Democracy Has Prevailed.

May 31, 2017

Arrest Jared Kushner. Now.

Some endnotes:
  • US Code 794
  • Washington Post report on Kushner "back channel" 
  • NYTimes report on Kushner Syria cover story
  • AP report on Kushner/Flynn "back channel" cover story
  • NY Times report on Kushner's incomplete SF86 forms
  • Reuters report on Kushner's undisclosed contacts with Russian banks 
  • NBC report on Kushner's meeting with "Putin crony"
And that's just from the first half the video.

Arrest Jared Kushner now.

May 30, 2017

My FIFTEENTH Open Letter To Senator Pat Toomey

I'll be dropping this letter to Senator Pat Toomey in the mail today:
Dear Senator Toomey:

It's me, again. Your constituent who also writes for the local Pittsburgh-based political blog, "2 Political Junkies."

This week's line of questioning will have to be about Jared Kushner, presidential son-in-law and presidential senior advisor.

As I am sure you probably already know, the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint statement back in October, 2016 saying that "The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations."

And last month, the New York Times reported that Jared Kushner failed to disclose meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in his request for a top-secret security clearance, even though he was required to do so.

And then this past week, the Washington Post reported that Kushner and Kislyak discussed the possibility of setting up a secret line of communication between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin - a move that would have put those communications out of reach of the same US Intelligence services that reported that the Russian Government directed the hacking of those emails in the first place.

In fact the only reason to do that would be to hide that line of communication from the US Intelligence and law enforcement communities.

This threat to our nation's security concerns me a great deal.

So my question: Does it concern you that a Senior Advisor to the President Of The United States both failed to disclose his meetings with the Russian Ambassador and sought a secret back channel to the Kremlin? If so, what are you doing about it, and if not, why the heck not?

I await your response.
And I will be posting whatever response I get from him or his office.


May 29, 2017

Horray For Science!

Since the anti-science crowd in the GOP and elsewhere have been doing their best to undermine science and reason (see Climate Change and Evolution for a start) let's look back at an event that actually verified science - for example today in 1919.

What happened today

A solar eclipse - and it was yuge.

But why is this important?  Why is an eclipse that took place almost exactly a century ago have any relevance today?

Because it was the first verification of Einstein's theory of general relativity.

Part of the General Theory predicts how much matter bends space.   This eclipse was designed to see if Einstein was correct about how much gravity bent space or if Newton was correct.

From Wired:
Sir Frank Watson Dyson, Astronomer Royal of Britain, conceived in 1917 the perfect experiment to resolve the issue. A total solar eclipse on May 29, 1919, would occur just as the sun was crossing the bright Hyades star cluster. Dyson realized that the light from the stars would have to pass through the sun’s gravitational field on its way to Earth, yet would be visible due to the darkness of the eclipse. This would allow accurate measurements of the stars’ gravity-shifted positions in the sky.

Eddington, who led the experiment, first measured the “true” positions of the stars during January and February 1919. Then in May he went to the remote island of Príncipe (in the Gulf of Guinea off the west coast of Africa) to measure the stars’ positions during the eclipse, as viewed through the sun’s gravitational lens.

Eddington also sent a group of astronomers to take measurements from Sobral, Brazil, in case the eclipse was blocked by clouds over Príncipe. Outfitting and transporting the dual expeditions were no small feats in the days before transoceanic airplanes and instantaneous global communication.
From Headstuff:
Dyson presented the main results at a special meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Society of London on 6th November, 1919. Crommelin’s results from Sobral, with measurements from seven stars in good visibility, gave the deflection as 1.98(+/-) 0.16 arc seconds. Eddington’s results from Principe were less convincing. Measurements were taken from only five stars and due to the bad weather conditions the error was much larger. Nevertheless, they still had a result of 1.61 (+/-) 0.40 arc seconds. Both results were within two standard errors of Einstein’s predicted value of 1.74 and both were also more than two standard errors away from either zero or the Newtonian value of 0.87 arc seconds.
These results have been confirmed a number of times since:
After this monumental expedition many more went on to cement Einstein’s theory. In 1922 another eclipse, viewed from Australia, produced scores of measured angles of deflection and had much more convincing statistical data. The standard error however was still of a similar size, around 0.20 arc seconds. Measuring the deflected light rays in this manner, using optical telescopes, continued into the 1950s but never increased much in accuracy. This is due to the difficulties in observing stars through our atmosphere.
Ever since, Einstein's theory (and remember it's "just a theory") has been confirmed by experimental data. 

It's true - horray for science!

May 26, 2017

Meanwhile Outside...

Enjoy the science while you can, my friends.  Science (the magazine) is reporting that Donald Trump's proposed budget would do some damage to NOAA:
The request for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would drastically cut into the agency's climate research, shuttering a host of labs and programs. The agency released a detailed guide to these proposed cuts today—and described the programs on the chopping block in glowing terms that seemed to emphasize their value even as it proposed their elimination.

NOAA's Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR), one of the agency's primary research arms, would see its budget drop by 22%, from $514 million to $400 million, under the proposal. Despite these cuts, the proposal reads, the office would continue to "provide robust science that is instrumental to preventing the loss of human life, managing natural resources, and maintaining a strong economy."
Of course not researching the climate will ultimately change the climate - or at least make us see it more clearly, right?  I mean it just makes alternative-factual sense, right? 

Anyway, here's what the science says about April:
The combined global average temperature over the land and ocean surfaces for April 2017 was 0.90°C (1.62°F) above the 20th century average of 13.7°C (56.7°F)—the second highest April temperature since global records began in 1880, trailing 2016 by 0.17°C (0.31°F) and ahead of 2010 by 0.0.7°C (0.13°F). April 2017 also marks the 388th consecutive month that the globally-averaged temperature across the world's land and ocean surfaces was nominally above the 20th century average. December 1984 was the last time a monthly temperature was below average at -0.09°C (-0.16°F). Overall, April 2017 tied with March 2015, August 2016, and January 2017 as the 12th highest monthly global land and ocean temperature departure from average on record (1,648 monthly records).
And then the year-to-date:
The global land and ocean surface temperature during January–April 2017 was 0.95°C (1.71°F) above the 20th century average of 12.6°C (54.8°F). This was the second highest such period since records began in 1880, behind 2016 by 0.19°C (0.34°F) and ahead of 2015 by 0.10°C (0.18°F).
This has happened and will keep happening regardless of how many non-scientists Trump installs at the EPA or how much his proposed budgets ignore the truth.

But in Trump's post-modern world, if the science isn't telling us what we want to hear, we call it a hoax, defund it, and then in or collective ignorance declare victory because no one will have any actual data to refute our alternative facts.

May 25, 2017

HR 1628 - The CBO Report Is Out

The Congressional Budget Office and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) has issued its report on HR1628, (a.k.a. the "American Health Care Act of 2017").

And this is what the CBO said:
CBO and JCT estimate that, in 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured under H.R. 1628 than under current law. The increase in the number of uninsured people relative to the number projected under current law would reach 19 million in 2020 and 23 million in 2026. In 2026, an estimated 51 million people under age 65 would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law. Under the legislation, a few million of those people would use tax credits to purchase policies that would not cover major medical risks.
23 million Americans without health care coverage.  But, Slate adds:
On the bright side, some people would get cheaper coverage with fewer benefits—which is great for young, healthy men in particular—and gutting Medicaid and reducing spending on insurance subsidies would cut the deficit by about $119 billion. So there's that.
But details, details. How would this work?  CNN reports:
The legislation that ultimately passed would allow states to waive two key Obamacare protections for those with pre-existing conditions. Insurers in these states would be allowed to charge higher premiums to those with pre-existing conditions if they let their coverage lapse. Carriers would also be allowed to offer skimpier plans that would have lower premiums, but not cover as many benefits. But lawmakers also allocated additional money to a stability fund to help states cover high-cost enrollees.
That last sentence is the measly $8 billion in the Upton Amendment.  About that $8 billion, Slate says:
It makes short work of the Upton Amendment, writing that though it pushes down costs as intended, the effect “would be small because the funding would not be sufficient to substantially reduce the large increases in premiums for high-cost enrollees.” In other words, it's barely worth talking about.
 And on the MacArthur Amendment, Slate says:
The number-crunchers spend much more time on the MacArthur Amendment, since it could fundamentally reshape how insurance is sold in some states. The report estimates that half of the country would live in places where lawmakers would choose to keep all of Obamacare's rules. There, premiums would be a mere 4 percent lower by 2024, largely because the AHCA's basic structure would tend to price older Americans out of the insurance market and draw in younger customers, who pay less for their coverage. Another third live in states that would nix many of the essential health benefits Obamacare now guarantees, such as maternity and mental health care. Those places would see a 20 percent drop in premiums by 2026 compared to current law, “primarily because, on average, insurance policies would provide fewer benefits.” However, not everyone would benefit equally. “The reductions for younger people would be substantially larger and those for older people substantially smaller,” the CBO nots. People who needed more extensive medical care would also have to pay more out of pocket.

Finally, the CBO thinks that about one in six Americans live in states that would drop both the essential health benefit and community rating rules. This would create significantly cheaper insurance for people with few health care needs, while leaving the sick to pay “extremely high premiums” that would “rapidly rise” over time. Technically, insurers would still be required to sell to people with pre-existing conditions, and could only raise prices for those who have gaps in their insurance market. But for reasons previously spelled out well by analysts at Brookings, the CBO still thinks the markets in those states would bifurcate—one with cheap insurance for the healthy, and another with wildly expensive coverage for the ill.
So for those who don't need insurance, it's cheaper and easier.  For those who do, it's more expensive (perhaps too expensive) to keep - and you're on your own.

And this is what all these Pennsylvania Republicans voted for:
I wonder how many of their constituents they're screwing over in order for their wealthier, healthier voters to save a few bucks?

May 23, 2017

My FOURTHEENTH Open Letter To Senator Pat Toomey

I'll be dropping this letter to Senator Pat Toomey in the mail today:
Dear Senator Toomey:

It's me, again. Your constituent who also writes for the local Pittsburgh-based political blog, "2 Political Junkies."

This'll be quick.  I promise.

A few days ago the New York Times reported that Donald Trump, in his meeting in the Oval Office with the Russian Foreign Minister and the Russian Ambassador to the US, called the former head of the FBI James Comey (who he'd just fired) "crazy" and "a real nut job."

Here's my question: Are you OK with any of this?

Are you OK with the president of the United States in effect bragging to the Russian Ambassador that he'd just fired the guy in charge of the investigation into whatever connections there may have existed between his presidential campaign and Russian intelligence?

Are you OK with his characterization of Comey as "crazy" and "a real nutjob" during that brag?

I await your response.
And I will be posting whatever response I get from him or his office.


May 22, 2017

Good For Them - Notre Dame Students WALK OUT On Mike Pence

Sometimes very powerful protests can happen very very quietly.

Like this one:
Some graduating seniors at the University of Notre Dame walked out of their own graduation ceremony to protest Vice President Pence when he began to deliver the commencement speech on Sunday morning.

Pence was chosen to give the commencement address at the nation’s most prominent Catholic university — even though the school ordinarily invites newly inaugurated presidents to give the address in their first year of office. Thousands of students and faculty members signed a petition asking Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John Jenkins, not to invite President Trump, and the university chose instead to invite Pence, a former Indiana governor.

A coalition of student activist groups at Notre Dame called We StaND For planned a walkout to protest policies Pence pursued as governor that they say targeted the most vulnerable.
The reasons for the protest, organized by a group called WeStandforND, can be found here.

During his time as governor of the state of Indiana and now as a Vice-President, Pence has targeted the civil rights protections of members of LBGT+ community, rejected the Syrian refugee resettlement program, supported an unconstitutional ban of religious minorities, and fought against sanctuary cities. All of these policies have marginalized our vulnerable sisters and brothers for their religion, skin color, or sexual orientation.
And for that, they walked. Take a look:

Good for them.

May 19, 2017

Birthdays - May 19

More proof, as if it's necessary, that astrology is BS.

Born today in 1945, Pete Townshend:

And then, only 6 years later, Joey Ramone:

Also born today:
  • Pol Pot - 1925
  • Andre The Giant - 1946
  • Peter Mayhew - 1944
  • Grace Jones - 1948
  • Malcolm X - 1925
So yea, astrology is BS.

Happy Friday!

May 18, 2017

ANOTHER Response From Senator Pat Toomey!

Like this one, it's email.

NOW, unfortunately, I have to make sure I scan my spam folder more.  The reason being that's where I found this most recent response from Senator Pat Toomey.  Had I not checked, it would have been lost to the ages.

So let's dive straight in.  What's this one about?

Senator Toomey's first sentence:
Thank you for contacting me about the situation in Syria. I appreciate hearing from you.
Ah, Syria.  If it's Syria, it has to be the ninth letter.  In it, I am asking about the Tomahawk missile attack on the Shayrat Airbase in Syria.  Specifically, this:
The Pentagon announced that, "Russian forces were notified in advance of the strike using the established deconfliction line. U.S. military planners took precautions to minimize risk to Russian or Syrian personnel located at the airfield." Reportedly, the Russians were then able to inform the Syrians of the attack. The runways themselves were not damaged and within a day or so, the base was operational again.We're talking limited damage here.

All this was done before the American people were informed. Let me simplify: Syria's ally Russia (and supposedly, Syria) knew of the attack before the American people knew.

Doesn't this bother you at all?
That's what I asked.

And this is how Senator Toomey answered:
As you know, Syria is in the midst of a bloody civil war. The Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, has massacred large numbers of Syrian people since the war began, including through the use of chemical weapons. During the fighting, over 400,000 Syrian citizens have died. The entire civilized world has denounced Assad's brutality. Since the civil war began, the U.S. has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in lethal and nonlethal assistance and humanitarian aid.

In early April, the Assad regime conducted another chemical weapons attack. This sarin gas attack in Idlib, Syria killed over 80 civilians, including children, and wounded over 500 more. In response to this atrocity, the Administration launched a cruise missile strike against the Assad regime on April 6, targeting the Shayrat air base. This action sends a message to the world that barbaric, nerve gas attacks on innocent Syrians will not go unpunished.

The current conflict in Syria is a complex challenge requiring American leadership and significant global engagement. I look forward to the President working with Congress on next steps, including development of a comprehensive plan that details for the American people our long-term strategic objectives, the possible risks for military personnel, and national security implications.

I understand your concerns regarding the situation in Syria and will keep them in mind as I continue to monitor the situation in Syria. Thank you again for your correspondence. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.
You'll notice that he didn't answer my question.  Not at all.  In fact, his first two paragraphs are simply throat-clearing filler.

It's apt that it all starts with "As you know..."

Yes, Senator I do know all that stuff.  That's why I asked you my question.  So I'll ask it again, doesn't it bother you that Trump told the Russians about the attack BEFORE he told us, The American People?

And considering the events of the last week or so, if it didn't bother you then, doesn't it bother you now?

May 17, 2017

More Trump Obstruction. Contact Your Member Of Congress.

A few hours ago, former NSA Analyst John Schindler tweeted:
The "this" is this from NBC:
Fired FBI Director James Comey wrote an internal memo saying President Donald Trump asked him to shut down an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, multiple sources with firsthand knowledge of the memo told NBC News on Tuesday.

The memo was part of a paper trail Comey built documenting what he believed to be Trump's campaign to derail the FBI's investigation of alleged Russian ties to his presidential campaign, according to a source close to Comey and a former federal law enforcement official.

The source close to Comey said the memo included a line in which Comey quoted Trump as having said, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go."
The White House denies the story but as Jennifer Rubin wrote in the Washington Post "the administration’s credibility is nil right now" so I'm thinking Comey's probably gonna be closer to the truth than the gang that tried to influence Trump with a fake Time magazine cover.

But Schindler is right.  Every GOP member of Congress needs to be asked directly if s/he is ok with what happened.

Let's start in SW PA:
And of course:
So if you live in one of those congressional districts, call or drop your member of Congress a line (or better yet, some snail mail).  And by all means, contact Pat Toomey and ask him if he's OK with Trump asking the head of the FBI to "letting Flynn go" when Flynn was under investigation for dancing too closely with Russian Intelligence.

May 16, 2017

My THIRTEENTH Open Letter To Senator Pat Toomey

I'll be dropping this letter to Senator Pat Toomey in the mail today:
Dear Senator Toomey:

It's me, again. Your constituent who also writes for the local Pittsburgh-based political blog, "2 Political Junkies."

Senator Toomey, the events of the last few days demand attention.

As you may already know, yesterday the Washington Post reported that:
President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.
Trump went on to discuss aspects of the threat that the United States learned only through the espionage capabilities of a key partner. He did not reveal the specific intelligence-gathering method, but he described how the Islamic State was pursuing elements of a specific plot and how much harm such an attack could cause under varying circumstances. Most alarmingly, officials said, Trump revealed the city in the Islamic State’s territory where the U.S. intelligence partner detected the threat.
You'll remember, this was the meeting that US reporters were not allow to attend, though a Russian photographer was allowed to take photographs. This was the meeting also attended by Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the individual that former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn met with and then lied about meeting, later triggering Flynn's firing.

This meeting took place a few days after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, the individual ultimately in charge of the investigation into the Trump Campaign's dealings with Russian Intelligence.

While this is not a question of legalities as Trump has the authority to declassify anything at will, were it anyone else in government, this is a question of fitness - fitness to be President, fitness to lead as commander in chief.

This is my question: Given the events of the last few days (the Comey firing and the disclosure of highly classified information to the Russians) do you a still have confidence in Donald J Trump's ability to be president and commander in chief? If not, what are your plans to deal with him? If you still do have confidence in his leadership abilities, considering the events of the past few days, what would it take for you to lose that confidence?

I await your response.
And I will be posting whatever response I get from him or his office.


May 15, 2017


Lock him up!

Donald Trump
is a

Because No One Is Above The Law, Right?

From The Hill:
President Trump thinks he is above the law, Harvard professor Laurence Tribe said Sunday.

"He has shown no respect for the rule of law, regards himself as above the law," Tribe said on ABC's "This Week."

"He thinks it's appropriate to essentially have a job interview with the FBI director as we now know."
Elsewhere, at The Washington Post, he wrote:
Consider, too, how Trump embroiled Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, despite Sessions’s recusal from involvement in the Russia investigation, in preparing admittedly phony justifications for the firing on which Trump had already decided. Consider how Trump used the vice president and White House staff to propagate a set of blatant untruths — before giving an interview to NBC’s Lester Holt that exposed his true motivation.

Trump accompanied that confession with self-serving — and manifestly false — assertions about having been assured by Comey that Trump himself was not under investigation. By Trump’s own account, he asked Comey about his investigative status even as he was conducting the equivalent of a job interview in which Comey sought to retain his position as director.

Further reporting suggests that the encounter was even more sinister, with Trump insisting that Comey pledge “loyalty” to him in order to retain his job. Publicly saying he saw nothing wrong with demanding such loyalty, the president turned to Twitter with a none-too-subtle threat that Comey would regret any decision to disseminate his version of his conversations with Trump — something that Comey has every right, and indeed a civic duty, to do.

To say that this does not in itself rise to the level of “obstruction of justice” is to empty that concept of all meaning.
Obstruction is against the law.  No one is above the law, not even the president of the United States.

Here's our current Attorney General saying that exact thing:

And our junior Senator from Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey, has said the same thing:
“The president unfortunately has a history or unilateral actions” that run afoul of the law, Mr. Toomey said. “No one is above the law, including this president. … We have a constitution, we are a democratic republic, and presidents are not kings or dictators.”
Of course, the last two gentlemen were discussing presidents who also happened to be Democrats.

I wonder when they'll feel the same way about an autocratic president from their own party.

We have a constitution.  We are a democratic republic.  Presidents are not kings or dictators.

It's time for the Republicans in the Congress to put country before party and investigate Donald J. Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors.

May 13, 2017

Senator Pat Toomey Has Responded!

But this time, it's via an email - not via the US Postal Service.

I am not sure what that means.  Are they trying to save on stationary, printer ink, and postage? Have they decided to upgrade their communications system to deal with the onslaught of concerned Pennsylvanians wishing and hoping and trying to get through to their junior Senator?

Inquiring minds want to know.  But not right now, maybe later.

One thing is for sure, they have my email address and they know how to use it.

Back to the business at hand as today we have a Toomey letter to deconstruct.  I'll post the PDF in its entirety at the bottom of this blog post.

Senator Toomey opens:
Thank you for contacting me about United States Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. I appreciate hearing from you.
That's good to hear that he appreciates hearing from me, seeing as I've written twelve letters to him (so far).  Now we now the topic of the day: Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

When did I ask about Neil Gorsuch and what did I say?

In my seventh letter, there's this:
I listened to your interview yesterday with Mike Pintek on KDKA yesterday (interestingly a day before the by now usual "Tuesdays For Toomey "events) and I was struck by your defense of Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch.

It was particularly interesting to hear you complain about Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer "thinks he has to oppose all things related to Trump" and the Senate Democrats' view that "we will go 4-8 years filling no vacancies on the Supreme Court because they can't get over the results of the election last year" when members of your party held exactly the same positions only a few months ago, on a 4 year vacancy at the Court and opposing all things related to Obama.

So here's my question: isn't that just a little hypocritical?
[Note to self: I really have to proof-read my emails better. The above was just unforgivably messy.]

And in my eighth letter, there's this:
We touched on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch last week so I won't belabor the point. However, I've read at that you're in favor of doing away with the Senate filibuster in order to confirm Judge Gorsuch. Again, isn't that a tad hypocritical since only a few months ago you weren't even in favor of giving Merrick Garland the courtesy of a Senate vote?
But since the eighth letter references the seventh AND is actually about internet privacy, I think it's safe to assume that this Toomey email is a response to the latter letter and not the former letter.

So how does my Senator answer my question about his (and his party's) seeming hypocrisy?

Like this:
On January 31, 2017, President Trump nominated then-Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace Justice Antonin Scalia as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States.

I have long held that when considering judicial nominees, objective qualifications are more important than partisan politics, and -
Sorry, but I have to stop the Senator right there.  If "when considering judicial nominees, objective qualifications are more important than partisan politics" is so important, then where was the hearing and vote on President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland?  Toomey's reason for opposing:
First, the balance of the Supreme Court is at stake, and we have an election right around the corner. With lifetime tenure, the next justice will determine the Court's balance for a generation.

In that light, I believe it is sensible to allow the American people to participate in the choice of Justice Scalia's successor less than seven months from now.
That first paragraph alone dissolves Toomey's argument about about how "objective qualifications are more important than partisan politics" in that with his excuse is profoundly political - this nominee from this Democratic President will tilt the "Court's balance" to the left and so that's why it has to be stopped. It has nothing to do with Garland's qualifications, does it?

And we still understand that the American people did participate in the choice of any Supreme Court nominee - by electing Barack Obama.  Obama, as we all remember won both the electoral college and the popular vote. Twice. As Trump failed to win the popular vote in 2016...well you know how that sentence ends, don't you?

But that was Toomey's first reason against Garland.  In his second, he goes to Guantanamo Bay:
I also raised with Judge Garland his approach to terrorist detainee cases. He authored an opinion that resulted in the release of 17 Guantanamo Bay prisoners who were part of a group of violent Islamist extremists the State Department had designated as terrorists.
Politifact, by the way, ruled this argument as mostly false.

But let's get back to Toomey's email defense of Neil Gorsuch:
Crucially, Justice Gorsuch understands that the proper role of a judge is to apply the law and U.S. Constitution as written, not to pick winners and losers based on personal or partisan policy preferences.
But take a look at another of Toomey's arguments against Garland:
Garland was the deciding vote to uphold the 2012 regulations of coal- and oil-fired power plants. Although the EPA predicted that the regulations would impose up to $2,400 in costs for every $1 of benefit, the agency stated that costs were irrelevant--a conclusion Garland upheld.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Scalia, halted this rule.

Had Judge Garland been on the Court instead of Justice Scalia, the rule would be in effect today, killing more jobs and doing more harm to Pennsylvania's economy.
But isn't this "picking winners and losers" Senator?  Whether an economic outcome of a particular judicial decision is in sync with any particular partisan economic idea should be, by your own argument, completely outside the scope whether that argument is, in fact, the correct legal one, right?

Or do you only think that applies to non-conservative decisions by non-conservative judges?

I suspect we both know how I answer to that question.

Later in his letter, Toomey writes:
Despite the fact that Justice Gorsuch was clearly qualified for the court, on April 5, 2017, a partisan minority of my Senate colleagues chose to violate over 200 years of Senate precedent and launched the first-ever partisan filibuster against a Supreme Court nominee.

The Senate was left with an unfortunate choice: either allow a partisan minority to continue violating more than 200 years of Senate tradition and block a vote on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, or act to restore Senate tradition and allow a bipartisan majority to take an up-or-down vote.
Again Senator, two words: Merrick Garland.  Where was this adherence to Senatorial tradition when the Supreme Court nominee was from a Democratic administration?  Aren't you guilty of blocking just such a vote?

Sorry to say, Senator, but you answered my questions about your and your party's hypocrisy with just more hypocrisy.

But this is still fun.  Let's do it again next weekend.


The Letter:

May 12, 2017

May 12 - Birthday!

Comedian George Carlin was born today in 1937.  He passed away in 2008.

In his honor, some obscenity (or rather some "obscenity"):
The seven dirty words you can't say on television put into a contemporary context:
Shit for brains Donald J. Trump has been pissing on the Constitution for a little over a hundred days. He's going to fucking kill us all, the fascist cunt.  If the news of the last few weeks has any validity (and there's no reason to think it doesn't) the cock-sucker's a Russian stooge at best and a traitor at worst.  Honestly (and for the sake of the Republic's future), the mother-fucker needs to be impeached.  Now.

Donald J Trump is obsessed with tits.
Happy Friday!

May 11, 2017

Senators, Every State Has Two (Bob Casey, Pat Toomey, And The Comey/Trump Cover-up)

In case you missed it, Donald Trump is in the middle of a cover-up:

Some highlights:
  • 0:19 - Donald Trump has declared war on the legal system, moved to overrule the spirit of The Constitution and enacted a coup against the ideals of the United States of America. And at this
    hour one of two things is already and irretrievably underway; either the end of
    Trump or the end of American democracy because both cannot continue - because simply you cannot fire the man who is investigating you.
  • 1:21 - You cannot fire the man who is investigating you. It is by itself a cover-up - not just part of an already extant cover-up.
  • 7:21 - You cannot fire the man who is investigating you because the next man will now also have to investigate you for that. 
So let's see how our Pennsylvania Senators reacted.

First, Pat Toomey:
I have doubted the ability of Director Comey to lead the FBI effectively for some time now but the timing of his dismissal is unfortunate. It is now up to the president to appoint, and the Senate to confirm, a successor who has unimpeachable credentials and integrity and who enjoys the confidence of the American people. The next FBI director should continue pursuing ongoing investigations, including the 2016 presidential campaign.
Oh, he's soo close!  At least Toomey wasn't praising the firing.  At least he wasn't neutral about it.  At least he wasn't saying "Suck it up and move on."

On the other hand, Pat is perfectly OK with having Donald Trump (the guy who fired Comey as part of a cover-up) appoint Comey's successor and let it go with that.  That's simply not enough, Pat. Given that this successor would be, first and foremost, approved by Donald Trump, that should be enough to dissuade anyone from thinking they're gonna be "unimpeachable."

From now on, Pat, everything that Trump touches is tainted by this corruption.


Now let's see look at Bob Casey's statement:
This is Nixonian. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein must immediately appoint a special counsel to continue the Trump/Russia investigation. On March 20th Director Comey said, “I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts.” This investigation must be independent and thorough in order to uphold our nation’s system of justice.
Good for Bob. While it's true that Nixon never fired his any of his FBI directors (one of whom was J. Edgar Hoover - like that was going to happen.  I'm sure Hoover had dirt on Nixon going back at least as far as the Eisenhower administration), he did fire the man who was investigating him - Archibald Cox - and that cover-up didn't work either as Nixon was gone 10 months later.

Repeat after me: It's a cover-up.  Donald Trump is guilty of a cover-up of Nixonian proportions.

May 10, 2017


On the off-chance you missed last night's news, here's a recap from the Washington Post:
President Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey on Tuesday, at the recommendation of senior Justice Department officials who said he had treated Hillary Clinton unfairly and in doing so damaged the credibility of the FBI and the Justice Department.

The startling development comes as Comey was leading a counterintelligence investigation to determine whether associates of Trump may have coordinated with Russia to interfere with the U.S. presidential election last year. It wasn’t immediately clear how Comey’s ouster will affect the Russia probe, but Democrats said they were concerned that his ouster could derail the investigation.
It's a cover-up.  There's no other explanation.  I mean, there's only one problem with the story the White House is presenting.  It's found in this headline at CNN:
Trump once cheered Comey for the same reason he just fired him
And elsewhere on CNN:
"When there is a investigation that reaches near the President of the United States or the leader of a non-democracy, they fire the people who are in charge of the investigation," continued [CNN Senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Jeff] Toobin. "I have not seen anything like this since October 20th, 1973, when President Nixon fired Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor."

"This is something that is not within the American political tradition," Toobin said. "That firing led indirectly, but certainly, to the resignation of President Nixon, and this is very much in this tradition."

"This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. This is something that is completely outside how American law is supposed to work."
The interesting thing about the investigation Toobin references - y'know, the "investigation to determine whether associates of Trump may have coordinated with Russia to interfere with the U.S. presidential election" - is that AG Jeff Sessions recused himself from that investigation because he was part of Trump's campaign.

And yet here he is recommending Trump firing the guy who is, in fact, investigating him.

Say it with me: COVER-UP.

Trevor Noah was on it last night:

At :41 he says:
Trump fired the FBI director. Like, you, you can't just fire the FBI director. Like, I mean, if he's gone, who's gonna investigate Russia's ties to-- Oh...
Say it with me: COVER-UP!

May 9, 2017

My TWELFTH Open Letter To Senator Pat Toomey

I'll be dropping this letter to Senator Pat Toomey in the mail today:
Dear Senator Toomey:

It's me, again. Your constituent who also writes for the local Pittsburgh-based political blog, "2 Political Junkies."

I was going to ask you about the AHCA and ask you how (or whether) you'd be working to protect the "pre-existing conditions" portion of the ACA but then former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified before Congress yesterday.

Former Acting Attorney General Yates said that in repeatedly lying about his contacts with the Russians, former director of DIA Mike Flynn, "...created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians." And she also said outright that "We believed that General Flynn was compromised with respect to the Russians."

CNN reported that this took place on January 26 and 27. It took the Trump administration 18 days before removing Mike Flynn from his position as National Security Advisor.

But that was only after he fired Sally Yates as acting head of the Justice Department.

Does it at all concern you that the Trump Administration retained, for 2 and a half weeks, a person in a position of extreme importance to the security of the nation, a person who the Department of Justice had concluded could be blackmailed by the Russians - our harshest adversary?

And if it doesn't concern you, then why not?

I await your response.
And I will be posting whatever response I get from him or his office.


May 8, 2017

Today In (Recent) Music History - May 8

This was filmed exactly 53 years ago today:

You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

May 7, 2017

AHCA And Pre-Existing Conditions

In February of this year, three members of the Pennsylvania delegation of the US House of Representatives, Keith Rothfus, Mike Kelly, and Bud Schuster published this in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Our alternative will expand the options for individuals and families to access affordable insurance coverage. It will provide for a transition period where those currently on Obamacare will have ample time to choose a new plan that works best for them and their families. We will make sure that no one struggling with complex medical needs or pre-existing conditions is denied access to affordable health care options.
They were writing about their criticisms of Obamacare and their plans for an alternative - the AHCA.  The three clearly state that they'll make sure that "no one struggling with ... pre-existing conditions is denied access to affordable health care options."

No one denied access to affordable options - keep that phrase in mind.

This issue of "pre-existing conditions" has been around for a while.  In late April, Donald Trump said that "pre-existing conditions are in the bill."

Politifact rated that as "mostly false."  They explain:
In March, the Republican’s American Health Care Act died without a vote when Republicans couldn’t agree on the bill designed to replace the Affordable Care Act. Under the new bill, called ACHA, insurers had to cover pre-existing conditions, but they could have charged more for people who are recently uninsured.

The MacArthur amendment would allow states to obtain waivers to some requirements of the Affordable Care Act, including the "essential health benefits" provision that requires maternity care or mental health services.

The amendment has language that appears to protect those with pre-existing conditions stating that "nothing in this Act shall be construed as permitting insurers to limit access to health coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions."

But experts say other parts of the amendment suggest that those with pre-existing conditions could struggle to maintain affordable health insurance.

The amendment permits insurers to set premiums based on the "health status" of an individual by looking at their current and past health status and make predictions about how much an individual will use medical care in the future, said Linda Blumberg, senior fellow in the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute.

That’s where pre-existing conditions could come into play, because it would mean that the costs rise for consumers who are sicker, said Timothy Jost, Washington and Lee University School of Law emeritus professor.

"Health status underwriting is literally charging a higher (possibly much, unaffordably, higher) premium to people with pre-existing conditions," Jost said. "Under the MacArthur amendment, they could not be refused coverage, but insurers could impose high enough premiums that coverage would be unaffordable." [Emphasis added.]
Politifact, in another analysis of the MacArthur amendment states:
Matt Fiedler, a health care analyst for the Brookings Institute, said the AHCA would force people with a pre-existing condition to choose between two different pools of insurance coverage, both with "a very high premium."

"In either case, people with serious health conditions would lack access to affordable insurance options," he said.

The AARP opposes the AHCA for that reason.

So does the nation’s largest group of doctors, the American Medical Association, which said the AHCA will do "serious harm to patients and the health care delivery system."
Hmm the AARP and the AMA both oppose the AHCA - and by implication the defense of it by our good friends Rothfus, Kelly and Schuster.

On those waivers, the Brookings Institute states:
States would technically be required to satisfy certain criteria to receive a waiver, but as noted by Tim Jost, those criteria would be trivial to meet. The state would have to agree to operate a high risk pool, reinsurance program, or related program under other provisions of the AHCA. But that would often happen automatically, and the waiver process would not require the state to ensure that the program is adequately funded (or otherwise effective). Waiver applications would also be required to explain how the waiver would improve the state’s health insurance market along at least one of five dimensions. Those criteria would also be easy to meet. Indeed, one is “reducing average premiums” in the state, which almost any waiver of this type would achieve by driving many sick individuals from the market. [Emphasis added.]
Guess what happens if the high-risk pool isn't adequately funded?  As Avalere, a Health Care consulting firm put it:
Funding earmarked for high risk pools in the American Health Care Act will cover five percent of the total number of enrollees with pre-existing chronic conditions in the individual market today.
Avalere estimates that there are 89,000 Pennsylvanians with a pre-existing condition in the individual market (those most likely to be affected by the MacArthur amendment).

So given all this, Congressmen Rothfus, Kelly and Schuster, how does your alternative plan "make sure that no one struggling with complex medical needs or pre-existing conditions is denied access to affordable health care options" as you promised?  And how many of the 89,000 are in your districts? 

More importantly, how many people with pre-existing conditions in your districts did you promise to help but instead you just as easily screwed them out of whatever health coverage they could afford? 

May 6, 2017

May 5, 2017

Congressman Mike Doyle On Yesterday's Vote

From his website:
“Today we all get a chance to go on record about where we stand on this shameful, cruel bill,” Congressman Doyle said on the House Floor. “This creates a survival of the fittest health care for America. If you are young, if you are healthy, if you are wealthy, this bill’s for you; you’re going to do okay. But woe, if you are old, if you are sick, if you are poor, there’s no coverage in this bill for you. If you’ve got a young child with cancer, guess what? Those benefits aren’t going to be paid. The American people will remember how you voted on this bill today.”

“24 million Americans are going to lose their insurance if this bill becomes law.” Congressman Doyle observed. “$839 billion dollars gets cut out of the Medicaid program. The Essential Health Benefit Package in states is wiped out – in my state, it’s taken care of people with mental illness and opioid addiction. Gone. This takes 117 billion dollars out of the Medicare Trust Fund. This is really a tax bill masquerading as a healthcare bill. The plan here is to take this money out of the healthcare system and use it for tax cuts.”
With the MacArthur amendment, states can apply for waivers to redefine "essential health benefits" and that in turn would weaken ACA protections nationwide.

This is what Keith Rothfus and Tim Murphy voted for.

May 2, 2017

Senator Pat Toomey Has Responded!

Yesterday, I received my second letter from Senator Pat Toomey.

April 9 of this year, I posted his first response.  My best guess is that it was written as an answer to the questions I posed in my first letter to him - though it was kinda vague.

Unfortunately with yesterday's letter, I can't really tell exactly which of my eleven letters I've sent he's answering.

It's dated April 17, so that rules out my tenth and eleventh letters (dated April 18 and 25, respectively).  I can't imagine he's responding again to the first, so that leaves letters two through nine.

His first sentence reads:
Thank you for contacting me about President Donald Trump. I appreciate hearing from you.
The ninth, eighth, fifth, and fourth letters have no specific references to Trump, so they're out. The seventh has just a passing reference to Trump ("...I was struck by your defense of Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch.") but was more about the Republican obstructionism of the Obama presidency, so that's probably out as well. The sixth is about Trump's stubborn adherence to the false story President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower and whether that stubbornness has eroded Senator Toomey's confidence in him - so that's a possibility. The third letter is about another one of Trump's tweets. I asked whether the senator agreed with Donald J Trump that the press is the "enemy of the people." - so that's another possibility. The second letter is, again, about Donald Trump pushing things that are demonstrably untrue:
  • The terror attack in Sweden
  • Trump's electoral college win that was the largest since Reagan
  • The murder rate is the highest in 47 years
  • Between 3 and 5 million illegal votes were cast in 2016
And I ask Senator Toomey if he's concerned about any of that, and if not, why not.

And this is what he sent me:

I'm guessing that since his first response was to my first letter, this second response is to my second letter but it's wa-a-a-ay iffy. 

You'll note that the letter addresses none of my Trump-related concerns.  He begins acknowledging the "wide array of opinions regarding the President" (even though at this point Trump's disapproval rating is about 14 points below is approval). He then quotes Hillary Clinton's concession speech and her saying that "we owe him an open mind and the chance to lead" and that she hopes "he will be a successful president for all Americans."

We need only to look at those approval ratings to see that, so far, that last part's a complete failure.

Trump has had a chance to act "presidential" (a hundred days, in fact) and yet he's still clinging to the "Obama wiretapped me" story. And only yesterday:
The U.S. president had a historical question: Why did America's Civil War happen? "Why could that one not have been worked out?"

Remarks by Donald Trump, aired Monday, showed presidential uncertainty about the origin and necessity of the Civil War, a defining event in U.S. history with slavery at its core. Trump also declared that President Andrew Jackson was angry about "what was happening" with regard to the war, which started 16 years after his death, and could have stopped it if still in office.
Trump's comments about the war came after he lauded Jackson, the populist president whom he and his staff have cited as a role model. He suggested that if Jackson had been president "a little later, you wouldn't have had the Civil War."

"He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, 'There's no reason for this,'" Trump continued.
And so to Donald J. Trump, the slave-owning Andrew Jackson would have done a better job than Republican Abraham Lincoln in dealing with slavery and secession and Civil war. If only Jackson had been alive at the time.

And should we be approaching this with an "open mind" Senator?

May 1, 2017

Some Views On Trump's 100 Days, After His Speech In Harrisburg

First from a Republican who served in Ronald Reagan's White House:
CNN senior political analyst David Gergen late Saturday said President Trump delivered “the most divisive speech I’ve ever heard from a sitting American president” at a campaign-style rally in Pennsylvania.

"To bring your campaign speech into the presidency is something presidents rarely do," Gergen said on CNN.

"He played to his base and he treated his other listeners, the rest of the people who have been disturbed about him or oppose him, he treated them basically as 'I don't care, I don't give a damn what you think, because you're frankly like the enemy.'"
And then a reporter who knows a little bit about White House corruption:
CNN commentator and veteran reporter Carl Bernstein on Sunday accused President Trump of lying "day in and day out."

“He deserves respect as the duly elected president of the United States," Bernstein said on CNN's "Reliable Sources." "That doesn’t mean he deserves not to be called on lies. He has lied as no president of the United States in my lifetime has, day in and day out."
For example this lie:
President Trump claimed his 100-day rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday night broke attendance records, though journalists pointed out rows of empty seats at the expo center where the event was held.
Take a look:

Trump must've been able to see that.  And yet he lied to everyone listening to him.

Just another Monday In Trump's America.