Saturday, March 30, 2019
In a piece at Smerconish.com, I wrote about the self-inflicted harm done to Virginia Democrats in the wake of a far right attack on the top state level Democrats:
The Republicans’only meaningful hope of avoiding a wipe out in November  was to fragment and divide the Virginia Democrats, many of whom are united in the animus towards Donald Trump, and Trump’s supporters among elected officials in Virginia.Everything is up in the air, and far too many Democrats have lost sight to the reality that politics is all about having your team – flawed or not – in control of the state executive branch of government, especially if you do not hold control of the legislature. However, the divisions go beyond an effort at mutual destruction among Democrats. In my view, this GOP’s contrived firestorm has now spread to various LGBT advocacy groups around Virginia, many of which, in my opinion, foolishly took anti-Northam positions despite strong elements of support for Northam among their own financial donor base.
Yes, the GOP far right played the Democrats masterfully,. But the main fault, in my view, lies with DC Democrats and there ridiculous "no forgiveness ever" mantra and Senators Warner and Kaine and Congressman like Bobby Scott who rushed to judgment and allowed themselves to be played by the GOP (none of whom will concede they were played for fools). Without this self-destructive over reaction, the GOP plan would never have worked.
Now, as Politico is reporting Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, is targeting Virginia for both the 2019 and 2020 elections. This ought to be a wake up call to Democrats who need to get their heads out of their posteriors. Here are article highlights (note the disingenuousness of the openly racist Trump attacking Ralph Northam):
PresidentDonald Trump is muscling into a blue state where Democrats are reeling: Virginia.
With a tenuous grip on states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, the president is looking for opportunities to expand his electoral playing field. He’s set his sights on Virginia, a state Democrats have dominated in the past decade, but where the party’s three top officeholders are embroiled in scandals.
Leading the offensive is Vice President Mike Pence, who on Wednesday evening headlined a fundraiser in McLean for Republican state legislators up for election in November. Pence is expected to hold additional events for Virginia lawmakers in the coming months, and White House officials intend to use the 2019 elections to test whether they can make inroads in the state, which Trump lost by 5 percentage points.
Trump is keenly interested in the push. Before Pence departed for the fundraiser on Wednesday, the president asked him to deliver a message to state Republicans. “Tell them we think Virginia is in play and that I’m going to be there,” Trump told the vice president, according to one person familiar with the exchange.
The president[Trump] has repeatedly gone after Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam since revelations surfaced earlier this year that he wore blackface in the 1980s.
The White House offensive in Virginia highlights Trump’s central challenge in 2020. His popularity is underwater in many of the states that powered his upset victory in 2016. In response, Trump has started tearing down Democratic candidates, while searching for blue states that he might turn in his favor.
While Virginia is an early focus, campaign officials have discussed making a play in New Hampshire, Minnesota, Colorado and even New Mexico — a state that Trump lost by 8 percentage points. The conclusion by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that Trump’s campaign didn't conspire with Russia in 2016 has his political team feeling upbeat and confident that a cloud hanging over the president’s bid for a second term has been lifted.
Within Democratic circles — and even some corners of the Trump campaign — there is deep skepticism the president can win the state, which has grown steadily more liberal in recent years. Republicans haven’t won a statewide contest in Virginia in a decade, and a Quinnipiac University poll released last month showed Trump with a 36 percent approval rating there.
Democrats concede the firestorms surrounding Northam, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and state Attorney General Mark Herring are damaging in the short term. But they say the scandals will have faded in the minds of voters by November 2020.
As the 2019 races get underway, Virginia Republicans are defending narrow majorities in both legislative chambers. National Republicans say they intend to use the contests as one measurement to gauge [Trump's]
the president’sstrength in the state, and that the outcome will help to shape the extent to which they invest there in 2020.
In pushing to keep gay conversion therapy legal - increasingly a lost cause - both so they can rake in money and use the "gays can change" lie for political purposes, there is one group that Christofascists consistently ignore: straight spouses of gays who will never be able to change their sexual orientation despite lies to the contrary. While I was never subjected to conversion therapy per se, I fully bought into the Catholic Church's lie that one could "pray away the gay," got married with the best of intentions, and had children. Ultimately, that marriage ended, causing pain and chaos for years. Am I bitter that I believed a lie? You bet I am. But I am even more angry that right wing "Christians" continue to push the lie caring nothing about the harm done to gays, but especially the straight spouses and children of doomed marriages. To these foul people, all that matters is making money through fraud, political messaging and, in some cases, not having to face the reality that their faith construct is built on a lie. A piece in Queerty looks at once family harmed by this pernicious lie. Here are highlights:
There’s more than enough evidence out there to show things like conversion therapy and trying to “pray the gay away” doesn’t work. Yet there are still those who continue to try because faith, they say, is blind.
In a new blog post published on Love What Matters, a woman by the name of Ali Anne details her nine year marriage to a man named Kyle, and how she spent nearly a decade trying to pray his gay away to no avail.
Ali says she knew Kyle was gay before they wed, but she agreed to marry him anyway.
“One day, Kyle had pulled me aside and told me that he ‘struggled’ with homosexuality. My response: ‘Wow, you’re going to need a really strong wife!’ Ali writes.
Both she and Kyle were raised in religious households where they were taught being gay was wrong and, if a person did experience same-sex attraction, they should “either live a celibate life, or, deny yourself and marry someone of the opposite sex and do your best to live a heterosexual lifestyle.”
“Kyle always knew he wanted a family, so living a heterosexual lifestyle was the only option for him–we were both under the assumption we would be able to pray the gay away.”
So Ali and Kyle got married. A few years later, they started having kids.
“Being parents was the highlight of our life,” Ali recalls. “Everything we did, we did with them in mind. Life was busy and beautiful.”
Except not. Because eight years into their marriage, she says, “Kyle began feeling the weight of not being true to himself as a gay man.”
[I]tbecame obvious to both of them that praying the gay away wasn’t working. So they went to a marriage counselor.
“One of the ideas, was for Kyle to ‘come out’ as gay, publicly, while still remaining in our marriage,” Ali writes. “I was hopeful. I liked the idea.”
Kyle, however, didn’t. One evening he told her, “If I am going to be around gay men, I’m going to want to be with a man. This is not just about sex with a man, this is about loving a man and being loved by a man. Ideally, I want to have a relationship with a man.”
That’s when Ali says she knew her marriage was over.
“It has been two years since we made the decision to end our marriage and our lives have drastically changed,” Ali writes. “Through our decision to end our marriage, coming out as gay (Kyle) and becoming an LGBTQ ally (myself) we lost 95% of our friends and family.”
Although Kyle and I don’t choose each other romantically anymore, we still have a deep love and a deep connection with one another,” she continues. “He is my best friend, and I am his. We are committed to our family, as non-traditional as that may look.”
Replicate this story over and over again and one begins to see the harm that this deliberate lie causes. Conversion therapy needs to be banned in every state in America - indeed, across the globe. Sadly, this truth is ignored by the Catholic Church, the United Methodist Church and other denominations.
Across Europe right wing political factions have played the nationalist and racist, anti-immigrant card that motivated many pro-Brexit voters in the United Kingdom - and, of course, Trump voters in the USA - to build their own followings and to argue against remaining in the European Union. Now, witnessing the UK's self-inflicted political and economic catastrophe, many of those elements are quickly saying "no thank you" to what they had heretofore clamored for. Suddenly, the reality of the consequences of savoring and fanning racial hatred and resentment have served as a bucket of ice water on ugly motivations. Would that Trump supporters would learn form their own idiocy who continue to back a narcissistic megalomaniac who wants to slash the healthcare and social programs many of these toxic individuals rely upon. A piece in the Washington Post looks at reality crashing down on ultra-nationalists and far right elements across Europe. Here are excerpts:
Just three years ago, in country after European country, populist politicians were drawing up plans to follow Britain out the door. The French nationalist party leader spoke of a Frexit. The Dutch far-right leader wanted a vote on Nexit. Some politicians predicted a secessionist contagion. Might there be a Swexit? A Czech-out? An Italeave?
“Now it’s our turn,” the leader of Italy’s ascendant far right, Matteo Salvini, said at the time about exiting the European Union.
But the 2016 Brexit vote has spawned no copycats. Nor did it lead to the crackup of the E.U. Even the most ardent Brussels-bashing politicians have concluded it is better to stick with the bloc than endure a messy, years-long divorce.
On Friday, the day Britain was supposed to leave the E.U. and “take back control,” the British Parliament was still fighting over how and whether to leave. Lawmakers rejected, for the third time, the withdrawal deal negotiated between Prime Minister Theresa May and E.U. leaders. The pound fell on fears that Britain will abruptly crash out of the bloc on April 12, with massive disruptions to trade and travel.
Even if Britain manages an orderly departure, economic forecasters say Brexit could dampen growth for years. And the political and social divisions between “leavers” and “remainers” may persist.
Watching all this, the continent’s influential Euroskeptic parties — from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean — have recast their message. They have dropped calls to leave the E.U. and are instead advocating for the less drastic approach of changing the bloc from within. The European political scene has scarcely a party remaining advocating for a Brexit-style departure.
“The agony of Britain in the last two years has clearly been a subtext for ‘Let’s try to make this thing work’ ” within Europe.
The shift does not mean that the E.U. has averted turmoil or that Europe’s political insurgents are happy with the status quo. . . . Those populists want to decentralize power within the E.U. and are hoping to use European parliamentary elections in May to expand their influence and carry out their ideas.
But even as Europeans find reason to grumble about the bloc, voters do not seem to have the appetite for an irrevocable split. In fact, some have grown fonder of the European Union.
The E.U.’s approval rating increased sharply in 2017 as Britain began to debate the terms of its exit. A new Pew Research Center survey of 10 European nations shows that 62 percent of people hold a favorable view of the E.U.
A separate poll from last year showed that 67 percent of Europeans believed their country benefited from E.U. membership — the highest figure in 35 years.
“You had the Brexit referendum. Also the Trump election,” said Stefan Lehne, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels. “It created a lot of fear and uncertainty, and the response [from Europeans] was, we want the known over the unknown.”
The reasons to stick with Europe go beyond a distaste for Brexit redux. A significant number of Europeans, even those who support Euroskeptic parties, appreciate the freedom of movement allowed by E.U. rules and the ability to live in other countries. They also like the outsize influence of the unified bloc, which makes it easier for countries to contend with China and the United States.
For now, some parties have simply dropped exit-the-E.U. plans from their platforms.
[I]n Italy where the evolution of the populist message on Europe is perhaps most stark. The country’s government is composed of two Euroskeptic parties that cheered Britain’s Brexit vote when it happened. Now, those parties say it would be inconceivable to follow suit.
As messy as Brexit has been, the exit process could be even more turbulent for a euro-zone nation that would have to contend with not only customs and border headaches but also the introduction of a new currency — or the return to an old one.
Marta Grande, a Five Star member who heads a parliamentary committee on foreign affairs, said that within her party, views on Europe were all over the map several years ago. But those views have gradually converged on the idea that the European Union needs to be criticized constructively and improved. She acknowledged that politicians in Italy continued to cast blame at Brussels but said, “People don’t want to leave the E.U.”
Analysts say that insurgent parties across Europe hope to curtail E.U. power over budget-making and bring their hard-line migration ideas to Brussels. But the elections are a referendum on the strength of the union — not on whether the union should exist.
Friday, March 29, 2019
As Trump brays "no collusion" and "full exoneration" and Vichy Republicans attack Democrats who seek to have the full Mueller report released, former Republican Michael Gerson provides at though exercise that even four years ago would have led to demands for a president to resign or have set the stage for impeachment. That Trump loyalist still support the man underscores just how much Trump has debased our government and American society as a whole. It is critical that the full Mueller report be released so tat Americans can see for themselves (i) the full litany of Russian efforts to elect Trump - something the report confirms - (ii) all of the sleazy and corrupt activities of Trump minions and (iii) Trump efforts to obstruct the investigation. While the report may not have found sufficient evidence to lock down criminal indictments against Trump, I suspect it contains much that decent, moral Americans would find troubling. While perhaps not a criminal indictment, it is nonetheless an indictment of Trump and Trumpism. Here are column excerpts:
A thought experiment. Suppose that on March 24 — the day Attorney General William Barr publicly summarized the Mueller report — all of the results of the special counsel's probe that have dribbled out over the last two years had been revealed at once.
Americans would have discovered that a hostile foreign power had engaged in major intelligence operations designed to elect Donald Trump -- something consistently denied by the president himself.
In this hypothetical, Robert Mueller would have simultaneously announced the indictment of 34 Russians and Americans — a network of espionage and corruption including hackers, Russian military officers and high-level operatives of the 2016 Trump campaign.
Suppose the report had revealed that 14 Trump campaign officials had been in contact with Russian nationals, including the president's son, who had met with Russian operatives in an attempt to gain information harmful to Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Suppose it had been revealed that several Trump advisers and operatives had lied to the FBI and Congress in an attempt to conceal the extent of these contacts, and also that some of Trump's closest advisers — including his campaign chairman — were guilty of conspiracy and fraud.
Suppose it had been revealed that Trump himself, while a Republican candidate, had continued to pursue a multimillion-dollar business deal to place a Trump Tower in Moscow. And that there was serious though not conclusive evidence that Trump obstructed justice during the Mueller investigation.
[A] story of corruption, criminality and cover-up. The story of a presidential election that should have an asterisk explaining that the outcome may have been substantially influenced by a foreign power.
This has led to an unusual circumstance. Trump supporters are doing a victory dance over the fact that he isn't a Russian agent, just a Russian stooge. And Trump's supporters are spiking the ball following an investigation that did not clear the president of obstruction charges. So it is still a legal judgment call whether or not the president is a crook.
The report itself may be a catalog of horrible judgment, unethical behavior and noncriminal corruption. It may put Trump Inc. in a very bad light. If and when it comes out in full. In the meantime, the Trump administration is defendant, judge and jury.
The full report, however, may require revised judgments from some of Trump's critics as well. Perhaps the president is not a foreign agent or a criminal mastermind. Perhaps he is a weak leader who surrounds himself with clowns and criminals. Perhaps his lack of character attracts and enables other corrupt men. Perhaps he is more pathetic than dictatorial, more fool than knave. Perhaps behind the compulsive, simplistic, narcissistic exterior there is a compulsive, simplistic, narcissistic interior. Perhaps he has moved beyond good and evil, enforcing only one code: loyalty to his person. Integrity and competence be damned.
All this may not be criminal. But it mocks our country in a different way.
Thursday, March 28, 2019
While support for LGBT rights has been increasing across almost all demographics, one group stands out for its decreasing support of LGBT rights: Republicans under 30 years of age. While no specific cause for the growing homophobia among younger Republicans was identified, one theory is that the ranks of young Republicans is shrinking with even 54% of evangelical Christians now supporting LGBT non-discrimination protections. Indeed, overall, the percentage of Americans identifying as Republican has declined. The New York Times looks at the survey findings which suggests that the GOP is increasingly out of step with the majority Americans when it comes to LGBT rights and acceptance. Here are excerpts (which also suggest that the lower one's level of education, the more anti-LGBT one is likely to be):
Support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights has increased or remained steady among Mormons, Muslims, political independents, Southerners, seniors and a number of other demographic groups in the United States since 2015, a new survey found. One notable outlier: young Republicans.
Between 2015 and 2018, support for laws aimed at protecting L.G.B.T. individuals from discrimination fell by nearly 10 percentage points among Republicans under the age of 30. This was one of the key findings from a survey of more than 40,000 Americans’ views on L.G.B.T. issues that the Public Religion Research Institute released Tuesday.
The majority of young Republicans surveyed — around 63 percent — continued to support such measures. But given that 74 percent were in favor in 2015, the shift was striking, . . . “It was one of the largest and most significant drops that we saw,” Dr. Jones said.
[O]ne hypothesis he offered was that the ranks of young Republicans are thinning, with more socially liberal individuals opting to identify as independent. “The Republican Party is becoming more ideologically pure,” he suggested.
Sixty-two percent of Americans continue to support same-sex marriage, the survey found. But among all racial and ethnic groups surveyed, individuals identifying as Asian-Pacific Islander Americans demonstrated the highest level of support for both same-sex marriage (75 percent) and for laws that would protect L.G.B.T. people from discrimination in jobs, public accommodations and housing (73 percent, four percentage points more than Americans over all).
These figures could be partly explained by another finding: Researchers spotted a strong correlation between participants’ educational level and support of L.G.B.T. rights. Over all, Asian-Pacific Islander Americans were far more likely than other Americans surveyed to hold either a four-year college degree or a postgraduate degree, Dr. Jones said.
[A]nalysts found majority support for anti-discrimination measures for L.G.B.T. people from every major religious group. The strongest support came from Unitarian Universalists (90 percent), Jews (80 percent) and Hindus (79 percent). Seventy percent of Mormons, 60 percent of Muslims and 54 percent of white evangelical Protestants were also in favor.
The intrusiveness of social media platforms allowed Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election and in the process mined all kinds of personal information about unwitting Americans. Now, the gay chat/dating app Grindr is in the spotlight as concerns grow over the purchase of the app by a Chinese company and possible access to account holder information by the Chinese government. A piece in Metro Weekly picks up on a story in Reuters that indicates the US government views the gay chat/dating app Grindr as a national security risk seemingly because of its use by so many members of the U.S. military and intelligence personnel. Yes, here in Hampton Roads, there are LOTS of service members on Grindr. Apparently the same holds true for intelligence personnel, all of whom can be geographically located with precision via Grindr. Similarly, all of the personal information can be accessed. Here are article highlights:
Gay dating app Grindr is to be sold by its Chinese owners because of a potential threat to national security.
That’s the news from Reuters, which reports that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has told Beijing Kunlun Tech Co Ltd that its ownership of the app is a national security risk.
[S]peculation is rife about why Grindr is considered a security risk, though both Reuters and Engadget have speculated that the presence of U.S. military and intelligence personnel on the app could be to blame.That’s in part because the U.S. government is becoming increasingly interested in how app developers handle their users’ personal information, particularly private or sensitive data — such as the location of U.S. troops or an intelligence official using the app.
Misuse of data is a particularly sore spot for Grindr, which has been hit with a number of unflattering headlines over the past year, including the revelation that the app was sharing users’ HIV status with other companies.
Grindr, which is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary, admitted to sharing users’ HIV status with two outside companies for testing purposes, as well as the “last tested date” for those who are HIV-negative or on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
[T]he data being shared was so detailed — including users’ GPS data, phone ID, and email — that it could be used to identify specific users and their HIV status.
Another insight into Grindr’s data security policies came early last year when a D.C.-based developer created a website that allowed users to see who had previously blocked them on the app — information that is normally inaccessible.
The website, C*ckBlocked, tapped into Grindr’s own APIs to display the data after developer Trever Faden discovered that Grindr stored the list of who a user had both blocked and been blocked by in the app’s code.
Faden also revealed that he could use Grindr’s data to generate a map showing the breakdown of individual profiles by neighborhood, including information such as age, sexual position preference, and general location of users in that area.
With regards Grindr’s sale, Reuters reports that the app will be put up for auction, after Kunlun’s original plans to float Grindr for an initial public offering (IPO) were abandoned. Kunlun assumed control of Grindr in 2016, buying total control of the app in 2018.
Be it Facebook, Twitter, or now Grindr, apparently we have no secrets from those who want to spy on us.
If Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, and his Vichy Republican supporters thought the release of the Mueller Report and Attorney General William Barr's weasel-word filled letter would end the regime's problems with suspected conspiracy with Russian agents during the 2016 presidential race, they are mistaken. A new poll indicates that a majority of Americans do not believe the report exonerates Trump and an even larger majority want congressional investigations to continue. The effort by Republicans such as Mitch McConnell - perhaps one of the worse traitors of constitutional rule after Trump - and Barr's latest statements against a full release of the report only confirm suspicions of many that damaging information is in the report. Evidence of an ironclad case of conspiracy may not have been found, but the speculation continues that this state of affairs was not for want of trying on the part of the Trump campaign. Here are highlights of the poll findings from CNN:
PresidentDonald Trump has claimed "complete and total exoneration" based on Attorney General William Barr's summary of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, the American public disagrees, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS.A majority (56%) says the President and his campaign have not been exonerated of collusion, but that what they've heard or read about the report shows collusion could not be proven. Fewer, 43%, say Trump and his team have been exonerated of collusion.
Although Mueller could not establish Trump or his campaign "conspired or coordinated with" the Russian government, according to Barr's letter, the poll finds the American people continue to view the issue through partisan lenses.
Republicans and Democrats are on opposite sides of this question: 77% of Republicans say the President has been exonerated, 80% of Democrats say he has not. Independents break against exoneration -- 58% say the President and his campaign were not exonerated. . . . That suggests the summary letter released Sunday did little to move public opinion on this matter.
And most feel the investigation ought not to end with that letter.
Nearly 6 in 10 Americans want to see Congress continue to pursue hearings into the findings of Mueller's report. Just 43% feel Congress ought to end the investigation completely following the release of Barr's summary of Mueller's findings.
A CNN Poll conducted before the report was final found that nearly 9 in 10 Americans thought there should be a full, public report on the investigation's findings, while just 9% felt that was unnecessary.
At this point, without the full report having been released, just 13% say that Mueller's findings will sway their decision about whom to support in 2020 either way, with 7% saying it makes them more apt to back the President, and 6% less likely to do so. A combined 86% say that they had already figured out whether they would vote for or against Trump, or that the investigation won't matter to them even though they are undecided now.
If Barr believed his unseemly swift action to protect Trump - which seems to be why Trump appointed him - would end the matter, that simply is not happening. The more and longer he refuses to release the full report, the more it will be thought that he/Trump are hiding something.
Wednesday, March 27, 2019
I often make the statement that Trump and the Republican Party want to create a new Gilded Age where the wealth of the richest Americans soared to obscene levels - thinks of the Rockefellers, Goulds, Vanderbilts, etc. - while the majority of Americans struggled to survive. One study found as follows as to what happened to life expectancy during the rise of the Gilded Age:
"an average white ten-year-old American boy in 1880, born at the beginning of the Gilded Age and living through it, could expect to die at age forty-eight. His height would be 5 feet, 5 inches. He would be shorter and have a briefer life than his Revolutionary forebears.” “Infant mortality worsened in many cities after 1880.”
Part of the problem of the Gilded Age was a lack of safety and environmental regulations - things that were eventually remedied. Yet now, Trump and the GOP are steadily rolling back such regulations so that big business can reap larger profits. Now, Trump has declared war on the Affordable Health Care Act and seeks to deprive millions of access to healthcare. Even before this latest action, as a Washington Post story reported, the USA was going backwards in terms of diminished life expectancy and infant mortality. Here are excerpts:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, reported in November  that life expectancy for the average American ticked downward for the third year in a row. The news attracted a storm of attention . . . . Other trends, however, passed by more quietly. In health care, for example, maternal deaths inched up slightly this year to 20.7 per 100,000 live births, according to data from the United Health Foundation. In fact, giving birth in the United States has become increasingly deadly over the past few decades, placing our country in the same category as developing nations such as Afghanistan and Swaziland. And the rates are even worse for mothers of color.
The latest CDC data released this year shows that U.S. infant mortality rates, after steadily falling over the past few decades, haven’t decreased significantly for five years. Today it stands at 5.9 deaths per 1,000 births, far higher than the average rate of 3.9 deaths for developed countries. Again, it’s even worse for infants of color.
Given these statistics, increasing access to health care would be the moral thing to do. Sadly, to Trump and Republicans (and evangelical Christians), most of us simply do not matter. Indeed, it appears that they'd prefer that Americans - especially minorities and the poor - simply die while the rich rake in an ever larger share of the nation's wealth. How else to explain the Trump administration's latest effort to destroy health care access for millions. A piece in Politico looks at this disgusting development and the Democrat response to such immorality. Here are highlights:
House and Senate Democrats on Tuesday seized on the Justice Department’s endorsement of a federal court ruling to eliminate Obamacare in its entirety, immediately renewing attacks on the GOP for trying to gut the law’s popular protections and rip health coverage from more than 20 million Americans.The administration’s surprise decision — a shift from its prior stance that only parts of the Affordable Care Act should be thrown out — offered a unifying moment for Democrats still grappling with the news that Mueller would not charge President Donald Trump with any crimes and comes as the party readies a fresh legislative offensive on health care.
“It’s disgusting. It’s horrible,” said Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, the No. 4 House Democrat. “It’s what they were trying to do during the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, it’s what Republicans were doing when they filed the lawsuit. The president’s been clear about his position the whole time.”
And even as Democrats decried the move, they also saw it as a political gold mine.
[L]awmakers were privately ecstatic about the Trump administration’s decision to essentially to trample all over its own good news cycle and turn the attention back to an issue that Democrats used to win back the House.
“It’s really outrageous. I don’t understand if Republicans weren’t present for the last election, but if there was an issue that was deeply critical, it was health care,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said after the meeting. . . . It’s “not only immoral, it’s a really bad political decision for them,” she added.
“We’re going to introduce a bill to protect and strengthen the ACA. That’s the responsible thing to do,” said Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.). “They’re being irresponsible, and they’re putting 20 million people in this country at risk.”
Indeed, House Democrats had planned a pivot to health care even before the Trump administration late Monday announced its support for a federal judge’s December ruling that the entire ACA should be invalidated because Congress eliminated its individual mandate penalty in the GOP tax law.
Democrats are rolling out a wide-ranging Obamacare package aimed at shoring up the law’s benefits while reversing several of the Trump administration main health priorities — a bid to follow through on the campaign-trail vows that helped propel them into the House majority.
The package is largely a rehash of policies that Democrats pitched last year, like expanding the Obamacare subsidies meant to help Americans afford health coverage and restoring outreach funding that Trump slashed over the past two years. It would also rescind regulations expanding cheaper, skimpier health plans that the administration has touted for providing greater choice, but Democrats have derided as “junk” insurance.
Their plan gained new significance in the wake of the Trump administration’s legal action, providing vulnerable Democrats with concrete legislation to hype for their swing-district voters and a powerful tool to use against Republicans who refuse to endorse any Obamacare-related measures even as they insist they want to protect patients with pre-existing conditions.
For Republicans, meanwhile, the Justice Department’s move threatens to put them back on the defensive just days after what was arguably their biggest victory of the Trump era.
[M]ost Republicans have so far remained fairly quiet in the aftermath of the DOJ filing in a case that few view as politically advantageous — even as Trump appeared to celebrate the decision. . . . GOP lawmakers who did have an initial reaction expressed exasperation at the disconnect between the Trump administration and the Hill on health care.
[T]he issue is a new headache given the new Senate map: Democrats have gone from defending 10 states that Trump won in 2018 to launching campaigns against incumbents in places like Colorado, Iowa, North Carolina and Maine. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has been particularly outspoken in opposition to the administration’s support of the lawsuit.
[N]either the Trump administration nor Republicans in Congress have any ready replacement for Obamacare if it is ultimately wiped out. . . . with a serious battle for Senate control developing in purple and blue states, Democrats say they have the political upper hand on an issue their House counterparts used to devastating effect in 2018.
This move by the Trump administration to take away health care will prove far more detrimental to the administration and the Republican Party than any gains they might have made by the [findings] of Mr. Barr’s letter,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Even Doug Jones of Alabama, by far the most endangered Senate Democrat next year, was singing the same tune as party leaders. “I’m outraged. It’s going to hurt my state really bad if that were to go forward,” Jones said in an interview. “They couldn’t do in this chamber what they wanted to do, which is completely dismantle and disintegrate it. So they’re trying to blow it up in any way possible.”
Being a Republican and being a decent and moral person are becoming increasingly mutually exclusive.
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
I have touched on this topic before, but it bears addressing again since Donald Trump, a/k/a Der Trumpenführer, has again declared war on the Affordable Health Care Act and seeks to throw the general public at the mercy of greedy insurance carriers and even greedier pharmaceutical companies. The preferred Trump/GOP health care system is one that maximizes profits to insurance companies, for profit health care providers and greed driven pharmaceutical companies and says to hell with average Americans and taxpayers other than the very wealthy. A piece in the Washington Post looks at the obscene profits - $3 billion last ear - being raked in by Gilead Sciences on a drug that was developed at taxpayer expense and patented by the federal government Something is seriously wrong with this picture even before one considers the fact that the high prices charged by Gilead makes the drug unobtainable for many who need it. While the drug that is the subject of the article is HIV related, the same ridiculous screwing over of American taxpayers/consumers applies to many other drugs as well. Here are article highlights (Note: (i) Gilead has made $36.2 billion off a government funded drug; and (ii) the same drug which cost $3,000/month in the USA costs $200 in the United Kingdom):
Thomas Folks spent years in his U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lab developing a treatment to block deadly HIV in monkeys. Then San Francisco AIDS researcher Robert Grant, using $50 million in federal grants, proved the treatment worked in people who engaged in risky sex.
Their work — almost fully funded by U.S. taxpayers — created a new use for an older prescription drug called Truvada: preventing HIV infection. But the U.S. government, which patented the treatment in 2015, is not receiving a penny for that use of the drug from Gilead Sciences, Truvada’s maker, which earned $3 billion in Truvada sales last year.
Gilead argues that the government’s patents for Truvada for PrEP, as the prevention treatment is called, are invalid. And the government has failed to reach a deal for royalties or other concessions from the company — benefits that could be used to distribute the drug more widely.
The extraordinary standoff between the CDC and a drug company over patent rights raises a big question for the Trump administration: How aggressively should the government attempt to enforce its patents against an industry partner?
The Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, has patented more than 2,500 inventions created with taxpayer dollars since 1976, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
It routinely licenses new pharmaceutical compounds to private companies that take those publicly financed discoveries into the marketplace.
Gilead, which enjoys a U.S. monopoly on Truvada, charges between $1,600 and $2,000 for a month’s supply of a pill that can be manufactured for a fraction of that amount [actually about $0.6 per pill]. The number of new HIV infections in the United States has barely budged, meanwhile, and is stuck around 40,000 a year, according to CDC estimates.
Activists want the government to take a more aggressive stance against Gilead. Their complaints are part of a broader wave of anger over drug companies reaping hefty financial rewards by capitalizing on taxpayer-funded research.
“The CDC has all these patents, and is allowing Gilead to rip off the American people at the expense of public health,’’ said James Krellenstein, an HIV/AIDS activist and co-founder of the PrEP4All Collaboration, who has spent months digging into the government patents. Instead of enforcing its patent, Krellenstein said, the CDC is “twiddling their thumbs.’’
NIH and CDC officials see their role as encouraging the commercialization of government-financed discoveries, not placing curbs on them, Sukhatme said. That tends to take patent infringement lawsuits off the table. . . . But that stance increasingly is challenged by political anger over high drug prices. Consumer advocates and members of Congress have stepped up demands that the government exercise its rights under existing law to license generic competition or imports during shortages or unwarranted price spikes; several billswould enhance such “compulsory licensing’’ provisions.
The case of Gilead and Truvada for PrEP adds a new twist to these debates, with demands that the government be more aggressive in exercising its own patent to ease the cost effects of a monopoly.
After Truvada was shown to work as a prophylactic in primates, the CDC applied for its patents. That began a nine-year effort, using two outside law firms retained by the CDC, which made their case to U.S. Patent and Trademark Office examiners.
In addition to $50 million in government money, $17 million for the study came from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grant said.
Federal officials estimated in 2016 that less than 10 percent of the 1.1 million people who should be on PrEP treatment are receiving the drug. Gilead says that has now improved to about 20 percent. The problem is particularly acute in Southern states, where cultural barriers and lack of education programs are holding back its use.
The CDC waged a successful defense of its patent in Europe, adding strength to its case that its patents are legitimate, Morten said.
“I have no reason to believe that these patents are not valid and enforceable, and moreover, they seem to be infringed [by Gilead] by the use of Truvada for PrEP,’’ Morten said in an interview. “These are public assets that were generated with public money that effectively are going to waste here.’’
In response to complaints about its price, Gilead said it offers discount coupons that reduce the cost to less than $5 for a monthly supply for patients who lack insurance. It says it has spent $138 million since 2012 on community grant programs to raise awareness and educate at-risk people. Gilead has earned $36.2 billion on Truvada since 2004, according to its annual reports.
Obtaining Gilead’s coupons for Truvada for PrEP is a cumbersome process, they said. If the CDC leveraged its patents to get money for Truvada, it could help cash-strapped state Medicaid programs undertake aggressive education and distribution programs. Virginia Medicaid said it pays $54.04 per pill, or $1,621.20 for a monthly course of treatment.
“What we’re seeing is that because city and local governments are spending so much on getting PrEP,’’ said HIV/AIDS activist Christian Urrutia, “they don’t have a lot of money left over to do these kinds of programs.’’
For the record, I have what is deemed "excellent" healthcare coverage and when I inquired about PrEP given the current controversy, I was advised that I would have to incur $3,600.00 in out of pocket expense before the coverage would reduce the cost. Obviously, thousands of individuals do not have $3,600 lying around - and that assumes they have "excellent coverage", something most do not have.
|William Barr - covering for Trump?|
Prior to his appointment as Attorney General, William Barr floated an unsolicited "memo" on the issue of obstruction of justice. The memo basically concluded that a sitting president could not obstruct justice. Stated another way, Barr concluded the president is above the law, akin to an absolute monarch from centuries ago. Some have speculated that the memo was Barr's way of auditioning for the job of attorney general. It certainly seems to have gotten the attention of Der Trumpenführer, who not only tapped Barr for the post but who is now calling for the firing of all reporters who reported on the Mueller investigation in a manner not to Trump's liking. So much for the First Amendment and freedom of the press. In seemingly fulfilling his role as rubber stamp for exonerating Trump, Barr has issued a hasty and incomplete letter to Congressional leaders. A former federal prosecutor takes Barr to task in a piece in The Atlantic and highlights questions about Barr's unseemly haste in give Trump a pass. Here are highlights:
We cannot yet see the report that Special Counsel Robert Mueller submitted to Attorney General William Barr on Friday. But we can see its shadow in the four-page letter Barr sent to the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on Sunday afternoon. The letter will be touted as vindication by President Donald Trump and his supporters, but will do little to bridge the partisan divide over Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation, and will inspire more vociferous demands to release the entire report
The letter revealed that Mueller closed his investigation without recommending more criminal charges, and that no further indictments are under seal, as some had speculated. That’s a great relief for Trump and his family and associates, but it’s not the end of their federal criminal jeopardy. Barr also pointed out that Mueller “referred several matters to other offices for further action.”
Next, Barr reported that the special counsel concluded that Russia attempted to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. That interference involved disinformation campaigns, efforts to sow “social discord” online, hacking the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party, and distributing misappropriated emails through WikiLeaks. But crucially . . . . To use the popular cable-news vernacular, Mueller did not establish “collusion.”
Trump’s triumphant supporters notwithstanding, we don’t yet know what that means. When prosecutors say that an investigation “did not establish” something, that doesn’t mean that they concluded it didn’t happen, or even that they don’t believe it happened. It means that the investigation didn’t produce enough information to prove that it happened. Without seeing Mueller’s full report, we don’t know whether this is a firm conclusion about lack of coordination or a frank admission of insufficient evidence. The difference is meaningful . . . .
The other big reveal in Barr’s letter is that Mueller “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment” about whether the president obstructed justice over the course of the two-year investigation of Russian interference in the election. Instead, Mueller laid out the relevant evidence “on both sides” of the issue, but did not resolve what the special counsel saw as the “difficult issues” of fact and law concerning “whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction.” Mueller’s report “does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it does not exonerate him.” Mueller punted.
Why would Mueller spend so much time investigating obstruction of justice but not reach a conclusion? We won’t know until we read his report. But Mueller, a career G-man, is fundamentally legally conservative. . . . He might believe that the evaluation is so inherently political that no conclusion he could offer would ever be seen as legitimate, and that the matter is better resolved through Congress’s constitutional authority to impeach (or not) the president. Even if Mueller didn’t make an explicit recommendation, we’ll probably be able to infer his conclusions by reviewing how he marshaled the evidence for and against guilt. Prosecutors, as a rule, are not good at neutral renditions of facts.
The attorney general showed no such circumspection. In less than 48 hours, he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—who supervised Mueller for most of his investigation—“concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” . . . . this conclusion reflects startling and unseemly haste for such a historic matter.
Crucially, we don’t know whether Barr concluded that the president didn’t obstruct justice or that he couldn’t obstruct justice. Well before his appointment, Barr wrote an unsolicited memo to Rosenstein arguing that Mueller’s investigation was “fatally misconceived,” . . . . Barr’s memo was a forceful exposition of the legal argument that the president cannot obstruct justice by exercising certain core powers such as hiring or firing staff or directing the course of executive-branch investigations. So although Barr’s letter to Congress says that he and Rosenstein found no actions that constituted “obstructive conduct” undertaken with the requisite corrupt intent, we don’t know whether he means that Trump didn’t try to interfere with an investigation, or that even if he did, it wasn’t obstruction for a president to do so. Democrats in Congress will want to probe that distinction—as they should.
Barr said his goal was to release as much of it as possible consistent with the law. . . . It’s impossible to evaluate the results of Mueller’s investigation—and their legal, political, and historical significance—without the details.
The entire report needs to be released.
Monday, March 25, 2019
Christofascists in Colorado are on the eve of losing their effort to keep fraudulent and quackery filled so-called conversion therapy available to (i) torment and torture LGBT youths, and (ii) back the lie that sexual orientation is a "choice." Even Republican in the Colorado legislature are voting to ban the practice which is condemned by all legitimate medical and mental health associations. Sadly, here in Virginia, Republicans in the House of Delegates cared more about the demands of the hate merchants at The Family Foundation and kissing Victoria Cobb's ring (Cobb is the head of the hate group group) than solid medical and mental health knowledge. Thankfully, regulatory changes will soon be the death knell to the practice in Virginia, although a legislative ban would have been far better. A piece in Denverite looks at the looming Christofascist defeat in Colorado. Here are excerpts:
A bill banning conversion therapy across Colorado is a step closer to becoming law after the Senate on Monday voted to pass the bill, which would ban licensed professional from the discredited practice of attempting to “cure” LGBTQ youth.
The bill is headed back to House, which already approved it in February, for approval after the bill was amended in the Senate. It’s expected to pass in that chamber before ending up on the desk of Gov. Jared Polis, who said during his gubernatorial campaign that he would seek to abolish the practice statewide. Polis is the country’s first out gay man elected governor.
The bill passed by a 21-13 vote in the Senate on Monday and had bipartisan support, including from Republican state Sens. Don Coram of Montrose, Kevin Priola of Henderson and Jack Tate of Centennial.
Republican support was critical, and similar bills failed in previous sessions after GOP lawmakers voted against it. Fenberg noted in a release from the LGBTQ advocacy group One Colorado that conversion therapy is not backed by science and is harmful to LGBTQ youth.
“There is nothing to ‘fix,'” Fenberg said in the release. “They should not feel ashamed of who they are. After working for years to pass this bill, I am proud that we are finally going to protect our LGBT youth and ban the dangerous practice of conversion once in for all in Colorado.”
The Denver City Council in January unanimously approved a ban on conversion therapy, though officials aren’t aware of practitioners of this so-called therapy operating in the city and county.
Trump and his Vichy Republicans are crowing that the Mueller report exonerates Trump yet curiously, Mitch McConnell is acting to block the full release of the report to the public. If, as claimed by Trump and the Republicans giving him politico fellatio, the report is a full exoneration, one would think they'd have wanted an immediate release of the full report. Why the inconsistent behavior? It's likely simple. The report may not have found criminal conspiracy with Russia, but I suspect it is full of (A) ugly and unsavory details about Trump's minions and staffers (including Don, Jr.) which would be highly damaging, even if not criminal, and (B) details that would justify further House committee investigations into Trump and his years of corrupt business practices that seeming have not abated over the last two years. A column in the New York Times looks at what may be behind the Trump/GOP effort to keep the report from the public view. Here are excerpts:
The Mueller investigation is over, and the only people close to Donald Trump who have been criminally charged are his former campaign chairman, former deputy campaign chairman, former personal lawyer, former national security adviser, former campaign foreign policy adviser and Roger Stone, the president’s longtime friend and strategist. The report written by the special counsel Robert Mueller, according to a quotation in a brief summary issued by Attorney General William Barr, says that “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Naturally, [Trump]
the presidentand his allies are claiming, as one of Trump’s tweets said, “Complete and Total EXONERATION.”
Whatever else is in the Mueller report, it says, according to Barr, that the investigation “did not establish” that anyone from the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its 2016 election interference. . . . There will be no deus ex Mueller bringing this wretched presidency to an early end. On the contrary, Trump is emboldened, and his foes momentarily defensive.
Until the Mueller report is publicly released, however, it’s impossible to tell how much of Trump’s victory is substantive and how much is spin. The report, evidently, leaves open the question of whether Trump obstructed justice. In his letter to Congress about the report, Barr said that he and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, made the determination that no obstruction of justice occurred. . . . There is no reason for anyone to take his finding seriously.
Even some of the underlying questions about Trump’s relationship with Russia remain open. . . . As we parse Barr’s letter, we should be aware of the human tendency toward motivated reasoning.
But we should be equally aware of the media tendency to capitulate in the face of Trumpian triumphalism. (Recall the pressure to give Trump credit after his first meeting with Kim Jong-un, despite the emptiness of the resulting agreement.) So we shouldn’t overlook the fact that when it comes to Trump’s relationship with Russia, Barr’s letter speaks only to very narrow questions about Trump campaign involvement in Russian information warfare operations in 2016.
Still, assuming Barr’s summary is accurate, it means that while Trump was installed with Russia’s help, neither he nor his campaign assisted Russia in committing the crimes that aided his ascent. (If he cheated his way to victory, it was through more pedestrian alleged violations of campaign finance law.) We’re still in the dark, however, about all the steps Trump took to thwart the investigation and about the extent of his vulnerability to compromise.