating the house from within. It’s about to collapse. Democrats were very complacent about it during the campaign. They were convinced that the Republican party was a “dumpster fire,” a party in meltdown. No, the party meltdown is their own. Ellison has at least a strategy for building from the bottom up. Perez is a top-down kind of guy. Very Clintonite. He pretends to be very pro-labor, but not really. We now just parenthetically see the SEIU, which has been a very important part of the Democratic coalition, about to cut its budget by a third.

Much of this — like the idea that there’s a disagreement between Ellison and Perez about whether it’s desirable to register voters — is just silly. The idea that Perez wanted to “race bait” Sanders is a ludicrous distortion of some banal political observations. But what’s appalling is the assertion that Perez isn’t “really” pro-labor. This is either risibly ignorant or flatly dishonest. As Erik has said, Perez is almost certainly the most progressive and effective Secretary of Labor since Frances Perkins. He used his regulatory powers to advance the interests of labor in many important ways. (Of course, when your stock in trade is minimizing the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties at a time when differences are massive and getting bigger, ignoring this is crucial.) Before that, he was a very progressive and effective head of the Civil Rights Division. To assert that Perez is a phony who isn’t really pro-labor is an absolutely disgusting smear completely at odds with his record, as disgusting as portraying Ellison as an anti-Semite or claiming that Ellison isn’t a real midwestern populist because you know.

But, of course, since this isn’t really about who will be the DNC chair, anything as mundane as Perez’s actual record and actual positions is beside the point. Bernie is truth, Bernie is beauty, Hillary is the antithesis of truth and beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. In this context Perez and Ellison are just stock figures in an ongoing re-enactment of the 2016 primaries, and people engaged in this rather lame hobby will project what they need to onto the actors. If you need to morph Tom Perez into Rahm Emmanuel to make the fantasy more vivid, I guess that’s what you have to do.

Ellison and Perez are both excellent as American public officials go, and I have no idea which is a better fit for the (not really very important) DNC job. Symbolically, the fact that the head of the DNC is coming down to two candidates from the left of the party should make it clear that the question of whether the direction of the party should be left of 2008 and way left of 1996 has been settled in the affirmative. That some people on the left for whom despising the Democratic Party is a central element of their political identities will refuse to take “yes” for an answer shouldn’t distract the rest of us going forward.

Winner of the Week: Dr. Jill Stein, MD

[ 52 ] February 15, 2017 |

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No wonder Stein thought Hillary Clinton was the more dangerous evil — after all, would Clinton have been willing to stick it to BIG VAXX like Trump?

On Wednesday, Kennedy said that he’s been contacted by the Trump administration three times since their original meeting in January. “They tell me that they’re still going forward with a commission,” Kennedy said, adding that he “can’t tell” whether it will happen. BuzzFeed News has asked the administration for comment on these claims.

But in a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on Wednesday that included the actor Robert De Niro, Kennedy argued that the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, in cahoots with journalists, have been denying the dangers of vaccines, fueled largely by money pumped in by a powerful pharmaceutical industry. He called the public health agency a “cesspool of corruption” and “a vaccine company,” that hid science from the public. To that end, Kennedy announced the “World Mercury Project Challenge,” offering $100,000 to anyone who could find a scientific study that demonstrated the safety of thimerosal-containing vaccines in children and pregnant women.

“What we’ve been told is not science. It’s more akin to religion. It’s orthodoxy,” Kennedy told an audience of perhaps two dozen journalists, and several thousand people watching the livestream on his group’s Facebook page. “We need to break this impasse.”

Make America whooping cough again!

Puzder’d

[ 74 ] February 15, 2017 |

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Looks like a win, finally:

At least four Republican senators are still on the fence about whether to support Andrew Puzder, President Trump’s choice for labor secretary, putting more pressure on the restaurant executive and political novice to win over members of the president’s own party to win confirmation.

The four Republicans are all members of the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where Puzder is set to appear Thursday to answer questions. The high level of public concern is notable, given that Republicans have for the most part supported Trump’s Cabinet picks even before their confirmation hearings.

It seems safe to say that the National Review wouldn’t be coming out against him if he wasn’t cooked.

Any Trump Secretary of Labor is going to be horrible, of course, but with the exception of Sessions Puzder may well have been Trump’s worst cabinet nominee. It’s good if/when he goes down.

UPDATE: He’s Puzder’d.

On Obama’s Neoliberal Heritage Foundation Bailout of the Health Insurance Industry

[ 130 ] February 15, 2017 |

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Two good recent pieces by Sarah Kliff. First, on the importance of eliminating lifetime spending caps:

Six months before Timmy was born, President Barack Obama signed a sweeping health care law that would come to bear his name. Six days before Timmy’s birth, the Obama administration began to phase in a provision that banned insurance companies from limiting how much they would pay for any individual’s medical bills over his or her lifetime. At the time the Affordable Care Act passed, 91 million Americans had employer-sponsored plans that imposed those so-called lifetime limits.

That group included Timmy’s parents, whose plan previously included a $1 million lifetime limit. This Obamacare provision took effect September 23, 2010. Timmy was born September 29. On December 17, he surpassed $1 million worth of bills in the neonatal intensive care unit. He didn’t leave the NICU until he was 5 months old.

If Timmy had been born a week earlier, his medical benefits could have run out while he was still in the NICU. But that didn’t happen. His insurer covered everything. The NICU bills his parents save total just over $2 million (they come out to $2,070,146.94, to be exact).

“He would have lost his insurance at a million dollars,” his mom, Michelle Morrison, estimates, “which would have been about [halfway through] the NICU stay.”

Second, on the importance of the ACA to career freedom:

I spend a lot of time talking to Obamacare enrollees like Hoover: people who struck out on their own — left a job, started a business, went back to school — after Obamacare. They felt empowered to do this because in the reformed individual market, insurers had to offer everyone coverage — and couldn’t charge sick people more.

And now, many of them are already beginning to rearrange their lives around the law’s uncertain future.

There were 1.4 million self-employed people who relied on the marketplaces for coverage in 2014, recent research from the Treasury Department shows. That works out to one-fifth of all marketplace enrollees being people who work for themselves.

The Medicaid expansion is the most important part of the ACA, but the regulations that make insurance better and more accessible are also extremely important.

On balance, the Trump administration was the worst case scenario for a Republican presidency. But in this particular but critical issue, a Rubio or Cruz administration would be even worse. The always-imploding Trump administration does make it more likely that the most important liberal (not “neo”) legislation since the Johnson administration will survive.

But Her Etc.

[ 292 ] February 14, 2017 |

Well, well, well:

Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time that they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.

The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.

But the intercepts alarmed American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Mr. Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. At one point last summer, Mr. Trump said at a campaign event that he hoped Russian intelligence services had stolen Hillary Clinton’s emails and would make them public.

The officials said the intercepted communications were not limited to Trump campaign officials, and included other associates of Mr. Trump. On the Russian side, the contacts also included members of the Russian government outside of the intelligence services, the officials said. All of the current and former officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the continuing investigation is classified.

A study in contrasts:

And lest we forget:

nytsat

Trump’s election was a coup d’etat — remember, Comey didn’t merely bury the Russian connection while doing everything he could to keep EMAILS! alive, he actively implied that there was no Russian connection — and Dean Baquet was a primary accessory before and after the fact. It’s nice we’re finally getting some journalism now but…

And needless to say:

Or if she didn’t release her tax returns. Or had settled a massive fraud suit based on her fraudulent “university.” Or…

Rand Paul, International Man of Principle and Integritude

[ 36 ] February 14, 2017 |
Photo via Christian Post. http://www.christianpost.com/news/hundreds-of-iowa-pastors-pray-for-born-again-christian-presidential-hopefuls-ted-cruz-rand-paul-100594/

Photo via Christian Post. http://www.christianpost.com/news/hundreds-of-iowa-pastors-pray-for-born-again-christian-presidential-hopefuls-ted-cruz-rand-paul-100594/

Where can we find a political figure as ridiculous as Paul Ryan, who actually conned some people on the left? I KNOW:

Flynn resigned Monday evening amid revelations that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he had in December with Russia’s ambassador to the US about sanctions placed on Russia. Pence had defended Flynn on television and denied he discussed sanctions after initial reports of the conversations.

And while several other Republican senators have called for investigation of the incident, Paul said it would not make sense to have more investigations, especially of fellow Republicans.

I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party. We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.”

“Performing our oversight role against other Republicans would detract from our effort to take health care from 30 million people because freedom.” Besides, it’s not like this is something serious, like Hillary Clinton’s yoga schedule.

Still, because of his courageous stand against hypothetical drone attacks on white American gun owners, Rand Paul is truly a great and independent civil libertarian.

Paul Ryan, International Man of Principle and Integritude

[ 123 ] February 14, 2017 |
An outtake from the Paul Ryan photo shoot that was inspired by his Facebook photos showing him working out with P90X creator Tony Horton

An outtake from the Paul Ryan photo shoot that was inspired by his Facebook photos showing him working out with P90X creator Tony Horton

Paul Ryan is always serious, and never more so that when American national security is involved:

Republicans insist they do not support any probe of Flynn’s actions or what Trump may have known. “It’s taking care of itself,” insists House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz.

What about House Speaker Paul Ryan? Ryan is known for his fanatical belief in informational security. The Speaker once held such strong views on classified information that he demanded Hillary Clinton be denied access to classified briefings during the campaign because she had shown, by using a private email server, she could not be trusted with the nation’s secrets. “The consequences for the safety of our nation are grave,” he wrote solemnly. “Clinton’s actions may have allowed our enemies to access intelligence vital to our national security.” Ryan has learned from that episode to be far less judgmental. And now today, even the prospect that Trump allowed intelligence to be exposed to a staffer whom he knew to be potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail strikes him as unworthy of investigation.

Today, Ryan said, “I’m not going to prejudge the circumstances surrounding this.” And since Ryan is not forcing an investigation, he won’t post-judge, either. No prejudging, no post-judging, no judging of any kind, just moving on.

Ridiculous as it is, when oily hacks like Chaffetz and Ryan pretended to give a shit about Hillary Clinton’s EMAILS! they were acting in their own narrow political self-interest. The real question is why so many prominent editors and reporters dutifully followed these obvious snipe hunts and hyped one of them until it put an actual security threat in the White House. And a subsidiary question is whether anything can actually undermine Paul Ryan’s sterling media reputation.

Upping the Ante

[ 46 ] February 14, 2017 |

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The stakes in the ACA war keep getting higher:

Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus voted among themselves Monday night to band together and support only an Obamacare repeal that is at least as aggressive as a bill the House and Senate passed in 2015, putting GOP leaders in a bind with their conference and perhaps even threatening the possibility of passing a repeal.

The group of roughly 35 to 40 House conservatives voted to take this official position ― meaning it received the support of at least 80 percent of the members and is therefore supposed to be the position of all lawmakers in the group ― amid some GOP consternation that Republicans ought to focus more on repairing the law rather than repealing it, as well as amid heavy voter pressure in many districts to leave the law intact.

“If it’s less than the 2015 [bill], we will oppose it,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) told a small group of reporters Monday night.

Meadows added that the Freedom Caucus would encourage replacing Obamacare at the same time Congress repeals it but that if GOP leaders put the same 2015 reconciliation bill gutting major parts of Obamacare on the floor, conservatives in the group would support it.

The 2015 repeal bill removed the Medicaid expansion that is popular in many red states ― including among many Republican governors ― and repealed the individual and employer mandates. The bill also removed the law’s subsidies and the taxes that helped to pay for them. In short, it would disassemble Obamacare.

On the one hand, this makes it more likely that the ACA survives largely unscathed, because unless Republicans are willing to blow up the filibuster repeal of the Medicaid expansion is DOA in the Senate, and it won’t be easy to pass in the House either. On the other hand, it means that if repeal does pass it will probably be a complete catastrophe.

One thing to add is that for all the credit John Roberts gets for not endorsing most of the neoconfederate claims against the ACA, the Medicaid expansion would almost certainly be safe had he not ineptly re-written it based on a transparently incoherent theory. The Freedom (sic) Caucus might inadvertently save it, but if most red states had taken the expansion it would be almost completely safe.

Out Like Flynn

[ 135 ] February 14, 2017 |

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Adieu:

Embattled White House national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned Monday night, an abrupt end to a brief tenure.

His departure came just after reports surfaced the Justice Department warned the Trump administration last month that Flynn misled administration officials regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians.

One person who keeps smelling looking good amidst the American carnage is Sally Yates:

The acting attorney general informed the Trump White House late last month that she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail, current and former U.S. officials said.

The message, delivered by Sally Q. Yates and a senior career national security official to the White House counsel, was prompted by concerns that ­Flynn, when asked about his calls and texts with the Russian diplomat, had told Vice ­President-elect Mike Pence and others that he had not discussed the Obama administration sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, the officials said. It is unclear what the White House counsel, Donald McGahn, did with the information.

We Don’t Need No Education

[ 233 ] February 13, 2017 |

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Dr. Jill Stein, MD:

So can I assume that Stein will agree to move to a relatively poor country where she doesn’t know anybody with no money, in order to educate the public about the man she wanted to be president, and did whatever she could to make president? Or is it only people much less privileged than her who should be sacrificed and have their lives ruined so Stein can crow about shifts in public opinion? I think you know the answer!

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