Sunday, March 26, 2017

Real Question On Betting Form-- Odds Offered: What Will Trump Be Impeached For?


The circus has come to town

Do you find it at all hard to figure out which outrageous Trump endeavor is supposed to get everyone's focus off some other, earlier Trump hour show? You know what I mean? Was the TrumpCare debacle supposed to get out minds off Putin-Gate? Or is Putin-Gate supposed to get us to stop paying attention to the establishment of a kakistocracy? Or is the kakistocracy just a distraction from the kleptocracy? Can this really go on for 4 years? It's just been like 3 months and he's got more scandal fodder going than everything that's happened since Nixon combined! That would include Ford pardoning Nixon in a possible deal (+ coverup), Bert Lance's resignation as OMB Director, Bush pardoning all the Iran-Contra convicted and unconnected criminals, obviously Iran-Contra itself, Obama's NSA electronically spying on American citizens and, of course, Monica Lewinsky. Señor Trumpanzee is way beyond all that already.

But there is some crap going down that's getting swallowed up in all the fuss over all the other stuff that's coming at us at such high velocity. Who remembers Trump's solemn campaign promise to support bipartisan "Buy America" efforts? That sure got flushed down the memory hole fast as some Putin-owned company supplies the steel for the Keystone KX Pipeline Trump has authorized. As David Sirota reported at the International Business Times last week, despite Trump's campaign promises, as soon as he was elected, Ryan and McCarthy-- under pressure from lobbyists for foreign companies-- had killed legislation that would have directed government infrastructure contracts to American manufacturing companies. It was a bold act of defiance against the rhetoric of the newly elected president, and now a top Democrat is attempting to force Trump to put his 'Buy America' promises into action-- against his own party in Congress." That would be Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), who reintroduced "legislation requiring billions of dollars of the government’s spending on water infrastructure to go only to projects that use American steel. Baldwin’s move is particularly notable because she hails from a state that proved critical to Trump’s win. It is also the home state of House Speaker Paul Ryan, the Republican whose office helped kill the initiative in December."
Amid a presidential campaign focused on trade issues, Baldwin introduced a first version of her Buy America bill last July. It appeared headed for approval when the Republican-controlled Senate overwhelmingly passed an infrastructure bill that included the language.

House Republicans, though, did not include the language in their version of the bill. A senior House Republican on the committee that crafted that bill argued that preferences for domestic firms would ultimately harm Americans.

“Quotas in any form and in any sort ultimately hurt the consumer,” South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford told the Wall Street Journal. “They’re a form of protectionism, plain and simple.”

During the House-Senate negotiations over the final bill, Ryan was lobbied by representatives of foreign steelmakers to block Baldwin’s provision from being included in the final legislation. At the time, the Wall Street Journal noted that the lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs was representing two major foreign steel producers-- Russia’s NLMK Inc. and California Steel Industries, which is owned by Brazilian and Japanese conglomerates. According to federal disclosures, in 2016 Squire Patton Boggs was paid $520,000 to lobby for the two foreign companies.

Federal records show that in 2016, two of Squire Patton Boggs' registered lobbyists for the two foreign-owned companies have ties to Ryan and Republican lawmakers: Natasha Hammond had been Ryan’s assistant for policy and Jack Kingston is a former longtime Republican congressman.

Squire Patton Boggs also is the immediate past employer of Ryan’s chief of staff; it now employs former Republican House Speaker John Boehner and it delivered more than $550,000 to Republican candidates and federal party committees in the 2016 election cycle, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. That includes more than $65,000 to Republicans on the two House panels that crafted the chamber’s version of the bill.

...In the months since House Republicans first blocked the Buy America language, Trump’s administration has sent mixed signals about how-- and whether-- it will advocate for policies that preference U.S. companies.

During his first week in office, Trump issued an executive order directing his administration to make sure all new pipelines are built with American-made steel. But then just days after Wilbur Ross was confirmed as Commerce Secretary, that department exempted the Keystone XL project from its mandates. Ross assumed the Cabinet post after serving on the board of the Luxembourg-based steel company ArcelorMittal, which was previously slated to provide steel for the project. The company has spent more than $1.7 million on federal lobbying in the last year, according to disclosure records.

In public, Trump has continued to echo Buy America themes, most recently reiterating them at a rally in Kentucky where he argued that Americans are being taken advantage of.

“Like Henry Clay, we want to put our own people to work," he said. “We believe in two simple rules: Buy American and Hire American,” he told the audience in Louisville. “From now on, it's going to be America first. America first. We will be, I promise you, a rich nation once again. And we will do what we have to do, and we will not allow other countries to take advantage of us like they've been doing to a level that's hard to believe.”

In reintroducing the bill, Baldwin is trying to force Trump into acting on that rhetoric. She told IBT that Trump won her state promising to support the kind of legislation that she is pushing-- but that she has not seen evidence that he is following through on his promises.

“I have no doubt that he won Wisconsin narrowly in part because of his focus on Buy America,” she said. “It was what I ran on and what I focus on and clearly it had an impact on workers voting for Donald Trump. Now I think the real mission is to hold him accountable to those words... There are too many instances right now where he is not following through on that word. I want a solid commitment from Washington and Donald Trump on a strong Buy America standard and I hope I’ll get that."
HuffPo's Zach Carter had an even uglier story last week, Meet The Martin Shkreli Of Defense Contracting, which will prove the beginning for the end of the universally detested Trump OMB director, Mick Mulvaney. First keep in the back of your mind that the honey pot known as the Pentagon is the only federal agency that hasn't conducted an audit. A better name might be the Department of Corporate Fraud. "Monopolists," wrote Carter, "seem to be fleecing the Pentagon in an echo of Pharma Bro’s 5,000% drug hike." Let's following the money... starting with the $54 billion increase in defense spending Mulvaney claims he's giving the Defense Depratment based on what he intuits from Trump's campaign speeches. The White claimed in the roll out that there is "an ambitious reform agenda" that would "reduce the costs of military programs wherever feasible." Oh God!
It was a particularly sensitive subject for new Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who built a reputation during his tenure in Congress as a serious deficit hawk unafraid to challenge his Republican colleagues on ballooning war spending. One of his favorite punching bags was the Overseas Contingency Operations budget, which Mulvaney derided as “a slush fund” that should be eliminated. The Trump budget would increase both overall defense spending and the amount that flows to the OCO. To maintain his credibility and demonstrate that Trump’s new “hard power” defense priorities weren’t just an excuse to throw money away, Mulvaney needed to sniff out wasteful endeavors.

He appears to have missed at least one. On Tuesday, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) sent a letter to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the Pentagon’s acting inspector general accusing defense contractor TransDigm Group of illegally overcharging the Department of Defense by acting as a “hidden monopolist.”

The business model Khanna described is devilishly clever, wildly profitable and totally at odds with the basic principles of a competitive market. TransDigm is essentially the Martin Shkreli of defense contractors. It’s a large holding company that searches for specialty parts used in heavy machinery-- unique panels, connectors, cables and other components-- that are produced exclusively by a single company. TransDigm buys these producers and Pharma Bros them, dramatically inflating the price to exploit their monopoly.

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) cited examples of TransDigm price hikes, including a cable assembly that went from $1,737 to $7,863 and a motor rotor that had been $654 now going for $5,474.

Ro Khanna
Khanna’s letter cited five specific aerospace parts the company had jacked the price on, including a “cable assembly” that went from $1,737.03 to $7,863.00 after being acquired by TransDigm. The price of a TransDigm “motor rotor” soared from $654.46 to $5,474.00.

But the practice is widespread throughout TransDigm. The company’s own filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission state that 80 percent of its sales come from parts for which TransDigm believes itself to be a monopolist.

Not all of the company’s parts even work. In 2016, the Washington Post reported that drones were crashing due to faulty starter-generators supplied by a TransDigm subsidiary.

“The president is asking for $54 billion more on defense,” Khanna told the Huffington Post. “How much money are we wasting on monopolistic behavior?”

The Pentagon has rules designed to defend itself against predatory pricing. Companies that function as the sole vendors of supplies have to detail their costs to the government, which allows the firms to reap a reasonable profit margin over and above these expenses. But Khanna’s letter argued that TransDigm evaded these rules by setting up “a network of captive distributors”-- middlemen who sold to the government, creating the illusion of an actual competitive market.

“TransDigm isn’t a business, it’s the abuse of monopoly power so extreme it borders on performance art,” according to Matthew Stoller, a fellow with the New America Foundation’s Open Markets division. “Congress should investigate this aggressively.”

No less than 12 TransDigm subsidiaries failed to disclose to the Defense Department in their procurement filings that they were owned by TransDigm, according to Khanna.

TransDigm did not respond to requests for comment. The company’s chief executive, W. Nicholas Howley, received $18.7 million in 2016-- more than the chief executives of Apple, Boeing or Citigroup.

Khanna’s interest in the TransDigm case reflects a broader concern in Washington over concentrated economic power. In early March, the Center for American Progress hosted a forum on Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, focused on his antitrust record...

Khanna is waiting to hear back from the Defense Department before taking further action, but he hasn’t ruled out a congressional investigation.

“This is a bipartisan issue,” Khanna told HuffPost. “There are many of my Republican friends who want to see our dollars going to troops and readiness and not to anticompetitive behavior.”

It's going to be a long 4 years... or maybe not. One of Europe's preeminent betting houses, PaddyPower in Dublin is now offering 3 different opportunities to bet on impeachment:
1. What Year Is Trump Impeached?

2017-- 3/1
2018-- 9/1
2019-- 16/1
2020-- 20/1

2. Will Trump Be Impeached In His First Term?

Yes-- 11/10

3. What Will Trump Be Impeached For?

Tax Evasion-- 3/1
Bribery-- 10/1
Perjury-- 12/1

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Did Señor Trumpanzee Inadvertently Help Merkel Win Today's Saarland Election?


Germany will go to the polls September 24 to elect a new parliament (Bundestag). Right now Merkel's right-of-center Christian Democratic Union has a coalition government with the slightly left-of-center Social Democrats (emphasis on "slightly"). Her party holds 311 seats (41.5%) and the Social Dems hold 193 seats (25.7%) of the 598 members. The only other parties with Bundestag seats are The Left (64 seats) and the Greens (63 seats). The AfD, the neo-Nazi Putin-Backed Alternative for Germany Party of Frauke Petry is trying to break into Parliament in the upcoming elections.

Today there were state elections in Saarland, the smallest of Germany's states, tucked between Rhineland-Palatinate and France, with a population of just over a million people. The election was the first in a series leading up to the big federal elections in September, with Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia coming in May. The Social Democrats, who have been gaining popularity over the last few months with a new leader, Martin Schultz, were looking to knock Merkel off her stride. They didn't. Early returns showed voters defied polling showing a close call between Merkel's CDU and Schultz's SPD. And Putin's neo-Nazi allies were a mere asterisk.
CDU- 40.7%, up from 35.2%-- 24 seats
SPD- 29.6%, down from 30.6%-- 17 seats
The Left- 12.9%, down from 16.1%-- 7 seats
AfD (neo-Nazis)- 6.2%-- 3 seats
Greens- 4.5%
FDP (right-wing CDU allies)- 3.0%
The SPD had been hoping to form a state coalition with themselves as the senior parter with The Left and the Greens (as they've done in Berlin's local legislature), but instead, they are likely to be back as the junior partner with the CDU. The neo-Nazis did go over the 5% mark, making them eligible to have members in the state Parliament. Currently they have members in 10 of German's 16 state parliaments.

Why did Merkel's CDU do so much better than polling showed it would? There was some speculation that Saarland voters rallied around her when news broke over the weekend that the universally detested Trump had handed her an invoice for $374 billion (including Señor Trumpanzee's demand for $62 billion in interest) when she visited the White House last week, back payments, he contends, are owed for German participation in NATO.
The bill-- handed over during private talks in Washington-- was described as “outrageous” by one German minister.

“The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side, but the chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations,” the minister said.

Trump has criticised a number of NATO countries-- Germany among them-- for insufficient military spending, leaving America to pick up more than its fair share of the tab. He wants them to honour a commitment made in 2014 to invest 2% of their GDP in defence-- a target met at present only by the US, Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland.

Trump appeared to go one step further during his meeting with Merkel. Taking 2002 as a starting point, his officials calculated the extent to which German defence spending had fallen short of the 2% target each year, added the amount together-- and then put interest on top.

...A source close to Merkel was dismissive. “The president has a very unorthodox view on Nato defence spending,” the source said. “The alliance is not a club with a membership fee. The commitments relate to countries’ investment in their defence budgets.”

Merkel is said to have “ignored the provocation,” but did commit to raise German defence spending gradually, although she asked for spending on international development to be taken into consideration.
Ignoring the evil clown Trump seems to have paid off for her-- at least in Saarland. But Trump is so hated around the world-- outside of Russia and other fascist-leaning countries-- that campaigning in any way that resists him is a real positive.


If We Had A Real President...


If we had a real president in the White House, instead of a grifter pretending to be a clown, he would have announced that his party has tried and failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act and that the next step is to have the Republicans and the Democrats sit down together and figure out-- for the good of the country-- a nonpartisan/non-ideological approach (based on Trump's own campaign promises) for fixing the problems in the ACA. Instead, Trump lamely tried blaming the Democrats for his own party being unable get its huge congressional majority to even take up the bill they had spent 7 years "working" on. So rather than opting for something vaguely presidential, he sent out this mean-spirited and destructive tweet Saturday morning:

Ted Lieu (D-CA), one of the most effective and consistent voices of the congressional resistance, responded angrily at the implied threat-- and in kind:

People are worried-- rightfully so-- that Trump and Ryan will now go on an orgy of recriminations against people who get medical treatment based on the Affordable Care Act. They are committed to causing it to crash and burn and they can do tremendous damage-- as they already have. In fact, on Wednesday, even before their own TrumpCare bill went down in flames, Thom Hartmann, writing for Alternet, noted that the GOP has been sabotaging the Affordable Care Act even before Trump was sworn in.
When the ACA was rolled out, telling insurance companies that they had to insure anybody who signed up, regardless of previous conditions or sickness, everybody realized that the insurance companies would probably lose money in the first decade or so, until previously-uninsured-but-sick people got into the system, got better, and things evened out.

To get the insurance companies to go along with this danger of losing money, the ACA promised to make them whole for any losses in any of the first decade’s years.  At the end of each fiscal year, the insurance companies merely had to document their losses, and the government would reimburse them out of ACA funds provided for by the law.

The possibility of their losing money was referred to as the “risk corridor,” and the ACA explicitly filled those risk corridors with a guarantee of making the insurance companies, at the very least, whole.

And then something happened. As the NY Times noted on December 9, 2015, “A little-noticed health care provision slipped into a giant spending law last year has tangled up the Obama administration, sent tremors through health insurance markets and rattled confidence in the durability of President Obama’s signature health law.”

Rubio and a number of other Republicans had succeeded in gutting the risk corridors. The result was that, just in 2015, end-of-fiscal-year risk corridor payments to insurance companies that were supposed to total around $2.9 billion were only reimbursed, according to Rubio himself quoted in the Times, to the tune of around $400 million. Rubio bragged that he’d “saved taxpayers $2.5 billion.”

And, indeed, he had. But the insurance companies were thrown into a crisis. And, with Republicans in Congress absolutely refusing to re-fund the risk corridors, that crisis would get worse as time went on, at least over a period of a few years.

So the insurance companies did the only things they could. In (mostly red) states with low incomes and thus poorer health, they simply pulled out of the marketplace altogether. This has left some states with only one single insurer left.  In others, they jacked up their prices to make up their losses.

As Robert Pear in the Times noted, Rubio’s “plan limiting how much the government can spend to protect insurance companies against financial losses has shown the effectiveness of quiet legislative sabotage.”
This is a big problem going forward-- one that Trump and Ryan will pour gasoline on so they can repeat their bullshit about how Obamacare is collapsing. Democrats in Congress absolutely must be able to effectively communicate an affirmative health care agenda that moves toward Medicare for All (alongside alongside employer coverage that 150 million people now have). The Democrats should consistently be advocating for the public option-- in effect, Medicare for All-- along with the federal government setting prices for prescription drugs. The alternative is chaos and misery. Just ask Samantha Bee:

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Most Southerners Didn't Own Slaves, So Why...?


When Frank Hyman-- whose essay on racism in the News&Observer I want to discuss below, was in first grade, he got in trouble for calling a classmate the N-word. The classmate was Hispanic. It reminded me of a run-in with racism I once had in San Francisco when I was much younger. I met a farm boy who had run away from home in the Sacramento Delta area and hitch-hiked down to San Francisco. On our way back to my apartment in my old Ford Fairlane we drove through the Fillmore district and we stopped at a light at a corner where there were 4 or 5 black guys hanging put. My young farmer friend started cursing "the fucking Jews." He wasn't joking. I later learned he was raised by a Nazi grandfather who taught him that blacks are... "fucking Jews." A strange world we live in. (Aside: he was a lovely boy and he eventually had his Nazi tattoos removed to facilitate a closer relationship between us.)

Anyway, Mr. Hyman grew out of the racism he learned at home in a southern military family and came to understand the ugliness of the Confederate flag and what was behind that ugliness. He wrote that he "learned that for black folks the flutter of that flag felt like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. And for the most prideful flag waivers, clearly that response was the point. I mean, come on. It’s a battle flag. What the flag symbolizes for blacks is enough reason to take it down. But there’s another reason that white southerners shouldn’t fly it. Or sport it on our state-issued license plates as some do here in North Carolina."
The Confederacy-- and the slavery that spawned it-- was also one big con job on the Southern, white, working class. A con job funded by some of the ante-bellum one-per-centers, that continues today in a similar form. 
You don’t have to be an economist to see that forcing blacks-- a third of the South’s laborers-- to work without pay drove down wages for everyone else. And not just in agriculture. A quarter of enslaved blacks worked in the construction, manufacturing and lumbering trades; cutting wages even for skilled white workers.

Thanks to the profitability of this no-wage/low-wage combination, a majority of American one-per-centers were southerners. Slavery made southern states the richest in the country. The South was richer than any other country except England. But that vast wealth was invisible outside the plantation ballrooms. With low wages and few schools, southern whites suffered a much lower land ownership rate and a far lower literacy rate than northern whites.

...[M]ost Southerners didn’t own slaves. But they were persuaded to risk their lives and limbs for the right of a few to get rich as Croesus from slavery. For their sacrifices and their votes, they earned two things before and after the Civil War. First, a very skinny slice of the immense Southern pie. And second, the thing that made those slim rations palatable then and now: the shallow satisfaction of knowing that blacks had no slice at all.

How did the plantation owners mislead so many Southern whites?

They managed this con job partly with a propaganda technique that will be familiar to modern Americans, but hasn’t received the coverage it deserves in our sesquicentennial celebrations. Starting in the 1840s wealthy Southerners supported more than 30 regional pro-slavery magazines, many pamphlets, newspapers and novels that falsely touted slave ownership as having benefits that would-- in today’s lingo-- trickle down to benefit non-slave owning whites and even blacks. The flip side of the coin of this old-is-new trickle-down propaganda is the mistaken notion that any gain by blacks in wages, schools or health care comes at the expense of the white working class.

Today’s version of this con job no longer supports slavery, but still works in the South and thrives in pro trickle-down think tanks, magazines, newspapers, talk radio and TV news shows such as the Cato Foundation, Reason magazine, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. These sources are underwritten by pro trickle-down one-per-centers like the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch.

For example, a map of states that didn’t expand Medicaid-- which would actually be a boon mostly to poor whites-- resembles a map of the old Confederacy with a few other poor, rural states thrown in. Another indication that this divisive propaganda works on Southern whites came in 2012. Romney and Obama evenly split the white working class in the West, Midwest and Northeast. But in the South we went 2-1 for Romney.

Lowering the flag because of the harm done to blacks is the right thing to do. We also need to lower it because it symbolizes material harm the ideology of the Confederacy did to Southern whites that lasts even to this day.

One can love the South without flying the battle flag. But it won’t help to get rid of an old symbol if we can’t also rid ourselves of the self-destructive beliefs that go with it. Only by shedding those too, will Southern whites finally catch up to the rest of the country in wages, health and education.
There's been lots of progress in Virginia, some in Florida, some in Texas. And the Deep South? That's another signal Georgia voters in the Fulton, Cobb and DeKalb county 'burbs north of Atlanta may soon be sending the rest of the country when they turn out on April 18 and June 20 for Jon Ossoff. Replacing Mick Mulvaney in South Carolina (May 2 for the primaries and also June 20 for the runoff) with a non-Confederate will be a lot harder. The Republicans are likely to run a backward-facing state Rep., Tommy Pope, and the DCCC is pimping for some Goldman Sachs guy, Archie Parnell.

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Holding Republicans Who Wanted To Take Away Their Constituents' Health Insurance Accountable


Let's go beyond the orgy of recriminations and finger-pointing over the massive and devastating Ryan-Trump-Pence-Price health care loss. This weekend, Wall Street Journal readers are being told to see it as "a major blow to the Trump Presidency, the GOP majority in Congress, and especially to the cause of reforming and limiting government."
The damage is all the more acute because it was self-inflicted. President Trump was right to say on Friday that Democrats provided no help, but Democrats were never going to vote to repeal President Obama ’s most important legislation. And that’s no excuse. Republicans have campaigned for more than seven years on repealing and replacing ObamaCare, and they finally have a President ready to sign it. In the clutch they choked.
The Journal accused the Freedom Caucus of sabotage: "When one of their demands was met, they dug in and made another until they exceeded what the rest of the GOP conference could concede. You can’t have a good-faith negotiation when one party doesn’t know how to say yes-- or won’t." They suggest that Señor Trumpanzee may be able to recover from this debacle, but as an opening act to a new Presidency the collapse of his first legislative campaign is ominous. In business Señor Trumpanzee "liked to 'get even.' He’s got some scores to settle with the Freedom Caucus." That was an unsigned editorial.

The writer wasn't interested in facing the fact that the bill was untenable and indefensible-- and politically suicidal. The Washington Post documented calls coming into Congress over the last day or two before Ryan pulled the bill and finally threw it in the trash. Calls to House members in support of Trumpcare: 1,130. Calls to House members in opposition to Trumpcare: 59,337. And not just to Democratic members. This bill was unpopular among Republican voters, especially among Republican voters in swing districts. In a poll released Thursday by Garin-Hart-Yang for Priorities USA and Patriot Majority USA, it became obvious Ryan shouldn't force Republicans-- in the words of Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton-- to walk the plank by voting for this hated concoction. Forget the frightening enough national 17% approval rating, the poll looked at 20 battleground congressional districts currently held by Republicans-- including 11 carried by Hillary Clinton in November, and nine carried by Donald Trump. These are the Clinton districts polled:
AZ-02- Martha McSally had announced she was voting yes
CA-25- Steve Knight was flip-flopping all over the place
CA-45- Mimi Walters had announced she was voting yes
CA-49- Darrell Issa flip flopped half a dozen times between yes and no
CO-06- Mike Coffman had announced he was a yes vote
IL-06- Peter Roskam was always a big supporter of TrumpCare
MN-03- Erik Paulsen said he was likely to vote yes
NY-24- John Katko wisely read the tea-leaves and came out against the bill at the last minute
PA-07- Pat Meehan was another likely yes vote but said he was undecided to the end.
VA-10- Barbara Comstock got scared at the last minute and said she was opposed.
These are the districts polled that went for Trump in November but where buyers' remorse appears to be strong now and which the Democrats may target in 2018:
FL-18- Brain Mast was a strong TrumpCare supporter
IA-01- Rod Blum wanted an even more draconian bill
IA-03- David Young announced he would vote no and Ryan's superPAC cut off his campaign funds
ME-02- Bruce Poliquin was consistent-- as a tap-dancer who never told anyone how he would vote
MN-02- Jason Lewis voted for Trumpcare in the House Budget Committee
NY-01- Lee Zeldin never wavered in his TrumpCare support
NY-19- John Faso was a little flip-floppy but he voted for the bill in the House Budget Committee
PA-08- Brian Fitzpatrick came out against the bill after the CBO report
VA-02- Scott Taylor was a zombie-like supporter.
All 20 districts have something in common today-- aside from having a Republican copngressmember-- dissatisfaction with TrumpCare. The survey found that information about the Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act-- combined with voters knowing their Republican member of Congress supports the plan-- resulted in a net 13-point swing away from the Republicans in the vote for Congress, including substantial movement in districts President Trump carried in November.
Across districts, Republican incumbents (respondents each heard the name of their own representative) have a 35% positive and 30% negative personal favorability rating-- with a combined 35% saying they are neutral or don’t know enough to offer an opinion. (This compares to a much cooler 39% positive, 51% negative rating toward President Trump, even though this set of districts as a whole was evenly split in November.) Across districts, the Republicans’ job approval stands at 46% approve, 34% disapprove, with 1 in 5 (20%) volunteering that they are not sure.

At the outset of the poll, voters are inclined to re-elect their incumbent over a generic Democratic challenger, but only by 44% to 38%-- with these Republicans notably under the 50% mark. With no information given, Trump districts vote for the Republican by 9 points (43% to 34%) with almost 1 in 4 (23%) saying they are not sure, while Clinton districts begin at a near dead heat (43% Republican, 42% Democrat).

However, on both approval and the trial heat for Congress, there is potential for real, substantial movement toward the Democrats--including in districts Trump won in November. After hearing a positive argument in favor of the GOP plan, information about its provisions and consequences, and messages against their own incumbent for supporting it, we are able to really move the needle in a way that is rarely driven by a single issue, as it is in this case. Overall, voters move from approving of their congressperson by 12 points (46% approve, 34% disapprove) to disapproving by 21 points (35% approve, 56% disapprove)-- a net shift of 33 percentage points. This includes a net shift of 31 points across the Clinton districts (47% approve, 36% disapprove to 37% approve, 57% disapprove) as well as a notable 36-point shift across the Trump districts (44% approve, 32% disapprove to 32% approve, 56% disapprove).

And movement on the actual vote for Congress is substantial as well, including a net 13-point shift away from the Republicans among voters overall.

...Despite President Trump’s warnings that House Republicans will lose their seats if they do not repeal the ACA, this poll suggests that support for this proposal presents a significant danger for Republicans come 2018. Democrats have a clear opportunity to harness the current battle over ACA repeal-- an issue with which voters are unusually engaged, and one which affects them directly-- to show that their Republican members of Congress are not looking out for them, instead putting the health and economic wellbeing of Americans at risk. Finally, instead of focusing on only a narrow swath of districts carried by Hillary Clinton in November, this poll suggests that communicating across a wider playing field of competitive districts can potentially pay big dividends for Democrats in 2018.
The bottom line takeaway is this: on the average, when those surveyed were told their Republican member of Congress supported the plan, they moved from saying they would reelect their congressman, 44-38, to saying they will elect a Democratic challenger, 45-38 (a net 13-point swing away from the Republicans).

Dr. David Gill is an ardently progressive, long-time Medicare-for-all candidate for Congress in central Illinois' swingy 13th district, which runs from up in Normal, western Bloomington and Champaign and heads south through Decatur to Calhoun and Jersey counties in the suburbs north of St. Louis. The district profile would have worked perfectly for the poll but it wasn't included. This was Bernie country in the primary but Trump won it in November-- 49.7% to 44.2%. On March 17, the clueless incumbent, Rodney Davis, tweeted that TrumpCare was "must pass legislation." A week earlier he told the News-Gazette that he was proud of TrumpCare. When we asked Dr. Gill about Davis' support for TrumpCare and his refusal to hold public town hall meetings with his constituents he told us he was "extremely disappointed to learn that Mr. Davis is supportive of the American Healthcare Act of 2017, aka Trumpcare. This disastrous bill is a tax break for the millionaires and billionaires wrapped in a terrible healthcare bill, which strips insurance coverage from tens of millions of Americans. How can Mr. Davis even be sure that this is what his constituents want, given his repeated refusal to meet with his constituents on this issue?

Blue America has endorsed him and you can contribute to his campaign here. He reminded us that "while Davis won't face his constituents, I can and will. I've been a practicing physician for nearly 30 years, and over that time I've gained a great understanding of healthcare and its financing. As a small businessman, I'm well aware of the flaws of our current healthcare system. While Obamacare has its problems, I have the expertise to fix them. As a member of Physicians for a National Health Program, I have been a supporter of a single-payer healthcare system for the last 25 years. Rodney Davis has spent almost 20 years receiving taxpayer-funded healthcare coverage; this is ironic, given his intention to strip 43,000 of his constituents of their healthcare coverage."

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

So Will It Be Trumpy-the-Clown, Christie And Schumer Running The Show Together In DC?


This morning Trumpanzee tweeted to his 27 million followers to watch so-called "Judge" Jeanine on Fox tonight at 9pm. At exactly 9pm, she came on and what did she say? "Paul Ryan needs to step down. The reason? He failed to deliver the votes on his health care bill... The one that he had seven years to work on... The one that had to be pulled to prevent the embarrassment of not having enough votes to pass... I want to be clear. This is not on President Trump. No one expected a business man to completely understand the nuances, the complicated ins and outs of Washington and its legislative process." So... it's on!

Let's see... Trump is mad at Kushner-in-law for going away to ski instead of holding his hand in the White House while TrumpCare sank ignominiously. And Bannon seems to have persuaded Señor Trumpanzee to settle on making Priebus-- anyone heard from him lately?-- the scapegoat for the catastrophe... as close to Ryan as he dared get. Do those two factors that lead to the tarnished and seemingly discarded Chris Christie becoming the new chief-of-staff? Gee... and right when Flynn flips and becomes an FBI witness for the prosecution? Or is that still just the hottest rumor in town? Let's start with this afternoon's report from behind the lines in the Republican civil war from Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman at the NY Times. They pose some questions I'll paraphrase-- Like every other Republican leader who has tried to rule a fissured and fractious party, does the crazy and disoriented Señor Trumpanzee go for retrenchment or for realignment? Does he cede power to the anti-establishment wing of his party (the Freedom Caucus)? Or does he seek other pathways to successful governing by throwing away the partisan playbook and courting a coalition with the Democrats he has improbably blamed for his party’s shortcomings? After all, said Tom Cole (R-OK), a Trump and Ryan loyalist, "The president is a deal maker, and Ronald Reagan cut some of his most important deals with Democrats."
Trump is not there yet. So far he is operating from the standard-issue Republican playbook. While he is angry and thirsty for revenge, he seems determined to swallow the loss in hopes of marshaling enough Republican support to pass spending bills, an as-yet unformed tax overhaul and a $1 trillion infrastructure package.

On Friday evening, a somewhat shellshocked president retreated to the White House residence to grieve and assign blame. He asked his advisers repeatedly: Whose fault was this?

Increasingly, that blame has fallen on Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, who coordinated the initial legislative strategy on the health care repeal with Speaker Paul D. Ryan, his close friend and a fellow Wisconsin native, according to three people briefed on the president’s recent discussions.

Mr. Trump, an image-obsessed developer with a lifelong indifference toward the mechanics of governance, made a game effort of negotiating with members of the far-right Freedom Caucus, even if it seemed to some members of that group, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, that he did not have the greatest grasp of health care policy or legislative procedure.

...Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, according to people familiar with White House discussions, described what happened as a flat-out failure that could inflict serious damage on this presidency-- even if Mr. Bannon believes Congress, not Mr. Trump, deserves much of the blame.

Mr. Bannon and the president’s more soft-spoken legislative affairs director, Marc Short, pushed Mr. Trump hard to insist on a public vote, as a way to identify, shame and pressure “no” voters who were killing their last, best chance to unravel the health care law.

One Hill Republican aide who was involved in the last-minute negotiations said Mr. Bannon and Mr. Short were seeking to compile an enemies list. But Mr. Ryan repeatedly counseled the president to avoid seeking vengeance-- at least until he has passed spending bills and a debt-ceiling increase needed to keep the government running.

Mr. Trump, bowing to the same power-sharing realities that the besieged Mr. Ryan must cope with in leading the fractured Republican majority in the House, decided to back down. But the president’s advisers worry about the hard reality going forward-- the developer with the tough-guy veneer was steamrollered by various factions in the Republican Congress.

The president and his team lamented outsourcing so much of the early bill drafting to Mr. Ryan, and one aide compared their predicament to a developer who has staked everything on obtaining a property without conducting a thorough inspection.

...Kushner, who returned on Friday from a family skiing trip to Aspen, Colo., had said for weeks that he thought supporting the bill was a mistake, according to two people who spoke with him. The president, according to two Republicans close to the White House, expressed annoyance that Mr. Kushner, who has described himself as a first-among-equals adviser, was not on site during the consequential week of wrangling. And Tom Price, who left Congress to become Mr. Trump’s health and human services secretary, was singled out for blame for the bill’s failure.

Mr. Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, took on a bigger role pushing the bill, telling his former colleagues that the president wanted an up-or-down vote on Friday.

After it was all over, the president dutifully blamed the Democrats, a party out of power and largely leaderless, after turning his back on their offers to negotiate on a bipartisan package that would have addressed shortcomings in the Affordable Care Act while preserving its core protections for poor and working-class patients.

Several aides advised him the argument was nonsensical, according to a person with knowledge of the interaction.

For Mr. Trump’s Republican opponents, here was poetic revenge served cold. As a candidate in 2016, he initially scoffed at signing a Republican loyalty pledge, at times behaving more like an independent invading the Republican host organism than a normal presidential candidate.

As president, Mr. Trump has left dozens of critical administration jobs unfilled, rejecting stalwart Republican applicants deemed insufficiently loyal to him-- and now he is decrying the disloyalty of the 20 to 30 conservative members who outmaneuvered and overpowered him on health care.

“We all learned a lot-- we learned a lot about loyalty,” a solemn Mr. Trump told reporters late Friday.
He's learned a lot? At this rate his impeachment trial will have ended and his treason trial will have begun before he would have learned enough to qualify as a real president, albeit way too late. Too bad.

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Will Duncan Hunter Be Defeated In 2018 If He's Forced To Campaign From A Prison Cell?


Duncan Hunter has been repeatedly implicated in the scandal that sent his close associate Randy "Duke" Cunningham to federal prison for several years. We started covering his role in 2005. A powerful chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, many of whose members were on a years-long gravy train of bribery from defense contractors-- although only Cunningham was charged in the end-- Hunter attempted to evade the noose tightening around his fat neck by-- of all things-- running for president. On March 20, 2007 he announced he would not seek reelection to the House and-- too late for anyone else to mount a credible campaign just over 32 months away-- his alcoholic son, also named Duncan Hunter won the seat without campaigning from voters who overwhelmingly thought they were voting for his father who had been their congressman since 1981.

CA-50 is a massive red hellhole, the inland-- mostly desert-- parts of San Diego County. It heads east past El Cajon, from Santee to Lakeside, Ramona, Escondido, up to Temecula and then out into the wilderness. The PVI is R+14 and Obama lost the district badly to McCain (40%) and Romney (38%). Hillary was crushed by Trump 54.6% to 39.6% in this district time has forgotten. This week the scandal surrounding Duncan-the-Younger, which we've been covering all year, finally broke out into the national mainstream. Eric Lichtblau's NY Times headline this week: Duncan Hunter Under Criminal Investigation for Ethics Violations.

Hunter is a hapless backbencher who's best known in Congress as someone who likes to vape-- and get drunk. When the Office of Congressional Ethics started getting serious about his criminal activities he tried to have the Office abolished-- and failed. And now the Justice Department has officially opened a criminal investigation into Hunter, who routinely sells legislation to companies willing to write his campaign checks, for spending tens of thousands of dollars in campaign funds on personal expenses. He already paid back over $60,000 in stolen funds for a wide range of purchases, from oral surgery, a garage door, video games, resort stays and a jewelry he bought in Italy. The defense and transportation companies who have financed his slimy career and whose business is affected by committees upon which he serves, certainly don't care that he uses their contributions to fly his pet rabbit around the country, pay his bills in a nail salon, buy surf boards and groceries and keep his family car topped off with gas. But using campaign funds for personal benefit is prohibited by federal law, since it gives contributors lots of influence over corrupt members like Hunter, who also pays his unqualified wife $3,000 a month from the funds to "run" his home campaign office.

Predictably, Hunter was an early and ardent Trump supporter and there were rumors swirling in DC that Trump might give him one of several top national security posts, an idea that was killed when Trump was told that Hunter is an alcoholic who has trouble controlling himself. Trump loved the idea that Hunter told the local media that if Trump appointed him to something, he wanted to restore "a warrior culture, a warrior mentality" to the government.
The House Ethics Committee, which has been examining Mr. Hunter’s possible misuse of campaign funds, said in a statement on Thursday that it would put its review on hold at the request of the Justice Department.

Typically, the Justice Department asks the ethics committee to hold off on a review because it has opened a criminal investigation of its own. A person with knowledge of the case said prosecutors have notified Mr. Hunter of their criminal investigation.

...A confidential referral to the ethics committee by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which was made public on Thursday, detailed the wide scope of his possible campaign violations.

Mr. Hunter “may have converted tens of thousands of dollars of campaign funds from his congressional campaign committee to personal use to pay for family travel, flights, utilities, health care, school uniforms and tuition, jewelry, groceries, and other goods, services, and expenses,” said the ethics office, an independent body that House Republicans tried to shut down in January.

A watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, brought a complaint with the ethics office last April charging that Mr. Hunter’s campaign spending included family trips to Italy and Hawaii, consulting fees to his wife, payments to his children’s parochial school and $1,300 for video games that he said his teenage son mistakenly charged to a credit card.

...Hunter’s Democratic opponent in last year’s election tried to make the mounting reports of the congressman’s legal problems a campaign issue. But Mr. Hunter easily won re-election.
His opponent, Patrick Malloy, had no support from the DCCC, of course, and only raised $27,016 in his race against Hunter, who raised $1,194,881, most of it from special interests (67%) and only 3% from small donors. Hunter won with 63.9% of the vote. Two years earlier he had won with 71%, and two years before that with 68%. Going all the way back to the 2000 election cycle, there hasn't been one donation or even an in-kind contribution for any Democrat who's run against Hunter. The district's voters may not even be aware that there's a Democratic Party in their district, at least on the congressional level. Because of that-- even with Hunter the subject of a criminal investigation-- the Democrat challenging him this cycle, either Malloy again or Gloria Chadwick, will be starting from scratch with nothing to build on. Well, not nothing-- they have Duncan Hunter himself, who many of his constituents are starting to realize is an A-Class asshole after a series of nasty and contentious town hall meetings this month.
“My original plan was to play ‘We are the champions’ by Queen whenever you guys start doing that,” Hunter told more than 300 at Ramona Mainstage. “But they told me not to.”

Minutes later, though, when boos greeted his refusal to oppose bills to “dismantle the EPA” and remove “environmental protection acts,” the East County Republican quietly crooned: “We are the champions, my friends.”

...Except for one knock on Trump-- for picking a Veterans Affairs insider as new secretary-- Hunter was unapologetic about the new commander in chief-- brushing off critical questions on Obamacare repeal and immigration.

He even defended Trump’s tweets-without-evidence that President Obama “tapped his wires” at Trump Tower.

“Here’s what’s pretty funny,” Hunter said. “Trump used the term wiretap. When Trump tweeted out wiretap, well guess what? We haven’t wiretapped since we had cell phones.”

That meant the intelligence community, FBI and Justice Department could rightfully say: “We have never wiretapped Trump’s phones,” Hunter said. “Here’s what they call it now... intercepting. If Trump would have tweeted out: ‘My phone calls [have] been intercepted,’ they would not be able to deny it. They’re all lawyers.”

...Other highlights of the Town Hall:

Hunter alleged that over the past eight years, undocumented immigrants could easily enter the country at the San Diego border: “You simply walk up to an ICE agent and say: ‘I’d like to come into America,’ and the ICE agent says ‘Come on in.’ That was the Obama policy. You didn’t even have to jump the fence.”

Hunter said the Office of Congressional Ethics, which survived an early GOP effort to kill it, “was created by Nancy Pelosi” as a “fairly liberal group that puts things way out of perspective” and fed details of his spending issues to the San Diego Union-Tribune, “which is owned by the LA Times.”

“We have a congressional ethics committee-- made up of Democrats and Republicans. They go through stuff all the time,” Hunter said. “You shouldn’t have a Nancy Pelosi group being able to air grievances on just one side without having looked at it objectively by the guys who are actually elected to do this in Congress.”

Eighty-year-old Dante Cosentino, a 41-year Ramona resident, challenged Hunter’s stance against the Affordable Care Act-- which the congressman blasted as leading to higher costs for his own local office staff, which he said was on the District of Columbia Obamacare network.

“I have access to a first-class seat on the airplane, but if I can’t afford it, it doesn’t make a bit of difference, right?” Cosentino said. “What about health care being for everyone?”

Said Hunter: “I don’t believe in guaranteed health care. I believe in guaranteed access to health care that anybody can afford. If you’re not able to afford it, and you’re very sick, we’re going to be giving hundreds of millions of dollars to the states... If you take government out of it, it will be less expensive. It will be affordable, and you’ll have competition.”

Hunter was asked if he would vote for an independent investigation to “root out all aspects of” Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, “no matter where it may lead.” The retired Marine doubted the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee affected the election, but acknowledged that Russians “hack us all the time,” including the government, military and defense contractors.

“What I’m not going to do is vote for a witch hunt that we’ve been infiltrated by seditious Obama folks that want to go after this president. I’m not going to do it.”

Then Hunter asked: “You guys have heard the term ‘deep state’? You have thousands of Obama appointees, and people who worked under that administration, who hate Donald Trump as much as you do. They’re trying to take him down from the inside. I do think Donald Trump did have his phone conversations and emails intercepted.”

“And those of you who believe in Democracy and free elections have told me that a sitting president whose party is running for the presidency can wiretap and intercept another candidate’s phone-- I think you would be for freedom and liberty. Not for an Orwellian government that controls us, which is what we have right now.”

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What's Up With The Democratic Party? They Rolling Towards Big Wins?


Don't expect the video above to be played at the "left-leaning" (NOT) Democratic Party conference today. "Voters," wrote Will Bunch (more below), "understood that a vote for Bernie was no guarantee they'd actually get single-payer health care or free public tuition the day after inauguration, but that really wasn't the point. The point was that someone understood their problems with seeing a doctor, or getting their 21-year-old son out of the basement. Somebody listened...and understood."

If you're unaware of DWT disdain contempt for the DCCC and the DSCC you must be new to the blog. Welcome! With a caveat: if you're a yellow dog Democrat-- much less a Blue Dog or a New Dem-- you may not like what you find here. We've been enthusiastic about helping heal the wounds left over between Hillary and Bernie factions from last year's campaign. We have been urging wary Bernie activists to not act vindictively towards Hillary supporters who have adopted Bernie's platform. In fact, Blue America has been endorsing congressional candidates who backed Hillary in 2016 and are campaigning-- sincerely campaigning-- on Bernie's issues now. We've found examples of candidates who endorsed Hillary in 2016 being much better qualified to run than candidates who backed Bernie. Of course, there are plenty of candidates who endorsed Bernie who are much better than candidates who were the Hillary backers. Examples: in TX-21, Berniecrat Tom Wakely is a million times better than the creeps from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party who supported Hillary. Ditto down in CA-49, where Doug Applegate is far and away the better progressive candidate than Hillary bundler and establishment puppet Mike Levin. Here in CA-34, Jimmy Gomez backed Hillary and not only campaigned on Bernie issues, but wrote and passed cutting edge type legislation in the state Assembly that was enacted it into law-- probably why he's been endorsed by so many Bernie delegates over several well-meaning-but unaccomplished Bernie volunteers in the race. In IL-13 and OK-05 we're behind Berniecrats David Gill and Tom Guild and we feel just as strongly about Kim Weaver, who backed Hillary and who is running against Steve King in IA-04 on an aggressively populist and progressive platform. As Brianna Wu said when she jumped into a primary race against conservaDem Stephen Lynch in Boston, "[T]he contentious primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton revealed a deep divide that must be reconciled. There is a disconnect between those marginalized and our party leaders who vote too often as moderate Republicans. I personally supported Hillary Clinton in the primary, but today I see the vision of Bernie Sanders for America is one we must bring to pass. I believe today’s Democratic party is ill-equipped to fight the Trump administration’s assault on women, on people of color, on the poor, and on the LGBT community. We do have true progressives, but too often they don’t have the support of the party establishment."

I was surprised this past week at the vitriol on line from the Clinton die-hards towards Bernie. (Or maybe what I'm seeing online are the left-over Putin-bots from Albania and Macedonia.) But when Bernie was in the heart of Hillary country a few days ago (Maddow's MSNBC show) and explained the inability of progressives to effectively take on and defeat reactionaries like Mitch McConnell-- although he could have easily been referring to Devin Nunes-- by saying that "The Democratic Party is feeble and unable to fight back," clueless Hillary supporters exploded into a frenzied rage on twitter.

Goal Thermometer The context to see this in is a report from Newsweek's Lachlan Markay that Democratic donors are gathering in DC this week to plot their version of the Resistance, a version, it's safe to assume, is shared with the Clinton Machine, with Schumer and with Pelosi (all of whom worship at their alter).He reports that the heads of the DNC, DCCC and DSCC "will huddle with activists, operatives, and deep-pocketed Democratic financiers at a biannual conference hosted by the Democracy Alliance, a leading left-wing donor collaborative at Washington’s ritzy Mandarin Oriental hotel." You know how the media refers to arch-conservatives as "moderates?" They call actual moderates "left-wing." One of the things they will discuss-- and excuse me if I doubt that many "activists" will be among the throng of scumbag lobbyists and fat-cats-- is "laying the groundwork for Democratic campaigns in next year’s midterm elections." That could-- as it has over the past decade-- spell DOOM. Let me give you an example. One of the worst and slimiest of the fat cats is a rich slob from Virginia, now living in San Diego, Ira Lechner. He's a huge donor and Pelosi basically lives up his ass. Lechner decided that the only candidate who ever took on Darrell Issa and nearly won-- Doug Applegate-- should be "pushed" out of the race by Pelosi to make room for a Hillary fundraiser and crony of Lechner's, some Orange County attorney named Mike Levin. Pelosi's response was, "leave it to me; I'll push him out of the race." Sure...
The Alliance brings together high-dollar liberal donors—individuals, labor unions, and charitable foundations—that pledge to give at least $200,000 annually to a suite of left-wing organizations. Through its “partners,” as the donors are known internally, the Alliance in 2015 raised $75 million for its supported organizations, an annual record for the group.

...On Wednesday, conference attendees will mingle at a welcome reception with Rep. Keith Ellison, the new vice-chairman of the DNC, and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, chairwoman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

At a reception the following day, attendees will hear from former Labor Secretary Tom Perez, the DNC’s new chairman.

And on Friday, the Alliance will host what it describes as “the first in a regular series of off-the-record dialogues between progressive political donors and Democratic Party officials about the future.”

That event will feature the chairs of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee—Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, respectively—and the executive directors of both groups.

Those officials will be on hand to answer donors’ “questions about the Democratic Party’s plans for winning in 2018 and beyond,” according to the conference agenda.

Donors in attendance will include Michael Vachon, a top aide to billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros; health care technology mogul Paul Egerman; Dallas philanthropist Naomi Aberly; Susan Sandler, the daughter of subprime mortgage pioneer Herb Sandler; and Ian Simmons, the husband of Hyatt hotel fortune heiress Liesel Pritzker Simmons.
Just what the Democratic Party needs to appear even worse than Trump-- more children of subprime mortgage pioneers and more Pritzkers! Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch offered a good antidote to the DC shillery this week in a column entitled He's America's most popular politician. Why won't they listen? "While the grand poobahs of a Democratic Party that Sanders has circled but never joined during his long unconventional life in America," he wrote, "were back in Washington, still clucking about Hillary's loss, headless chickens in a topless organization-- the Vermont senator ventured into the belly of the political beast for a remarkable town hall that was broadcast that evening on MSNBC."
The setting was McDowell County, West Virginia-- a remote part of the Mountaineer State that's been particularly hard hit by the slow death of the American coal industry. It's a county with an iconoclastic tradition that-- defying stereotypes about white Appalachia-- went for Barack Obama when he was elected the first black president in 2008. But in 2016, McDowell fell hard for Trump-- a bombastic billionaire xenophobe who promised to bring coal back by denying climate change. There are certainly a few similarities between the 45th president and the Vermonter-- rejection of trade deals, a pitch tailored to the "forgotten" men and women-- but their differences on most major issues are quite profound.

Yet by the end of the hour, Sanders had most of the audience in Trump Country eating out of his red democratic-socialist hands, and he did it not by pandering but by simply stating what he believes-- that all American citizens have a right to health care, to education and political and economic fairness.

The much-maligned Trumpcare/Ryancare legislation certainly gave Sanders an opening for political truth-telling. "At a time when we have a massive level of income and wealth inequality, this legislation would provide, over a 10-year period, $275 billion in tax breaks to the top 2 percent," Sanders told them. "So when people tell you we don't have enough money to invest in McDowell County or rebuild our infrastructure, nationally... don't believe them."

A retired miner thanked Sanders for supporting a bill to restore health care benefits for coal miners that Republicans would allow to lapse. "I never dreamt that I'd get to thank you personally for the bill that you are co-sponsoring," he said. "I'm one of those miners that will lose his health care at the end of April if they don't pass that law. I think it's kind of ironic that a senator from the Northeast takes care of my benefits better than someone like Mitch McConnell." Another woman hugged Sanders, because he supports fighting the big polluters in Coal Country.

Since November, we're heard so much angst from Democratic leaders wondering how the party can connect with its lost voters in the Rust Belt and in Appalachia and win back those states-- including Pennsylvania-- that gave Trump his narrow Electoral College victory. And we're going to hear so much more clueless angst from them between now and 2020-- even as Bernie Sanders goes to blood-red places like McDowell County and Canton, Mississippi, and makes it look easy.

How easy? A poll taken the other day, even before all the shouting from five months ago has fully died down, made the case that Bernie Sanders is right now the most popular politician in the United States. Sanders-- who as a younger man was getting 2 percent of the vote as a 3rd-party candidate in a tiny rural state and sleeping on his friends' sofas-- now has a 61 percent national approval rating, according to the latest poll by (wait for it...) Fox News. He's more popular than Planned Parenthood (57 percent), Obamacare (50 percent), Donald Trump (48 percent, a lot better than the president has done in other recent surveys), and the lowly GOP (29 percent). Ho-ho-ho, but then Sanders is also nearly twice as popular as the Democratic Party (32 percent).

Remember, this dude is a kind of a socialist, and the word on the streets was that-- if Sanders had defeated Clinton for the Democratic nomination-- Karl Rove and company were going to destroy him with ads about all the hippy-dippy things Bernie said back in his more radical youth. In reality, the current meme is almost certainly right: Bernie would have won.

...The national Democratic Party-- most of them, anyway-- doesn't understand. They don't see how the dumpster fire that is the Trump presidency gives them the chance of a lifetime to sell real alternatives for the middle class like single-payer health care or a massive infrastructure jobs program that could boost wages. They can't even get it together to fight the Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch, who doesn't even try to hide his judicial contempt for the little people who live in places like West Virginia or Mississippi. Sanders is America's most popular politician because he stands for something. The Democratic Party-- afraid that truly connecting with the party's base will alienate its millionaire donor class-- stands for nothing.

This weekend, Paul Heideman, writing for the far-left Jacobin, published what I thought was one of the best political essays of 2017, arguing that Democrats will never get anywhere without a coherent platform for the working class and by merely offering themselves as Not Trump. It starts with a stunning quote from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, that, "We don’t have a party orthodoxy-- they [the Republicans] are ideological.” Heideman argues that an orthodoxy is just what the Democrats need:
And despite the resulting disaster, this desire to have a politics without politics-- this strategy to build a coalition bereft of any clear values or principles-- has continued to animate liberals’ opposition to Trump. Democrats really believe, it seems, that they can subdue the reactionary right without articulating any alternative political vision beyond prudent governance.

The irony here is twofold. First, in clinging to an obviously failing strategy, elite liberalism reveals itself to be an ideology every bit as impervious to contradictory evidence as the reactionary Republicans it defines itself against. And second, for all of the Democrats’ paeans to pragmatism, they are just as committed to their own version of neoliberal capitalism as the Republicans, and just as unwilling to brook dissent with it. In fact, only a few days before declaring the Democrats free of orthodoxy, Pelosi responded to a student’s question about socialism by effusing, “We’re capitalists. That’s just the way it is.”

When attacking the Right, the Democrats are non-ideological and pragmatic. As soon as a challenge from the Left is sighted, however, the party suddenly stops being coy, and declares itself forthrightly in favor of capitalism. The result is an ever-rightward-moving political landscape that ends up abetting the very forces and figures that Democrats oppose-- including Trump.
The author makes a strong case that leading Democrats and the progressive media-- what's left of that, anyway-- are so convinced that Trump can be destroyed over a scandal or hypocrisy, or over his frequent lies, or not releasing his income taxes, that they're shunning the hard work of pitching a real alternative vision to middle-class voters.

I could not agree with this critique more-- maybe because I lived through Watergate, the scandal that's back in vogue these days (including a joint appearance last night on CNN by Carl Bernstein AND John Dean, thrilling this one-time teenage Watergate geek.) And yes, Watergate took down Richard Nixon, and there's definitely a chance that Russiagate could be every bit as bad for Trump. But Watergate only briefly slowed the broader, backward forces of reaction that claimed victory, with destructive long-term effects, with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. And will the factors that gave us Trumpism in McDowell County, Youngstown and Erie-- the working-class anger and the despair-- won't disappear even if Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn go to jail and Trump himself gets impeached.

And stop framing this as about 2020-- that's light years away. My sense is that Bernie has barely thought about the next presidential election (when he'll be 79, if you're curious). He's out there listening to people and thinking about what can he do to sell people on a more progressive vision for America, right now. Today. If the national Democratic Party doesn't jump on this train, and quickly, they could be standing on the platform, dazed and dumbfounded, for a long, long time. The only thing that's worse than Trumpism is Trumpism without a real alternative.

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