April 19, 2018

Puerto Rico restores power to over 70 perecnt of customers after blackout

NY Attorney General seeks power to prosecute despite presidential pardons

NY Times -Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York is moving to change New York state law so that he and other local prosecutors would have the power to bring criminal charges against aides to President Trump who have been pardoned, according to a letter Mr. Schneiderman sent to the governor and state lawmakers.

The move, if approved by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the Legislature, would serve notice that the legal troubles of the president and his aides may continue without the efforts of Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Under the plan, Mr. Schneiderman, a Democrat, seeks to exempt New York’s double jeopardy law from cases involving presidential pardons, according to the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times. The current law and the concept of double jeopardy in general mean that a person cannot be tried for the same crime twice.

Senate actually agrees on something

Slate -Motivated by the birth of Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s daughter last week, on Wednesday night the Senate passed by unanimous consent a rule change allowing lawmakers to bring infants onto the Senate floor. It is the first Senate rule change since the 1970s.

Sen. Duckworth, who submitted the resolution, had said she was worried that the rule that barred senators from voting by proxy could make it difficult as the mother of an infant to participate in votes, which can sometimes last hours, particularly while breastfeeding.

There are now a record 23 women serving in the senate. Duckworth was the first ever sitting senator to give birth.

One in four American children has immigrant parent

Kaiser Family Foundation - Potential changes to public charge policies intended to reduce use of public programs by immigrant families, including their citizen children, could further increase strains on immigrant families and lead to losses in health coverage....

In 2016, nearly 20 million or one in four children had at least one immigrant parent, and nearly nine in ten (89% or 17.7 million) of these children were citizens. An immigrant parent is a foreign-born parent, including naturalized citizens, lawfully present immigrants, and undocumented immigrants. Over half of children with an immigrant parent live in California (23%), Texas (13%), New York (8%), and Florida (8%).

Seven to top ten newspapers supported Trump's illegal Syrian attack

Global Research -   A survey by FAIR of the top 100 papers in the US by circulation found not a single editorial board opposed to Trump’s April 13 airstrikes on Syria. Twenty supported the strikes, while six were ambiguous as to whether or not the bombing was advisable. The remaining 74 issued no opinion about Trump’s latest escalation of the Syrian war.

Seven of the top 10 newspapers by circulation—USA Today,Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, New York Post,Chicago Tribune, Newsday and Washington Post—supported the airstrikes. The New York Daily News and San Jose Mercury News offered no opinion, while the New York Times was ambiguous—mostly lamenting the lack of congressional approval, but not saying that this meant the strikes were illegal or unwise.

Word: How to relate to an fundamentalist

Nellie Smith was raised as an fundamentalist

Nellie Smith, Alternet -  What does work? In my experience, it’s empathy, honest conversation, and a whole lot of patience. Although I’d been probing at the weaknesses of fundamentalist ideas since I was a kid, my ideas only really started to shift as I developed relationships with people who didn’t fit my worldview. These were people who respected me, who accepted me unconditionally, and who stayed in dialogue, never shaming me even when I said things that were ill-informed or demonstrably false. Some of them had been hurt or discriminated against because of evangelical ideology and their kindness to me wasn’t fair or deserved. In retrospect, their acceptance of me looks a whole lot like an uncomfortable word that evangelicals love to throw around: grace.

Such grace is admittedly a lot to ask. I would never demand it of anyone and I frankly don’t know that I’ve gotten there myself. But for those who can manage it—who can listen to damaging ideas and somehow still be tender, who can ask lots of questions and really listen to the answers, who can resist the urge to shame, and who can be in it for the long haul—my experience is evidence that everyday human kindness can absolutely be the catalyst for change. Misconceptions can be worn down by the substantive grit of a real story. But know that it takes time. It takes lots of time.

And, in the end, you should be realistic: for many who grew up as I did, the cost of leaving their worldview, community, and reality will simply be too great, no matter what you say or do.

White evangelicals are big supporters of Trump

The Hill -Seventy-five percent of white evangelical respondents in the poll said they view Trump favorably, with just 22 percent saying they view him unfavorably.

That marks a significant gap of more than 30 percentage points more than Trump’s favorability among the general population, which the survey found was at 42 percent.

Senate seats in doubt

Three Democratic seats in doubt (FL, MO, ND

One Republican seat in doubt (TX)

Two Republican seats favoring Democrats (TN, AZ)

April 18, 2018

Durham, NC votes for nation’s first ban on police exchanges with Israel

Mondoweiss -Durham voted unanimously to become the first city in the U.S. to prohibit police exchanges with Israel, after broad community pressure and popular petition by the Demilitarize! Durham-Palestine coalition, an affiliate of the Deadly Exchange Campaign. The policy, which states that, “the Council opposes international exchanges with any country in which Durham officers receive military-style training,” was voted into official policy of the City of Durham during heated debate at City Council.

How customs police interfere with a free press

Democracy Now -The incident came two days after journalist and activist Shaun King and members of his family were detained at JFK Airport in New York by a Customs and Border Patrol agent after returning from a vacation in Egypt. On Twitter, King said the agent asked about his support for the Black Lives Matter movement. He added, “Family was shook up a bit at first. Took us all to a secluded questioning room. What I know is that my Muslim friends deal with this ugliness every single day. Officer had clearly been reading my tweets and knew all about me.” Shaun King is a columnist at The Intercept who writes about civil rights, mass incarceration, racial justice and police brutality.

Why the US Attorney Cohen investigation is so important

Noah Feldman, Bloomberg -  The Southern District can investigate potential Trump crimes in any area connected to Cohen, a fixer who is known to have arranged payoffs to an adult film star who says she had an affair with Trump. These prosecutors can go back as far as they want before the election, not to mention during and after it.

And there’s essentially nothing Trump can do about it. He can’t fire the career civil servant prosecutors who are now on the job. And practically, he can’t order the Southern District to stop investigating him, because such an order would likely be construed by the prosecutors there as a criminal obstruction of justice.

The Southern District team can’t bring Trump to trial while he is president. But if it finds evidence of felonies involving Trump, the team could name him as an unindicted co-conspirator in charges against Cohen. That would tell the world that the president is a crook. It would put substantial pressure on Congress to impeach Trump. And, after Trump’s presidency ends, whether at the end of his term or before, a criminal prosecution could await. The prospect of a trial would loom over whatever time in the presidency he has left.

... That’s why it was a master stroke for Rosenstein -- presumably with Mueller’s agreement and probably prompting -- to assign the Cohen investigation to the regular career prosecutors in New York. The letter doesn’t apply to them. Their job is to investigate any crime of any kind that occurred within their jurisdiction, which the office traditionally interprets extraordinarily broadly to include, in essence, the whole world.

That means the Cohen investigation can’t be blocked by firing Mueller. It now very literally has a life of its own. And this investigation can go after any aspect of Trump’s life that might be relevant to potential crimes by Cohen. That includes crimes that Cohen may have committed on behalf of Trump.

Imagine, for example, that Cohen structured financial transactions to hide payoffs -- keeping withdrawals just small enough to fly under a bank’s radar. That would be a felony. If Cohen did so with Trump’s knowledge and on behalf of Trump, that could easily be charged as a federal conspiracy that would make Trump criminally liable for Cohen’s conduct. That’s how easy it would be for the Southern District prosecutors to connect Trump to federal crimes.

If Trump is implicated in Cohen’s actions, the Southern District probably wouldn’t charge the president while he’s in office. Current Justice Department guidelines say that the president shouldn’t be criminally charged while in office. (Whether that’s a constitutional requirement is under dispute, and the team that investigated Bill Clinton argued that a sitting president could be criminally charged.)

But the Southern District prosecutors wouldn’t have to charge Trump. They could simply name him as an unindicted co-conspirator while charging Cohen, as a grand jury named Richard Nixon in the coverup of the Watergate burglary.

.... Meanwhile, Trump would not be able to do anything about it. A potential felony charge would hang over his presidency. On leaving office, he could face charges and even prison.

That would create a huge incentive for Trump to resign and wait for Mike Pence to pardon him.

Puerto Rico loses island wide power again

NY Times -A major failure knocked out the electricity in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, leaving the entire island without power nearly seven months after Hurricane Maria destroyed the electrical grid.

It could take up to 36 hours to restore electricity to nearly 1.5 million affected customers, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority said on Twitter. The agency attributed the blackout to a failure in a line that begins in the island’s largest power plant.

It was the second widespread failure in less than a week, underscoring just how fragile Puerto Rico’s electricity remains since the storm hit on Sept. 20. In the earlier failure on Thursday, about 870,000 customers lost power across the island after a tree fell on the main line to the capital, San Juan. The city’s main public hospital and international airport were forced to switch to backup generators.

Cuomo plans executive ordere permitting NY parolees to vote

The Hill -New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said that he will sign an executive order giving all parolees in New York the right to vote. The announcement comes after he noted that the New York Legislature voted down such a measure.

“In this state, when you're released from prison and you're on parole, you still don't have the right to vote,” Cuomo said. “Now how can that be? You did your time. You paid your debt. You're released, but you still don't have a right to vote.”

The exact details of his executive order have yet to be released.

42% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement

CNBC -About 42 percent of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for when they retire, according to a study by GoBankingRates.

The No. 1 reason most people cited for not stashing more away was because they didn't earn enough to save, followed by the fact that they were already struggling to pay bills, GoBankingRates said. The personal finance site polled more than 1,000 adults online.

Although millennials are most likely to have less than $10,000 saved, older Americans are also becoming steadily more pessimistic about their future economic prospects, according to a separate study by United Income, a start-up that aims to apply big-data analysis to financial planning.

Poll: Impeachment could backfire on the Democrats

NPR --  Pledging to impeach President Trump would backfire on Democrats hoping to take back the House of Representatives this fall, according to a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.

The survey finds that 47 percent of registered voters would definitely vote against a candidate who wanted to remove Trump from office, while 42 percent would definitely vote for a candidate who would make such a promise. Forty-seven percent of independent voters — whose opinions could be decisive — also say they would vote against candidates favoring impeachment.

Unsurprisingly, impeachment is a non-starter with 84 percent of GOP voters.

It's Democrats from more liberal districts who have been making noise about impeaching Trump, while members in more competitive swing districts Democrats will need to win to reach the 23 seats to take back the House have generally opposed such an idea. Democratic leaders don't want to make impeachment a central tenet of their pitch to voters and are fearful it could backfire with voters — just as this new poll suggests — but major donors such as California billionaire Tom Steyer has launched a major campaign pushing to oust Trump.

Democrats would only need a simple majority in the House to impeach Trump — something that's only happened to two other presidents in the country's history. To remove him from the Oval Office, which has never been done before, would take a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict him on any articles of impeachment, which could theoretically arise from Mueller's investigation.

Corker won't campaign against Democratic Senate candidate

Washington Times -  Retiring GOP Sen. Bob Corker had some unusually warm words for the Democrat running for his job in November, saying Wednesday he would not campaign against former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen this fall.

In one of the pivotal races for control of the Senate, Mr. Corker told a Christian Science Monitor Breakfast event he would vote for presumptive Republican nominee Rep. Marsha Blackburn, but he would not actively stump against the Democrat.

“I don’t plan to campaign against a friend,” Mr Corker said.

April 17, 2018

Trump's businesses have done well thanks to his presidency

McClatchy -President Donald Trump’s U.S. businesses have received at least $15.1 million in revenue from political groups and federal agencies since 2015, according to a new report.

The money went to Trump’s airplanes, hotels, golf courses, even a bottled water company during the presidential campaign and the first 15 months of his presidency, according to a compilation of known records of the spending by Public Citizen obtained by McClatchy.

But it was Trump’s campaign itself that spent the biggest chunk by far – about 90 percent, or $13.4 million.

Proscecutors still persuing Inauguaration protests

Shadowproof -In prosecutions against Inauguration Day protesters, the government contends some of the defendants’ union memberships qualify as evidence of a conspiracy to commit a crime.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters converged for the Inauguration Day protests in 2017.... Police, who monitored people involved in the protest for months before the demonstration, responded indiscriminately with stingball grenades and a deluge of pepper spray. Over 200 people were kettled, including protesters, journalists, legal observers, and street medics.

The first of nearly two-dozen trials over property allegedly damaged during the protests started in November last year, ending in sweeping acquittals for six defendants just before Christmas. After acquittals that month, the government dropped charges for all but 59 of the defendants.

.... “They’ve offered no real context or reasoning,” said one defendant in an interview for VICE. All of the arrestees have had their phones confiscated, and their messages and emails scrutinized by the prosecution. The only common element between some of them is their union membership with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), whose members are commonly called Wobblies.

GAO says no to Pruitt's $43,000 private phone booth

Mother Jones =EPA chief Scott Pruitt’s ethics problems keep piling up. In a legal opinion, the Government Accountability Office concluded that Pruitt’s decision to spend $43,238 on a soundproof privacy booth for phone calls in his office violated federal law. The booth’s cost far exceeded the $5,000 legal limit for how much a presidential appointee can spend “to furnish, redecorate, purchase furniture for, or make improvements” to his or her office. Pruitt’s office did not notify Congress about the excessive spending, the GAO contends, in violation of the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act.

Pruitt had the booth built, according to the GAO, at the request of his security team so that he had a place to make and take “classified” phone calls and other calls to “discuss sensitive information.” Previous EPA chiefs did not use a secured phone booth in their office to run the agency.

April 16, 2018

More than 20 percent of Trump campaign spending this year has gone to legal fees

Federal judge rejects Trump's transgender military ban

MSN -A federal judge late Friday barred the federal government from implementing President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender members of the military, finding that the ban had to be subject to a careful court review before implementation because of the history of discrimination against transgender individuals.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman of the Western District of Washington ruled that transgender people were a protected class and that the injunctions against the implementation of the ban that had been issued in December should remain in place. She wrote that there was a “long and well-recognized” history of discrimination and systemic oppression against transgender people, that discrimination against transgender people was clearly “unrelated to their ability to perform and contribute to society,” that transgender people have immutable characteristics and that they lacked relative political power.

“Transgender people have long been forced to live in silence, or to come out and face the threat of overwhelming discrimination,” Pechman wrote.

Generic House polls

Did Comey really ruin Clinton's chances?

Sam Smith -  After watching James Comey's television interview, I went back and checked the polls taken before and after his controversial statement on Hillary Clinton's emails. The national ones did not quite fit the pattern Clinton's supporters claim, and, if in fact, Comey seriously hurt Clinton's chances, it should have showed up in national surveys stronger than they did.

My sense is that this is another case of the Clintons successfully manipulating the media,  Here, just for the record, are some of the national results for Clinton before and after Comey's statement:
  • Princeton: down 4 points after the release but down only 2 by the election
  • MCClatchy-Marist: down 2 points from September to election
  • Franklin Pierce/Boston Herald: Up 2 points
  • CBS: Down 2 points
  • Five Thirty Eight: Down 3 points
  • Monmouth: Up 2 points
  • Bloomberg: Down 4 points
  • Washington: No change
  • Investors Daily: Down 2 points
In short, the national polls were a hodge podge mostly within a national poll average error rater of 2%. And there is no scientific way of blaming even this shift of votes on Comey's statement.

This isn’t us

Sam Smith – Trying to figure out why I keep watching the often troubling series, This is Us, it dawned on me that the characters – despite their imperfect and often failing ways -  were at least trying to resolve conflicts involving ethnicity, gender, age, and weight. And after working long enough and making enough mistakes, they often did.
Thus, this family assemblage harboring the real father of a black son they had adopted, the son (later as a father himself) attempting to hold on to a relationship with an adopted girl seized back by her real mother, an obese sister in love with an obese man, and a white actor son wrestling with alcohol – grim as it may seem – actually does better at dealing with real problems than we as a nation seem to be doing these days.

As Entertainment Weekly said of the first season. “It is a refreshing respite from the relational violence and pessimism that marks the other buzz soaps that have bubbled forth from a culture of divisiveness.”

The difference between this small group of characters on the screen and the larger nation of which we are a part, is not that the former deny problems but they attempt seriously to resolve them.  They use - sometimes awkwardly, sometimes well -  kindness, decency, love, humor, and respect – tools we could be using far better to solve our national differences. 

Instead, in recent years we seem to have adopted the habits found in dysfunctional families where some members are forever trapped in anger and futility by the mistakes of the past and unable to build a new way for themselves or others around them.

I have noted, for example, in recent years what was once a civil rights movement seeking positive change has turned into an endless critical analysis of where the wrong came from and why it exists - but is increasingly unable to promote change. I suspect that part of the problem is that the leaders of our movements are more frequently products of an academic training that allows analysis to substitute for social alteration. But in any case, the underlying optimism of, say, Martin Luther King’s efforts  to transform problems into progress seems far weaker today. We condemn rather than convince, despise rather than redirect, and scold rather than sensitize.

As a journalist I confess to being part of the problem. But even if my work is weak on the possibilities for change, I try to emphasize the facts of our condition, and not just rail endlessly against them. And I try to give a plug to those who find a better way like, say, Yes Magazine or the Center for Court Innovation, and regret I don’t do a better job at it.  

Which is why I thought I would give a plug to This is Us because even though it isn’t us, it could help us move in that direction.

April 15, 2018

Alternatives to Starbucks: 47 black owned coffee shops

Getting to know Donald Trump

Adam Davidson, New Yorker -I am unaware of anybody who has taken a serious look at Trump’s business who doesn’t believe that there is a high likelihood of rampant criminality. In Azerbaijan, he did business with a likely money launderer for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. In the Republic of Georgia, he partnered with a group that was being investigated for a possible role in the largest known bank-fraud and money-laundering case in history. In Indonesia, his development partner is “knee-deep in dirty politics”; there are criminal investigations of his deals in Brazil; the F.B.I. is reportedly looking into his daughter Ivanka’s role in the Trump hotel in Vancouver, for which she worked with a Malaysian family that has admitted to financial fraud. Back home, Donald, Jr., and Ivanka were investigated for financial crimes associated with the Trump hotel in SoHo—an investigation that was halted suspiciously. His Taj Mahal casino received what was then the largest fine in history for money-laundering violations.

Listing all the financial misconduct can be overwhelming and tedious. I have limited myself to some of the deals over the past decade, thus ignoring Trump’s long history of links to New York Mafia figures and other financial irregularities. It has become commonplace to say that enough was known about Trump’s shady business before he was elected; his followers voted for him precisely because they liked that he was someone willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, and they also believe that all rich business people have to do shady things from time to time. In this way of thinking, any new information about his corrupt past has no political salience. Those who hate Trump already think he’s a crook; those who love him don’t care.

I believe this assessment is wrong. Sure, many people have a vague sense of Trump’s shadiness, but once the full details are better known and digested, a fundamentally different narrative about Trump will become commonplace


Update: Trump recent approval ratings

Most recent poll to the right
42, 43, 42, 41, 40, 39, 38%