Slaying The Gerrymander

[ Posted Tuesday, February 20th, 2018 – 17:49 PST ]

The "Gerry-Mander," originally, was a flying lizard -- or, one might say, a dragon. In March of 1812, the Boston Gazette published a cartoon based on a district the governor at the time (Elbridge Gerry) had approved. The cartoonist thought it looked like a salamander, drew the winged lizard, and thus introduced the word "gerrymander" to the politician lexicon. In current American politics, a wide group of citizens are now girding their loins and seeking to slay the gerrymander dragon, once and for all.

All eyes are currently on Pennsylvania in this epic battle. Every ten years, as directed by the U.S. Constitution, a state's House districts can be redrawn. Sometimes seats are added or lost, but even if the number stays the same the districts can be adjusted when the results of the decennial Census come in. In the 2010 election, Republicans won big in the Pennsylvania state legislature, so they decided to draw a district map that outrageously favored them.

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Presidential Mythmaking

[ Posted Monday, February 19th, 2018 – 18:23 PST ]

Since it's fun to do, and since today's a good day for it, let's take a look at one particular moment in American history. A Republican president sits in the White House. His very presence terrifies liberals, who consider him an intellectual lightweight (and even that's being polite) and not up to the job in any way. He cares more for his television presence than actual policy matters, it seems. Both the president and his wife seem elitist to the core and disdainful of reining in their excesses after moving to the White House. He is seen as a total puppet, and the only question members of the media have to explore is who the puppetmaster pulling his strings currently is. He packed his White House with his buddies, and they spend a lot of time fighting with Washington insiders. The rest of the world is horrified that we elected such a man president. There are even rumors that his campaign cut a deal with a tyrannical foreign government in order to help him get elected. In fact, there are very real fears he could start a nuclear war at any time, since his foreign policy is both erratic and belligerent. About the only thing he can get done in Congress is to pass a massive tax cut. That's what the prevailing opinion was at the time, inside the Beltway. His name? Ronald Reagan.

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Friday Talking Points [472] -- Infrastructure Week!

[ Posted Friday, February 16th, 2018 – 18:04 PST ]

Before we get to all the rest of the news, here's an interesting anniversary: it has been exactly one year since Trump's last solo press conference. In all the time he's been president, he has held a grand total of precisely one press conference, a month after he was sworn in. So what is he afraid of?

Of course, Trump has hijacked joint press appearances on two other occasions, turning them into de facto solo pressers. The most memorable was when Trump appeared at Trump Tower to introduce "Infrastructure Week," and instead wound up offering praise for white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Infrastructure Week he tried to have before that one was buried by the news of James Comey testifying on Capitol Hill. So perhaps in the future even the phrase "Infrastructure Week" will become an inside-politics joke, meaning: "a screwed-up, scandal-packed week that was originally supposed to be about something else," who knows? Or maybe it'll just become a new swear word in politics: "Oh yeah? Well infrastructure you, Buddy!"

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DACA Bills Fail In Senate

[ Posted Thursday, February 15th, 2018 – 17:24 PST ]

The best chance to save DACA failed today in the Senate. Three more Republican votes would have been necessary for it to have had a chance, even though it did prove to be the most bipartisan plan out there with anywhere near the support needed to pass the Senate. What happens next is uncertain, although "Congress takes yet another week off with a serious deadline staring them in the face" would probably be a safe guess.

There were four immigration votes held in the Senate today, although one was largely unrelated to DACA and the Dreamer problem. There was a DACA bill from Republicans which closely mirrored the wish list from the White House, there was a centrist DACA bill put together by a large bipartisan group (led by Susan Collins of Maine), and there was a minimalist DACA bill from Chris Coons of Delaware and John McCain of Arizona.

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What About All The Others In The White House Without Permanent Security Clearances?

[ Posted Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 – 17:55 PST ]

Donald Trump's White House is, once again, making a bad news story worse by the day. That's quite an accomplishment this time around, since the bad news story was pretty bad to begin with -- the White House having to fire two accused wife-beaters in the same week. But all the missteps and lies told since then have only served to make things much worse, to the point where the entire White House security clearance process itself is now under a microscope. This raises all kinds of questions that Trump really should have tried to avoid, such as why his son-in-law still only has a temporary security clearance, and indeed how many other White House staffers haven't been cleared yet. But if you take a wider view, as many are now beginning to do, you'd have to conclude that any president influences his entire administration, or (to put it more colorfully) the fish rots from the head.

The sad fact at the heart of this ongoing scandal is that Donald Trump himself most likely couldn't pass a security check. If the voters hadn't put him in office, he would probably not be able to get a job in someone else's administration, for multiple reasons. Trump refuses to release his tax returns, indicating there are things contained within that would (at the very least) embarrass him. Trump has been accused by over a dozen women of sexual misconduct, and his lawyer paid a porn star $130,000 in hush money right before the election. His ex-wife accused him of marital rape in divorce proceedings. Trump has lied under oath several times, in various court cases. Trump's business dealings with Russian mobsters and other unsavory characters worldwide would be a goldmine of possible blackmail. And that's before we even consider what Vladimir Putin might be holding over Trump's head. Any one of these might normally disqualify someone from getting a security clearance to handle classified information in the White House, for anyone not actually elected president. With Trump setting all these examples, it is really no wonder that he wouldn't really care what peccadilloes people who work for him might have hiding in their past. They're just following his lead, really.

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Trump's Record-Setting Burn Rate

[ Posted Tuesday, February 13th, 2018 – 18:26 PST ]

The conventional wisdom in Washington is that President Donald Trump, unlike his television persona, actually has a hard time firing people. He reportedly doesn't like such personal confrontation, which can lead him to keep people on long past when they should have been let go. The current episode with Rob Porter and David Sorensen seemed to confirm this view. But whether Trump personally enjoys saying "You're fired!" or not, he is setting records for having higher turnover in top White House jobs than his predecessors.

A new study out by the Brookings Institute shows that the Trump White House has had to either fire (or "accept the resignation of") more top officials than any of the five presidents before him. In fact, over one-third of the top people in the Trump administration have left at some point during the past year.

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Trump Budget Has No Fairy-Tale Ending

[ Posted Monday, February 12th, 2018 – 18:16 PST ]

The Trump administration released its budget proposal today, and it is nothing more than a bad joke. Or a badly-written fairy tale, perhaps. Like most presidential budget requests, it is going to wind up bearing little resemblance to reality -- that's almost a given -- but even at its most fantastical, they couldn't make the numbers magically add up. Rapunzel lets her hair down, but it turns out to be fifteen feet short of the ground. Sad!

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Friday Talking Points [471] -- Trump's Kim Jong Un Envy

[ Posted Friday, February 9th, 2018 – 18:25 PST ]

There's an old joke in Washington that the press knows how to ask politicians questions that can't be answered in any acceptable way. The classic example, of course, is: "So, Senator, have you stopped beating your wife?" This week, however, the Trump White House has been getting a variant: "So, how long was a wife-beater who couldn't get a security clearance allowed to work for the president, and why?"

Each week, optimists think to themselves: "Surely the Trump administration has hit rock bottom and they just can't go any lower," and then each and every week (or so it seems), they prove to go not just lower, but way lower. Remember the porn star who got hush money for an affair with Donald Trump just after his current wife gave birth? No? Seems almost quaint by now, but that was just a few weeks ago. Having dealt with a previous scandal supporting an accused child molester (Roy Moore), the White House is now down to dealing with wife-beaters. It just can't go any lower than this, right? Well, we'll all have to see what they can come up with next week... (sigh).

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Deficit (Chicken) Hawks

[ Posted Thursday, February 8th, 2018 – 18:00 PST ]

The deficit hawks have all flown south, it seems. This is a cyclical migration, because it happens whenever a Republican occupies the White House. When a Democrat moves in, the deficit hawks all return from sunnier climes and begin beating their chests and rending their garments once again. For Washington, this is considered normal.

When Barack Obama was sworn in, he inherited trillion-dollar-plus annual deficits, thanks mostly to the cratering economy and the George W. Bush tax cuts. In his eight years in office, he notably turned things around and got the annual deficits under $500 billion. That's the economy he handed off to Donald Trump.

Trump's first year in office was mostly a continuation of the Obama years, since he didn't have any real say over the policies which had been put in place for that fiscal year. In 2018, however, Trump and the Republicans have taken control, first with their enormous tax cut and secondly with the budget extension they are passing even as I write this.

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Leader Time

[ Posted Wednesday, February 7th, 2018 – 17:39 PST ]

As I write this, Nancy Pelosi has been speaking for something like seven straight hours on the floor of the House of Representatives. Historians are scurrying to comb through the House archives, and some are already calling it the longest such speech ever delivered on the House floor. It's not technically a filibuster (which only happen in the Senate), instead Pelosi is exploiting a parliamentary loophole known as "leader time" -- which allows party leaders to speak uninterrupted. Minority Leader Pelosi has been doing so since 10:00 in the morning, Eastern time, and so far shows no signs of stepping down.

This is, obviously, a new political tactic. The reason why it matters is that we're smack up against another budget deadline, meaning if a bill doesn't pass the government will soon shut down. Absent that kind of pressure, it's doubtful whether the media would have paid much attention to Pelosi's stunt. Adding to the pressure is the fact that the Senate seems to have hammered out a sweeping budget deal for the next two years, which even includes raising the debt ceiling until after this November's elections. Even if this bill passes the Senate, it still has to make it through the House, which is impossible until Pelosi sits down and yields the floor. So, in practical terms, Pelosi's speech is working exactly like a Senate filibuster.

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