AMERICAblog NewsJon Green – AMERICAblog News A great nation deserves the truth // One of America's top progressive sites for news and opinion Wed, 18 Jul 2018 21:38:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Another mass shooting. You know the drill. Wed, 14 Jun 2017 16:19:15 +0000 America averages one mass shooting per day. We've gotten awfully predictable at dealing with them.

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Reprinted from October 1, 2015.

Earlier today, someone took a killing machine and loads of ammunition into a heavily-trafficked area and opened fire, killing some and wounding more. The shooter may have a history of mental health problems; they may be a militant racist; they may be a Men’s Rights Activist; they may be a religious extremist; they may have just gotten laid off from work. Whatever their motive, they will almost certainly have obtained their killing machine legally.

You’ve probably read the details elsewhere by now, but at the end of the day, they don’t matter. This story isn’t all that different from the many that came before and are sure to come after. America averages one shooting of at least four fatalities per day, with one shooting per week at schools. These shootings are happening faster than we can meme them. The routine is familiar, and we already know how the next few days are going to play out:

First, we will be reminded that this is definitely not the time to discuss ways that we could have prevented this shooting, along with tomorrow’s and next week’s and the ones to follow. At times like these, a bad reading of the Second Amendment is more important than a basic understanding of the First:

Instead, it would be much more productive for all of us to quietly appeal to a higher power — one that has pretty clearly signaled to us that they’re agnostic when it comes to American gun policy:

Second, we will be reminded that although America’s homicide rates are practically off the charts compared to other countries, now is definitely not the time to second-guess our borderline religious commitment to the killing machines that make it way easier to kill a bunch of people at once:


After all, don’t you know we might need to revolt against the government some day?

Third, someone from the NRA will say that the real solution that would have prevented all of this is more guns. Most of America will find this ridiculous. Congress will find this reasonable. President Obama will scold them.

Fourth, there will be a new round of public opinion polling showing broad support for public policies that could have prevented the shooting, ranging from universal background checks to a ban on high-capacity magazines. We will flash a momentary glance at Congress to see if they will pass any of these policies, and then remember how unbothered they were by what that guy from the NRA said.

Fifth, gun sales will go through the god damn roof.

Sixth, this video will go viral:

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Seventh, another mass shooting will take place. We will go back to step one.

See you next week.

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On leaving the blogosphere for academia Fri, 27 May 2016 18:08:28 +0000 Today is my last day running AMERICAblog. Here's why I'm ready to move on.

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Today is my last day running AMERICAblog.

I’m starting a Ph.D. program in Political Science at Ohio State, and I have some serious reading and stats to brush up on before the program starts. My research will lie at the intersection of political psychology and democratic theory, focusing on experimental deliberative democracy in particular. Basically, what’s going on in our heads when we talk about politics as democratic citizens, and how can we do it better?

As you can imagine, I am absolutely ecstatic to get started.

I actually applied and was accepted to the program before I took over this site from John Aravosis. I deferred a year so that I could give professional writing a shot, and so that AMERICAblog wouldn’t have to shut down when John got a job that wouldn’t let him be political in public. But now that year’s up, John’s back and, to be quite honest, I’m ready to bounce — for two unrelated reasons:

Mostly, this primary

I was excited to write about the 2016 campaign before it actually got underway. Every presidential election, we say that this particular presidential is the most important presidential election of our lifetimes. The last few cycles, that has consistently held true, and I think it holds true this year. The Democratic primary gave us our first chance in quite a while to have substantive debates challenging Washington consensuses concerning the size and scope of government, how to meaningfully address skyrocketing economic inequality, how urgently to address climate change, whether taxes on the middle class are worth raising if they pay for good things and even whether Henry Kissinger is worthy of our respect. The general election presents us with a choice between a pragmatic bureaucrat and a creeping fascist. In both arenas, it’s been quite a while since the range between our choices was so vast, and since the implications of our choices have been as interesting as they are dire.

And yet, in this most important election of our lifetimes, I’ve been struck by how remarkably dumb we’ve all become. Very serious people supporting and opposing all manner of candidates — very smart people who surely know better — have spent an inordinate amount of time writing keyboard-melting takes that simply can’t be taken seriously by a thinking person.

This was the election that brought Andrew Sullivan out of retirement to tell us that anti-racist students on college campuses are responsible for the rise of Donald Trump (the National Journal pinned the Trump on Al Franken). This was the election that got voting rights proponents like Josh Marshall to make fun of engaged democratic citizens for not knowing they had to register with a party six months in advance of an election they didn’t know would be competitive. This was the election where our favorite wonks went from considering single-payer health care to be a noble, politically unfeasible goal to being Actually Bad Policy in the span of one candidate’s platform — siding with the Wall Street Journal over Robert Reich.

Me, four years and many hot takes ago.

Me, four years and many hot takes ago.

This was the election where the caucus system — a system that the United States would not recognize as legitimate if adopted by a developing democracy — was actually fantastic if and only if it produced outcomes favorable to your preferred candidate. This was the election where the Human Rights Campaign was an edgy outsider organization. This was the election where making public college tuition-free was both conservative and perhaps kinda racist. This was the election where having the third-most liberal voting record in the US Senate could make you more extreme than the lefties of Europe. This was the election where picking a chair up and putting it down could be a more egregious act of violence than smacking a woman in the face.

This was the election where online became real life; where Democratic candidates were somehow responsible for neo-Nazi Trump-supporting Twitter eggs. This was the election where self-described progressives suggested that the illegally-funded-by-Reagan Contras were actually the good guys. This was the election that made H.A. Goodman and Walker Bragman household names in the blogosphere. This was the election where you could be paid money to write that Bernie Sanders agreeing to debate Donald Trump is analogous to both of them raping Hillary Clinton (really).

This was the election where some reality-based, data-respecting, democratically-minded Democrats convinced themselves that math doesn’t matter and votes don’t matter, because Bernie Sanders is going to be the president. He just is. Maybe the evil superdelegates are going to wake up one morning, see the light and become smart and good Sanders supporters. Maybe Hillary Clinton will get indicted. Maybe she’ll just drop out on her own. Either way, something is going to happen, and the man is going to revolution his way to the White House, because Clinton is the actual devil who can’t be trusted.

While others demand that she lie about lying.

I like Bernie. I voted for Bernie. I’m not exactly excited about voting for Hillary Clinton in the general election, but I’m absolutely prepared to do so. As it happens, that’s a pretty common position to take, but you wouldn’t know it based on the smoldering hellscape that is today’s online discourse. That position doesn’t drive clicks. The positions I’ve linked to above all do. The upshot here is that it’s nearly impossible to be reasonable, original and well-trafficked all at the same time. You can pick maybe two of those things if you’re lucky, and I’m certainly far from blameless in leaving at least one by the wayside at various points in my tenure here. Still, the fact remains that the incentives set by the market for clicks are somewhat exhausting and extremely discouraging.

Also, this was never really my site

This was perhaps a function of my age, and of entering the blogosphere after Twitter was already a thing, but I didn’t realize when I started writing for this site over four years ago that blogs don’t travel well. John Aravosis cultivated a specific brand and a readership for the site over the years that he ran it, and that brand and readership remained specific to him over this past year, even if the bylines were no longer his. The traffic numbers don’t lie: Our readers are interested in reading about LGBT rights, which is John’s strength, more than they are interested in reading about voting rights, which is my strength. This was obvious when I took over, and while I tried to keep the LGBT arm of the site going, that didn’t always turn out so well. A straight guy in his early-mid 20s with a background in electoral politics simply isn’t going to cover LGBT issues as well as a seasoned LGBT activist. Even when I got the words right, they didn’t and couldn’t mean as much coming from me.

The specificity of AMERICAblog to its earlier leadership and readership has also been apparent in seeing how AMERICAblog is discussed (or not discussed) in online circles over the past 15 months or so. When John A. left, we effectively fell off the radar in the liberal blogosphere. Now that he’s back, the site is again associated with him. To be clear, that was completely predictable, but it’s made this past 15-ish months feel a bit like yelling into the void. I’ve written plenty of posts that I’m proud of — that I think are interesting, important reads and solid pieces of writing — but did any of them, you know, matter? It’s hard to say.

So I’m going to head back to central Ohio and keep my head in some books for the next five to seven years. I get to move away from the day to day of the American political fray and toward the broader and, to me, more interesting questions concerning how we can make democratic deliberation more productive in general. If this election cycle is any indication, there’s plenty of work to do.

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Wisconsin county clerk says that weekend voting gives “too much access” to ballot Wed, 25 May 2016 17:52:30 +0000 These folks aren't very good at masking their contempt for voters.

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“When it comes to voting, more often means worse.” – George Will

The trial in a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s laundry list of ballot access restrictions keeps getting more and more frustrating.

One week after a former Republican staffer testified that the state’s voter ID law was passed for the express purpose of reducing turnout among low-income, minority and student populations, a county clerk testified that the state was right to eliminate weekend hours for early voting in Milwaukee County because it gave those voters “too much access.”

From the Chippewa Herald:

[Waukesha County clerk Kathleen] Novack said she believes eliminating weekend voting “level(s) the playing field” between large urban areas and smaller suburban and rural communities that lack the resources to staff weekend hours.

Scott Walker, via Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, via Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

“If there’s an office open 30 days versus an office that’s only open 10 work days, there are obviously voters that have a lot more access than someone else,” Novack said. “There has to come a point where it’s just giving over-access … to particular parts of the state.”

Asked whether she thought voters in Milwaukee and Madison — communities that previously used weekend voting — had too much access, Novack said, “too much access to the voters as far as opportunities.”

Novack went on to dismiss the issue of long lines at polling places that result from getting rid of weekend voting, arguing that “Apparently access is an easy thing or they wouldn’t have long lines.” At this point, I assume that the plaintiffs’ lawyers, whose beef with eliminating weekend voting is that it reduces access in party by making lines on Election Day longer, began bleeding from the ears.

In Wisconsin in particular, it’s important to note the racial politics at play here. Milwaukee County is surrounded by three counties — Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington (the WOW counties) — that are 94, 95 and 96 percent white, respectively. Milwaukee County is 65 percent white, and Milwaukee voters are often used by Republicans in the state as shorthand for black people. When Novack says that Milwaukee’s weekend voting gave its citizens too much access, what she’s worried about isn’t that her counties’ residents won’t be able to vote; she’s worried that black people, and by extension Democrats, will.

These folks aren’t very good at masking their contempt for certain types of voters.

(h/t Rick Hasen)

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Debbie Wasserman Schultz could be out as DNC chair before the convention Wed, 25 May 2016 15:47:51 +0000 For many Sanders supporters, DWS is the personification of a rigged primary system.

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If this is the only thing that comes from Bernie Sanders staying in the race for a few more weeks, it’ll be well worth his time.

Yesterday, the Hill reported that Democrats in Washington are thinking of replacing Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chair of the Democratic National Committee before the party’s convention in August. According to their sources, the thinking is that replacing Wasserman Schultz — who is for many Sanders supporters the personification of a primary system weighted against their candidate — could help unite the party as it looks toward November.

Bernie Sanders recently endorsed Tim Canova, Wasserman Schultz’s challenger in a primary for her seat in the House.

Democrats who support both Sanders and Clinton have recently been frustrated with Wasserman Schultz, both as a party leader and as a member of Congress. From setting a debate schedule that minimized candidate exposure to blaming Hillary Clinton’s lack of support from young women on their “complacency” to going to bat for the payday lending industry, it’s been getting harder and harder for Democrats to say she’s been doing a good job as the leader of our party with a straight face. Having her running the proceedings in Philadelphia this summer would surely be met with at least some disapproval.

From the Hill:

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, via Wikimedia Commons

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, via Wikimedia Commons

“There have been a lot of meetings over the past 48 hours about what color plate do we deliver Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s head on,” said one pro-Clinton Democratic senator.

The lawmaker said senators huddled on the chamber floor last week to talk about Wasserman Schultz’s future and estimated that about a dozen have weighed in during private conversations.

“I don’t see how she can continue to the election. How can she open the convention? Sanders supporters would go nuts,” said the lawmaker, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.

Wasserman Schultz has already indicated that she will be out as DNC chair by the time the next presidential cycle rolls around. It seems that the politics surrounding her role as chair could accelerate that process.

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What’s up with this maybe-scandal in Virginia? Tue, 24 May 2016 17:00:03 +0000 Did Terry McAuliffe solicit campaign contributions from a foreign donor? Maybe not, but what a story!

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Yesterday, CNN reported that Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe was the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Department of Justice and FBI over $120,000 in campaign contributions he received via businesses owned by Wang Wenliang.

Putting the words “McAuliffe,” “ongoing investigation” and “campaign contributions” in the same sentence confirmed many suspicions people have about McAuliffe. The former head of the DNC and prolific Clinton fundraiser has always come off as a bit of a sleazebag. Hell, this is a guy who put a story in his autobiography about the time he left his wife in the delivery room while she was giving birth to their daughter to swing by a party hosted by the Washington Post.

However, once you get past CNN’s headline — “Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe under federal investigation for campaign contributions — the actual story seems pretty thin. Once you get a few paragraphs in you learn that, while it’s super illegal to take donations from foreign nationals, Wang Wenliang has permanent resident status in the United States. This means that he is almost certainly allowed to make political donations. In fact, he’s been a regular donor to other causes — some political, some not — in recent years.

You also learn that while Wang has donated to the Clinton Global Initiative, where McAuliffe previously served as a board member and could arguably be the most suspicious part of the two’s relationship, “there is no allegation that the foundation did anything improper; the probe has focused on McAuliffe and the electoral campaign donations.”

CNN’s report was apparently the first McAuliffe had heard that he was under investigation, and both he and his campaign’s lawyer, Marc Elias, have insisted that nothing illegal took place. To be honest, and in spite of the fact that McAuliffe has struck me as a somewhat shady money man, I’m inclined to believe them, for two reasons:

Terry McAuliffe, photo by Kate Wellington.

Terry McAuliffe, photo by Kate Wellington.

First, the CNN report is incredibly vague and references an investigation that has gone on for over a year already. This says to me that it was leaked in order to do political damage. McAuliffe is coming off of a handful of political victories for Democrats in Virginia — from his executive order restoring the franchise to ex-felons to the Supreme Court rejecting a Republican appeal of a ruling which held that the state’s congressional map was racially gerrymandered — and he is also closely tied to Hillary Clinton, who counts Virginia as a top-tier target in November. Letting some air out of his balloon — putting an asterisk next to his felon re-enfranchisement order by cuing up a series of jokes about how it may have been in his own self-interest — is a hell of a way to start the general election campaign in the state.

Second, someone as experienced with fundraising as McAuliffe, especially someone who knows they will be a target given the office they’re running for and the soon-to-be presidential candidate they are closely tied to, really ought to know who he can and can’t raise money from. I think McAuliffe is well-aware where the lines are, and how to avoid crossing him. In this case, being a sleazy money man may be to his advantage.

I could be wrong, and McAuliffe could become the second Virginia governor in a row to be convicted of political crimes. It certainly would jive with everything we already sort of suspect about the man. But as it stands right now, the story isn’t as interesting as the headline.

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Evangelical leader’s fundraising pitch for Trump: He points to the sky for Jesus Mon, 23 May 2016 17:15:07 +0000 Donald Trump hearts Jesus because he points to the sky when he talks, according to Evangelical grifters.

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Donald Trump is the most transparently irreligious candidate to win a major party nomination in the modern era. He doesn’t claim to attend church often, is clearly uncomfortable with religious terminology and can’t name a favorite Testament — to say nothing of a favorite Bible verse. Not to mention the fact that he’s a thrice-married egomaniac who has spent his entire life exaggerating his wealth and sexual exploits.

The only thing that would make Donald Trump less of a Christian is if he sacrificed a goat in front of a golden statue of himself (perhaps with horns) in front of Trump Tower.

Trump’s clear disregard for the core tenets of his self-professed faith stand in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton, who will be the most religious Democratic nominee since at least Jimmy Carter. There is one committed Christian in this race, and it isn’t the Republican.

And yet, the Evangelical Christian community nevertheless feels the need to speak in some rather strange tongues in order to justify their support for the Republican nominee. As Bloomberg is reporting today, Trump has begun reaching out to Evangelical leaders in an attempt to raise a hefty sum of money for his presidential bid — since now that the Republican primary is over, he no longer feels the need to “self-fund,” whatever that meant. Despite the fact that he has no sincerely-held religious beliefs, they’re going to go out of their way to play along:

At one recent meeting with Trump, evangelical leaders noted how he often flashes a signature hand gesture, with a thumb out and a finger point to the sky, as he enters and exits rallies.

“You see athletes do it all the time and it’s their chance to point to the sky, to thank God for their success,” said Pastor Mark Burns, CEO of a Christian television network based in South Carolina. “Trump does this all of the time, too. He’s giving reverence to the man upstairs.”

“Even with Mr. Trump’s billions of dollars, he too still submits himself to God,” said Burns, who has become a top Trump surrogate and a staple on the campaign trail, frequently introducing the candidate at rallies. “We should all chip in to help him out. You know, even a billionaire needs some cash flow.”

This sounds positively bonkers, but it’s a fairly standard trick in industrial Christianity. These folks can take pretty much anything and spin it into a sign from God that means you should give them and their friends — who just so happen to already be rich, in accordance with the Lord’s will — a sizable chunk of your money.

Still, this is pretty impressive even by their standards. Think how hard you have to dig to find a religious justification for picking Trump over Clinton in order to land on “he points to the sky a lot.”

Just so we’re clear, this is the gesture Burns thinks is drawn from divine inspiration:

Trump pointing his tiny sausage finger to the sky "in reference to the man upstairs," apparently.

Trump pointing his tiny sausage finger to the sky “in reference to the man upstairs,” apparently.

Trump makes that gesture all the time. It’s one of his rhetorical tics. It doesn’t look at all like he means anything by it, unless you choose to believe he means exactly what you want him to mean.

And if you choose to believe that Donald Trump hearts Jesus because he points upward a lot, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, perhaps you don’t deserve the $20 you send him anyway.

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Breitbart laments close loss of neo-Nazi presidential candidate in Austria Mon, 23 May 2016 15:43:48 +0000 And they wonder why Facebook doesn't consider them a legitimate news source.

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Voters in Austria narrowly elected Green Party candidate Alexander van der Bellen after mail-in ballots pushed him over the top to a narrow 50.2 – 49.8 victory.

van der Bellen’s opponent, Norbert Hofer, held a narrow lead after in-person ballots were counted in an instant runoff on Sunday.

The fact that Hofer held any lead at all was alarming, given that he leads the far-right Freedom Party. Hofer had run on an anti-European Union (and, by extension, pro-Putin) platform, making immigration restrictions from Muslim-majority countries one of his signature issues. He has also called for repatriating the Italian territory of South Tyrol, which used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

Nationalist calls for the repatriation of land to Austria squares with the Freedom Party’s roots. The party was founded in 1956 by Anton Reinthaller, a former Nazi Minister of Agriculture and SS officer, as a consolidation of hyper-nationalist parties that had formed following World War II.

Hofer is very much a political figure in the mold of Reinthaller. As Business Insider notes, had Hofer won he would have been the first far-right European head of state since Francisco Franco in Spain. And while Austria’s president is largely a figurehead, Hofer had promised to push the limits of his powers in office, attending EU meetings and throwing a wrench in trade deals that had been worked out elsewhere in the government. In short, his election would have been significant and jarring for the European political landscape.

The combination of taking a hard line on immigration — which in Europe is shorthand for scaremongering about refugees from majority-Muslim countries — and replacing skepticism of Putin with skepticism of trade deals had led Hofer to be dubbed the Donald Trump of Austria. That association may explain why Breitbart’s homepage this morning looked like this:

Screen Shot 2016-05-23 at 11.25.36 AM

That’s right: Breitbart is very sad that the pro-Putin candidate from the party founded by an SS officer lost, because that candidate hates Arab Muslims as much as Donald Trump does. In their view, van der Bellen is the radical one, and it’s a shame that he eked out the win…because he’s nicer to brown people than the neo-Nazi candidate. Or something.

And they wonder why Facebook doesn’t consider them a legitimate news source.

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Congressman Matt Salmon’s oddly specific budgetary hit list Fri, 20 May 2016 17:23:49 +0000 This man is on a mission in his final year in office to be as trivial and possible.

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Yesterday, I flagged two bills sponsored by Congressman Matt Salmon (R – Buzzkillistan). The first would prohibit the federal government from subsidizing yoga and pilates classes for its employees, because when he said he wanted to run the government like a business he only meant the part about slashing departments and outsourcing labor. The second would prohibit the federal government from funding one niche area of research that the National Science Foundation had deemed worthy of studying — specifically, why and how people get stressed when they talk about politics.

As one might imagine, those aren’t the only two ridiculous budgetary grievances Salmon has lodged in bill form during his time in Congress. He is retiring at the end of this year, and appears to have made it his final mission to ban every pocket of federal spending he doesn’t like, one line item at a time.

His budgetary hit list is way too long and odd to not explore in slightly greater detail.

Of the last 75 bills that Salmon has been lead sponsor on, no less than 27 have been for the specific defunding of various and at times weirdly specific federal expenditures. They are, in reverse chronological order:

Congressman Matt Salmon (R - Arizona), via Wikimedia Commons

Congressman Matt Salmon (R – Arizona), via Wikimedia Commons

  • Contributions to the United Nations Population Fund
  • Contributions to the East-West Center
  • The Science and Technology account of the EPA
  • The Voice of America
  • The Rural Utilities Service High Energy Cost Grant Program
  • The National Labor Relations Board
  • Contributions to the United Nations Democracy Fund
  • National Science Foundation funding for travel to Antarctica by writers and artists
  • The Heritage Partnership Program and National Heritage Areas
  • Contributions to the Institute of Peace
  • The National Endowment for the Arts
  • The National Endowment for the Humanities’ Popular Romance Project, or any similar project relating to love or romance
  • The entire National Endowment for the Humanities (this one was introduced exactly one week after the bill to block the specific NEH project)
  • Amtrak
  • Coastal recreation water quality monitoring and notification
  • Contributions to the United Nations Population Fund (again)
  • Research on the prevention of rose rosette disease
  • The Voice of America (again)
  • Contributions to the United Nations Democracy Fund (again)
  • Developing or evaluating a video game to train parents in food parenting practices, specifically “Kiddio: Food Fight — Training Vegetable Parenting Practices”
  • The Polar Learning and Responding Climate Change Educational Partnership
  • The Science and Technology account of the EPA (again)
  • The National Labor Relations Board (again)
  • Hiring contractors to deliver interactive, professional training seminars for senior-level officials on effective congressional testimony and briefing skills
  • Research on which facets of social interaction about politics are most stress inducing, for which kinds of people, and in which contexts
  • Yoga and pilates classes for Executive agency employees

And, finally, introduced yesterday:

  • Research on the effects of artificial light on the behavior and movement of insects

As I pointed out yesterday, prohibiting the government from subsidizing yoga and pilates classes for its employees because “the government isn’t Google” seemed a bit odd given Salmon’s previously expressed interest in running the government like a business. It is even odder when one considers that, in the middle of taking a legal scalpel to the federal programs that he finds personally objectionable, Congressman Salmon also introduced a bill to make withdrawals from health savings accounts for expenses relating to gym memberships and classes (even yoga and pilates classes!) tax-deductible. Per Salmon, having the government subsidize yoga is fine, as long as government workers aren’t the ones doing the yoga.

Salmon has also introduced bills to repeal a tax on gun silencers (the Hearing Protection Act — get it?) and to allow states to require proof of citizenship for voter registration. Salmon’s home state of Arizona is one of just four states seeking to institute such a requirement for voter registration — a requirement that the courts have rejected on multiple occasions.

All this is to say, if this is what Congressman Salmon wants to spend his time and energy on during his last few months in the House, I guess that’s his prerogative. None of these line items amount to anything close to significant chunks of the federal budget (as I noted yesterday, Salmon’s own case for defunding yoga hinged on $15,000 that the State Department spent last year — a figure that amounts to 0.00003%, or three one hundred thousandths of one percent, of the agency’s annual budget), but he’ll always be able to get a headline back home for fighting against spending he can portray as wasteful. And these bills, by and large, never make it anywhere because, honestly, why would we bother passing an entire law to block one NSF grant, or one specific training practice for people invited to testify before Congress? So at the end of the day, no real harm is being done by letting Salmon swing at a few windmills before he heads out.

But at the same time, being in Congress is a really cool and important job, and Matt Salmon has devoted more than a third of his leadership efforts to bills that are as trivial as they are full of shit. At the very least, I can’t help but wonder if he feels like his time in office has been well-spent, and if he thinks he’s leaving the country and his district slightly better than he found it.

Matt Salmon’s constituents ask him what he’s done for them lately to make their lives better, and he brags about how he fought to make it slightly harder for EPA workers to stretch. Maybe his successor will be slightly more into the idea of public service, but for some reason I doubt it.

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Meanwhile, in Congress… Thu, 19 May 2016 16:55:36 +0000 Infrastructure? Broadband access? Health care? Nope. Congressman Matt Salmon wants to defund yoga.

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There are a lot of things in our country right now that need fixing. Our bridges are collapsing, our schools can’t keep their lights on, rural communities are still running dialup Internet and factory employees are being forced to wear diapers to work because their employers won’t let them take bathroom breaks.

And yet, through all of that, Republican Congressman Matt Salmon has zeroed in on the root of our problems: It is too easy for EPA workers to stretch.

Last week, Salmon introduced H.R. 5242, “To prohibit Executive agencies from using funds for yoga classes or instruction, and for other purposes.” This totally real bill is designed to curtail what has apparently been profligate spending on the part of the federal government on behalf of its already-overpaid employees — all at the taxpayers’ expense. As the Washington Examiner reported:

Salmon’s bill is a reaction to a report that Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., released last year. His “waste report” noted that the Departments of State, Energy and Agriculture, as well as the EPA, all provide yoga classes to their workers.

Paul’s report said the State Department spends $15,000 a year on yoga classes in Washington, D.C., while the Department of Energy spent $11,000 a year for pilates classes in California.

Hold the god damn phone, folks. Fifteen thousand dollars for yoga classes at the State Department? That’s a whopping three one hundred thousandths of one percent of the State Department’s $46.2 billion budget request for 2015. It’s less than half of one entry-level employee’s salary — for an agency with over a thousand employees in Washington, D.C. alone.

But sure, $15k here, $15k there, sooner or later we’ve gotten rid of the national debt, right? El oh el.

Singling out one physical activity for the federal government to defund seems especially inane given that, in all likelihood, these yoga and pilates classes are covered under federal employees’ regular gym memberships. It’s not like the head of the EPA is spending gobs of money bringing a personal yoga instructor into their office. Gym memberships are a regular benefit offered by employers around the country, and gyms offer yoga and pilates classes. And some gym members take those classes.

Congressman Matt Salmon (R - Arizona), via Wikimedia Commons

Congressman Matt Salmon (R – Arizona), via Wikimedia Commons

But according to Salmon, that may in fact be the problem: The government is acting too much like an employer in the private sector. As he explained to the Examiner, “The government isn’t Google, so stop trying to be.” This, of course, would be a bit of a break from the Matt Salmon’s previous and familiar exhortations for the government to be run — How does the phrase we’re so fond of hearing go? — like a business. As he explained in 2013, “It is critical that the U.S. government treat its budget like any normal family or business would. Congress should be allocating our resources based on needs and benefits, rather than history.”

I guess he only meant the part about cutting departments, slashing wages and outsourcing labor.

Normal families and businesses invest in things like gym memberships — even yoga classes! — because they calculate that the benefits outweigh the costs. This is especially true of for-profit businesses, who wouldn’t bother subsidizing employees’ gym memberships if it didn’t result in employees being more productive at work and taking less time off for health-related issues. They more than make back the money they spend on gym memberships in the form of productive hours worked. As long as you think the EPA should be doing a good job, which Congressman Salmon doesn’t, then a couple thousand dollars a year for yoga seems perfectly justified — dare I say smart.

Salmon’s “Screw Yoga in Particular” Act is part of a broader “Shrink Our Spending” initiative targeting pockets of probably-useful spending that Salmon has deemed personally objectionable. Last month, he introduced a bill “to ban federal funding for studies on why people get stressed out when they talk about politics.” There is one such study currently being funded by the federal government. Congressman Salmon introduced an entire bill to block one study in particular — a study that received a grand total of $149,975 in federal funding from the National Science Foundation and actually sounds like a pretty worthwhile investment.

That being said, I guess I could save those researchers some time. I get stressed out when I talk about politics because people like Matt Salmon are making decisions about how the federal government spends its money.

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Connecticut Secretary of State to implement automatic voter registration through unique agreement with the DMV Wed, 18 May 2016 16:23:33 +0000 This could and should serve as a model for other states.

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Connecticut is getting automatic voter registration, and it didn’t even have to pass a bill.

That’s because the Secretary of State’s office announced yesterday that they had entered into an agreement with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to change the way they comply with the federal motor-voter law on an administrative level.

The policy will go into full effect two years from now, while changes to the voter registration process at the DMV will be streamlined in other ways in the meantime. According to a press release from the Secretary of State’s office, these changes “include a provision for a unified application for licensing and voter registration at DMV offices while the broader automated system is built.”

When the automated system is rolled out, the DMV will share data relevant to voter registration with the Secretary of State’s office automatically, allowing citizens to update their registration every time they renew their drivers license or engage in some other interaction with the agency. As the Secretary of State’s office explained in February, when they first proposed the change:

The data provided to the DMV would populate a voter registration form. An ‘e-signature’ program would permit an electronic signature to be collected so the client could certify citizenship; accept or refuse to register to vote or affiliate with a party. The registration applications would be electronically transmitted to the Registrars of Voters.

This makes Connecticut the fifth state to adopt automatic voter registration, and the first to do so without legislation. By simply agreeing to switch their compliance with the federal motor-voter law from opt-in to opt-out, Connecticut could serve as a model for other states (fine, blue states) who want to make it easier for their citizens to register to vote without running the risk of the policy getting tied up, watered down or paired with an objectionable policy (say, voter ID) in the legislature.

While it’s technically true that a future administration less-favorably disposed to automatic voter registration could undo the system if it wasn’t backed by legislation, there’s little reason to suspect that they would. Once an automated process such as the one being proposed here is in place, it’s really hard to justify going back to a less-efficient, manual system. Especially if the only reason for doing so is purely partisan — as in, lacking any bureaucratic justification.

The specifics may vary from state to state, but I’d imagine that in at least a few of them there’s no real reason why they can’t implement automatic voter registration as Connecticut plans to — without legislation. The policy is wholly unobjectionable, and all it requires is for a state to change how it complies with an existing federal law — not whether it will comply in the first place. So as long as there’s nothing on the books specifying that the DMV and other state agencies have to give people an opportunity to register to vote on an opt-in basis, they don’t need to change the books themselves in order to switch that to opt-out.

Voila. Automatic voter registration.

According to a recent report from Demos, automatic voter registration via the DMV would add 312,000 people to Connecticut’s voter rolls. Their current governor, Dan Molloy, won his race in 2014 by just over 27,000 votes.

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Former Wisconsin GOP staffer testifies that voter ID law was passed to win elections Tue, 17 May 2016 14:38:15 +0000 Let's dispel with this fiction that Wisconsin Republicans didn't know what they were doing.

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Todd Albaugh, former chief of staff to a Republican state senator in Wisconsin, testified in federal court yesterday that his state’s voter ID law was passed in order to make it more difficult for Democrats to win elections.

According to Allbaugh, as reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, “State Sen. Mary Lazich, urging fellow Republican senators to enact a voter ID requirement in a closed-door meeting in 2011, told her colleagues to consider its impact in the Democratic strongholds of Milwaukee and the state’s college campuses” and “Congressman Glenn Grothman, serving at that time as a state senator, said in the same meeting that he supported voter ID because it would help Republicans win elections.” Allbaugh also quoted Grothman as saying in a closed-door meeting with his Republican colleagues that “What I’m concerned about here is winning,” with respect to his justification for voting in favor of the law.

Per previous testimony, roughly 300,000 citizens of Wisconsin lack photo identification, and they are disproportionately low-income, young and non-white — all constituencies that just so happen to cast most of their votes for Democrats.

Yesterday was the first day of the trial in a federal lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s laundry list of changes to its election laws, including its voter ID provision. Those changes range from restrictions on voter registration drives to reductions in early voting days to requiring citizens who move in-state within four weeks of Election Day to vote at their old address. They even prohibited municipal clerks from giving citizens the opportunity to correct errors on absentee ballots.

The extent of Wisconsin’s voting restrictions aren’t limited to the letters of its new laws, however. The implementation of Wisconsin’s new voting provisions has compounded difficulties for low-income and minority voters to access the ballot box. As the Wisconsin State Journal continued:

Congressman Glenn Grothman (R - WI), on the right, screenshot via YouTube

Congressman Glenn Grothman (R – WI), on the right, screenshot via YouTube

Others testifying in Monday’s trial spoke of difficulties they encountered to get special IDs for voting from the state Department of Transportation. One woman testified her elderly father, born in Mississippi during the Jim Crow period, was unable to get an ID because his name was misspelled on his birth certificate.

As the Brennan Center for Justice has reported, “the only ID issuing office in Sauk City, Wisconsin is open 8:15 a.m. – 4 p.m. on the fifth Wednesday of each month. There are only 4 fifth Wednesdays in 2016.”

Wisconsin also never funded the public education campaign that its own voter ID law required, a fact that attorneys for the plaintiffs in this week’s trial made sure to note in the proceedings.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard that Republicans in Wisconsin passed voter ID in order to win elections, but it’s the first time names have been named…in court. It’s not like we didn’t know what the deal was, though. Last month, Congressman Grothman (the same one from above) let slip on live television that he thought Hillary Clinton would lose his state in November because “now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is gonna make a little bit of a difference as well.”

To paraphrase Marco Rubio, let’s dispel with this fiction that Wisconsin Republicans didn’t know what they were doing. They knew exactly what they were doing.

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Donald Trump qualifies for a tax break he claims he’s too rich to take Mon, 16 May 2016 16:00:15 +0000 If Trump is really worth TEN BILLION DOLLARS, then why is he taking tax breaks for people making less than $500k?

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So that‘s why Donald Trump doesn’t want to release his tax returns.

According to the New York business magazine, Crains, Donald Trump has in recent years qualified for a tax break that you’re only eligible to claim if you make less than $500,000 per year.

This would call into question his boasts of being worth over “10 BILLION DOLLARS,” to say the least.

From Crains:

It’s called the STAR program, which stands for the New York State School Tax Relief Program and has been around since 1997. It offers an approximately $300 annual benefit for those who qualify. Hundreds of thousands of New York homeowners get it.

Here’s where it gets interesting for Trump: To be eligible for STAR, a married couple must have annual income of $500,000 or less. One wouldn’t think a guy as rich as Trump claims to be would qualify, but records filed with the city’s Department of Finance show he received a $302 STAR benefit on his latest property-tax bill for his Trump Tower penthouse on Fifth Avenue.

The only way Trump could have qualified for this tax break, according to the state of New York, is if he sent them a copy of his federal income tax return — showing an annual income of less than $500,000 — and declared his Fifth Avenue penthouse as his primary residence. Asked about the $302 that Trump didn’t have to pay in taxes last year, on again/off again campaign manager and crowd enforcer Cory Lewandowski insisted that Trump had received the exemption as a result of an error on the part of New York State. According to Lewandowski, the government just decided out of the blue to send Donald Trump a few hundred bucks that he hadn’t asked for since 2009 — conveniently, the year New York State began checking the incomes of STAR program applicants.

To be clear, wealth and income are two very different things. It is theoretically possible for Trump to have a high income and a stupid high net worth, especially if most of his assets are tied up in real estate. That said, if Trump really is as rich as he says he is, how big of a cheapskate does he have to be, and how aggressively does he have to arrange is finances, in order to go that far out of his way for $300? In relative terms, that’s worth less to a multi-billionaire than a penny on the sidewalk is to the rest of us. When’s the last time you filled out paperwork for a penny?

And lest Trump follows up his claim that New York simply made an error in giving him a tax break he was too rich to qualify for, Josh Marshall at TalkingPointsMemo has you covered:

Donald Trump, via iprimages / Flickr

Donald Trump, via iprimages / Flickr

Shortly after Crain’s initial report in March, New York City officials said they believed Trump had received the tax break in error and asked Trump to pay up. But it wasn’t clear that New York City was saying he’d received the tax break in error because of his taxable income on file with the state. It seemed either to be because of his publicly professed wealth or because the Trump Tower apartment may not even have been his primary residence. He’s apparently listed two primary residences in New York City. So, as Crain’s notes, New York City’s statement still suggests that Trump’s income was at some point in the last three years less than $500k.

It is still technically possible that Trump really is as rich, or close to as rich, as he claims. But in order to square being worth TEN BILLION DOLLARS with seeking and qualifying for a $300 tax break for people making less than $500,000 per year, you have to believe some combination of the following things: Donald Trump’s self-professed net worth is orders of magnitude greater than his liquid assets, New York State makes a habit of doling out cash and/or he is the reincarnation of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Or he’s grossly exaggerating his wealth, and that’s why he doesn’t want to let the public take a look at his finances. You decide which of these is the most plausible.

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An update to our style guide Wed, 11 May 2016 15:35:28 +0000 Per Republicans, Clinton's opponent this November apparently isn't Donald Trump. We're responding accordingly.

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Hey AMERICAblog readers,

I wanted to give you all a heads up that, as of today, we will be making a change to our style guide. While we have previously referred to Donald Trump by his name, Donald Trump, we will now switch to using the apparently more accurate nomenclature, [The Nominee].

After having spent the past week listening to Republican commentators, elected officials and even many voters, it is clear that they do not support the man, Donald Trump, for president. However, they still maintain that they fully intent to cast their ballot for some other guy, [The Nominee], in November. This being the case, we feel that we have no choice but to adopt the terminology that Republicans around the country are using to describe [The Nominee], as it appears that he, not Donald Trump, is the current Republican standard-bearer.

After all, it sure doesn’t sound like Republicans plan on voting for Donald Trump. Check out some of the things they’re saying about the guy:

Marco Rubio: “I believe that he would be best served (as Vice President) by someone who more fully embraces the things he stands for. And that’s certainly not me…My differences with Donald, both my reservations about his campaign and my policy differences with him, are well documented, and they remain.”

Paul Ryan: “There are lots of questions that conservatives are going to want answers to…I think what a lot of Republicans want to see is that we have a standard bearer that bears our standards.”

Paul Ryan, again: “I’m just not ready to do that (support Trump) at this point. I’m not there right now.”

Kelly Ayotte: “There’s no place in our society for racism and bigotry, and I found Mr. Trump’s response to David Duke and the KKK disgusting and offensive.”

Dan Sullivan: “Some of his rhetoric, some of his policy, certainly some of his instincts on national security and foreign policy…you’re looking right now the choice of someone who, I don’t think has fully formed ideas.”

John McCain: “Frankly, I have never seen the personalization of a campaign like this one, where people’s integrity and character are questioned…It bothers me a lot.”

John McCain, again: “I have strong disagreements with Mr. Trump on a number of issues…I’m not comfortable with a lot of the things that he has done.”

And yet, here’s what those same people are saying about [The Nominee], in the same statements and interviews:

Marco Rubio: “I signed a pledged saying I’d support the Republican nominee and I intend to continue do that.”

Paul Ryan: “I hope to support our nominee. I hope to support his candidacy fully.”

Kelly Ayotte, through a spokesperson: “Senator Ayotte intends to support the Republican nominee.”

Dan Sullivan: “I’ve had disagreements in terms of rhetoric used, in terms of policies stated, or lack there of. But, I plan on supporting the Republican nominee.”

John McCain: “I’m not one to tell him how to campaign except on the part of uniting the party…You have to listen to people that have chosen the nominee of our Republican Party. I think it would be foolish to ignore them”

John McCain, again: “I’m supporting the nominee of the party.”

As the Washington Post’s Alexanda Petri has deduced, the only possible conclusion to be drawn from this is that Republicans have hit upon a third option. They can withhold their support from both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump by gravitating toward [The Nominee], a person who shares all of their values and agrees with everything they have ever said. As she explained:

It is good that there is this third option. The Nominee sounds wonderful.

He seems to have a strong base of support. Senators who have nothing positive to say about Trump at all speak glowingly of the mysterious Nominee.

Very little is known about him, apart from the fact that he is probably statesmanlike and definitely not embarrassing to have at the top of the ticket, and probably Reagan would have liked to have a beer with him, or something, but what more do you need to know?

So there you have it. When we talk about Hillary Clinton’s opponent this November, we apparently aren’t talking about Donald Trump. We are talking about [The Nominee]. Apparently, we have no choice but to treat this race accordingly.



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Ted Cruz (R – The Moon) leaves door open for restarting presidential bid Tue, 10 May 2016 16:49:24 +0000 Get over yourself, dude.

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Former presidential candidate and current Zodiac Killer Ted Cruz isn’t ready to endorse presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump for president. Apparently, he isn’t even ready to endorse ending his own campaign.

In an interview with Glenn Beck earlier today, Cruz left the door open to getting back in the race for the Republican nomination if his supporters pretend he’s still running and deliver him a victory over Donald Trump in Nebraska.

As he said, quoted by The Hill, “We launched this campaign intending to win. The reason we suspended our campaign was that with the Indiana loss, I felt there was no path to victory. If that changes, we will certainly respond accordingly.”

Setting aside for the moment that restarting Cruz’s presidential campaign would require re-hiring hundreds of staffers who have presumably packed up and gone on a much-needed vacation in the days since Cruz effectively fired them by suspending his campaign, the idea that Cruz could develop a plausible path to victory is laughable. Especially when one considers the fact that Cruz also ruled out the prospects of a convention fight or third-party bid in the same interview with Beck. Per Cruz, if he wins Nebraska he may consider it possible that he could re-emerge as a zombie candidate and win the nomination outright. On the first ballot. After having already conceded that Donald Trump won the race.

It’s hard to overstate how much of a fantasy that is.

It’s one thing to not be ready to support Donald Trump, even if you do support this mythical “Nominee” person that everyone keeps talking about. It’s another thing entirely to be so full of yourself that you believe you could run the table and win every contest after having dropped out. Politicians all have big egos — you can’t be a good candidate if you don’t think highly of yourself — but I didn’t quite appreciate exactly what Cruz’s Senate colleagues meant when they said that Cruz was monumentally arrogant, even by their standards, until now.

Christ, man. It’s over. Get over yourself.

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How Donald Trump could cost the GOP the US House Mon, 09 May 2016 16:14:27 +0000 If Democrats contrast the GOP's lack of seriousness about governing with tangible solutions, they could win.

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The Congressional district where I live, Virginia’s 5th, doesn’t make any sense.

Already stretching from the North Carolina state line up through Greene County before the 2010 Census — making it larger than the state of New Jersey — Republicans added Madison and Fauquier counties to the north end of the district when the maps were redrawn.

This latest round of redistricting ballooned the district to over 10,000 square miles, further diluting the influence of relatively liberal Charlottesville by pairing it with a greater share of rural, conservative territory to its north and south.

When the map was redrawn, it was largely seen as an effort to protect incumbent Congressman Robert Hurt, who won the seat in the Republican wave of 2010. However, Hurt has announced that he will retire at the end of this term, leaving the seat open.

Normally, this wouldn’t be newsworthy. Given an evenly-matched presidential contest, we would expect VA-5 to elect a generic Republican to Congress by about seven or eight percentage points. However, this year does not present an evenly-matched presidential contest. With Donald Trump at the top of the ticket — trailing Hillary Clinton by roughly seven points nationally — and the incumbent Hurt gone, Democratic candidate Jane Dittmar has an outside shot at winning the open seat, which has moved from “safe” Republican to “likely” Republican in the Cook Political Report’s House ratings.

Her case may not be unique.

The formula for winning a seat like Virginia 5 in a year like 2016 is twofold: nationalize the opposition and localize yourself. Whichever of the four Republicans competing for their party’s nomination will likely be more Tea Party than Republican “establishment” — whatever that word means now — which means that their politics will track closely with Donald Trump’s. And while a fair share of citizens in Virginia’s 5th District are worried about immigration, crime, Muslims and the rest of the “scare white people” planks of Donald Trump’s platform, those issues seem distant relative to a much more pressing issue: rural Virginia has woefully inadequate broadband penetration.

Dittmar has made this the central focus of her campaign. A quick visit to her website’s issues section shows that she doesn’t have sections on immigration, abortion or guns — the subject of many a Facebook thread nationwide — but she does have three different jobs-related sections along with one devoted to Internet access. In an interview last week, she told me that this was by design. As she explained, in a district as diverse as ours, both geographically and ideologically, there aren’t too many common denominators; citizens’ priorities in Martinsville are much different than their priorities in Warrenton, which is nearly four hours away by car. However, one of the few things that ties the entire district together is that, with few exceptions, “Internet is not available, or it’s unreliable, or it’s too expensive.” She’s running to change that.

Jane Dittmar

Jane Dittmar

There’s a reason why the United Nations has declared Internet access a basic human right for the 21st Century: Without the Internet, practically everything is made more difficult. Members of Congress talk quite a bit about education, job training, business growth and other mechanisms for growing human capital and, by extension, improving living standards, but without Internet access, all of those buzzwords are just white noise. If a student in a rural area has to take an hour-long bus ride in order to get the Internet access necessary to do homework that other students can do from their bedrooms, that kid is at a massive disadvantage. If a worker gets laid off and wants to retrain for a new career, that retraining process is made exponentially easier if they can search for new opportunities — to say nothing of completing the training process itself — online.

And while Tea Party Republicans will generally insist that any and every project isn’t within the proper scope of government, broadband penetration is exactly the kind of utility that the government has a natural monopoly over. Internet companies clearly aren’t going to build the infrastructure necessary to provide Internet access to rural communities — if it was profitable in the short-to-mid term, they would have done it already. This being the case, if anyone’s going to expand broadband in central and southern Virginia, it’s going to be the government. As she said, “the private sector needs a partner” if it’s going to expand into areas with low population density. We have no problem accepting the government’s role in building roads and maintaining the power grid; there’s no reason to think of Internet cables any differently.

Dittmar plans on spending the next six months making this case. While Donald Trump spends the next six months talking about making life more difficult for brown people elsewhere in the country while her opponent nods and yells, she’s going to talk about making tangible improvements in the lives of everyone in the 5th District.

If Democrats are to win the House in 2016, they’re going to need to win a lot of races that look like the one playing out in VA-5. With congressional maps around the country as gerrymandered as they are, a Democratic House will require winning in districts where conservatives outnumber liberals. The best way to do that is to contrast the Republican Party’s fundamental lack of seriousness about governing with tangible, ideologically-neutral goals that practically everyone agrees are worth achieving.

If we catch lightning in a bottle — and by lightning I mean Trump — we just might pull it off.

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Trump knows foreign policy because he ran a Miss Universe pageant and maybe had a secret meeting with Putin Fri, 06 May 2016 15:11:34 +0000 Trump doesn't want to say whether he's met with Putin, and everyone is too distracted to care.

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Writing about Donald Trump isn’t difficult because he doesn’t give you material to work with. Writing about Donald Trump is difficult because he gives you too much material to work with. In any given day, Il Douche can rattle off three or four things that, in isolation, would warrant their own media frenzy. But he moves from one cringeworthy moment to the next, none of them seem to stick.

For instance, yesterday Trump celebrated Cinco de Mayo by tweeting a photo of him leaning over a taco bowl — excuse me, a taco fiesta! — while giving a half-hearted thumbs up and insisting that “I love Hispanics!” He also went to West Virginia, donned a hard hat and complained that climate regulations have led to a serious decline in the quality of hairspray. In between, he gave an interview with Bret Baier in which he refused to comment (again) on whether he had ever met with Vladmir Putin, but claimed that he could help mend America’s relationship with Russia because he judged a Miss Universe pageant a few years ago.

Baier: About Russia, you were asked yesterday if you’ve ever spoken to Vladmir Putin, and you said, “I don’t want to say.”

Trump: Yeah, I have no comment on that. No comment.

Baier: But one of the things people like about you is that you answer any question.

Trump: Yeah but I don’t want to comment because — Let’s assume I did. Perhaps it was personal. You know, I don’t want to hurt his confidence. But I know Russia well. I had a major event in Russia two or three years ago — Miss Universe contest, which was a big, big, incredible event. An incredible success. I got to meet a lot of people, and you know what? They want to be friendly with the United States. Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got along with somebody?

The big takeaway from this exchange that made the rounds on Twitter was that Donald Trump had just made one of President Obama’s jokes from the White House Correspondents Dinner last Saturday come true:

As foreign policy qualifications go, being involved in the Miss Universe pageant is a notch below being able to see Russia from your house.

Donald Trump, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Donald Trump, via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

However, lost amid the frenzy of mockery that came out of Trump’s claim was any sort of followup on the fact that he is being super sketchy about having possibly held a secret meeting with Vladmir Putin, who has become something of a super-villain in this presidential race. Especially on the Republican side. If a Democratic candidate had gone to Russia and refused to tell the media whether they had met with Putin — let alone what was discussed — Fox personalities such as Bret Baier, to say nothing of the entire Republican field, would have tagged them as a Manchurian candidate.

And they wouldn’t be wrong to be suspicious! Vladmir Putin has made it clear that he does not like the United States very much. He’s also a generally shady dude. The next president is going to spend quite a bit of time dealing with the man. It’s worth knowing if they’re already chummy. It’s really strange that Trump is being so cagey about this in particular, especially given how candid he is on most things.

Still, perhaps the most consequential of Trump’s statements yesterday went largely ignored because it was stuck in the middle of a full day of nonsense.

This is going to be a long six months.

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Kansas’s voter fraud show trials Thu, 05 May 2016 15:38:05 +0000 Kansas just convicted an elderly man for accidentally voting in two states, an easily-preventable crime.

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A Wichita man pled guilty yesterday to three misdemeanors — two counts of voting without being qualified and one count of knowingly marking or transmitting more than one ballot.

The man, 77 year-old Ron Weems, will pay a fine of $5,500 but will avoid any jail time or probation.

The case is the result of Weems having been registered to vote in both Colorado and Kansas, and having voted in both states in 2012 and 2014. He registered in Kansas in 1980 and in Colorado in 2003. Weems’ lawyer told the Wichita Eagle following the guilty plea that the double voting had been inadvertent, and that his client had, in part due to his age, opted to enter a plea deal rather than struggle through what would have been a lengthy criminal proceeding. As part of the plea deal, Kansas dropped two counts of election perjury, which is a felony.

Kris Kobach, via Wikimedia Commons

Kris Kobach, via Wikimedia Commons

Weems is the fourth person convicted under Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s ongoing crusade against voter fraud since the state’s legislature granted him unprecedented authority to prosecute voting crimes. However, the details of the case suggest that Kobach’s efforts are more for show than they are for preserving the integrity of Kansas’s elections.

For starters, the solutions Kobach has championed as a preventative measure against voter fraud — proof of citizenship requirements for voter registration and strict voter ID laws — would not have prevented Weems from voting in multiple states in the same election. He is a citizen, and he wasn’t impersonating someone else. What would have prevented Weems from registering and voting in multiple states would have been for Kansas to participate in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a program which allows states to match voter registration databases against each other and remove duplicates. There are currently 15 states, along with the District of Columbia, enrolled in ERIC — including Colorado — but Kansas is not one of them.

Had Kansas been enrolled in ERIC, Weems would have been removed from their voter rolls when they matched their voter file with Colorado’s, and would not have been able to vote in Kansas.

What’s more, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that there is a systematic and large-scale effort on the part of anyone to encourage double-voting in a way that would actually affect the outcome of an election. Ron Weems isn’t a serious threat to accurate democratic outcomes in Kansas, Kobach’s homages to election integrity aside. And again, even if such a comprehensive effort did in fact exist, it would be easy to stamp out. Just enroll in ERIC. The more states that sign on to the program, the more effective it is.

In a statement following Weems’s guilty plea, Kobach said that the conviction served as evidence of his commitment “to ensuring that Kansas has the most secure elections in the country.” In light of this conviction, the single most effective way to prevent similar crimes — be they inadvertent or intentional — would be for Kansas to begin participating in ERIC. Making it harder to register to vote in Kansas, or to cast a ballot itself, hasn’t and won’t solve the problem Weems’s case presented.

If Kobach is serious about ensuring the integrity of Kansas’s elections, he’ll reach out to the folks at ERIC as soon as he can.

But that’s a big if.

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Alright, #NeverTrump: Show us what you’re made of Wed, 04 May 2016 15:12:50 +0000 Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, and many Republicans aren't happy about it. What's next?

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After blowing out Ted Cruz in Indiana yesterday to the point at which the lizard person and possible Zodiac Killer dropped out of the race, Donald Trump has officially become the presumptive nominee for the Republican nomination for president. Of the United States. Of America.

North America.

Cruz’s exit, which all but secured Trump’s nomination, prompted swift and emphatic calls from prominent Republican commentators, operatives and even a handful of politicians to oppose Trump in November. However, these #NeverTrump Republicans have, for the most part, failed to articulate exactly what they mean when they say that. After all, there’s more than one way to Never a Trump, and some ways are more efficient than others.

The most obvious route to opposing Trump for voters who don’t consider him a real Republican would be to back an independent or third party candidate. Mitt Romney’s name was thrown around last night by a number of Republicans who may just want to save the GOP the embarrassment of seeing a Democrat win Utah, which Hillary Clinton could very well do in a head-to-head matchup with Trump. Justin Amash and Rand Paul both hinted at support for a Libertarian presidential candidate, who could maybe be poised to garner five percent in the general election this year instead of the usual two. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse is sticking with his guns and insisting that he plans on voting for a “Constitutionalist” — whatever that means.

Of course, this all assumes that these white knights on minor party horses are able to get on the ballot in time. They probably can’t. Filing deadlines in most states are fast approaching, so any new candidates who want to throw their hats in the ring need to start gathering signatures in a big way.

Donald Trump, screenshot via 60 Minutes

Donald Trump, screenshot via 60 Minutes

Then again, #NeverTrump Republicans could hold their noses and back Hillary Clinton. Especially for neoconservatives who are meh on the Republican Party’s racism but heavily invested in maintaining the military-industrial complex, Hillary Clinton may actually represent their views better than both Trump and Cruz, both of whom had expressed skepticism regarding America’s continued involvement in foreign countries not named Israel. If Clinton plays her cards right, she can leverage conservatives’ utter horror at the prospect of having to say “President Donald Trump” into getting a few of them to vote for her out of a sense of both sheer embarrassment and personal responsibility.

The final route — the one I think most committed #NeverTrump Republicans will take — is to do something to the effect of sitting out this election entirely. Either they stay home, or they write in a famous dead person like Ronald Reagan or Thomas Jefferson. Bear in mind, many of the same people beating their chests over how they will refuse to vote for Trump have also been conditioned over the last thirty years to believe that Hillary Clinton is the literal spawn of feminist Satan. I have a hard time believing that many of them wind up casting ballots for her.

To be clear, even (especially) in a close race between Trump and Clinton, it wouldn’t take too many would-be Republican voters choosing any of these three paths in order to deny Trump the White House. To be clearer, I have yet to hear many #NeverTrump Republicans say which path they plan on taking. And the longer they hold out, the more likely it becomes that they wind up shrugging their shoulders and voting for the Republican nominee in November. We’ve already seen a few major waffles and defections. Never say never, Bill Kristol, amirite?

The point being that Donald Trump won the most Republican votes by saying things that lots of Republicans agree with. And as he turns his attention to Hillary Clinton, he will continue to say things that lots of Republicans agree with. This being the case, I have a hard time believing that many of the same folks insisting they won’t vote for Trump now find a reason to change their minds between now and November.

Though they’re more than welcome to prove me wrong.

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Conservative hate group sending men into women’s bathroom at Target Tue, 03 May 2016 14:18:12 +0000 The American Family Association is sending men into women's bathrooms to "test" Target's trans-inclusive policy.

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The American Family Association announced earlier this week that they will be “testing” Target’s policy that allows customer and employees to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity. And by “testing” they mean “sending men into women’s bathrooms.”

As the group’s director of governmental affairs, Sandy Rios, told Breitbart News Daily, “I think there’s no question that when you say that there are no barriers in the bathroom, and that if men or women feel like they are men or women, the opposition of however they are equipped, and you have no restrictions, the net effect will be that people will not be stopped. We’ve already had people testing this, going into Targets and men trying to go into bathrooms. There is absolutely no barrier.”

Setting aside for the moment that the men who the American Family Association will be sending into these bathrooms are likely to be, as Josh Marshall quipped, “what probably amount to men’s rights activists,” there’s an odd new logic behind this “test.” The American Family Association isn’t quite saying that trans women are predators, per se, as has been the case in the past. Instead, they’re saying that trans women don’t exist, because trans isn’t a thing, and that trans-inclusive policies open the door for actual predators — who may choose to identify as trans for the purpose of being a predator — to wreak havoc in the ladies’ room.


Either way, this “test” sounds an awful lot like the voter fraud “tests” that conservative activists have conducted in recent years trying to prove that Democrats are the moral equivalent of the mob — engaging in voter fraud and campaign finance violations in an attempt to prove how easy it would be for Democrats to do the same thing. He almost always comes up with nothing. That is, unless he commits the fraud himself.

Most recently, conservative activist James O’Keefe called a press conference to alert reporters to the fact that he had “caught” Hillary Clinton’s campaign engaging in campaign finance violations by selling a campaign shirt to someone who then gave the shirt to a foreign citizen. As it turned out, Clinton’s campaign had not broken the law, but O’Keefe probably did.

All this is to say that when conservatives warn us that a progressive policy has left the door open for all kinds of bad things to happen, they’re projecting. The only people we have to watch out for are the people warning us to watch out.

Conservative men are now infinitely more likely than trans women to use the wrong bathroom at Target.

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Virginia Republicans to sue Governor McAuliffe over rights restoration order Mon, 02 May 2016 16:00:13 +0000 They don't have a date or argument for their lawsuit, but they know they want to sue.

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Last month, Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order restoring voting rights for over 200,000 ex-felons in the state. Noting that Virginia’s felon disenfranchisement laws are rooted in racial animus, Governor McAuliffe promised to issue additional executive orders as ex-felons continued to complete their sentences.

Today, the Associated Press is reporting that Virginia Republicans are planning a legal challenge to McAuliffe’s actions, calling them “an unprecedented view of executive authority.”

The Virginia GOPers bringing the suit have not yet specified exactly what their argument against McAuliffe’s rights restoration order will be, apart from “it’s bad.” When the order was initially announced, legal experts in the state felt that the governor had plenty of authority to issue retroactive pardons to individuals who had previously been incarcerated, though one University of Virginia law professor did tell the New York Times that opponents of the measure could argue that the governor can’t restore rights to an entire class of people all at once.

If that were the case, then McAuliffe would have to restore rights to one person at a time, rather than everyone who has gotten off of parole all at once.

Still, in general it seems as though the challenge to Governor McAuliffe’s executive action is borne more from partisan venting than it is from legal concern. Virginia is poised to be one of the swing-ier states in the 2016 election, and Terry McAuliffe has longstanding ties with Hillary Clinton. While he insisted that he did not consult with Clinton or her campaign before making his move, Virginia Republicans aren’t wrong to point out that there is at least some electoral upside for Democrats if ex-felons, who are disproportionately low-income and non-white, have their voting rights automatically restored.

Can't Vote, via Daniel Lobo / Flickr

Can’t Vote, via Daniel Lobo / Flickr

Of course, if McAuliffe is restoring ex-felons’ voting rights for political advantage, then Republicans are blocking rights restoration for political advantage, as well. And thus far they haven’t come up with a better reason to keep the policy in place.

This puts them in a tough spot, because partisan advantage says little about whether restoring ex-felons’ voting rights is the right thing to do.  And in this case, Virginia Republicans are backing themselves into a corner in which they are stuck arguing that a policy that was explicitly passed in order to “eliminate the darkey as a political factor in this State” should be saved, simply because they think it will help them in November.

Please proceed.

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