Extortion–And Susan Collins

Well, Susan Collins was right–sorta. Trump did learn a lesson from the Impeachment whitewash that she and the other Republican Senators handed him.

The lesson? Extortion works and I can keep doing it.

Earlier this week, Trump tweeted:

I’m seeing Governor Cuomo today at The White House. He must understand that National Security far exceeds politics. New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harrassment, start cleaning itself up, and lowering taxes. Build relationships, but don’t bring Fredo!

This, of course, is vintage Trump, displaying both his trademark ignorance of how government actually works and his mob-godfather behavior.

Letitia James, New York’s Attorney General responded to the obvious ignorance.

When you stop violating the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers, we will stand down. Until then, we have a duty and responsibility to defend the Constitution and the rule of law.

BTW, I file the lawsuits, not the Governor.

As commentators have noted, this new threat followed a more generalized version that Trump had included in his delusional, fact-free State of the Union speech. In that speech, he threatened reprisals against sanctuary cities and states (mischaracterizing, as usual, what sanctuary laws say and do–it really is amazing how impervious he has been to learning anything in the three years he’s held office).

It also followed a previous, petty retaliation against New York, described by a Daily Kos contributor:

When the Department of Homeland Security announced on Feb. 7 that residents of New York would no longer be allowed to participate in programs such as Global Entry that speed passengers through airport security, it seemed like an act of petty vengeance. But then … petty vengeance is Donald Trump’s middle name. He just spells it with a J. So the idea that Trump would make a move designed to irritate millions of New Yorkers because their state passed laws supporting immigrants seemed absolutely believable.

But as it turns out, Trump wasn’t acting out of pure retaliation. Not at all. On Thursday Trump fired off a tweet making it clear that the real purpose behind making New Yorkers go to the back of the line was extortion—to force the state into leaving his taxes, his company, and his friends alone.

After all, it worked so well in Ukraine.

For a more in-depth discussion of this latest, astonishingly brazen effort to obtain a personal quid pro quo–threatening to withhold money meant to protect the citizens of New York unless that state dropped its multiple investigations into his criminal activities–you really should visit (or revisit, if you have already seen it) this discussion on Morning Joe.

Once again, the word that comes to mind is chutzpah.

What I find so astonishing is not the criminal behavior itself–and make no mistake, it is criminal, although I’m sure that the blowback will be dismissed with Trump’s usual “it was a joke” disclaimer (this from a man who wouldn’t know humor if he encountered it)– but the chutzpah of tweeting it out for the whole world to see. All that was missing was “Nah nah nah–you can’t impeach me! I’m protected by the spineless, dishonest, unAmerican Republicans in Mitch McConnell’s Senate.”

Yes indeed, Senator Collins. He certainly learned a lesson…

 

In November, Winning Is Everything

Let me begin by emphasizing that I will definitely be a “blue no matter who” voter. (I would vote for a potted plant if the plant ended up being the Democratic nominee, because–as you know if you read yesterday’s post— the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.)

Let me also be clear that I tend to agree with many if not most of Bernie Sanders’ goals–national health care, support for working-class Americans, higher taxes on the rich. And I will cast my vote for him should he emerge as the nominee, although I do not believe he would win.

Bernie’s most devoted supporters insist that he will appeal to independents and energize the youth vote. Data on the preferences of self-described “independents” suggests that true independents are few and far between, and that those few prefer moderates; with respect to the predictions about turnout and young voters, New Hampshire–which he won by a whisker–may be instructive. 

Politico reports

Even counting for the fact that in 2016 he was in a two-person race, the comparison with his smashing victory over Hillary Clinton (22 points and 60 percent of the vote) and, as of late Tuesday night, his less-than-2-point squeaker over Buttigieg, is notable. Sanders dominated the state in 2016, winning every county. Buttigieg and Klobuchar ripped holes through that map everywhere, turning color-coded maps from 2016 that showed a Sanders rout into a patchwork of colors.

Perhaps more important, Sanders overpromised and underdelivered. He has premised his campaign on nothing less than sparking a political revolution in which disaffected and first-time voters — especially young ones — pour into American politics to carry him to the White House. It didn’t happen in Iowa, and it didn’t happen in New Hampshire.

The percentage of young voters actually declined from 2016 to 2020 in New Hampshire, from 19 percent to 14 percent. Independents were a larger share of the electorate, but they did not break nearly as decisively for Sanders as they did in 2016. He received support from just 29 percent of self-described independents this time, as opposed to 73 percent (!) in 2016.

Together, Buttigieg and Klobuchar (who would have been considered leftwing in previous election years, but are now characterized as moderates) won just over 50% of the primary vote.

Perhaps the best analysis of why a Sanders nomination would be very risky was written by Jeffrey Isaacs, an eminent political science professor at Indiana University. Isaacs is philosophically close to Sanders, but he notes that the most likely immediate consequences of Bernie’s nomination would be the (strong) probability of a Trump re-election.

Isaacs sets out the probable consequences of a Sanders’ nomination for down-ticket candidates, and I encourage everyone to click through and read that analysis in its entirety, because it is sobering–not least because it is based upon actual data rather than devotees’ self-deception. But the most ominous evidence in the article is a long quotation from a Never Trump Republican who saw the opposition research the GOP had gathered in 2016, in case Bernie became the nominee then.

So what would have happened when Sanders hit a real opponent, someone who did not care about alienating the young college voters in his base? I have seen the opposition book assembled by Republicans for Sanders, and it was brutal. The Republicans would have torn him apart. . . Here are a few tastes of what was in store for Sanders, straight out of the Republican playbook: He thinks rape is A-OK. In 1972, when he was 31, Sanders wrote a fictitious essay in which he described a woman enjoying being raped by three men. Yes, there is an explanation for it — a long, complicated one, just like the one that would make clear why the Clinton emails story was nonsense. And we all know how well that worked out.

Then there’s the fact that Sanders was on unemployment until his mid-30s, and that he stole electricity from a neighbor after failing to pay his bills, and that he co-sponsored a bill to ship Vermont’s nuclear waste to a poor Hispanic community in Texas, where it could be dumped. You can just see the words “environmental racist” on Republican billboards. And if you can’t, I already did. They were in the Republican opposition research book as a proposal on how to frame the nuclear waste issue.

Also on the list: Sanders violated campaign finance laws, criticized Clinton for supporting the 1994 crime bill that he voted for, and he voted against the Amber Alert system. His pitch for universal health care would have been used against him too, since it was tried in his home state of Vermont and collapsed due to excessive costs. Worst of all, the Republicans also had video of Sanders at a 1985 rally thrown by the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua where half a million people chanted, “Here, there, everywhere/the Yankee will die,” while President Daniel Ortega condemned “state terrorism” by America. Sanders said, on camera, supporting the Sandinistas was “patriotic.”

The Republicans had at least four other damning Sanders videos (I don’t know what they showed), and the opposition research folder was almost 2-feet thick. (The section calling him a communist with connections to Castro alone would have cost him Florida.) In other words, the belief that Sanders would have walked into the White House based on polls taken before anyone really attacked him is a delusion built on a scaffolding of political ignorance.

Could Sanders still have won? Well, Trump won, so anything is possible. But Sanders supporters puffing up their chests as they arrogantly declare Trump would have definitely lost against their candidate deserve to be ignored.

It is striking to me how easily many of Sanders’s hard-core supporters dismiss these concerns.

Are all of these attacks fair? Of course not. But arguing that they would not be effective is delusional–and so is attributing malign motives to every Democrat who doesn’t want to take that chance.

Bernie has made a difference in American political life; he has moved the Overton Window left, and that is no small feat. His movement has made it easier for a less tarnished Democrat to win in 2020, and he deserves great credit for that. But if you read yesterday’s compendium of horror stories, you know that in 2020, nothing is more important than nominating someone who is most likely to eject Trump’s criminal cabal from the White House.

We can indulge in intra-party conflicts and conspiracy theories and reconstitute the famous Democratic circular firing squad once we’ve come together to do what is absolutely necessary to save America.

 

Making A List…

There are no perfect candidates. We all have to overlook various aspects of would-be Democratic nominees–issues where we differ, behaviors we consider problematic, experience we consider questionable or insufficient, doubts about ability to win. But just for fun–and for the (unlikely) edification of the occasional Trumpers who visit here–I have begun making a list of the things that a voter will have to overlook in order to cast a ballot for Donald J. Trump.

I’m not the only one “making a list and checking it twice.” A couple of months before the midterm elections, McSweeneys published “Lest We Forget the Horrors: A Catalog of Trump’s Worst Cruelties, Collusions, Corruptions and Crimes.” Politico has published “138 Things Trump Did While We Weren’t Looking” and other publications have weighed in with their own compendiums.

My own list doesn’t even include the Trump voter’s need to overlook the constant lying, the  pussy-grabbing and multiple accusations of rape/sexual assault, the five kids from three wives, the clear signs of mental illness, and the other personal behaviors that used to be considered inconsistent with authentic Christianity. We know his base doesn’t give a rat’s patootie about any of that. Nor do they care that he’s dumb, can’t spell, has the vocabulary of a third-grader and the geography knowledge of a kindergartener.

Presumably, they also don’t care about the widely documented chaos at the White House–unprecedented turnover, backstabbing and leaks, the (also unprecedented) number of unfilled jobs and jobs filled by “acting” appointees (mostly former lobbyists) who don’t need–and couldn’t get–Senate confirmation even from the spineless Republicans terrified of Trump’s immature rages.

You would think they might care about the fact that the administration has engaged in an unremitting assault on the rule of law. (The most recent episode, in which the President and Bill Barr meddled with the sentencing of Roger Stone, demonstrated that they no longer even feel the need to hide that assault.) Their leniency for corrupt cronies contrasts with their criminalization of humanitarianism–threats to sanctuary cities and prosecutions of people leaving food and water for desperate people trying to cross the border.

You might think they’d care about the decision to forego ABA vetting of judicial nominees–a clear sign that the people Trump is elevating to the federal bench aren’t just ideologues, but also embarrassingly unqualified.

You might think they’d care about deep cuts to the CDC, including cuts to research that would combat pandemics like the one we are dealing with now.

You would hope at least some of them would be appalled at the number of environmental regulations that have been eliminated or eviscerated (that old Tom Lehrer joke about America being a country where you can’t drink the water and can’t breathe the air no longer sounds so funny and old-fashioned).

Evidently no one in Trump’s base enjoys America’s National Parks, or appreciates the public lands we used to protect, since they are willing to overlook the underfunding of park maintenance and the encouragement of drilling and mining on once-protected national monuments.

Trump’s base also must be willing to overlook America’s withdrawal from our international obligations–the petty nastiness shown to our most important allies, the sucking-up to the world’s worst demagogues, and the betrayal of weaker allies like the Kurds, who trusted us. (I guess the fact that America’s President is a laughingstock around the world doesn’t bother them, either.)

Tariffs? The base has to overlook the extra costs burdening American consumers; overlook the spike in farm bankruptcies (despite the fact that taxpayers have paid farmers billions to offset the harm done by those tariffs–much more than the auto industry got during the Great Recession); overlook the fact that the “old” GOP was right to oppose tariffs and trade wars because they inevitably hurt us much more than they hurt the other guy…

So much for overlooking. I’ve reluctantly concluded that Trump’s base actually approves of policies most reasonable people find mean-spirited and/or appalling: enriching the already rich and screwing over the poor, cutting Social Security and Medicare, trying to destroy Obamacare, spending billions on an utterly ridiculous border wall that won’t deter illegal immigration…and especially, keeping brown people out of the country even if it involves caging their brown children.

The fact that Trump and his collection of idiots and gangsters reject science and evidence is actually a plus with the base–Trump’s supporters hate “elitists” (i.e., experts and people who actually know what they are doing) with a passion.

And what about the devotion and endorsement of white nationalist groups, the KKK and Neo-Nazis? That’s a plus too. That’s evidence that he “tells it like it is,” that he recognizes the superiority of straight, white, “Christian” males, and is working to make America “great again”– for them. 

Well, “working” is probably a misnomer…..but they overlook the “executive time” (when we pay him to watch TV) and the excessive amount of golf, too.

 

Degradation

No wonder the KKK has endorsed Trump for re-election.

In case there was any doubt about the slime this “President” represents, his awarding of the Medal of Freedom to one of the most despicable people in the country should erase it.

Limbaugh is as close as Trump could come to awarding the medal to himself.  He has mocked all manner of human suffering, and he shares Trump’s obsessive hatred (actually, jealousy) of Barack Obama, whom he has referred to as a “Hafrican American,” and about whom he liked to play a mocking song called “Barack the Magic Negro.”

And of course, Limbaugh was an enthusiastic birther.

As Ed Brayton has noted, barely nine months into the Obama presidency, Limbaugh declared (with no evidence at all) “In Obama’s America, the white kids now get beat up with the Black kids cheering.” It was only a small part of his constant insistence that that “race riots are part of the plan that this regime has.”…Brayton also reminded readers of Limbaugh’s constant attacks against immigrant communities.

In 2019 alone, he said that “the Democrat party has imported the third world into this country and they have not assimilated,” compared asylum-seekers coming to the U.S. border to the invasion of Normandy, and quipped that “maybe toilet water is a step up for” some migrants.

Both CBS and the New York Times have published lists of the incredibly offensive, racist and sexist garbage that Limbaugh has regularly spewed–ample evidence that bestowing the Medal of Freedom on this pathetic gasbag makes a mockery of an award intended to highlight human–and humane–achievement. Rush Limbaugh doesn’t belong in the company of people like Elie Wiesel, Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa. In a just world, he would be shunned by all decent people.

But of course, Donald Trump is not a decent person.

This travesty is just one more bit of evidence–if any more evidence is needed–that the political divide Trump exemplifies is not between Republicans and Democrats. It is between white nationalists and the rest of us. It is simply no longer possible for voters to pretend that they support Trump because they approve of his non-existent economic “policies” or because they they are grateful that he’s been putting unqualified ideologues on the federal bench.

What Trump voters really approve of are the attitudes, bigotries and ignorance constantly and crudely expressed by the Rush Limbaughs of the world and parroted by Trump–and the “policies” that give aid, comfort and encouragement to the KKK and Neo-Nazis.

There is a meme I’ve seen several times on Facebook, a quote by a self-identified German (whether accurately attributed or not, I don’t know):”Dear America: You are waking up as Germany once did, to the awareness that 1/3 of your people would kill another 1/3, while 1/3 watches.”

In November, we will be in a position to assess the accuracy of that numerical observation.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Not Whale Oil?

One of my graduate students alerted me to something I really have to share.

Here’s the background.

As regular readers of this blog know, Indiana State Representative Soliday authored a bill that would prevent Indiana utilities from switching from coal to cleaner, cheaper energy– effectively blocking utilities in Indiana from closing any coal-fired power plant unless the closure has been mandated by the Trump administration – which would never happen, given the president’s repeated empty promises to “bring back coal.”

The only exception for closing a coal plant would be if utilities can “prove” to state utility commissioners that it would be in the public interest. That exception was included in the bill to let coal companies oppose closure of a coal plant by dragging the issue through the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and the courts. That would cost utilities and ratepayers huge sums of money and further delay the transition to renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

Inside Climate News reports that if the bill passes, Indiana would become the third state to pass a law aimed at combating market forces that make renewables and natural gas cheaper than coal.

Soliday’s bill is opposed by all five of Indiana’s investor-owned utilities, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, consumer and environmental groups, the Indiana Conservative Alliance for Energy, and ratepayers across the state. Nevertheless, it passed the House and will now be taken up by the State Senate.

So much for background. Democratic State Representative Ryan Dvorak decided that if Indiana was going to prop up outdated, unsustainable energy sources, why stop with coal? So he offered an amendment–a perfect amendment:

Whereas whale oil provides bright, dependable light that is favored even by lighthouse keepers; and many American jobs have been lost in the decimation of the whale oil industry; a public utility may not sell electricity for the purpose of providing power to harsh, flickering, and toxic light bulbs, when natural and reliable whale oil would serve the purpose of lighting Hoosier homes and businesses.

Wouldn’t it be great if Dvorak’s amendment got a hearing?

Ken Cook, President of the Environmental Working Group, also weighed in, asking “How about legislation to replace every car in Indiana with a horse and buggy?”

As the Environmental Working Group has noted, Dvorak’s amendment and Cook’s suggestion make as much sense as the industry-backed scheme to bail out coal on the backs of Indiana residents. It wouldn’t just cost the utilities more money, it would force citizens to pay more for electricity, even when cheaper, cleaner renewable sources are available.

House Bill 1414, introduced by Republican State Rep. Ed Soliday, is “one of the dumbest policy proposals ever,” said Cook. “It would be a disaster for the environment, public health and Indiana’s economy.”

“Rep. Soliday and the other lawmakers supporting H.B. 1414 are turning Indiana into a laughingstock when it comes to energy policy,” said EWG Senior Energy Policy Advisor Grant Smith, an Indiana resident. “The number of states where wind and solar are rapidly becoming a dominant source of electricity is steadily climbing, even as mossback lawmakers in Indiana and a few other states are desperately – and futilely – trying to keep coal on life support.”

And then there’s the hypocrisy of those defenders of the free market, who clearly only defend the market until it threatens the bottom line of their donors and patrons…

Why not whale oil, indeed?