Tuesday, December 18, 2018

About Beto-- Flawed, As Are Most Candidates... But Is He A Flash In The Pan?



Let me reiterate: Blue America backed Beto when he ran for Congress against conservative Democrat Silvestre Reyes in 2012. He wasn't a bad member of Congress but we were disappointed that he veered more centrist than his district and joined the New Dems. We didn't endorse him for reelection in 2014 or 2016 but we were one of the first groups outside of Texas to back him in his Senate bid against Ted Cruz. He seemed to grow as a candidate when he took on Cruz and I was happy to lend a hand. The idea of him running for president, though, is disconcerting. He's not going to be part of our Worst Democraps Who Want to Be President series, because he's not that bad. He's not Michael Bloomberg or Kirsten Gillibrand or Joe Biden, but president? That's serious stuff-- and we should have someone at least as great as Trump is horrible. That's not Beto, not in my eyes. Nor as it turns out, in the eyes of Norman Solomon, who posted about it this morning for Common Dreams.

Solomon is urging Democrats to take a look at Beto's actual record rather than get carried away with "the overheated adulation." He's correct-- and Democrats shouldn't make the mistake in 2020 that Republicans made in 2016. "Progressives," he warned "are apt to be enthusiastic about O’Rourke-- if they don’t know much about his record." He came in on top of a MoveOn poll and has scored well in legitimate polls as well. And even MoveOn, when announcing their results, seemed uncomfortable with them, pointing out that "someone else/don't know" was #1 (17.89%), followed by Beto (15.60%), Biden (14.95%), Bernie (13.15%) and Kamala Harris (10.02%) and writing that "The official results of our 2020 straw poll are in: MoveOn members' support is up for grabs and the Democratic field is wide open. MoveOn members are looking for candidates who inspire us with with a deep progressive vision to move our country forward and are invested in an agenda that makes the connection between economic, racial, and social justice... two-thirds of MoveOn members agreed that what is most important is a candidate who inspires the public with deep progressive values and will move us towards a more progressive future where everyone can thrive, giving a clear roadmap for candidates to pursue if they want to win over MoveOn members." Solomon doesn't see Beto fitting that description at all.
Inclinations to hop on the Beto bandwagon are understandable. O’Rourke was inspiring this year as he fought to unseat the despicable U.S. Senator Ted Cruz with a campaign that built a broad coalition of Texans, while gaining huge small-dollar support from across the country. In late summer, many were thrilled by a video of Beto’s response to a question about NFL players kneeling in protest during the national anthem; his ringing defense of dissent in the context of civil rights history was excellent.

...Given their at-times extreme antipathy toward Bernie during his first presidential run, mainstream news media are likely to have an appetite for a 2019 storyline that Sanders’ support is eroding. O’Rourke is apt to be quite useful for such a narrative. The Democratic Party establishment that went all-out to get Hillary Clinton the 2016 nomination is palpably eager to block Bernie. And some in that establishment are already indicating that they believe O’Rourke might do the trick.

A revealing sign came early this month from a leading sentinel of the Democratic Party’s corporate wing-- the relentless Clinton loyalist Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress. What set her off was a matter-of-fact tweet from investigative reporter David Sirota, who told people “Something I didn’t know: Beto O’Rourke is the #2 recipient of oil/gas industry campaign cash in the entire Congress.” Sirota provided a link to campaign finance data.

Tanden quickly went into onslaught overdrive with a tweet lashing out at the sharing of such information about the three-term congressman: “Oh look. A supporter of Bernie Sanders attacking a Democrat. This is seriously dangerous. We know Trump is in the White House and attacking Dems is doing Trump’s bidding. I hope Senator Sanders repudiates these attacks in 2019.”

A money-in-politics reporter, Alex Kotch, responded that he was “pretty shocked” to see Tanden attack Sirota for simply sending out a factual tweet: “Tanden, a close Clinton ally and Bernie Sanders foe, has had a contentious relationship with the left, with which Sirota is often associated. But her claim that a reporter’s tweet of campaign finance statistics about a potential 2020 candidate was a dangerous attack that Trump would have ordered? Who was really being attacked here?”

For some context, Kotch added: “It’s worth noting that the Center for American Progress has in the past accepted donations from multiple fossil fuel companies and, as of 2017, was still receiving money from Pacific Gas and Electric Company. During the 2016 Democratic Platform Committee’s drafting process, Tanden voted against a fracking ban, a carbon tax, and a measure to keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

Kotch followed up on Dec. 12 by reporting: “I have confirmed that according to the latest campaign finance report, which covers the period from Oct. 17 through Nov. 26, the O’Rourke campaign had not returned 29 ‘large donations’ of over $200 from oil and gas executives, violating the No Fossil Fuel Money pledge O’Rourke signed.”

Beto O’Rourke’s actual political record deserves scrutiny, and it’s not what progressives might expect from the overheated adulation that has sent his presidential balloon aloft. Some pointed reporting and critiques this month may have begun a process of bringing Beto fantasies down to earth. For instance:

Under the headline “Why This Progressive Texan Can’t Get Excited About Beto O’Rourke,” columnist Elizabeth Bruenig looked ahead to the upcoming presidential race: “I think the times both call for and allow for a left-populist candidate with uncompromising progressive principles. I don’t see that in O’Rourke.” She noted that “O’Rourke’s statements on energy have been surprisingly thin”-- and that “he has called the decision between oil and gas and renewable energy sources ‘a false choice.’” Bruenig concluded: “We still have time to pick a politician with a bold, clear, distinctly progressive agenda, and an articulated vision beyond something-better-than-this, the literal translation of hope-change campaigning. Beto is a lot like Obama, true; it’s perhaps time for left-leaning Democrats to realize that may not be a good thing.”

A similar insight came from another progressive Texan, Dan Derozier, who chairs the elections committee of Houston Democratic Socialists of America. He wrote: “O’Rourke’s message covers rhetorical territory familiar from the Obama era: It’s positive and innocuous, but noncommittal. It relies on lofty but meaningless phraseology like Shared Values, Finding Common Ground and Bringing People Together. The message describes itself with words like ‘ambitious’ and ‘bold,’ but doesn’t promote any specific policy that could actually be described as such.”

Derozier summed up: “Before choosing O’Rourke as their next presidential nominee, Democrats would do well to reflect on the perils of preferring style over substance, consider the benefits of expanding their political imagination, and, most importantly, remember that political moments like O’Rourke’s are rare. Democrats shouldn’t waste the next one.”

An in-depth article by political journalist Zaid Jilani-- headlined “What Does Beto O’Rourke Actually Stand For?”-- indicates that O’Rourke doesn’t stand for much that progressives should embrace. During his six years in the House of Representatives, O’Rourke has been politically close to inert. “While the Democratic base is coalescing around single-payer health care and free college, O’Rourke sponsored neither House bill. During his time in Congress, he never joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He has been, however, a member of the New Democratic Caucus, the group organized to carry on the ideas of Clintonite policies. During the 2016 presidential primary, he stayed on the sidelines.”

Nor can O’Rourke’s caution be chalked up to conservative constituents in Texas. His 16th congressional district, centered in El Paso, “is among the more liberal in the country,” Jilani pointed out.

“While O’Rourke steadily avoided left-wing legislation, he went above and beyond to ally himself to the corporate wing of the Democratic Party,” Jilani reported. “In 2015, Congress narrowly gave President Obama so-called ‘Fast Track’ authority as it related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership… which many labor, consumer, human rights, and environmental advocates worried would vastly expand the power of investors and corporations and undermine U.S. sovereignty… O’Rourke was one of the Democrats who voted to grant the authority to Obama…. What populists like [Elizabeth] Warren and Sanders feared most about the TPP was its vast expansion of patent and copyright protections—which could lock in arduous high drug prices, among other things. Regardless, O’Rourke continues to be a defender of these sorts of agreements. During his Senate run, the local press noted that he and Cruz essentially agreed on the merits of the North American Free Trade Agreement.” Such positions in favor of so-called free trade can hardly play well in Rust Belt states that put Trump in the White House.

Jilani’s assessment concluded: “The next president should be someone with a record of sticking their neck out against concentrated power, someone who has made tough decisions even when it may anger donors and political elites, and someone who has accomplished a great deal of actual tangible real change in the world. There are number of people who fit that description, but it’s difficult to say O’Rourke is one of them.”

In Jacobin magazine, writer Branko Marcetic describes the political record a bit more favorably. On the one hand, he gives O’Rourke credit for “advocating for drug legalization and health benefits for same-sex and unmarried partners in El Paso” as well as “staunchly defending immigrants’ rights, the right to abortion, and speaking out against border militarization in Congress.” Also, O’Rourke “bucked Obama on several important issues, pressuring him to close Guantanamo, supporting legislation to curtail NSA spying, opposing war in Syria and arming the country’s rebels, and demanding Obama get congressional authorization for his continued war on ISIS.”

On the other hand, Marcetic explains, O’Rourke actively tried to “chip away at the Dodd-Frank financial reform law” and has cast many awful votes siding with big banks and against workers. His years in the House “have given him one of the better U.S. Chamber of Commerce voting scores among Democrats.” And O'Rourke’s congressional votes on criminal justice has often been on the side of repressive measures.

“O’Rourke is a decent, progressive candidate in slowly purpling Texas,” Marcetic wrote, “but when you put him on the national stage and drill down on his record, he becomes just another flawed Democrat…. Politicians like Beto O’Rourke represent a step forward for states like Texas. Making them national standard-bearers is a step backward.”

As candidates and in office, the last two Democratic presidents have been young, dynamic and often progressive-sounding, while largely serving the interests of Wall Street, big banks, military contractors and the like. Do we need to make it three in a row?

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Symbolic: House Dems vs The NRA


The new Democratic majority in the House is ready to take on gun safety. But how seriously? There are a couple of ways this can go. The Democrats can pass some very tough legislation. Perhaps a few right-wing extremist Blue Dogs like Henry Cuellar (TX), Jeff Van Drew (NJ), Anthony Brindisi (NY), Collin Peterson (MN)... will cross the aisle and vote with the GOP and there may be a few mainstream conservatives left-- say Brain Fitzpatrick (PA), Peter King (NY), John Katko (NY), Elise Stefanik (NY)-- who will cross in the other direction, but it will hardly be a legitimate bipartisan effort. And then the Senate will either vote it down or McConnell will refuse to bring it up. It'll never get to Trump's desk. Then the Democrats can tell their base, "we tried but the Republicans wouldn't budge" and the Republicans can tell their base, "we protected you from gun-grabbing Pelosi." And then someone will shoot up another school and kill some more kids and the public will hate Congress even more and Trumpanzee will say we're going to have the best gun policies ever.

Or, the two parties can seek some common ground where there is some actual agreement, at least as a first step... or a baby step like expanding background checks to include Internet sales and gun shows. That's immensely popular with the American people and although the NRA is ready to light its hair on fire over it, there are a meaningful number of Republicans who can accept it as a stand-alone item. In the past, when the GOP had the majority, they could-- and did-- hold that hostage for an agreement to honor reciprocity laws that would allow people with hidden gun permits from states like Alabama and Texas to legally carry guns in civilized places like Boston and San Francisco. But the Republicans don't have the clout to do that now. Let's see if Pelosi-- and her "gun violence prevention task force," led by pet Blue Dog Mike Thompson-- still have the skill to turn that into something real and not just partisan talking points.

Yesterday, Team Politico took a look at early posturing about the Democratic efforts to get something passed: "federal background checks on all gun sales, part of a broader effort by the party to advance long-stalled gun control measures." Key paragraph: "While the proposal won't get through the Republican-run Senate, much less become law, getting through the House will be a win for the gun-control movement, which has little to cheer about since President Donald Trump was sworn into office."

Thompson, the Napa Valley Blue Dog who votes least with the Blue Dogs and most with normal Democrats: "It will be strong legislation to expand background checks, and I will have a very respectful show of [co-sponors]. I think you will see it happen in the first 100 days." Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) is ready and told Politico Thompson's bill is "one of our top priorities. We told the American voters that we do mean to do this, and we do mean to do it." And before the end of winter.

Thompson's legislation will require federal background checks on all gun sales, including private transactions. There likely will be some small exemptions, such as transfers between family members, or temporary use of a gun for hunting. Gun-control groups estimate that roughly one-fifth or more of gun sales don't include background checks.

Thompson, Republican Peter] King and more than 200 other lawmakers-- including 14 Republicans-- introduced similar legislation in November 2017, but it went nowhere.

"The American people want this. They're way ahead of the Congress, they're way ahead of the White House," Thompson insisted.

Thompson's proposal, like many that House Democrats will pass in the new majority, may end up more as a messaging bill meant to show the American public that they listened to those who marched for action after the February 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida, as well as proving they won't shy away from talking about gun control ahead of ahead of the ultimate 2020 battle with Trump.

Any legislation will be loudly opposed by the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups, who suggest it's the opening move by gun-control advocates in a campaign to create a national gun registry.

Such a registry, they argue, could eventually lead to the federal government taking away citizens‘ guns. It’s the thread that runs through virtually every argument made by gun-rights groups-- the government first wants to know whether you have a gun so it can take it away from you someday-- and continues to mobilize their activists in the never-ending struggle over gun laws.

"Universal background checks has always been a red herring," said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), a key NRA ally in the House. "It's something that sounds very commonsense and probably polls very well, but there's not a single commercial gun transaction in America that doesn't have a background check."

"People who are putting this forward, I think they have good intentions. They don't want the wrong people to have guns," Hudson added. "But the wrong people are not going to report gun sales. So you will need a registry to know where every gun is."

While the NRA will staunchly oppose the Thompson bill-- as it has opposed calls for expanding background checks in the past-- this debate comes at a critical time for the organization, and the broader gun-rights movement.

The NRA has suffered a steep decline in fundraising during the last few years, according to its own reports. While the organization still spent millions of dollars during the 2018 midterms-- and its endorsement is eagerly sought by GOP candidates and incumbents-- its spending has dropped steeply from previous cycles.

In addition, the NRA has found itself embroiled in a Russian spy scandal. Maria Butina, a Russian gun-rights advocate, pleaded guilty in federal court last week to conspiring to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government. Butina tried to infiltrate the NRA and conservative political circles in 2016.

Uh... "found itself embroiled in a Russian spy scandal" is a misleading way to describe how the NRA allowed itself to be used, illegally, to funnel at least $30 million from the Kremlin to Trump's 2016 campaign.
[G]un-control groups such as Giffords and Everytown for Gun Safety argue that the political environment has moved decisively in their favor. They point to the fact that Democratic candidates who embraced gun-control measures did well in November, especially with suburban voters horrified by repeated mass shootings targeting children or schools.

"For the first time in years, the House of Representatives is going to be able to debate,” and pass strong gun-safety laws, which is something they haven't been able to do during this modern gun-safety movement," which began with the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, said Robin Lloyd, director of government affairs at Giffords. Giffords was founded by former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords (Ariz.), who was severely injured in a January 2011 shooting that left six people dead and 13 wounded.

"The public has been demanding commonsense gun laws for years," added John Feinblatt, Everytown's president. "The public is ready for the Congress to act. The new leadership that's coming to the House in 2019 is listening to voters, and that's what they should be doing."

Everytown was started by Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire businessman and former New York City mayor. Bloomberg dumped tens of millions of dollars into the midterms to help Democrats, and he's now considering a run for the White House in 2020.

Democratic presidential hopefuls will also have to be much more aggressive in talking about gun control, even if proponents can't get such measures through Congress, say lawmakers and party activists.

“Any Democrat running for president or dog catcher has to be talking about gun policy,“ said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has led the drive for more restrictions of guns since Sandy Hook.

“Republicans can’t win the House back if their position on guns doesn’t change,” he added. “This is now a top two or three issue for swing voters in suburban districts and until Republicans break from the NRA, they’re not going to win back the seats that they lost in 2018.“

As recently as 3 years ago there were still Democrats on the payroll of the NRA and other gun-nut groups-- like these ladies and gentlemen:

• Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)- $84,500
• Gene Green (TX)- $46,750
• Sanford Bishop (Blue Dog-GA)- $47,815
• Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)- $25,450
• Tim Ryan (OH)- $20,996
• Ron Kind (New Dem Chairman-WI)- $32,482
• Mike Thompson (Blue Dog-CA)- $50,379
• Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA)- $2,900
• Tim Walz (MN)- $18,950
• Jim Clyburn (SC)- $9,900
• Ben Ray Luján (NM, Chairman DCCC)- $5,500
• Kurt Schrader (Blue Dog Chairman-OR)- $5,000
• Loretta Sanchez (Blue Dog-CA)- $1,500

You won't see some of these faces in Congress next month-- Gene Green was forced to retire and a progressive, Sylvia Garcia, is taking his place; Loretta Sanchez is long gone; and Tim Walz is now governor of Minnesota. Former NRA ally Ann Kirkpatrick is back in Congress, but she claims she's seen the light and will no longer back the NRA. Of the 9 NRA supporters the DCCC backed for Congress, 4 failed (Brad Ashford, Paul Davis, Brendan Kelly and Dan McCready, although McCready may yet winch NC-09 seat). That leaves at least 5 NRA Dems in the new Congress to vote with the GOP: Anthony Brindisi (Blue Dog-NY), Conor Lamb (Blue Dog-PA), Ben McAdams (Blue Dog-UT), Max Rose (Blue Dog-NY), Jeff Van Drew (Blue Dog-NJ).

This cycle the gun nut groups only paid half a dozen Democrats:
• Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)- $21,400
• Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)- $13,950
• Sanford Bishop (Blue Dog-GA)- $7,500
• Ron Kind (New Dem-WI)- $6,500
• Kurt Schrader (Blue Dog-OR)- $5,000
• Vicente Gonzalez (Blue Dog-TX)- $1,000
There were also seven weird $13 payments to Democratic candidates, all of whom won their races-- but not all of whom support the gun nut agenda: Colin Allred (New Dem-TX), Jason Crow (New Dem-CO), Lizzie Fletcher (New Dem-TX), Josh Harder (New Dem-CA), Mike Levin (D-CA), Jennifer Wexton (New Dem-VA) and Susan Wild (New Dem-PA).

Don't Shoot by Nancy Ohanian


STAT: Get Someone To Read The First Amendment To Señor Trumpanzee


As we saw Sunday evening, the new poll from NBC and the Wall Street Journal found that 62% of voters believe Trump lies about the Mueller investigation, up significantly from last summer when voters were asked the same question. As the poll was being released by the two news outlets, Trump was howling about how unfairly he's being treated. Never having read the Constitution he'd superficially pledged to uphold, the doofus was whining about how what he decides is "unfair news coverage," by Saturday Night Live should be "tested in courts." The screw-pot seems to have actually cracked up. And yet... when we polled Twitter over the weekend, just 12% of respondents predicted Trump would be in a mental institution by 2021.

People often confuse his severe mental health issues-- not to mention lack of intelligence-- with his cunning and self-obsession. And then there's his colossal ignorance. I know he's heard of the First Amendment, but I wonder if he knows what it means. It's fairly simple but he has an extremely short attention span and hates to read. I doubt any judge, even one of the ignoramuses he appoints, would doubt a Saturday Night Live sketch is protected speech.

On the other hand, media doesn't have a license to break laws and it certainly appears that a major newspaper did exactly that during the wo16 election cycle, carefully and consciously trying to rig the election for one candidate while damaging his opponents. Sunday the New York Times' Jim Rutenburg broke a fascinating piece on huge media conglomerate that was then a firm Trump ally: More Powerful Than a Russian Troll Army: The National Enquirer. “The most powerful print publication in America," wrote Rutenberg, "might just be the National Enquirer. It functioned as a dirty-tricks shop for Donald J. Trump in 2016, which would have been the stuff of farce-- the ultimate tabloid backs the ultimate tabloid candidate-- if it hadn’t accomplished its goal.”
The Enquirer’s power was fueled by its covers. For the better part of the campaign season, Enquirer front pages blared sensational headlines about Mr. Trump’s rivals from eye-level racks at supermarket checkout lanes across America. This stroke-of-genius distribution apparatus was dreamed up by the man who made The Enquirer the nation’s biggest gossip rag: its previous owner, Generoso Pope Jr.

The Enquirer’s racks, under the current chief, David J. Pecker, were given over to the Trump campaign. This was a political gift even more valuable than the $150,000 that The Enquirer paid in a “catch-and-kill” deal with the former Playboy model Karen McDougal for her story of an affair with Mr. Trump.

Wondering what The Enquirer’s covers were worth to the Trump campaign, I called Regis Maher, a co-founder of Do It Outdoors, the national mobile and digital billboard company. He said a campaign with that level of national prominence would cost $2.5 million to $3 million a month.

“It’s such a powerful placement,” Mr. Maher said. “Everybody’s gotta go to the grocery store.”

With the news last week that The Enquirer had admitted to federal prosecutors that it made the catch-and-kill payment to influence the election, it’s worth stepping back and appreciating the unlikely role played by the supermarket tabloid and its parent company, American Media Inc., in electing the 45th president of the United States.

Now that federal prosecutors have cleared away some of the fog that shrouded the 2016 campaign, it’s easy to see that The Enquirer was more than just a publication that puffed up Mr. Trump while going after his rivals.

It was the real-world embodiment of the fantasy online world of trolls, Russian and domestic, who polluted the political discourse. From its perches at Publix and Safeway, it was often doing the same job as Alex Jones, of the conspiracy site Infowars, and the more strident Trump campaign surrogates on Twitter and Facebook.

The Enquirer spread false stories about Hillary Clinton-- illnesses concealed, child prostitution, bribery, treason. Each cover trumpeting these tales was arguably more powerful than a tweet from an account with millions of followers.

It’s a shame it went this route, because The Enquirer was built to cover Mr. Trump’s wild ride. If it had only stuck with its original mission-- digging up dirt on the rich and famous, without a care for the rules of traditional journalism-- it would have had the tabloid story of a lifetime.

Instead, it refused to unlock its vault of Trump tips and stories as it promoted him as America’s savior. Actually, make that the world’s. As one Enquirer report in early 2016 had it-- from “a source close to Donald’’-- even President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia wanted him to win the White House.

“It was like a double whammy,” Jennifer Palmieri, Mrs. Clinton’s campaign communications director, told me. “They could have been covering all of Trump’s misdeeds. But, instead, not only were they not reporting on that, they were a pipeline from dark-net conspiracy theories to grocery-store lines.”

With its online cohorts, American Media Inc. helped build a distortion machine that so polluted election news cycles that, for its more receptive audiences, Mrs. Clinton not only deserved to lose the White House, she deserved time in the big house.

Before making her its main target, the machine chewed up Senator Ted Cruz. It ran unsubstantiated allegations of extramarital affairs against him at a time when he was proving himself Mr. Trump’s most stubborn Republican challenger.

The only person quoted by name in the affairs piece was Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime adviser to Mr. Trump, who was quoted as saying, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” (Mr. Stone, who communicated with top campaign officials through the election, is under investigation by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.)

One passage in the Cruz story caught my eye. Citing a report in Radar Online-- a gossip outlet also owned by A.M.I.-- The Enquirer claimed that “an individual purporting to be a representative of the hacker group Anonymous posted a disturbing Twitter video that threatens to expose ‘very dirty secrets,’ including information about Ted ‘visiting prostitutes.’”

Here’s an odd thing. Radar attributed the provenance of this supposed Anonymous video to an obscure Twitter handle with only a few thousand followers that has since gone dormant. A review of the account’s activity found tweets and retweets of anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant messages relating to Europe, as well as a critique of the United States policy on Libya linked to a video from RT, the Russian state-financed cable network.

It makes you wonder if the inquiring mind of Mr. Mueller would like to know more about The Enquirer than he has let on. (Federal prosecutors in New York have led the investigation of A.M.I.)

Once Mr. Cruz was out of the way, two people familiar with A.M.I.’s operation told me, the company pulled up files on the Clintons that it had collected over decades-- some two dozen cardboard boxes filled with promising material.

A.M.I. began a painstaking effort to sort through the old clips and tips concerning “pay-for-play” deals, rumors of affairs and Vince Foster conspiracy theories. But as the campaign wore on, The Enquirer’s covers favored stories similar to those coursing through Infowars, Russian trolldom and, increasingly, your uncle’s Facebook feed.

According to one headline, Hillary was “Corrupt! Racist! Criminal!” In another, she was “Eating Herself To Death!”

The Enquirer also reported-- make that “reported”-- that she had suffered “three strokes,” had “liver damage from booze,” and was prone to “violent rages.”

A couple of weeks before Election Day, as Russian bots pushed a narrative into Facebook of a “Clinton body count,” an Enquirer cover line screamed: “Hillary Hitman Tells All.”

The false narratives built to a frenzy that included an appearance by the A.M.I. chief content officer Dylan Howard on Infowars and a cover promising that Mrs. Clinton and her aide Huma Abedin were “Going to Jail” for “Treason! Influence Peddling! Bribery!”

Inside were the unsubstantiated claims that Mrs. Clinton had “covered up a child sex scandal”-- which echoed the “Pizzagate” conspiracy-- and that her relationship with Ms. Abedin had “lesbian undercurrents.”

For those who were seeing the same bilge online, The Enquirer’s headlines and stories may have increased their doubts about the Democratic nominee. For those seeing such stuff for the first time, right next to the gum and candy, the false coverage may have been revelatory.

Placement on nationwide checkout lines was perhaps Mr. Pecker’s greatest gift to Mr. Trump, and it’s something that he inherited from Mr. Pope.

Watching his circulation plateau as his readers moved to the suburbs in the 1960s, Mr. Pope struck a deal with major grocery chains: He would build new racks to put magazines at eye level near the cash registers, arguing that more sales for him meant more profit for them, too.

“It gave us complete exposure, saturation, whatever you want to call it,” his son Paul David Pope told me on Friday.

As the younger Mr. Pope’s history of the family business, The Deeds of My Fathers, shows, The Enquirer was known to pull off an occasional “catch-and-kill” deal in the old days, including one involving Senator Edward M. Kennedy in a bid for access to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. But the tabloid usually raised hackles not because the stories it published were false, but because of its methods. This was a publication so hungry for celebrity dope that it sneaked a reporter-- disguised as a priest-- into Bing Crosby’s funeral.

“I am sure my father’s intention with his media empire was not to be used after his passing as an outlet for fake news,” the younger Mr. Pope said.
I asked a friend of mine, a renowned attorney if the Enquirer is protected by the First Amendment or if they could be held accountable for, in effect, spending millions of dollars, towards Trump's presidential run. He thought about it for a couple of days and said it's very complicated. "A simple, and simplistic, answer is that what The Enquirer did with Cohen is exactly the same as what Cohen did with The Enquirer, for which he was found guilty of felony. Under that analysis, the First Amendment is irrelevant.

A more nuanced analysis would have to consider these issues:
Under Citizens United, you can do anything you want to influence an election, as long as you don’t coordinate with the candidate or the campaign. Cohen clearly coordinated with the campaign. It’s not clear whether The Enquirer did, unless you want to impute Cohen’s connections to The Enquirer.
In my opinion, the Enquirer doesn’t have a freedom of speech argument, because it was suppressing speech. That being said, The Enquirer not only has a freedom of speech argument, but also a freedom of the press argument. Cohen is not “the press,” so it’s possible that Cohen doing it could be illegal, but The Enquirer doing it might not. (Same thing with Assange, by the way.)
On this subject, it’s clear that endorsements are not illegal contributions to a campaign. It’s not really clear where you draw the line on that. (In Florida, there is a statute drawing the line.) I think that it would be hard to equate a mistress payoff to an endorsement, but I’m sure Giuliani would try.
FECA governs “anything of value made [or spent] by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.” The underlying argument, which Giuliani has made ad nauseum, is that if the motivation was to keep Melania from bludgeoning Trump to death in his sleep (on those rare occasions when they were in the same room at night), then that’s not an election expenditure. I think that it’s obvious that The Enquirer was trying to influence the election, but a jury might or might not agree.

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Congress Should Not Be Self-Regulatory-- Especially Not When It Comes To Determining What Is And What Is Not A Bribe


The Subcommittee on Health-- the members

This morning I was on David Feldman's radio show and people were happy I had shown the connection between committee chairman and immense bribery flows from special interests the day before. OK, let me follow up on that a bit then. Let me go back to the crucially important House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired, starting in a couple of weeks, by corrupt New Jersey machine hack Frank Pallone. Energy and Commerce has its fingers in a lot of pies-- as does the incoming chairman, Frank Pallone. This cycle his 5 biggest contributing sectors were sectors his committee writes legislation for:
Health- $724,700
Communications/Electronics- $333,451
Finance- $214,450
Labor- $187,525
Energy and Natural Resources- $178,199
His biggest industries this cycle were health professionals, Pharmaceuticals and Telecom services, industries he will be writing legislation for in the next Congress. but career-long, this is what he's gotten from the sectors that are most eagle to influence him:
Health- $6,067,900, the most of any member of the House, past or present!
Communications/Electronics- $1,536,862
Finance- $2,179,885
Labor- $2,891,945
Energy and Natural Resources- $862,516
I think I moved away from that $6,067,900 number too fast. Int deserves more attention-- and not just because of Pallone. According to its own website, "the Energy and Commerce Committee has the broadest jurisdiction of any authorizing committee in Congress. It legislates on a wide variety of issues, including:
• health care, including mental health and substance abuse
• health insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid
• biomedical research and development
• food, drug, device and cosmetic safety
• environmental protection
• clean air and climate change
• safe drinking water
• toxic chemicals and hazardous waste
• national energy policy
• renewable energy and conservation
• nuclear facilities
• electronic communications and the internet
• broadcast and cable television
• privacy, cybersecurity and data security
• consumer protection and product safety
• motor vehicle safety
• travel, tourism and sports
• interstate and foreign commerce
Since I have the PhRMA contributions broken down by member, courtesy of the Kaiser Health News-- and because pharmaceutical policy is so important for the committee and for tens of millions of Americans-- let's take a look at what kind of money from PhRMA comes flowing into the accounts of the members of the committee that write the legislation that impacts it. First the Republicans, who still run the committee for another couple of weeks. They are listed in order of seniority, starting with (outgoing) chairman Greg Walden and outgoing vice-chairman Joe Barton (followed by former chairman Fred Upton). The bolden names indicate members of the committee who are also members of the subcommittee on health. It's hard to miss this eye-popping bribes that have been showered on these ladies and gentlemen.
Greg Walden (R-OR)- $883,542
[Joe Barton (R-TX)- $408,500]
Fred Upton (R-MI)- $930,040
John Shimkus (R-IL)- $826,700
Michael Burgess (R-TX)- $683,392
[Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)- $440,917]
Steve Scalise (R-LA)- $431,000
Robert Latta (R-OH)- $159,500
Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA)- $271,250
[Gregg Harper (R-MS)- $24,000]
[Leonard Lance (R-NJ)- $574,000]
Brett Guthrie (R-KY)- $480,550
Pete Olson (R-FL)- $77,000
David McKinley (R-WV)- $52,500
Adam Kinzinger (R-IL)- $225,000
Morgan Griffin (R-VA)- $80,500
Gus Bilirakis (R-FL)- $145,250
Bill Johnson (R-OH)- $66,500
Billy Long (R-MO)- $146,500
Larry Bucshon (R-IN)- $181,000
Bill Flores (R-TX)- $98,362
Susan Brooks (R-IN)- $155,500
Makwayne Mullin (R-OK)- $85,000
Richard Hudson (R-NC)- $169,500
Chris Collins (R-NY)- $115,400
[Kevin Cramer (R-ND)- $37,500]
Tim Walberg (R-MI)- $23,000
[Mimi Walters (R-CA)- $247,500]
[Ryan Costello (R-PA)- $166,500]
Buddy Carter (R-GA)- $85,000
Jeff Duncan (R-SC)- $13,000

I suspect that when Alexandria Ocasio made that statement above, she had incoming chairman Pallone in mind, perhaps because he has been working furiously to sabotage the creation of a GreenNewDeal Select Committee, or-- at the very least-- working to make sure it has no real power. It's his turf and keeping that turf brings him immense amounts of money and the power that attends money. So... here are the Democrats on the committee, again, in order of seniority. And, again, the members of the subcommittee on health are bolded. I do want to especially call 3 members to your attention who agree with Ocasio that when you're working on legislation for a particular industry, you do not take contributions from that industry: Jan Schakowsky, Kathy Castor and John Sarbanes.
Frank Pallone (D-NJ)- $840,700
Bobby Rush (D-IL)- $14,000
Anna Eshoo (D-CA)- $686,100
Eliot Engel (D-NY)- $184,500
[Gene Green (D-TX)]- $293,565]
Diana DeGette (D-CO)- $455,659
Mike Doyle (D-PA)- $65,000
Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)- $4,500
GK Butterfield (D-NC)- $346,985
Doris Matsui (D-CA)- $211,700
Kathy Castor (D-FL)- $15,000
John Sarbanes (D-MD)- 0
Jerry McNerney (D-CA)- $31,604
Peter Welch (D-VT)- $55,000
Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM)- $269,178
Paul Tonko (D-NY)- $74,098
Yvette Clarke (D-NY)- $70,000
Dave Loebsack (D-IA)- $24,500
Kurt Schrader (Blue Dog-OR)- $432,678
Joe Kennedy (D-MA)- $216,494
Tony Cárdenas (New Dem-CA)- $180,000
Raul Ruiz (D-CA)- $138,262
Scott Peters (New Dem-CA)- $311,500
Debbie Dingell (D-MI)- $31,000
A little tangent will take us to the Senate for a minute and then we'll be back to the House. On Monday, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to Republican leaders of three Senate committees with jurisdiction over drug pricing issues, Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Finance Committee Chairman-designate Chuck Grassley (R-IA), and Judiciary Committee Chairman-designate Lindsey Graham (R-SC), calling for them to open investigations and hold hearings on allegations of price fixing behavior by generic drug manufacturers. She was reacting to a Washington Post report about allegations of price-fixing activities by generic drug manufacturers that one expert described as "most likely the largest cartel in the history of the United States." According to these reports, "What started as an antitrust lawsuit brought by states over just two drugs in 2016 has exploded into an investigation of alleged price-fixing involving at least 16 companies and 300 drugs."
These allegations, if true, may help explain the numerous and increasingly troubling reports in recent years of rapid and unexplained price increases for generic drugs. While generic drugs have helped dramatically curbed healthcare expenditures, and are generally significantly less expensive than their branded counterparts, reported price spikes of 600%, 1000%, or more are profoundly troubling, and cause immense harm to patients in need.

The GAO in 2016 reported that over 300 generic drugs sold under the Medicare Part D program had at least one "extraordinary" price spike of over 100% in the five-year period from 2010-2015.

But evidence also suggests that generic drug markets are plagued by anti-consumer behavior and anti-competitive features that go far beyond high-profile price hikes of individual products. The industry is characterized by substantial consolidation: forty percent of generic drugs are now made by only one company, and the majority are made by one or two companies.

"If the allegations of price-fixing are true, they affect millions of Americans who purchase prescription drugs. The investigation should include the impact of such behavior on the Medicare and Medicaid programs, the Affordable Care Act, and the private health insurance market, as well as potential shortcomings in antitrust law and antitrust enforcement, and in the laws governing generic and biosimilar drug competition," wrote Senator Warren. "All of these issues are within your Committees jurisdiction, and Congress has a responsibility to investigate these concerns and legislate if necessary. 
The bicameral bill to address this was written by Warren and House Energy and Commerce Committee member (one of the clean ones), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). Remember, we mentioned above she's on the health subcommittee and does not take contributions from the Industrial Medical Complex. Their legislation, the Affordable Drug Manufacturing Act, would:
Lower prices, increase competition, and address shortages in the market for prescription drugs through a newly established Office of Drug Manufacturing within HHS;
Authorize the Office to manufacture generic drugs under these key conditions, where competition is lacking:
◦ No company is manufacturing the drug;
◦ Only one or two companies produce the drug, and the price has spiked or the drug is in shortage;
◦ Only one or two companies produce the drug, the price is a barrier to patient access, and the drug is listed as an “essential medicine” by the World Health Organization;
Further authorize the Office to manufacture any drug that has been compulsorily licensed by the federal government;
Require the Office to begin production of generic insulin within one year of enactment;
Allow the Office to sell publicly-produced drugs at a fair price that covers manufacturing costs while taking into account the impact of price on patient access;
Improve the ability of new companies to enter the generic drug market by authorizing the public manufacturing of active pharmaceutical ingredients;
Jump-start competition by directing the Office to offer to sell its manufacturing rights to any company that commits to keeping the product on the market at a fair price;
Reserve any revenue generated from the sale of publicly-manufactured drugs for the use of the Office, making the office self-sustaining.
Looks like stuff that would be popular, right? Don't count it becoming law-- certainly not with the current Senate or the current occupant of the White House. And with this House... we're talking about a lot of money here. Let's see what Chairman Pallone does with this bill. We have already seen how he's trying to destroy the GreenNewDeal-- basically a plan that would would generate 100% of the nation’s electricity from clean, renewable sources within the next 10 years; upgrade the nation’s energy grid, buildings, and transportation infrastructure; increase energy efficiency; invest in green technology research and development; and provide training for jobs in the new green economy-- despite polling that shows 92% of Democratic voters and 64% of Republican voters want to see it move forward. That translates to 81% of registered voters saying they either support the plan.

Even a majority of self-described "conservative" Republicans back what the plan is attempting to accomplish. Yet, not a single Republican has signed on yet. So it isn't just Pallone, other turf-conscious chairmen and the Blue Dogs who oppose establishment of the select committee, but the GOP as well. The GOP doesn't get a vote. The Democrats decide this one on their own.

Back in the direction of health. Remember way back on Friday evening when a crackpot right-wing judge in Texas declared ObamaCare unconstitutional? And by morning, Señor Trumpanzee was celebrating. Republicans in Congress? Not so much... the dog had caught up with the car. So what happens next? I haven't herald many Republicans joining Trumpanzee in the celebration, despite the fact they had voted to repeal it literally dozens of times. They're very away that around 50 of their colleagues will not be back in Congress in January largely because of that opposition.

Pelosi: "Republicans are fully responsible for this cruel decision and for the fear they have struck into millions of families across America who are now in danger of losing their health coverage." Hopefully this will finally lead Democrats towards what they should have done instead of ObamaCare: Medicare-For-All. 124 Democrats in the House have signed onto H.R. 676, the Medicare-For-All bill, including almost all the members of the Energy and Commerce Committee-- but not Pallone.

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Which Would You Prefer-- Free State Colleges Again... Or Joe Biden Again?


The big early news in the 2020 presidential primary not going to be coming from Iowa-- 88% white, 50% rural-- and New Hampshire-- 92% white and 37% rural. I have nothing against those states but I was (mostly) happy to read that California will have an impact from now on as well-- California: 39.6% white, 38.1% Latino, 13% Asian, 6% Black and 4.2% rural. "When Iowa Democrats hold their February 2020 presidential caucuses," reported Reid Epstein for the Wall Street Journal yesterday, "millions of Californians will already have their primary ballots. The nation’s most-populous state has moved its primary to March 3, 2020, so it can have more influence in picking presidential nominees. The move from a June primary in 2016 will press hopefuls to consider a West Coast perspective on issues such as immigration and the environment, empower the state’s growing Latino and Asian populations and drastically increase the amount of money candidates must raise to mount a competitive campaign." Hmmm... I don't like the implications of that last phrase. (As Epstein points out, "With a population of 40 million, California is considered too large for a campaign to build a field operation. A week of statewide TV advertising costs about $6 million, making it prohibitively expensive for most campaigns."
The geography for primaries will likely mean the voters critical to winning the presidential nomination will be considerably different from the electorate that carried the party to sweeping victories in the 2018 midterm elections, when Democrats flipped 40 House Republican seats and regained the chamber’s majority.

...While 2018 congressional candidates focused on health care and targeted educated suburban voters, candidates in 2020 must appeal to a far more diverse group in the nation’s cities.

“There will be a need to discuss issues of racial inequality,” said Matt Barreto, the co-founder Latino Decisions, a polling firm. “People are disgusted with the way that they are being talked about in such hostile racial language... It has to do with being respected and being wanted in the Democratic community.”

...California, Texas and seven other states have set March 3 contests and more-- including Georgia, where black voters make up more than half the Democratic electorate-- could move to that date as well, said Josh Putnam, a University of North Carolina-Wilmington lecturer who tracks the presidential nominating calendar.

Also upending the traditional focus on Iowa and New Hampshire is a heavier emphasis on early voting, a process that has become more popular with each election. Millions of California voters will receive their ballots 29 days before its primary, on the same day as the Iowa caucuses. Vermont’s early voting will begin Jan. 18, two weeks before Iowans choose a candidate.

...Joan Kato, who served as delegate director for Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign in 2016, said the first four states, with their small populations, will test candidates’ ability to interact with voters rather than serve as a gauge of who can reach the most people through advertising.

“It makes an unfair playing field,” Ms. Kato said. “Should our presidency be decided by the amount of money somebody can fundraise?”

...It also isn’t a given that California’s increased influence will pull the party’s nominee to the left. Mrs. Clinton won the state twice, even though she was seen as less liberal than Mr. Obama in 2008 and Mr. Sanders in 2016. Both times Mrs. Clinton was better known than her opponent.

“This idea that California is a super-liberal bastion is wrong,” said Matt Bennett, a co-founder of the center-left think tank Third Way. “You’ve got to think about California ideologically the way you have to think about the whole country.”
There's definitely going to be a centrist running, someone from the corporate wing of the party, possibly a Biden/Gillibrand ticket, which would be running since he's not just a gaffe-machine, but a #MeToo nightmare, the only issue she's distinguished herself on.

Going back to Biden's corporate identity isn't something he'll accept gracefully in public, but it's indisputable for people who examine his long, sordid record. Which is exactly what David Sirota did in 2015 for the International Business Times-- and on one particular issue: Joe Biden Backed Bills To Make It Harder For Americans To Reduce Their Student Debt. Biden has always been on the side of the creditors, never the borrowers. "Americans," wrote Sirota, "now face more than $1.2 trillion in total outstanding debt from their government and private student loans. The bill [to roll back Bush's and Biden's awful bankruptcy bill] is a crucial component of the party’s pro-middle-class economic message heading into 2016. Yet one of the lawmakers most responsible for limiting the legal options of... students is the man who some Democrats hope will be their party's standard-bearer in 2016: Vice President Joe Biden."
As a senator from Delaware-- a corporate tax haven where the financial industry is one of the state’s largest employers-- Biden was one of the key proponents of the 2005 legislation that is now bearing down on students like Ryan. That bill effectively prevents the $150 billion worth of private student debt from being discharged, rescheduled or renegotiated as other debt can be in bankruptcy court.

Biden's efforts in 2005 were no anomaly. Though the vice president has long portrayed himself as a champion of the struggling middle class-- a man who famously commutes on Amtrak and mixes enthusiastically with blue-collar workers-- the Delaware lawmaker has played a consistent and pivotal role in the financial industry's four-decade campaign to make it harder for students to shield themselves and their families from creditors, according to an IBT review of bankruptcy legislation going back to the 1970s.

Biden's political fortunes rose in tandem with the financial industry's. At 29, he won the first of seven elections to the U.S. Senate, rising to chairman of the powerful Judiciary Committee, which vets bankruptcy legislation. On that committee, Biden helped lenders make it more difficult for Americans to reduce debt through bankruptcy-- a trend that experts say encouraged banks to loan more freely with less fear that courts could erase their customers’ repayment obligations. At the same time, with more debtors barred from bankruptcy protections, the average American’s debt load went up by two-thirds over the last 40 years. Today, there is more than $10,000 of personal debt for every person in the country, as compared to roughly $6,000 in the early 1970s.

That increase-- and its attendant interest payments-- have generated huge profits for a financial industry that delivered more than $1.9 million of campaign contributions to Biden over his career, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

Student debt, which grew as Biden climbed the Senate ladder and helped lenders tighten bankruptcy laws, spiked from $24 billion issued annually in 1990-91 to $110 billion in 2012-13, according to data from the Pew Research Center.

According to the Institute for College Access and Success, as of 2012, roughly one-fifth of recent graduates’ student debt was from private loans that “are typically more costly” than government loans.

Consequently, every major Democratic presidential candidate has introduced his or her own plan to reduce college debt. Biden himself has spotlighted the issue as he has publicly pondered a White House bid. Earlier this month he attended an event to discuss student debt at community colleges, telling students at Miami-Dade College: “I doubt there were many of you who could sit down and write a check for $6,000 in tuition without worrying about it.” His comments amplified his rhetoric from the 2012 election, when he decried the fact that "two-thirds of all the students who attend college take out loans to pay for school." He said that the accumulated debt means that when the typical student graduates, "you get a diploma and you get stapled to it a $25,000 bill."

But advocates for stronger protections for debtors argue that Biden was a driving force in creating the laws that made the problem worse.

“Joe Biden bears a large amount of responsibility for passage of the bankruptcy bill,” Ed Boltz, president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, said in an interview with IBT.

That legislation created a crisis, said Northeastern University law professor Daniel Austin. Federal Reserve data show that about 1.1 million people face student debt loans of $100,000 or more, and roughly 167,000 face student loans of $200,000 or more.

“It is perverse and obscene,” Austin told IBT. “We are creating a generation of indentured people. It is mind-boggling that we would do this to a whole generation of young people. I can’t understand any other modern society doing this.”
Is there a better idea that a visionless, stays quo warrior from another era, like Biden? You bet. First watch this video of Richard Wolff interviewing Stephanie Kelton, Bernie's chief economic advisor, just about one year ago:

Now let's take a look at what Bernie is proposing. He's boiled it down to 6 steps at a time where a highly competitive global economy demands the best-educated workforce in the world. "It is insane and counter-productive," he wrote, "to the best interests of our country and our future, that hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and that millions of others leave school with a mountain of debt that burdens them for decades. That shortsighted path to the future must end."

This is not a radical idea. Germany eliminated tuition because they believed that charging students $1,300 per year was discouraging Germans from going to college. Chile will do the same. Finland, Norway, Sweden and many other countries around the world also offer free college to all of their citizens. If other countries can take this action, so can the United States of America.

In fact, it’s what many of our colleges and universities used to do. The University of California system offered free tuition at its schools until the 1980s. In 1965, average tuition at a four-year public university was just $243 and many of the best colleges-- including the City University of New York-- did not charge any tuition at all. The Sanders plan would make tuition free at public colleges and universities throughout the country.


Over the next decade, it has been estimated that the federal government will make a profit of over $110 billion on student loan programs. This is morally wrong and it is bad economics. Sen. Sanders will fight to prevent the federal government from profiteering on the backs of college students and use this money instead to significantly lower student loan interest rates.


Under the Sanders plan, the formula for setting student loan interest rates would go back to where it was in 2006. If this plan were in effect today, interest rates on undergraduate loans would drop from 4.29% to just 2.37%.


It makes no sense that you can get an auto loan today with an interest rate of 2.5%, but millions of college graduates are forced to pay interest rates of 5-7% or more for decades. Under the Sanders plan, Americans would be able to refinance their student loans at today’s low interest rates.


The Sanders plan would require public colleges and universities to meet 100% of the financial needs of the lowest-income students. Low-income students would be able to use federal, state and college financial aid to cover room and board, books and living expenses. And Sanders would more than triple the federal work study program to build valuable career experience that will help them after they graduate.


The cost of this $75 billion a year plan is fully paid for by imposing a tax of a fraction of a percent on Wall Street speculators who nearly destroyed the economy seven years ago. More than 1,000 economists have endorsed a tax on Wall Street speculation and today some 40 countries throughout the world have imposed a similar tax including Britain, Germany, France, Switzerland, and China. If the taxpayers of this country could bailout Wall Street in 2008, we can make public colleges and universities tuition free and debt free throughout the country.

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