Friday, March 31, 2017

Is Trump thinking about quitting?

Maybe I should have taken that bet.  Two sources I consider to be of dubious stature -- Palmer Report and Inquisitir -- are reporting exactly that as of last night, in ongoing fallout from Michael Flynn's implosion, his latest act of desperation being an offer to testify under immunity from prosecution.  First, from the Hillbot blog that almost never links to anything except Twitter.


Now that Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser is offering to testify in Trump’s Russia scandal in exchange for immunity, it significantly narrows the path for Trump managing to survive the scandal himself. Flynn is essentially admitting he’s guilty just by asking for immunity, and such a deal will only be granted if Flynn can take down a bigger fish; that fish would be Trump. So it doesn’t come as a total shock to see a credible report tonight that Donald Trump is considering resigning.

Go ahead, give the guy the click.  He mentioned 'big fish' and baited the hook for you.

Here's the excerpt from Jared Kushner's shop, which occasionally forgets to run some kinda big deal past its publisher.

Donald Trump is reportedly considering resigning the presidency after reports that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has offered to testify about allegations that the Trump campaign worked with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign.

To review:

There have been reports circulating for months that Trump was working closely with Russian intelligence officials, and the allegations were laid out in a dossier compiled by a former British MI6 agent. The report claimed that Russian officials had worked for many years to cultivate Donald Trump as a candidate, compiling embarrassing information to use as blackmail while also offering lucrative financial deals for Trump. The dossier alleged that Trump struck a deal to lessen sanctions on Russia in exchange for help taking down Hillary Clinton.

That help allegedly came in the form of emails from Clinton’s campaign leader and the Democratic National Committee, stolen by Russian hackers and published through WikiLeaks.

Flynn had already been taking (sic) down for his connections to Russia. The national security adviser served just three weeks before resigning for reportedly lying to Vice President Mike Pence about contact with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak.

Yesterday's Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, with Clinton Watts as the spotlight dancer, set ablaze the New Cold War paranoia again.  Let's read Newscorpse for the scary details.

Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday. The former FBI agent was called to give testimony about the unfolding allegations of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump. His testimony addressed many of the most troubling aspects of Trump’s unsavory connections to Russia during the 2016 election.

After his testimony, Watts was interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN. He affirmed much of what he told the committee and described the objectives of the Russian operatives. Watts was straight forward with this assessment of the situation:

Blitzer: What was Putin’s objective in all of this?

Watts: The ultimate objective is to destroy democracies from the inside out. What he wants to do is erode trust and sow divisions in the U.S. electorate.

Watts went on to say that intelligence operatives saw hacks and leaks that were “synchronized” with the Trump campaign. “That tends to lead to the belief that there was coordination,” he said. He also spoke about the “trail of dead Russians” that could lead to the confirmation of allegations raised by the infamous “Trump dossier.

This is about as close as any witness has come to asserting a direct relationship between Trump’s campaign and the Russians. The CIA has already confirmed that Russian operatives were working to help Trump get elected and to hurt Hillary Clinton. The risks facing Watts for his testimony were on his mind during the Senate hearings. He told Blitzer that:

“If I speak today, my bank account could be compromised, I could be discredited through compromising materials, some true some false, but I think the biggest concern is I’m not confident right now that the U.S. government would actually come to bat for me. I’ve seen President Trump call for Russia to leak emails against a political opponent, I’ve seen him discredit the U.S. intelligence community to cite conspiracies that he’s seen on his Twitter feed.

“So, if I say things that the Trump administration doesn’t like or that is counter to Putin, I’m not sure it’s not Trump first, Russia second and the rest of America third.”

That description of Trump’s loyalties should send chills down the spine of every American. Watts’ career has put him in dangerous positions around the world. He is no shrinking violet. But his doubts amount to an indictment of Trump’s patriotism. Watts added that the Trump White House could not be relied on for anything but its own self-interests. “They will push falsehoods to achieve political objectives,” he said, “before they will push the truth for the American people.”

That has been borne out many times as Trump and his spokespersons disseminate “alternative facts” and cast false accusations at critics and the press. It is part of a grand strategy to discredit anyone who dares to find fault with the president. But as the Russian scandals compound, Trump is finding it increasingly more difficult to defend himself and his cohorts.

This Daily Kos diarist also passes along a Tweet from someone named West Wing Reports that former RNC chief Michael Steele is telling him/her "at lunch that Trump will not finish his term; advises clients to bolster ties w/VP Pence".

Let's establish that Trump is precisely the sort of petty, hyper-aggressive bully that would take his ball and go home if everybody won't stop being mean to him.  But I am only able to give veracity to these accounts after the fact; if indeed Trump quits the presidency sooner than later.  Until that comes into reality, I'm popping corn and watching and reading along with you.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Beto is in

Or will be officially, tomorrow.  Jon Tilove at the Statesman:

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s political operation has sent an email to supporters Wednesday promising a “big announcement” on Friday, an almost certain sign that the El Paso Democrat will be announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Ted Cruz.

“Beto’s been traveling across Texas for the past four months, meeting with people in communities big and small. The energy and passion he’s seen have been inspiring. Together, we can do something really big, and really powerful for the state of Texas — and for this country,” the email read. “Congressman Beto O’Rourke has a big announcement to make on Friday.”

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, also has been considering entering the race and promised a decision by the end of April.

“It’s no secret that Joaquin is heavily weighing a Senate run, and he will continue to have those discussions with his family, friends and supporters across Texas,” Castro’s political director, Matthew Jones, said in a statement Wednesday. “He plans to make his decision in the coming weeks.”

If he entered the race, Castro would have distinct advantages in name ID and organization over O’Rourke. But he has been considered a less likely candidate. Both O’Rourke, 44, and Castro, 42, are in their third terms in the House. O’Rourke has promised not to serve more than four terms while Castro has a potentially longer, brighter future there. He serves on the House Intelligence Committee which is investigating potential Russia ties to the Trump campaign and Trump administration.

I wouldn't care for a contested primary (Democrats need less divisiveness, not more) and would rather Beto than Joaquin, as O'Rourke is somewhat to the left of Castro.  I say 'somewhat' because Justice Democrats, another organization trying to pull the Donkeys to the left, has a graphic that shows neither man has signed on to Bernie Sanders' Medicare for All bill, so there's an opportunity to take a stand for something that Hillary Clinton said would 'never, ever happen'.  I'm also no fan of the manner in which the twins perform this Hamlet-esque rumination over their political futures -- or perhaps more accurately, the way they allow and encourage reporters and bloggers and supporters and opponents to do so.  It's a little annoying.  Be that as it may ...

O’Rourke, little known outside his district, would be a long shot in a state that remains reliably Republican. But the Trump presidency adds an element of uncertainty to political calculations everywhere in 2018, and O’Rourke’s recent bipartisan road trip with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, demonstrated a talent for winning positive notice and using social media to engage a large audience.
O’Rourke, a fluent Spanish speaker who lives on the border and says that it is the safest and best place to be, would offer a stark contrast to the politics of Cruz and Trump.

The key to victory for O'Rourke -- and not Castro -- won't be the money but the enthusiasm he is able to generate.  That, and Matt Dowd running.  Notable among his otherwise cipher-like qualities, Dowd predicted in September of 2015 that Trump would be the GOP nominee, which was a couple of months after Michael Moore did so, but was certainly a narrow limb to be perched on at that point in the 2016 cycle.  Now he wants to bid for the Senate as an indy, and that will IMO take more votes from Poop Cruz than it will either Democrat.  There is an Evan McMullin quality to Dowd that represents his greatest threat to the status quo today, and by virtue of the outcome of extremist conservative developments like the bathroom bill in the Lege, he may be able to parlay a chunk of unmeasurable anti-Trump/anti-Dan Patrick sentiment into something significant enough to tip the scales in a general election.  It would have to be at least ten percent of the vote, probably higher.

Debates between Dowd and O'Rourke would definitely not be at lowest-common-denominator intelligence level, and whether I'm right or wrong about the participants -- after all, Michael McCaul could still primary Cruz and defeat him -- a three-way race makes for some fun in 2018.

Gadfly has a good take and so does Kuff.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

And starring Devin Nunes as Shemp Howard


I'm not as old as the Stooges, but I'm old enough to remember when Republicans in Congress had some dignity.  Why, they weren't all lickspittles to the president, even.


The evidence is now clear that the White House and Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, have worked together to halt what was previously billed as a sweeping investigation of Russian interference in last year’s election. “We’ve been frozen,” Jim Himes, a Democratic representative from Connecticut who is a member of the Committee, said.

The freeze started after last Monday’s hearing, where James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, revealed that the F.B.I. has been investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia since last July. Comey also said that there was no evidence to support Trump’s tweets about being wiretapped.

(Yesterday) the House panel was scheduled to hear from three top officials who had served under the Obama Administration: Sally Yates, the former Deputy Attorney General, who briefly served as acting Attorney General, before being fired by President Trump; John Brennan, the former head of the C.I.A.; and James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence. But last week Nunes cancelled today’s hearing.

“The Monday hearing last week was, I’m sure, not to the White House’s liking,” said Himes. “Since Monday, I’m sorry to say, the chairman has ceased to be the chairman of an investigative committee and has been running interference for the Trump White House, cancelling hearings.”

So much for checks and balances.  How many times must the same lesson be learned?  "It's not the crime, it's the coverup".  What are you hiding (or trying to help Trump hide)?

Since then, Nunes and the White House have kicked up a cloud of peripheral issues that have distracted attention from Comey’s testimony and that of Michael Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency; Nunes and the Trump Administration have essentially shut down the investigation. Last night, Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, called for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation. “All of this has cast such a cloud on the public perception of his impartiality that I think it would be in his interest as well as the committee’s” ...

Since last Monday’s hearing, Nunes, who was a member of the Trump transition team, has spoken repeatedly about the issue of incidental collection, the intelligence community’s term for the communications of innocent Americans that can be swept up when the N.S.A. or other agencies legally spy on a foreign target. The Russian ambassador, a legal target of surveillance, was recorded talking to Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national-security adviser, who was a victim of incidental collection.

The White House and Nunes were clearly co√∂rdinating this strategy. A few days before the hearing, Trump seemed to offer a preview of it. In an interview on Fox News, the president said that he “will be submitting things” to Nunes’s committee “very soon,” and “perhaps speaking about this next week,” adding that “you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”

Last Monday morning, shortly before the start of the hearing, a senior White House official (said), “You’ll see the setting of the predicate. That’s the thing to watch today.” He suggested that (author Ryan Lizza) read a piece in The Hill about incidental collection. The article posited that if “Trump or his advisors were speaking directly to foreign individuals who were the target of U.S. spying during the election campaign, and the intelligence agencies recorded Trump by accident, it’s plausible that those communications would have been collected and shared amongst intelligence agencies.”

Go read that piece in The Hill.  And keep in mind two things: when Nunes ran to the White House to tell Trump this, Cheetolini felt 'somewhat vindicated' for his allegations of being wiretapped by Obama, and he went somewhere besides Mar-a-Lago to play golf last weekend.  For the first time since he was inaugurated.

The White House clearly indicated ... that it knew Nunes would highlight this issue. “It’s backdoor surveillance where it’s not just incidental, it’s systematic,” the White House official said. “Watch Nunes ...”

Sure enough, at last Monday’s hearing, Nunes asked in his opening statement, “Were the communications of officials or associates of any campaign subject to any kind of improper surveillance?” He continued, “The Intelligence Community has extremely strict procedures for handling information pertaining to any U.S. citizens who are subject even to incidental surveillance, and this committee wants to insure all surveillance activities have followed all relevant laws, rules, and regulations.” Nunes made it clear that Trump’s wiretapping claim was false, but he seemed intent on offering the President a fig leaf for the explosive claim. “It’s still possible that other surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates,” he insisted. The overwhelming majority of questions from Republicans at the hearing revolved around this issue.

Dunes set off these smoke bombs to protect his president at great loss to his reputation, whatever it may have been prior to his fully compromising it.  A hallmark of any Republican administration, but especially this one, is fealty.  Even if that means you fall on your sword when you are caught engaging in an obvious and perhaps criminal deception.  Like W Bush (Scooter Libby) and Reagan (Oliver North) and Nixon (Robert Bork, et. al.) before him, Trump and his ilk believe there is nothing they cannot do.  The difference -- and to be clear, this evolution began with Bush -- is that Congressional Republicans simply don't care if it breaks the law.

Read on through the rest of the developments Ryan Lizza chronicles at the first link.  It sorta feels like a constitutional crisis is coming down the tracks, particularly with a vote on a possible Supreme Court justice coming next week.

More from Jay Bookman, and the moneyshot:

Indeed, Nunes’ strange behavior, his constantly shifting stories and his seemingly panicked management style have made Trump look more guilty, even if he really isn’t. With his behavior, Nunes has also made it clear that we need an independent, nonpartisan counsel to investigate the increasingly troubling links between the Trump campaign, the Trump business empire and Russian intelligence operatives, and to give the American people a definitive account of what has happened.

[...]

It’s a clown act. And instead of dispelling doubts and suspicions about Trump’s campaign, it accentuates them. If Nunes thought that a fair and impartial investigation would clear Trump, why hasn’t he conducted that fair and impartial investigation? Why has he repeatedly acted as if the truth were dangerous?


Update: "(I)t isn’t a good sign when a leading senator from your own party says you’ve lost all credibility and mockingly compares you to Inspector Clouseau."

I'll stick with Shemp.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Weekly Wrangle

Unlike the president and the Republican Congress, the Texas Progressive Alliance does NOT promise to repeal last week's roundup and replace it with something 'better' and 'cheaper' this week.


Off the Kuff identifies the top legislative districts to target in 2018.

Socratic Gadfly sees Greens and other left-liberals talking libertarian-style about getting rid of the Federal Reserve and offers them a reality check about it, with suggestions for proper reform, while noting its neededness.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme warns Texas Republicans on track to destroy local rule, another anti-democratic war on citizens and on voters.

It was another lousy week to be a Republican as Trumpcare went down in flames, the Russian problems flared up again, and the TXGOP started fighting with each other right out in the open. PDiddie at Brains and Eggs managed to cram all the action into one blog post, with some crow left over for the Democrats.

Neil at All People Have Value has four observations on the failure of Trumpcare.

Teddy Wilson at Rewire investigates the state's contract with the anti-abortion Heidi Group.

The Lewisville ISD superintendent testified in a federal civil trial that he did not believe a 14-year-old student was sexually assaulted, as she alleges, as reported by the Texan Journal.

Texas Leftist repeated the story told in the Texas Observer about one Texan's effort to bring living transgender into focus for members of the Texas Legislature.

Texas Vox has the bulletin regarding the public hearing on the toxic chemical emergency alert system, tomorrow at the Lege.

jobsanger took note of Politifact's report that millions of guns have been sold in the US without a background check.

================

More news and blog posts from across the Lone Star State!


Via the Houston Chronicle, Energy Secretary Rick Perry somehow found time in his busy schedule to weigh in on the Texas A&M student body presidential election.

The San Antonio Express News reports that plans for a fracking sand mine in Atascosa County -- near the site of one of the state's historic battlefields, and over the objections of residents -- are moving ahead.

Edinburg Politics reports on Rep. Terry Canales' bill in the Lege that would reform the practice of jailing Texans who cannot pay fines for petty offenses.

The Austin Monitor took pictures of the new MetroRail trains arriving (by tractor trailer) in the capital city, and Streetsblog highlights five good transportation bills in the Lege.

Save Buffalo Bayou sees the private organization in charge of Houston's Memorial Park still determined to make some wrong-headed decisions about the fate of the bayou.

Jennifer Mercieca identifies the real harm of Trump's conspiracy theories.

Michael Li shows what a redrawn CD27 might look like.

Beyond Bones provides a road trip map from spring breaks of yore.

Juanita Jean gets in one last cackle over the Trumpcare debacle.

And congratulations to Somervell County Salon, celebrating her twelfth blogging anniversary.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Scattershooting the abominable GOP and their lame opposition

Hasn't been much going on this week, has there?


-- Trumpcare is, as predicted, DOA, but in the House and not just the Senate.  Ryan's hope, along with whatever is left of his tattered reputation for caucus discipline, cannot let him pronounce it deceased yet.

A frenzied 24 hours filled with hushed deliberations on Capitol Hill, senior-level meetings at the White House and back-to-back phone calls with the President came to an end Wednesday -- quietly and unceremoniously.

Well before midnight, this much was clear: Republicans still had no deal on their health care bill to repeal Obamacare, as a Thursday vote loomed ...

House Speaker Paul Ryan and his top deputies huddled with a group of moderate Republicans in the Speaker's office Wednesday night, as members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus sounded increasingly optimistic that they were close to getting a major concession from the White House.

Hours later, Ryan and his top deputies never came out to speak to the cameras and dozens of reporters waiting outside, and it was clear that leadership had no good news to share. With the exception of a few members who rushed away without speaking to press, all leaders in the room, including Ryan, appeared to have ducked out using side exits.

While this gathering was wrapping up, House leaders had gotten more bad news: GOP Rep. Charlie Dent, the leader of the moderate Tuesday Group, released a statement opposing the current bill spearheaded by Ryan and President Trump.

It would be valuable to remember that the Freedom Caucus is opposed to Trumpcare because it isn't cruel enough to sick people, and that sociopathy goes way beyond higher deductibles and premiums.  So let's make sure dumbass Democrats aren't under the impression they have some allies here, or that they 'won' something.  When the attacking army decides it would rather attack itself ...

-- The Russian thing comes to a full rolling boil, with House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes breaching protocol and maybe something more serious.

Investigators don’t normally brief the people they’re investigating. But on Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the Republican who’s leading a congressional investigation into whether President Donald Trump’s team colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election, went to the White House to talk to the president. 
 
The names of Trump associates — and perhaps even Trump’s own name — appeared in surveillance reports compiled by U.S. intelligence agencies in the final months of the Obama administration, Nunes said he told Trump.
Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a close Trump ally, said the intercepted communications didn’t mention Russia and were therefore unrelated to his investigation. 
But Nunes’ briefing with Trump broached the theme of an ongoing FBI investigation ― the president’s and his associate’s connections to foreign powers. And Nunes’ objective appeared political: Deflect attention from Trump and his associates’ ties to Russia, and back up Trump’s claim that he is a victim of “deep state” loyal to former President Barack Obama.

Democrats responded with a strongly worded statements; about the Russian thing itself and about Dunes' tipping off Trump before he mentioned it to his committee members.

“If a Democrat had done this, Republicans would have been asking for him to be investigated both for disclosing classified information and for obstructing justice,” said Matthew Miller, a Department of Justice spokesman during the Obama administration. “It is so far beyond the pale for the person who is conducting an investigation to both brief the subject of that investigation and potentially jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation being conducted by the FBI.”

Stern.  That ought to really get Dunes in line.

-- This is the closest anyone has come to saying -- with some supporting evidence, that is -- that "the Russians stole the election".  Not hacked, mind you.  But read the last, bolded sentence.

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign, US officials told CNN.

This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, according to one source.

The FBI is now reviewing that information, which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in-person meetings, according to those U.S. officials. The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, though officials cautioned that the information was not conclusive and that the investigation is ongoing.

As someone who has scoffed at this notion since it first broke last summer, I'm waiting with bated breath along with the rest of the country for Jim Comey's reveal.

-- It's not just the Republicans in Washington who fight with each other over who is the bigger bunch of assholes; their junior partners in Austin are cranking it up, too.

Speaker Joe Straus on Wednesday accused Senate budget writers of "cooking the books" and using an "Enron-esque" accounting gimmick to achieve their wish to spend more but not incur fiscal hard-liners' wrath by tapping state savings.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick swiftly defended Sen. Jane Nelson, the chamber's chief budget writer, and other senators on the Finance Committee. He said the panel's $217.7 billion, two-year budget was "terrific work ... using a very sound fiscal method to do so."

Texas Senate Democrats joined Republicans on the Finance Committee, voting their budget to the full body in a unanimous 15-0 vote.  Resistance!

I could add something about Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, but the Democrats' weakness in regard to his imminent confirmation has barely been redeemed by Al Franken.  Not going to be enough to stop it or even slow it down.

I'd blog more but I'm too busy spitting.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance celebrates the vernal equinox today with the latest blog post roundup.


A whiff of the Eighties -- specifically Geraldo Rivera and Al Capone's vault -- accompanied Rachel Maddow's big reveal and subsequent letdown of Trump's tax returns last Tuesday evening, at least according to PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.  And Socratic Gadfly also took Maddow's fluffery (and Maddow herself) to the cleaners.

John Coby at Bay Area Houston publishes Dan Patrick's response to the Texas men's masturbation bill: "I will beat this bill off with both hands!"  And speaking of self-abuse, Neil at All People Have Value said that the Trump budget is a pornography of self-mutilation and cruelty for his supporters. (APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.)

Off the Kuff covers the redistricting decision and what it all means going forward.

Dos Centavos implores Texas liberals to stop SB4 (the anti-sanctuary cities bill).

CouldBeTrue at South Texas Chisme links to the story about the four international bands scheduled to play at SXSW who were denied entry to the US, and other performers who had their visas revoked.

Easter Lemming reminds people that Pasadena, Texas has a chance to put voter discrimination behind them in their upcoming mayoral election.  He is busy working for Pat Van Houte's campaign.

MOMocrats follows up on the story that former US attorney Preet Bharara was investigating HHS Secretary Tom Price's stock trading at the time Bharara was fired.

Texas Vox reports that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is extending the comment period for its environmental impact statement on the proposed expansion of Waste Control Specialists' facility in west Texas, in response to public requests.

And Leopold Knopp at the Lewisville Texan Journal thinks you should just stay home and watch the original 'Beauty and the Beast' instead of the latest version in theaters now.

===============

More Texas news and blog posts!

Anna Tinsley at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram writes about state Rep. Ina Minjares' bill intended to spare the canine and feline subjects of research and testing from euthanasia by offering them for adoption.

Jay Leeson at Burkablog has the backstory of Rep. John Smithee's bill to honor Nelda Laney, the wife of former Speaker Pete Laney.

Ashton P. Woods at Strength in Numbers explains how the Trump budget could affect you.

Somervell County Salon ruminates for the easily amused about MAGAmericans.

Nipuni Gomes deconstructs conservative author Dinesh D'Souza after he spoke at Trinity University in San Antonio earlier this month.

Rice University professor Dan Wallach offers some practical advice for buying “Internet of Things” devices.

Johnathan Tilove at First Reading has some highlights of Will Hurd and Beto O'Rourke's bipartisan road trip, while Melissa del Bosque at the Texas Observer notes Henry Cuellar's slam against Trump's proposal to take border residents' land for the wall he wants to build.

Beyond Bones identifies seven native Texas bugs that you don't want to touch.

Shari Biediger at the Rivard Report found it not too difficult to cope with SXSW mobility without Uber or Lyft.

And Pages of Victory observes that even Fox News recognizes (by their own recent poll) that Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in the country.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Rick Casey looks behind the scenes of the Texas redistricting ruling

Via the SAEN, Rick Casey writes at San Antonio public television KLRN's blog, Texas Week (added links for background):



Last week’s ruling by a three-judge panel in San Antonio that the Texas Legislature racially discriminated in drawing three congressional districts is being hailed as a major civil rights triumph in some legal quarters.

“This is a huge victory for voting rights plaintiffs,” wrote nationally-recognized elections law expert Richard Hasen in his Election Law Blog. He predicted the 2-1 decision was unlikely to be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court because “it closely tracks Justice (Anthony) Kennedy’s views of the issues in this area.”

Kennedy is often the swing vote on the closely divided court.

Hasen said the ruling was especially important because it could lead to Texas once again being required to pre-clear redistricting and other election matters with the Justice Department, as was required before the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. This is because Judges Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia found intentional discrimination in the case.

The Justice Department under Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not likely to be much of a watchdog on voting rights matters, but that would likely change if a Democratic president is elected in 2018. (sic)

The three judges who decided the case include one Democrat and two Republicans. Ironically, the decision may have gone the other way if one of the judges hadn’t been punished for joining in an earlier ruling in the case. Here’s the back story.

Judge Xavier Rodriguez, a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Texas law school, was first appointed to the Texas Supreme Court by then-Gov. Rick Perry. He lost in the Republican primary, however, when he had to stand for election. He returned briefly to private practice before being appointed to a federal district bench here by President George W. Bush.

Back in 2013, Rodriguez was asked to fill out the voluminous paperwork to be considered for promotion to the 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. President Obama had selected a Democratic judge from Corpus Christi, but the two Republican senators reportedly made it clear they would block her nomination. So the Obama Administration lit on Rodriguez — a non-ideological choice who had been appointed to important benches by two Texas Republican leaders.

But the appointment languished until 2015 when, a friend of Judge Rodriguez said, he was told his name was withdrawn because of a lack of support from the two senators. The reason: His previous rulings in the redistricting case.

Had Rodriguez been elevated to the appellate court, he might well have been replaced with a more conservative Republican on the three-judge panel hearing the redistricting case. The 2-1 decision could have gone in the other direction with Rodriguez’s replacement joining the very conservative third member of the panel, Judge Jerry Smith of Houston.

Smith, a Reagan appointee, issued a bitter dissent. He was especially hostile toward lawyers from Obama’s Justice Department.

“It was obvious, from the start, that the DOJ attorneys viewed state officials and the legislative majority and their staffs as a bunch of backwoods hayseed bigots who bemoan the abolition of the poll tax and pine for the days of literacy tests and lynchings,” Smith wrote. “And the DOJ lawyers saw themselves as an expeditionary landing party arriving here, just in time, to rescue the state from oppression, obviously presuming that plaintiffs' counsel were not up to the task.”

A postscript: The seat on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals for which Rodriguez was considered remains vacant. In fact, two seats reserved for Texas judges on the appeals court are vacant. So, going back as far as 2011, are 11 seats on federal district courts around the state.

It appears that Republican refusals to grant President Obama his Supreme Court nominee last year wasn’t the sum total of Republican resistance, at least here in Texas.

Next week begins the confirmation hearings for Neil Gorsuch to be elevated to the Supreme Court, to fill at last the seat left vacant by the demise of Antonin Scalia fourteen months ago.  Senate Democratic resistance to Gorsuch is reportedly impotent.  Scalia oversaw appeals to the SCOTUS from the Fifth Circuit; that will likely also be Gorsuch's beat upon his confirmation.  As for the rest of these federal bench vacancies, it remains to be seen whether Chuck Schumer, et.al. will have the skilz to play the stalling game as well as Mitch McConnell, etc. until 2020.

No bets taken.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

I thought I smelled Geraldo Rivera and Al Capone's vault

Maybe it was that dirty Coke bottle.


I didn't watch it (I too think Rachel Maddow is an asshole) but my wife did, and she fell asleep sometime during the first half hour.  I just watched the Twitter feed, and to say that Maddow was mocked for her typical drawing-out of the reveal -- of nothing much, it turned out -- is to call the Grand Canyon a ditch.




Cringeworthy indeed.  I'll cut to the chase myself, via the NYT:

Nothing in the two pages produced on Tuesday night suggested any ties with Russia. Nor did they provide much information about his businesses that was not previously known. But they showed that the vast bulk of the federal income taxes he paid in 2005, $31 million, was paid under the alternative minimum tax, which Mr. Trump wants to abolish.

That tax serves as a backstop to the ordinary income tax and is intended to prevent wealthy Americans from paying no income tax at all. Without it, Mr. Trump would have paid about $5 million in regular taxes, plus nearly $2 million in self-employment taxes, on $153 million in income in 2005.

Trump wants to eliminate the AMT, natch.  Maddow got a lot of pushback from Team Trump even before her show began, and the Democrats tried to buttress... whatever it was Maddow was claiming. 

Maybe more recent tax returns -- the ones Trump has refused to disclose -- will show some Russian business relationships that demonstrate the president has profitable ties to other Caucasian mobsters, as with Felix Sater.  That will be the big news if it exists, and can be evidenced, because there is as much election hacking hiding somewhere as there is a pony underneath a pile of shit.  And if nothing turns up, we'll have 3.8 more years of crying from Clinton Democrats about the Kremlin's nefarious plots to undermine our country.  Republican voters don't seem to give a damn about that presently.  What do you suppose it will take for them to believe now that Maddow has cried wolf?

Update:  From a supportive viewer, 'The night Rachel Maddow let me down'.  From Gin and Tacos: "More like Rachel Much-Ado, amirite?"  Contrary to the skepticism in the headline, his thinking is that Maddow is methodically building a case, like a prosecutor *facepalm*.  And No More Mister, also hoping this is all going to lead us somewhere.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

I wonder how many MAGAmericans have ditched their microwaves

There was an article this week that talked about how you can surveil someone through their phones, through their—certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways,” (Trump spokesperson Kellyanne) Conway said. “And microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera. So we know that that is just a fact of modern life.” 

Sewer Rat Barbie is just trolling us all again.  SNL writers are hard at work on this weekend's sketches as we speak.  It must be a real challenge to make satire out of what is already patently ridiculous.  Here's Conjob, walking back this week's shit-pulled-out-of-her-ass.

“I’m not Inspector Gadget. I don’t believe people are using the microwave to spy on the Trump campaign,” she told CNN on Monday. “However, I’m not in the job of having evidence, that’s what investigations are for.”

"I (or Trump or Sean Spicer) will say or Tweet whatever we like, you putzes are the ones who have to verify it.  Good luck!  We'll have some more crap for you next week to get to the bottom of, you nasty fake news enemies of the people!"

While I wouldn't discuss any plans I might have for the revolution in front of my Samsung TV, I still feel comfortable walking into my kitchen in my underwear, despite Conway's warnings.  Though I might consider wearing a bulletproof vest when I stumble in, sleepy-eyed, for my first cup of coffee.  Or maybe replacing my gas stove with an electric.  One with no Internet connection, mind you.

Update: What do you do when liars don't care if you know they're lying?

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Weekly Wrangle

With this week's lefty blog post roundup, the Texas Progressive Alliance is springing forward to unpack its sweaters and jackets as spring break begins.


Off the Kuff looked at two different analyses of the Harris County Democratic sweep of 2016.

Socratic Gadfly takes a look at some of the key issues as of this time in an overview of the Wikileaks Vault7 dump.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme notes Republicans aren't even bothering to hide their ugly war on women and children. Increases in maternal deaths? No problem. Torture the children of immigrants? Go for it.

Obamacare has morphed into Trumpcare, which is actually DonTcare, and PDiddie at Brains and Eggs notices that Republicans on both sides of the right aisle want to kill it.

A leaking gas well in southern Denton has residents there alarmed about the safety of their children, reports Txsharon at Bluedaze.

jobsanger shows evidence that helping working women through a progressive social agenda, including paid leave and affordable child care, would boost the nation's economy by closing both the gender employment and the gender wage gaps.

Michael Burgess held a town hall meeting in Lewisville, taking his critics head on (for the most part), reported the Texan Journal.

Texas Leftist documents the efforts of citizens and the business lobby who are coming together to stop SB6 (Dan Patrick's bathroom bill).

Metaphoric of current social and political circumstances, Neil at All People Have Value took a picture of a Houston dog living in a not fully nice home barking and growling a stray dog out on the street that had nothing.  APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

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More Texas news and blog posts!

Via the Austin Monitor, city officials talked about smart cities and robot cars in their 15 minutes in between the concerts, booze blowouts, tech reveals, art displays, and cosplay (via All Ablog Austin) going on during South by Southwest.


RG Ratcliffe's roundup at Burkablog included some of Trump's words, UT's troubles with the now-cancelled southwest Houston campus, and a trio of bills in the Lege dealing with children's autism.

The denials by state government of public records requests is soaring, according to the AP (via the Laredo Morning Times).

The Austin Statesman reported on Houston state representative Jessica Farrar's bill that would penalize men for ejaculating outside a woman's vagina, calling “masturbatory emissions” an “act against an unborn child, and failing to preserve the sanctity of life.”

The Texas Election Law Blog has a mini-roundup of the variety of news that broke last week on redistricting and voter ID and other related topics.

Save Buffalo Bayou rebutted the 'engineer's view', published in the Texas Tribune, regarding where the fault lies for the flooding that resulted in the creation of the flood control district.

Texas Watch points to the conservative organization Texans for Lawsuit Reform working with insurance lobbyists to manufacture another crisis.

And Pages of Victory posts one of the timeless cartoons of R Cobb.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Scattershooting the state and local Dems again

Some developments in the wake of Lillie Schechter's election as HCDP chair last Sunday afternoon:

--Schechter won handily, as everyone who cares already knows, but not without some drama from the African American HERO-hating caucus, when both Chris Spellmon and Keryl Douglas accepted their nominations and then promptly resigned them in their acceptance speeches, throwing their support to fellow traveler Eartha Jean Johnson in a too-obvious conspiracy to take over party management.  Schechter tried to mend fences immediately by asking all candidates to join her on the dais following her swearing-in by TDP chair Gil Hinojosa, but that effort may not be working.  Yesterday Schechter sent out an email to party faithful containing this bullet point ...

  • began the process of creating a Millennial Committee with the help of Johnathon Miller and Dominique Davis (two of her vanquished foes)

... the day after Sen. Borris Miles sent out this email, under the header "Just My Thoughts":

From Sunday’s vote emerged 2 front runners, our newly elected Chair Lillie Schechter and Candidate Eartha Jean Johnson; both candidates are intelligent, determined and armed with very progressive and strategic plans on turning Texas Blue; now imagine what HCDP could accomplish with them working together, side by side. The DNC runs with a Chair and a Vice Chair, I believe HCDP should follow that example and structure itself in the same manner. Lillie Schechter and Eartha Jean Johnson both have the ability to bring our precinct chairs and party together. I believe structuring HCDP with a Chair and Vice Chair would heal the party and also let our precinct chairs and constituents know that we hear them.

There's more unityblahblahfearthepartywillbefracturedblahloseanychanceofturningTexasBlueblah.
If you want more, just ask for it in the comments.

Miles misuses the word "progressive" and "narrow-minded thinking" as antonyms to their actual meaning, but I can still catch his drift.  He's sending the message that the HCDP is going to have to be a lot more in the future than white people reaching out to brown people.  I think it's a real concern that black Democrats may find themselves not voting again in 2020 -- as in 2016 -- if their concerns continue to go unaddressed.  The quandary here is finding room for Christian fundamentalists under the big blue tent who are unwavering in their belief that homos are sinners.  Of any creed, for what it's worth.  One party of hate is one too many.  Don't need two.

I can't see how this gets resolved without somebody forfeiting a core belief.  How often does that happen in politics?

As an aside to Team Donkey, you may take some small solace in the fact that the Harris County Green Party's recent local election shows even more racial dysfunction than this, if you can believe it.  The old white guard just voted out their black co-chair, a woman, replacing her with a white woman who could not muster so much as a nominating acceptance speech with a plan for action.  Yet she upset the incumbent by a single vote, after the meeting location was switched with an hour to go before it was to begin.  Somebody forgot to reserve space, you see.

I suppose to their credit, and before someone accuses me of sour grapes, I should mention that the county steering committee has a new man of color who should do a fine job, along with two other members bringing fresh blood.  I ran and came in fourth to these three (and don't feel bad at all about the outcome.  My improving health gives me more time and energy that needs to be devoted to resurrecting my business practice anyway.)

-- Kuff didn't like the Andrew Cockburn/Harper's piece that praised Harris Democrats for their 2016 victories that I linked to over two weeks ago; apparently it didn't have enough math for him.  He made a point of praising TOP four times in his post but thought Cockburn should have talked to someone local.  Check his own tag for TOP, though, and you won't find any interviews with local TOP organizers over the past year.  Not sure why the guy in town should be knocking the national writer for something he hasn't done himself.

Now to cut him some slack, Kuff hosts a blogger's luncheon once a month that I no longer attend, so maybe there's TOP folks at that who talk to him that he doesn't blog about ("what happens at bloglunch stays at bloglunch", you see).  There could be stuff he knows that he can't really blog about, just like me and others.  Or he could not really know too much about TOP, like me.  By all indications, TOP is getting the job done that BGTX has long talked about but didn't.  I volunteered in that latter organization, and I can tell you straight from the inside that they couldn't organize their way out of a paper bag in 2014.  But they seem to be a haven for budding consultant wannabees, so there's that.  Whoever's giving money to BGTX should shift it over to TOP (JMHO, Democrats).

-- Let me make sure Kuff doesn't grind his teeth too much reading this, because he has properly noted that Eddie Lucio needs to be run out of the Democratic Party tarred, feathered, and on a rail, and that Mike Collier is indeed the next Best Hope for the TDP in 2018... if you're not looking forward to a US Senate race that features Beto O'Rourke, that is.  In the comments here I mentioned that with Matthew Dowd acting serious about an independent bid, it's at least possible that he siphons enough R votes away from Ted Cruz to open a general election door to victory for Beto.  That goes out the window if Michael McCaul challenges Poop Cruz in the GOP primary, spends a wad, and beats him.  And I'm hoping whichever Castro it is that's dithering about this race will exercise the family's customary reticence and sit it out.  Just no fan of Blue Dogs.

-- Finally and with regard to the real, actual key to getting more Democrats in Congress -- fixing these awful gerrymanders -- a quick click over this morning reveals that Charles didn't have time to get to this breaking news from late yesterday.  I'm sure it's in his draft queue.


Some of Texas’ 36 congressional districts violate either the U.S. Constitution or the federal Voting Rights Act, a panel of federal judges ruled Friday.

In a long-delayed ruling, the judges ruled 2-1 that the Texas Legislature must redraw the political maps it most recently used for the 2016 elections.

Specifically, they pointed to Congressional District 23, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso, takes in most of the Texas-Mexico border and is represented by Republican Will Hurd of Helotes; Congressional District 27, represented by Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi; and Congressional District 35, a Central Texas district represented by Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin.

No remedies have been suggested by the court, and one observer alleges that the reason this decision came down at last night's late hour is so that no bill in the current, regular Texas Legislative session would be possible.  Clever AF, don't you think?

Much more excellent reporting from that link by Ross Ramsey at the TexTrib, and I stole their graphic above, produced by Anneke Paterson and Todd Wiseman.  Chuck Lindell at the Statesman and Michael Li (Tweet feed), the former Texan now at the Brennan Center, and Rick Hasen at Election Law Blog all with more, including the unhinged dissent from Judge Jerry Smith.  You really should go read it.

Smith is obviously trying to draw attention to himself as a potential Supreme Court nominee with these frothing-mad attacks on the Obama DOJ, a common thread for Smith w/r/t the voter ID lawsuit.  (BTW, Kuff did get to news I didn't with the story about Jeff Sessions having his voter ID crew switch tables.)  As for Justice Smith: get you a snappy Twitter account; you got a long way to go to catch Don Willett.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

DonTcare


Like everything else President Twitler touches with his tiny hands, the American Health Care (sic) Act is doomed.  Terminal.  DOA.  Conductor Pence says get on board the train; right-wingers say, "where's the smoking car"?

“As the legislative process goes forward, the president and I believe that the American Health Care Act is the framework for reform,” (VP Mike) Pence said in the Capitol on Tuesday alongside the Senate Republican leadership. “We’re certainly open to improvements and to recommendations in the legislative process. But this is the bill, and the president supports the American Health Care Act.”

Conservatives have a different view of what the bill should be. To them, the American Health Care Act is 'Obamacare Lite', which repeals too little of the original and offers one too many new entitlements. Conservatives have the numbers to kill the bill—if they so choose. Will they?

At first intake, that would appear to be no.

Republicans from Medicaid expansion states, like Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, have concerns about how the bill treats Medicaid expansion states. Relatively moderate Republicans, like Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, do not think the bill should be touching Planned Parenthood. (The bill defunds Planned Parenthood.)

The most vocal resistance, though, has been from conservatives: The Freedom Caucus in the House and the conservative triumvirate of Sens. Rand Paul, Mike Lee, and Ted Cruz in the Senate. Each of these blocs is large enough to deprive their party a majority vote in their respective chambers, and the cavalry of outside conservative groups -- Heritage Action, the Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity (the Koch brothers), FreedomWorks -- have backed them up with swift expressions of disgust at the bill.

Those minds that see the American Health Care Act as Obamacare Lite believe that the federal government should have little, if any, role in spending dollars to provide poor and lower-income people with access to medical care. If your baseline is that the Medicaid expansion should be undone and what remains of Medicaid should be slashed and block granted off to the states, that no federal dollars should be spent to help lower-middle income individuals obtain health coverage, that few federal regulations should govern the financing of and delivery of health services, and that no taxes should exist, then sure, this proposal would come across as 'Obamacare Lite'.

The Freedom Caucus, along with Sens. Paul and Lee, held a press conference Tuesday afternoon outside the Capitol to explain that position. (Conspicuously absent was Cruz. It is worth keeping in mind that while the Texas senator has expressed similar misgivings with the bill, he is up for re-election in 2018 and cannot rule out a serious primary challenge from the establishment if he fails to mind his manners.) They portrayed the bill as “the leadership bill”—just one of several proposals floating around out there, any of which could be picked up. This view borders on denial.

With Poop Cruz's political problems duly noted, if Trumpcare suddenly gives Senate Republicans the courage to cut and run from Trump, I'm all in favor.  Let's encourage that.  Keep those calls and postcards going to your senators, Resistors.

Monday, March 06, 2017

The Weekly Wrangle

With this week's lefty blog and news roundup, the Texas Progressive Alliance would like to know if Energy Secretary Rick Perry pronounces the word "nuk-ya-ler" or "new-clee-ur".
Off the Kuff looks at precinct data in Senate districts, which present some interesting opportunities next year.

Libby Shaw at Daily Kos is not surprised that a political party -- aka Trump's Republican Russian Party -- that relies upon gerrymandering, voter suppression efforts, dirty dark money, and Russian hackers (ed. note: sic) to win elections is hard-wired for right wing authoritarianism and corporate fascism.

Socratic Gadfly heard about President Obama's new book coming out, got a secret advance copy through The Dark Side and wrote up a quick review.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme sees the Trump angry white man as a domestic abuser. Texas Republicans vote to increase maternal deaths spawning trickle down violence against women.

While most DC Democrats were focused on Trump's latest Russian affair, Bernie Sanders went to Mississippi to rally with Nissan autoworkers who've been abused by the automaker's plant managers there.   PDiddie at Brains and Eggs wonders when the Democrats who want labor's help in 2018 will start showing up to support the working class.

jobsanger uses the Texas Tribune's data to bar-graph the cost per vote to elect Texas Congressional representatives in the 2016 election.

The Lewisville Texan Journal published an LTTE reminding Cong. Michael Burgess that citizen activists at town hall meetings are not paid protestors.

In the run-up to yesterday's Harris County Democratic chair election (won by Lillie Schechter), John Coby at Bay Area Houston posted twice, about the candidates and about their campaign treasurers (or lack thereof).

And Neil at All People Have Value was once again out on the streets of Houston asking for kindness and respect for all.  APHV is part of NeilAquino.com.

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The CERAWeek conference opens in Houston today.  It's a gathering of oil company executives as well as government officials of oil-producing nations, and there's more at stake than usual, as OPEC and some non-OPEC countries such as Russia agreed to production cuts at the end of last November in order to stabilize global oil prices.  That worked, but now that oil has risen back into the mid-50s, US companies are ramping up domestic fracking operations, and that threatens the game of Jenga they all began three months ago.


Exxon Mobil in particular has a lot at stake with shale plays, especially in the Permian Basin.  So there may be repercussions to the new petroleum world order, or there may be just some threats and bluster coming out of CERAWeek.  It's news worth looking out for, as speakers include author Daniel Yergin, EPA chief Scott Pruitt, and Canadian PM Justin Trudeau (keynoting on March 9).

The Midland Reporter-Telegram sees that US oil exports have already exceeded one million barrels per day, adding to the business opportunities for West Texas producers.

The San Antonio Express News (via Sayfie Review Texas) writes about two bills in the Texas Lege that aim to protect kids from the anti-vaxx crowd, and the Texas Election Law Blog analyzes two more bills that would limit voting.

Grits for Breakfast still opposes a law against texting while driving.

Texas Freedom Network notes that the public hearing for Senate Bill 6, aka the bathroom bill, is scheduled on the same day that a parade of prominent anti-LGBT speakers will join Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, and Ken Paxton at a so-called “Pastors’ Briefing” at the state capital.

Somervell County Salon wants to know why Trump's babysitters are taking weekends off.

Pages of Victory also noticed Bernie Sanders' helping hand to organized labor by rallying with Nissan workers in Canton, MS.

The Lunch Tray assures us that Betsy DeVos doesn't have the power to change the National School Lunch Program, but Congressional Republicans and other federal officials do.

Lone Star Ma focuses on the 15th of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals: forestry management, desertification, land degradation, and biodiversity loss.

The TSTA Blog reminds us that vouchers never truly go away.

Better Texas Blog finds the Republicans' Obamacare replacement plans to be wanting.

And Houstonia has photos and a story about the history of the trail riders, who arrived in Houston for the Livestock Show and Rodeo.