Democracy Has Prevailed.

January 31, 2019

A Follow-Up To Yesterday's Post

Remember yesterday when Donald Trump was contradicted by his own intelligence community? It was during a briefing to Congress regarding a just released a report, the "Worldwide Threat Assessment."

Well, Trump fought back:
President Trump pushed back on Wednesday against his intelligence chiefs’ national security assessments, saying that “the Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran,” and defended his own, more positive appraisals of the threats North Korea and the Islamic State pose to the United States.

“Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter.
Like everything else in Trumpville, experts aren't experts and he's the only one who knows the truth.

That's a dangerous situation.

A few reactions from a few democrats on a couple of congressional intelligence committees

From The Hill:
Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) on Wednesday denounced President Trump after he attacked top intelligence leaders' stance on Iran, saying that the president is becoming a "national security threat."

“It is not normal for the president of the United States to disparage his intelligence experts or his military experts,” Speier, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said during an appearance on MSNBC. “And yet that’s what the president does, day in and day out. He is becoming a national security threat himself.”
From The Washington Post:
“It is a credit to our intelligence agencies that they continue to provide rigorous and realistic analyses of the threats we face,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “It’s deeply dangerous that the White House isn’t listening.”

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also weighed in.

“The President has a dangerous habit of undermining the intelligence community to fit his alternate reality,” Warner said in a tweet. “People risk their lives for the intelligence he just tosses aside on Twitter.”
When will the GOP finally denounce their leader?

January 30, 2019

Reality Invades Trumpville

From the AP (via the Military Times):
Directly contradicting President Donald Trump, U.S. intelligence agencies told Congress on Tuesday that North Korea is unlikely to dismantle its nuclear arsenal, that the Islamic State group remains a threat and that the Iran nuclear deal is working. The chiefs made no mention of a crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border for which Trump has considered declaring a national emergency.
Let's all remember what the orange one said:
And then there's this from the orange vulgarity:
Waming? Oh well, here's what the science says:
But how is global warming to blame [for the shifting polar vortex]?

The answer is simple: because the phenomenon that causes the polar vortex to break down is known as sudden stratospheric warming, where the upper layers of the atmosphere increase in temperature by approximately 30–50 °C (54–90 °F) over the span of only a few days. The fact that there are land masses located where they are in the northern hemisphere means that as those land temperatures increase, they transport their heat to even more northern latitudes.

The exact details of how this works are complex, but the explanation is simple: warmer land temperatures, particularly in northern North America and northern Eurasia, allow more heat to be transported into the Arctic stratosphere. A warmer Earth makes sudden stratospheric warming events more likely and more frequent. And those events destabilize the polar vortex, bring cold air down into the mid-latitudes, and cause the extreme weather we're experiencing right now.
Sadly, none of this matters to the current occupant of the Oval Office.

January 29, 2019

My NINETY-FIFTH Open Letter To Senator Pat Toomey (UPDATED)

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

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

According to CNN, earlier this month the Senate failed to move on a resolution that would have stopped the lifting of sanctions of three Russian companies tied to Oleg Deripaska, a man with close ties to the Kremlin who the Treasury Department has been investigated for money-laundering, and accused of extortion and racketeering.

The NYTimes reported that lifting those sanctions could wipe out hundreds of millions of dollars of Deripaska's debt.

Given all that we now know regarding the Russia investigation into the Trump Campaign/Administration, and Paul Manafort (who, as I am sure you're aware, got a $10 million loan from Deripaska) why on Earth would you side with Donald Trump on this and vote in favor of lifting those sanctions?

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

UPDATE: This letter was answered here. Follow-up:

January 28, 2019

An Important Birthday YESTERDAY - Mozart

I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27, 1756.

He wrote this:

That's Daniel Berenboim, by the way, conducting the West-East Divan Orchestra.

Mozart also wrote this:

That's Renee Fleming. Enough said.

January 27, 2019

Meanwhile Outside...

Usually, sometime close to the beginning of the third week of any given month, NOAA (the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration) will update their "State of the Climate" page with new information regarding how hot it's been getting outside.

I usually snag the report in a couple of days - like this one from October.

However, because of the Trump shutdown (now recently ended because Trump gave-in), all you can see at NOAA is this:
The website you are trying to access is not available at this time due to a lapse in appropriation. and specific NOAA websites necessary to protect lives and property are operational and will be maintained during this partial closure of the U.S. Government.

See for forecasts and critical weather information.
This month is no exception.  Now that the shutdown is over, how long before the science reappears and how much damage did Trump's childish wall-tantrum cause?

In the meantime (a meanwhile in the meanwhile) there's this:
The U.N. system's chief scientist on weather and climate warned Friday that climate change has "a multitude of security impacts" and is increasingly regarded as a national security threat — with global warming records broken in 20 of the last 22 years.
This was during an open debate during the UN Security Council meeting.

Of course, this happened (from NBC):
But the acting U.S. ambassador, Jonathan Cohen, never even mentioned the words "climate change" or "security" in his council speech. And Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia objected strongly to discussing climate change in the Security Council, saying it is not a threat to international peace and security and should only be discussed in specific cases where it is a risk factor.

More than 80 of the 193 U.N. member states spoke at the day-long council meeting and virtually everyone except the United States agreed that climate change was happening.
You can see Ambassador Cohen's remarks here.

The "never even mentioned...'security'..." is not exactly true.  Here he is mentioning insecurity:
Many of our nations has experienced devastating natural disasters in recent years – from hurricanes to floods to droughts – affecting two billion people worldwide in the last decade alone. These events inflict loss of life, destruction of property, and displacement of citizens. They increase the risk of food insecurity and disease outbreak.
Mr. President, Central America and the Caribbean have suffered greatly from the follow-on effects of natural disasters. Hurricanes have impacted national economies and created huge recovery needs. Recent droughts have exacerbated food and water insecurity and contributed to new migration flows in the region.
So there's that - but look how he framed his argument:
Many of our nations has experienced devastating natural disasters in recent years – from hurricanes to floods to droughts...
Mr. President, we’ve seen how natural disasters can exacerbate existing vulnerabilities...
And so on and so forth. Notice that any notion of "climate change" has been seemingly scrubbed from the text.

So in a debate regarding how man-made climate change is exacerbating the world's security concerns, The Trump appointee instead stuck with the phrase "natural disasters" to describe those events. As if climate change had nothing to do with the rising temperatures, heavier rains, and thus could not be any sort of "risk multiplier" for already existing security concerns.

While he's doing great damage to this country, he's also doing great damage to the rest of the planet.

January 26, 2019

Senator Toomey RESPONDS to Another Letter

It's been about a month since his last response.

As with many other letters from Senator Toomey's office, while it is a response to my letter, it in no way is an answer to it.  In this case, sadly, his pivot away from my letter leads him to some very subtle dishonesty.

The letter, dated December 17, arrived via the Post Office and begins thusly:
Thank you for contacting me about Medicare and Social Security. I appreciate hearing from you.
Now I get to see which of my (mostly) weekly letters he's answering.

When I search for "Toomey open letter medicare" in the upper left hand box of this blog, I find two letters:
The older letter does mention Medicare and Social Security:
The LA Times reported that "Senate Republicans overcame internal divisions late Thursday to approve a 2018 budget that will increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years to allow for President Trump’s proposed tax cuts. They also reported that the budget "slashes domestic spending, including steep cuts to Medicare and Medicaid."

The New York Times is reporting that Trump's take plain is potentially a huge windfall for the wealthiest Americans with no benefits for the bottom 1/3 and only modest benefits for the middle class. You voted for legislation that does all that and slashes Medicare and Medicaid while increasing the deficit.
I asked the senator if he could explain why he supported that budget.

But as that was almost exactly a year before the second letter (interesting coincidence, isn't it?), I can't imagine Senator Toomey (or his office) taking that much time to answer a question.  No, it's far more likely that he's responding to the later (latter?) letter.

The eighty-fourth letter frames my question with a statement by Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell who said that entitlement changes are the real driver of the debt by any objective standard. I asked Senator Toomey, given his support for the tax cuts that did, in fact, raise the debt whether:
Is that your plan? To pay for your trillion dollar tax cut by cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?
I'll post Toomey's response in full at the bottom of this blog post but let's look at them paragraph by paragraph.  Paragraph One:
Like many Americans, I believe that Medicare and Social Security are valuable programs that provide health care coverage and other important benefits for millions of seniors. As lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have noted, Medicare and Social Security programs are on an unsustainable course, especially over the long term.
As they say, this is a bit of rhetorical throat-clearing. No clue as to an answer to my question.

Paragraph Two:
The Social Security Administration and the Medicare program both have a board of trustees that release an annual report on the fiscal outlook of both programs. The most recent trustee reports for Social Security and Medicare estimate these programs will reach insolvency by 2034 and 2026, respectively.
I think Senator Toomey omitted a few very important parts to that second sentence. Take a look at this summary of the most recent Board of Trustees report (Senator, did you think I wouldn't find it??)

The summary opens with this:
Each year the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds report on the current and projected financial status of the two programs. This message summarizes the 2018 Annual Reports. [Emphasis added.]
And the reference to the Social Security Trust Fund reaching insolvency in 2034 says this:
The Trustees project that the combined trust funds will be depleted in 2034, the same year projected in last year’s report. [Emphasis added.]
In this case the "combined trust funds" are:
...the "Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund, which pays retirement and survivors benefits, and the Disability Insurance (DI) Trust Fund.
But the Social Security trust funds (which are projected to be insolvent in 2034) are separate from Social Security program, isn't that right Senator?

We know this by this few paragraph, a few inches down the page:
Social Security’s total cost is projected to exceed its total income (including interest) in 2018 for the first time since 1982, and to remain higher throughout the projection period. Social Security’s cost will be financed with a combination of non-interest income, interest income, and net redemptions of trust fund asset reserves from the General Fund of the Treasury until 2034 when the OASDI reserves will be depleted. Thereafter, scheduled tax income is projected to be sufficient to pay about three-quarters of scheduled benefits through the end of the projection period in 2092.
So the program would still continue (at a 3/4 rate) for another 58 years even after the trust funds are depleted?

But that's not what you said, Senator. You said he Social Security program will be insolvent by 2034 - not the trust fund. It's too easy to infer from your sentence that the program will end at that point. Something, I suppose, you're counting on.

The Senator's sleight-of-hand with Medicare is similar.  His letter states that the Medicare program will be insolvent by 2026, when it's really only one of the two Medicare trust funds.

Medicare Part A is supported by the Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund and Medicare Parts B and D are supported by Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI) Trust Fund. And this is what the summary has to say about these funds:
The Trustees project that the HI Trust Fund will be depleted in 2026, three years earlier than projected in last year’s report. At that time dedicated revenues will be sufficient to pay 91 percent of HI costs. The Trustees project that the share of HI cost that can be financed with HI dedicated revenues will decline slowly to 78 percent in 2039, and will then rise gradually to 85 percent in 2092.
For SMI, the Trustees project that both Part B and Part D will remain adequately financed into the indefinite future because current law provides financing from general revenues and beneficiary premiums each year to meet the next year’s expected costs.
But Senator, you said the program will be insolvent by 2026. Turns out only one of the trust funds is projected to be insolvent by that time - not the whole program.

But by conflating the two, and projecting to us a false picture of reality, aren't you trying to scare us into supporting you? Senator Toomey, isn't this just one big dishonest mislead here?

In any event, all this had nothing to do with the question in my letter which was:
Is that your plan? To pay for your trillion dollar tax cut by cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid?
 So not only did you avoid answering my question you lied in that avoidance.

Nice going, Senator. You're already supporting the most corrupt President in American history. Why compound that insult by lying to your constituency?

The text of Toomey's letter:
Thank you for contacting me about Medicare and Social Security. I appreciate hearing from you.

Like many Americans, I believe that Medicare and Social Security are valuable programs that provide health care coverage and other important benefits for millions of seniors. As lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have noted, Medicare and Social Security programs are on an unsustainable course, especially over the long term.

The Social Security Administration and the Medicare program both have a board of trustees that release an annual report on the fiscal outlook of both programs. The most recent trustee reports for Social Security and Medicare estimate these programs will reach insolvency by 2034 and 2026, respectively.

Looking at the numbers, it is clear that these programs are on an unsustainable course. We cannot avoid the tough choices necessary to reform Medicare, Social Security, and other programs and make sure that they are fiscally sound for future generations. For this reason I support reform of these programs and am working with my Senate colleagues on this important issue. However, reforms should not impact current retirees or those nearing retirement. Please be assured that I value your input on reforming mandatory spending and will keep your concerns in mind.

Thank you again for your correspondence. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.

January 25, 2019

(Even More) Stupid Tales From The Trump Idiocracy

First from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross:
But that was the suggestion of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Thursday, who said he did not understand why federal workers who will miss a paycheck for a second time this month on Friday would turn to services like food banks.

“The obligations that they would undertake — say borrowing from a bank or credit union — are in effect federally guaranteed,” Mr. Ross told Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times on CNBC. Credit unions serving public employees are offering “very, very low-interest-rate loans” and banks are also willing to lend, he said.

“True, the people might have to pay a little bit of interest, but the idea that it’s paycheck or zero is not a really valid idea,” Mr. Ross said.
His net worth is something over $2 billion.

Then there's Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow who said that those furloughed are  "volunteering" in fact:
Larry Kudlow's net worth is a paltry $2 million.

Then there's the man himself, defending Wilbur Ross:
When questioned about Ross' comments, Trump said that he hadn't heard the statement but he felt that Ross could have phrased his answer better.

However, Trump continued on with his answer, telling reporters gathered for a media briefing that unpaid federal workers should be able to get assistance from banks and grocery stores.

"Local people know who they are when they go for groceries and everything else," Trump said. "So I think what Wilbur was probably trying to say was that they will work along — I know banks are working along. If you have mortgages, the mortgagees, the folks collecting the interest and all of those things, they work along. And that's what happens in a time like this, they know the people, they've been dealing with them for years, and they work along. The grocery stores...and I think that's probably what Wilbur Ross meant."
Yea, so if you're a furloughed government employee who has bills to pay and mouths to feed (and no government pay check due to Trump's shutdown) you should have no problem getting your bank or grocery store to "work along" with you on your Trump-induced debts, right?

And about that loan that Ross suggested, here's something interesting (see what I did there?) from the Washington Post:
The Commerce Department’s federal credit union is charging furloughed employees almost 9 percent interest on emergency loans to cover their missing paychecks, despite Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross saying Thursday that financial institutions were offering “very, very low-interest-rate loans to bridge people over the gap.”
What can I say?


Shame on every Congressional Republican (EVERY. CONGRESSIONAL. REPUBLICAN.) who continues to support this idiotic and insulting administration.

January 24, 2019

Yea, What She Said.

I'll just leave this here for y'inz:
And if you wanted to see Senator Graham's full statement, you can read it here.

Some other "lows" in American politics:
  • That whole "shithole countries" thing
  • Won't go to a military cemetery on Veterans Day due to a little bit of rain
  • Children separated from their asylum-seeking parents and kept in cages
I'll just leave this here for y'inz.

January 23, 2019

The P-G Editorial Board - Not Yet A Wretched Hive Of Scum And Villany. Give Them Another Year

Hey, remember this?

Almost exactly a year ago, the P-G editorial board published on Martin Luther King day a reprehensible and racist editorial describing how charges of racism are, in fact, the new racism. The public outcry was swift and strong.

P-G readers were angry, letters to the editor were written and at least one wasn't published by the P-G - this one, from the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh.

Well, my friends, history rhymed this week with another unpublished letter to the P-G about another bit of reprehensible from the P-G editorial page.

And for the rest of the story, I give the floor over to Michael A. Fuoco, President of the guild, Jonathan D. Silver, Unit Chairman and members of The Newspaper Guild Executive Committee.

This is their letter:
To the Editor:

We write you on the one-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publishing what was widely considered in our community to be a racist editorial. In response, the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh broke with more than eight decades of not weighing in on editorial positions and wrote a letter to the editor, which the PG refused to publish. We did so because the editorial was so repugnant and outrageous that we would be remiss as human beings and as employees of this newspaper not to speak out.

Sadly, one year later, we find ourselves in the same position. This time, the publication of three misogynistic editorial cartoons within a week has disgraced the reputation of the newspaper we and the community love. The cartoons display a contempt for women and an obvious deep-seated prejudice against them. The cartoons are not witty, insightful or funny. They are a puerile recycling of ridiculous, outdated and hurtful tropes about women that have rightfully brought scorn upon this newspaper.

Did you not read the letters to the editor that were highly critical of the first two cartoons? Why would there be a third one on Sunday? Do you even care that, as they did following the racist editorial, subscribers and advertisers are cutting ties with us?

Our editorial page should reflect our community. It should treat everyone with dignity, respect and human kindness. It should engender thoughtful discussion about issues we face. These cartoons do none of that. They are misogynistic, pure and simple. This cannot stand. It is wrong, it is hateful, it is a disgrace.

The 150 talented, dedicated, committed newsroom employees represented by the Newspaper Guild respectfully request this childish, unseemly, intellectually dishonest behavior cease immediately. Only then can we attempt to re-establish the respect for this newspaper that your actions may have irreparably harmed.
 Here are the letters to the editor regarding the first two cartoons:

January 22, 2019

My NINETY-FOURTH 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 - the constituent who writes for the local Pittsburgh-based political blog, "2 Political Junkies."

Let me as you about Trump's shutdown. On a recent Facebook post, you wrote of your support of Donald Trump's "compromise" to get the necessary negotiations started in order to end his shutdown (and, as you'll recall, he said he would be "proud to shutdown the government for border security. So it's his.").

Part of his "compromise" was to extend DACA protections for 3 years. But didn't Trump move to take away those protections in the first place? And hasn't his rather cruel decision to remove those protections (and thus deport all those people) already been blocked by the courts?

So what has your guy Trump actually given up with this "compromise"?

In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of federal workers have been furloughed and many have forced to work without pay, their lives held hostage by the man you continually insist on supporting.

How is this good for America?

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


January 18, 2019

Yea, It's Time (Donald Trump Obstructed Justice) UPDATED

From the Articles Of Impeachment against Richard Milhous Nixon:
...Richard M. Nixon, using the powers of his high office, engaged personally and through his close subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or plan designed to delay, impede, and obstruct the investigation of such illegal entry; to cover up, conceal and protect those responsible; and to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful covert activities.
From Buzzfeed:
President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.

And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.
Funny how this came up only a few days ago at the confirmation hearing for Attorney General:
It's time for our friends on the other side of the political aisle to face reality: The man they picked to Make America Great Again obstructed justice and needs to be held accountable.


On the other hand,  The Washington Post is reporting:
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s office on Friday denied an explosive report by BuzzFeed News that his investigators had gathered evidence showing President Trump directed his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about a prospective business deal in Moscow.

“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate,” said Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller.
So there's that.

For what it's worth, Buzzfeed responded to Mueller's office with a tweet:
So there's that.

We look forward to learning exactly what the truth is. But in the mean time, this is ON HOLD.

January 17, 2019

Trump, The GSA, And That Troublesome Emoluments Claus

Hey, remember The Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC?

Remember all the talk about how Trump's ownership of the Hotel caused a conflict with this section of the Constitution:
No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.
The lease to the Hotel states:
No member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the Government of the United States or the Government of the District of Columbia, shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom; provided, however, that this provision shall not be construed as extending to any Person who may be a shareholder or other beneficial owner of any publicly held corporation or other entity, if this Lease is for the general benefit of such corporation or other entity.
And yet Donald Trump, the principal owner of the Hotel, got to keep it because the GSA originally said his ownership did not violate that part of the lease.

Well, the Inspector General's office of the GSA finds that they were wrong.

From that report's introduction:
On July 28, 2017, the Office of Inspector General of the General Services Administration (GSA OIG) opened this evaluation of GSA’s management and administration of GSA’s ground lease of the Old Post Office Building (OPO). We initiated this evaluation based on numerous complaints from Members of Congress and the public about GSA’s management of the lease. The complaints generally raised two issues regarding the lease: (1) does the Foreign Emoluments Clause or the Presidential Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution bar President Donald J. Trump ’s business interest in the Trump Old Post Office LLC (Tenant) and (2) does the President’s business interest in Tenant violate Section 37.19 of the lease.

This report focuses on GSA’s decision -making process for determining whether the President’s election caused Tenant to be in breach of the lease upon the President’ s inauguration. We did not seek to determine whether the Preside nt’s interest in the hotel violates either the Emoluments Clause s or Section 37.19 of the lease, or whether any violation caused a breach of the terms and conditions of the lease. Rather, we sought to determine whether there were any improprieties in GSA’s decision -making process regarding these issues.

We found that GSA recognized that the President’s business interest in the OPO lease raised issues under the Constitution’s Emoluments Clauses that might cause a breach of the lease; however, GSA decided not to address those issues in connection with the management of the lease. We also found that the decision to exclude the emoluments issues from GSA’s consideration of the lease was improper because GSA, like all government agencies, has an obligation to uphold and enforce the Constitution; and because the lease, itself, requires that consideration. In addition, we found that GSA’s unwillingness to address the constitutional issues affected its analysis of Section 37.19 of the lease that led to GSA’s conclusion that Tenant’s business structure satisfied the terms and conditions of the lease. As a result, GSA foreclosed an early resolution of these issues, including a possible solution satisfactory to all parties; and the uncertainty over the lease remains unresolved.
They had an obligation to uphold the Constitution and they didn't.

Sadly typical in Trump's America.

January 15, 2019

My NINETY-THIRD 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 - the constituent who writes for the local Pittsburgh-based political blog, "2 Political Junkies."

Simple question this week: Is Donald Trump (the man you voted for for president, the leader of your political party and the man you vote with about 89% of the time) a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States of America?

Senator, I'm a constituent of yours and I'd really like an answer to this one.

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


January 14, 2019

A Few Things From This Weekend (Trump Doesn't Deny Working For Russia)

First, from The NYTimes:
In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.
And then from The Washington Post:
President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. U.S. officials learned of Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Tillerson.

The constraints that Trump imposed are part of a broader pattern by the president of shielding his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.
But when Jeanne Pirro (of Fox "News") asked him directly "are you now or have you ever worked for Russia?"

Trump answered with this:
I think it’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever been asked. I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written. And if you read the article, you’d see that they found absolutely nothing.

But the headline of that article, it’s called “The failing New York Times” for a reason, they’ve gotten me wrong for three years. They’ve actually gotten me wrong for many years before that.

But you rook at what’s going on, you know, I fired James Comey. I call him Lying James Comey because he was a terrible liar, and he did a terrible job as the FBI director. Look at what happened with the Hillary Clinton and the e-mails and the Hillary Clinton investigation, one of the biggest screw-ups that anybody’s ever seen as an investigation.

And what happened after I fired him? Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, his lover, Lisa Page, they did it. And, you know, they’re all gone. Most of those people, many, many people from the top ranks of the FBI, they’ve all been fired or they had to leave are. And they’re all gone.

This is what they were talking about. And, obviously, nothing was found.

And I can tell you this, if you ask the folks in Russia, I’ve been tougher on Russia than anybody else, any other — probably any other president period, but certainly the last three or four presidents, modern day presidents. Nobody’s been as tough as I have from any standpoint, including the fact that we’ve done oil like we’ve never done it, we’re setting records in country with oil and exporting oil and many other things. So, which is, obviously, not great for them, because that’s what they — that’s where they get their money for the most part. But many other things.

So I think it was a great insult. And “The New York Times” is a disaster as a paper. It’s a very horrible thing they said, and they’ve gone so far that people that weren’t necessarily believers are now big believers, because they said that was a step too far. They really are a disaster of a newspaper.
Let's tick off the talking points:
  • Trump as victim (question itself is "insulting")
  • Failing New York Times
  • Lying James Comey
  • Clinton emails/investigation
  • McCabe, Strzok/Page "did it"
  • No one's tougher on Russia than Trump
  • Oil?
  • New York Times is a "disaster"
Can you see what isn't there?

What isn't there is anything that even sounds like a "no" or anything that even sounds like denial of working with or ever having worked for Russia - Pirro's direct question.

January 12, 2019

Donald Wuerl Lied (Thus Spake The Tribune Review Editorial Board)

Let's start here, at The Washington Post:
Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl knew of sexual misconduct allegations against ex-cardinal Theodore McCarrick and reported them to the Vatican in 2004, church officials confirmed Thursday evening, despite portraying himself since last summer as unaware of any complaints surrounding McCarrick.

Robert Ciolek, a former priest who reached a settlement with the church in 2005 after accusing clerics including McCarrick, told The Post he recently learned that the Pittsburgh Diocese has a file that shows that Wuerl was aware of his allegations against McCarrick. The file includes documentation that Wuerl, who was bishop of Pittsburgh at the time, shared the information with then-Vatican ambassador Gabriel Montalvo.

The content of the document, which Ciolek told The Post he saw in December, clashes sharply with Wuerl’s public statements about McCarrick since the older cleric was suspended in June due to a complaint that he groped an altar boy decades ago.
And now some commentary on Cardinal Wuerl from The Tribune-Review editorial board:
He lied.
I guess I should probably give you more of the Trib's context regarding all the lying:
“There have also been numerous stories or blog posts that repeated long-standing rumors or innuendos that may be out there regarding Archbishop McCarrick. ...In the past month, I have seen some of those now public reports. But in my years here in Washington and even before that, I had not heard them,” Wuerl told the Catholic Standard in July 2018.

And that is a lie. He knew while Pittsburgh’s bishop. He knew because he reported to Gabriel Montalvo, then the Vatican ambassador, about the victim, Robert Ciolek, who told the Washington Post he recently learned the Pittsburgh diocese has a file with Wuerl’s account of that exchange, accompanied by the bishop’s initials.
The Trib editorial board says:
But now we know the former bishop of Pittsburgh didn’t just commit sins of omission. Now we know that he took a commandment and snapped it like a twig.

It was number 9. “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”
Interestingly, they kinda get the numbering wrong. According to The Vatican (and there can be no higher authority on Catholicism than The Vatican), "bearing false witness" is the Eighth Commandment not the ninth.

I realize that The Vatican's numbering of The Commandments is not at all catholic (small "c" - look it up) but wouldn't it just make sense to use The Holy See's numbering system when discussing a Catholic topic?

Anyway, I digress - couldn't help it.

As I wrote back in August, there's another wrinkle to this story. While Wuerl was lying about the raping priests, he was lecturing the rest of us (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) about sex.

For example in this Pastoral Letter he wrote:
The attempt to recast human sexuality as casual and entirely recreational has led to an untold weakening of and continued assault on marriage and family life.
It has become increasingly acceptable – in the media, academia, and even the courts – to disparage as bigoted and mean-spirited anyone who seeks to uphold fundamental truths about the human person that have been recognized throughout history.
An aggressive secularism and relativism assert a new morality. Those views that do not follow the new “moral” order are effectively “outlawed.” Anyone who challenges the new order as false is branded as “intolerant” and pressured to remain silent.
This from the guy who lied about the cardinal's sexual assaults.

January 11, 2019

Yes, OF COURSE, Donald Trump Cares. About People. OF COURSE

From CNN:
Schumer jumped in to stress the importance of opening up the government and then negotiating on border security funding from there.

He at one point asked Trump, "Why won't you open the government and stop hurting people?"

Trump responded bluntly, "Because then you won't give me what I want."
Of course, White House officials disputed this.

Of course there's no reason to believe anything coming out of this White House.

As evidence, I give you this from the Washington Post:
It was a foundational promise of Donald Trump’s historic presidential campaign: Mexico would pay for his 2,000-mile border wall. But as he desperately fights for $5.7 billion in taxpayer money for the project, Trump now claims he never said Mexico would directly foot the bill.

“Obviously, I never said this, and I never meant they’re going to write out a check,” the president told reporters Thursday at the White House.

He did say it — at least 212 times during his campaign and dozens more since he took office. And he put it in writing — in a March 2016 memo to news outlets that was then posted on his campaign website.
Read that memo. It specifically says that Mexico will make a one time payment of $5-10 billion.

Donald J Trump is a fucking liar.

January 10, 2019

My My How Times Have Changed (A Tale Of Two Editorial Boards)

From as far back as I can remember, there were two competing political ideologies in the two competing newspaper editorial boards in town:
  • The reliably left-of-center editorial board at the Post-Gazette
  • The reliably wingnut editorial board at the Tribune-Review
This past week Donald Trump tried to sell his wall to the American people. He failed, by the way, as his speech was chock full of BS.

Guess which one of the two editorials contained this:
What was new? The fundraising emails the Trump-Pence re-election campaign sent out before the speech and after seeking to raise $500,000 off the address, something Fox News’ Harris Faulkner pressed adviser Kellyanne Conway about, saying “I thought that these speeches were not supposed to be political.”

The crisis seems entirely political.
And which contained this:
It was Mr. Trump who talked of compromise (and compassion) in his address. It was the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate who, in their joint address, said, “nyet.”
Yes, with all the news about Trump/Manafort/Russian collusion, the editorial actually tagged the Democrats in Congress with the Russian "nyet."

If you guessed that the first was the reliably left of center PG and the second the reliably wingnut Trib, you'd be 100% wrong.

The order is rapidly fadin' and the times they are a-changin'.

January 9, 2019

Fact-Checking Trump's Speech

A sampling from the day-after analyses of Trump's prime-time Truthiness.

Washington Post:
The first misleading statement in President Trump’s Oval Office address Tuesday night came in the first sentence.

Trump, addressing a national television audience from behind his desk, warned of a “security crisis at the southern border” — even though the number of people caught trying to cross illegally is near 20-year lows.
New York Times:
“The federal government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only: because Democrats will not fund border security.”


Democrats have offered $1.3 billion in funding for border security measures like enhanced surveillance and fortified fencing. They do not support Mr. Trump’s border wall.

At a meeting with Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer in December, Mr. Trump took responsibility for the partial government shutdown.

“I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it,” he said.
"The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great, new trade deal we have made with Mexico."

This is uncertain. Trump recently renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, and rebranded it as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The Trump administration has argued that revenue from the renegotiated trade deal will help pay for the border wall.

But as trade experts note, any added revenue would flow to private businesses, not to the U.S. government. In the case that potential new revenue for firms leads to increased U.S. tax revenue, those funds would still need to be appropriated by Congress for a wall.

Lawmakers would have to agree to allocate that money to the border wall. But a disagreement over that is what has led to the current government shutdown.

In the past, Trump has made a more specific and often repeated false claim that Mexico will pay for the wall through the renegotiated deal. Nothing in the trade deal says the Mexican government will pay the U.S. government for the costs of the border wall. Also, the renegotiated trade deal is not in effect yet. It needs to clear logistical hurdles and be approved by all three countries.
Trump said “the border wall would very quickly pay for itself” by stopping the flow of illegal drugs. “The cost of illegal drugs exceeds $500 billion a year — vastly more than the $5.7 billion we have requested from Congress,” Trump said.

The president overstated the economic cost of illegal drugs.

In a 2017 report, the White House Council of Economic Advisers estimated “the economic cost of the opioid crisis was $504.0 billion” in 2015 — but it is not all “illegal drugs,” as the president said. That figure “includes individuals who abuse prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin and individuals who abuse heroin or other illicit opioids,” the report said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that prescription drugs were involved in more than 35 percent of all opioid overdose deaths in 2017.

More to the point, Trump falsely claims that the wall would pay for itself by stopping the flow of illegal drugs. As we have written more than once, the majority of illicit drugs is smuggled through legal ports of entry.
In his prime-time speech to the nation, President Donald Trump declared a border crisis that’s in sharp dispute, wrongly accused Democrats of refusing to pay for border security and ignored the reality of how drugs come into the country as he pitched his wall as a solution to varied ills.
Shepard Smith (of Fox News):

Trump: "The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico." The President has made this false claim before.

Trump long ago abandoned his 2016 campaign promise that Mexico would pay to build a wall. Instead, he now makes the case that Mexico will "indirectly" pay for the barrier, thanks to the potential increase in tax revenue generated by his replacement for the North America Free Trade Agreement.

But the new deal hasn't yet been ratified by Congress, where Democrats have expressed opposition. And even if the new United States Mexico Canada Agreement ends up raising tax revenue, there's nothing earmarking that money for a wall. Income and corporate taxes are general revenue that would have to be appropriated by Congress.

Another way trade could bring money into the Treasury is through tariffs -- which are paid by American importers when they buy foreign goods. But like the original NAFTA, the new deal aims to keep trade between the three countries largely tariff-free.
Let's all say it together: Donald Trump is a fucking liar.

January 8, 2019

My NINETY-SECOND Open Letter To Senator Pat Toomey (UPDATED)

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

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

We've had two weeks off because of Christmas and New Years.

I wanted to ask you about your December 22 statement regarding Trump's shutdown.

You stated that resolving the shutdown shouldn't be difficult considering that in 2013 "every Senate Democrat supported legislation to spend $46 billion on border security and a wall."

Here are my questions.

Senator, this is about S.744, isn't it?

Didn't you vote against S.744? (Yes, you did.) Why? And more importantly, isn't it just a bit dishonest to characterize S.744 has having "border security and a wall" when the legislation itself only calls for $8 billion for the deployment and 700 miles of fencing? And wasn't that simply the 700 miles of fencing described in the Secure Fencing Act of 2006? It wasn't money for a new wall (concrete or metal slat), was it?

So weren't you spinning the truth just a wee bit, then?

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

UPDATE: Senator Toomey responded to this letter here.


January 7, 2019

A New/Old Threat To Our American Democracy

Lawrence Lessig, from The Guardian:
It feels quaint – maybe a bit absurd – to remark the fact that Donald Trump has no constitutionally moral justification for his demand that Congress fund the building of a wall on the Mexican border. Such an argument feels absurd when made against this president. Yet it should not be insignificant to Congress.

The president ran on a promise to build a wall “paid for by Mexico”. No majority of Americans has ever voted to support that idea. But that idea is not the notion that is now shutting down the government. A wall paid for by taxpayers is. That wall certainly was a central issue in the 2018 midterm elections. Overwhelmingly, the public rejected it as well. Thus has the president earned public support for neither version of his Mexican wall. Yet he is using his veto power to demand that Americans pay for a wall before he will allow the government to reopen.
[N]o reading of our constitution would ever uphold the view that a president can morally stop the functioning of government, to insist upon a program unsupported by the public or unrequired by the constitution.
And then the argument that should be sticking in the throat of any Republican in Congress (and I'm thinking Senator Pat Toomey, here):
If a Democrat were elected on the promise to establish single-payer healthcare, does she then have the moral authority to shut down the government until Congress nationalizes the insurance industry? Or directly regulates pharmaceuticals? If she were elected on the promise to address climate change, can she stop the ordinary functioning of government until Congress passes a carbon tax?
Works both ways.

And then finally:
Yet Trump is certainly not the fool in this tragedy. The fools are they who enable this constitutional immorality. Those fools are the Senate Republicans, who have placed party over country, and President Trump over the Republican party.
Again, I'm thinking you, Senator Toomey.

January 4, 2019

The Beginning Of Congressional Oversight In The Age Of Trump

From Speaker Pelosi's speech:
Our nation is at an historic moment. Two months ago, the American people spoke, and demanded a new dawn.

They called upon the beauty of our Constitution: our system of checks and balances that protects our democracy, remembering that the legislative branch is Article I: the first branch of government, co-equal to the president and judiciary.
We have no illusions that our work will be easy, that all of us in this chamber will always agree. But let each of us pledge that when we disagree, we will respect each other and we will respect the truth.
Our common cause is to find and forge a way forward for our country. Let us stand for the people – to promote liberty and justice for all;
And then there's this:
New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler reintroduced a bill Thursday preventing President Trump from firing Robert Mueller for anything but serious misconduct or other “good cause.”

The legislation, dubbed the “Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act,” has received bipartisan backing in the past, but Trump-loyal Republican House brass and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked the measure from ever becoming law.

That changed Thursday, as Democrats reclaimed control of the House.
Here is the legislation, as introduced By Representative Nadler last April.

Its Senate counterpart, introduced by Senator Lindsay Graham, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee 14-7. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to allow a Senate vote on it.

January 3, 2019

January 3 - Birthday!

Happy Birthday, Victor Borge! He was born today in 1909.

Who's Victor Borge?

This is Victor Borge:

Very funny man.

January 2, 2019

Trump, The Whiney-Baby

Donald Trump, last night:
Mitch McConnell is still Senate Majority leader. He still calls the shots in the Senate. Perhaps the orange vulgarity doesn't understand that.

But let's look at some context. Before I show you what Politico wrote in 2016, let me set their opening scene. It's late January, 2009 and the GOP just got beat (and beat badly) in the 2008 election. And yet at a GOP retreat, the mood was upbeat. Eric Cantor (remember him?) got those attending to their feet, cheering a failing vote by the republicans. And now back to Politico:
The Republicans were pumped because they saw a path out of the political wilderness. They were convinced that even if Obama kept winning policy battles, they could win the broader messaging war simply by remaining unified and fighting him on everything. Their conference chairman, a then-obscure Indiana conservative named Mike Pence, underscored the point with a clip from Patton, showing the general rallying his troops for war against their Nazi enemy: “We’re going to kick the hell out of him all the time! We’re going to go through him like crap through a goose!”

This strategy of kicking the hell out of Obama all the time, treating him not just as a president from the opposing party but an extreme threat to the American way of life, has been a remarkable political success. It helped Republicans take back the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014, and the White House in 2016. This no-cooperation, no-apologies approach is also on the verge of delivering a conservative majority on the Supreme Court; Republicans violated all kinds of Washington norms when they refused to even pretend to consider any Obama nominee, but they paid no electoral price for it—and probably helped persuade some reluctant Republican voters to back Donald Trump in November by keeping the Court in the balance.
And so let us not disabuse ourselves of the notion that whatever the democrats in Congress are doing (and considering that the tweet is from the reality-challenged Donald Trump), they're not doing much of anything that the GOP didn't already do.

But for the oval office it's bad because the widdle baby isn't getting his widdle way.

Aww, poor thing. Poor poor thing.

January 1, 2019

So WHO'S Paying For Trump's Wall?

Trump tweeted this yesterday at 7:40pm:
So it's MEXICO that's paying for the wall. Or at the very least all the $$$ saved via NAFTA 2.0.  So the funding stream should be set, all ready for wall construction, right?

Wrong.  Eleven minutes later Trump tweeted:
Waitagoshdernminnut. So the money for the wall is supposed to come from Congress?