Sunday in the Sun + 18 June 2017

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Hodgkinson, USA

He was a Bernie Sanders supporter. A progressive, at least in name. He shot five people before being shot, and killed, by law enforcement. He shot a Republican congressman who, the last I read, was still in critical condition two days later.

His name was James Hodgkinson, late of Belleville, Illinois. And I don’t think his is a name we’ll soon be forgetting.

President Trump went on the air almost immediately and stated this was a timely reminder of the divisions rending our country, while Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi addressed all of us – claiming that partisan divisions are tearing this country apart.

Given these circumstances, please, if you will, try to make sense of the following:

Washington (CNN) Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich responded to the shooting at a Republican baseball practice on Wednesday by saying it was “part of a pattern” of behavior on the left.Gingrich, speaking on Fox News’ “Outnumbered,” offered his prayers to those injured and promptly lumped the violent incident in with what he called a broader trend coming from those opposed to President Donald Trump. “It’s part of a pattern,” Gingrich said. “You’ve had an increasing intensity of hostility on the left.” He claimed he knew college students who said they had received death threats for saying they supported Trump, and also criticized comedian Kathy Griffin — who was roundly chastised for posing in a photograph holding a bloodied Trump head — and a New York production of the Shakespeare play Julius Caesar, which features a Trump-like Caesar. Gingrich doubled down when a member of the panel, Fox News’ Melissa Francis, asked him: “Does that make sense?” “You’ve had a series of things which send signals that tell people that it’s OK to hate Trump, it’s OK to think of Trump in violent terms, it’s OK to consider assassinating Trump,” Gingrich said. “And then suddenly we’re supposed to rise above it until next time?” Sources told CNN the alleged shooter was 66-year-old James Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois. Shortly after that name began circulating, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders condemned the man who he said had “apparently volunteered” on his 2016 Democratic presidential campaign. “Let me be as clear as I can be: Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society,” Sanders said on the Senate floor Wednesday. “Real change can only come about through non-violent action.” Gingrich has a long history of linking violence to liberals, including the mass shootings at Virginia Tech and Columbine High School. But in a Politico report from 2011, Gingrich criticized liberals for blaming conservatives over the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat who survived being shot in the head during a shooting at a constituent event in Tucson. “There’s no evidence that I know of that this person was anything except nuts,” Gingrich was quoted saying of the shooter at the time.

Now, contrast this report with word from another Republican congressman:

Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump’s violent rhetoric is “a problem” that has led to great division in the country, a Republican congressman told CNN Thursday.

“The blame can go on the Republican side, it can go on the Democrat side, but when the President says to somebody in the audience, ‘I wish I could hit you in the face. If not, why don’t you do it and I’ll pay your legal fees,’ we ought to call it for what it is. That’s a problem,” South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford told CNN’s Anderson Cooper at the Congressional Baseball Game. At a February 2016 rally, then-presidential candidate Trump told his supporters about protesters: “Knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. OK? Just knock the hell — I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise, I promise.” Trump later denied that he ever offered to pay the fees, but admitted that he instructed his people to look into paying the legal fees of a supporter who sucker punched a protester at a North Carolina rally. Democrats defeated Republicans in the 2017 Congressional Baseball Game the day after a gunman opened fire at a GOP congressional baseball practice, shooting House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and three others. Sanford, who has frequently been at odds with the President, did not fault Trump for Wednesday’s assault. “And I want to be clear, I didn’t blame him for the shooting that took place,” he said. “What I said was ‘We have gotten to the point in terms of breakdown in civility in our country, that it’s a problem and that everybody’s to blame.'” The former South Carolina governor said religious groups, corporations and civic organizations all have a responsibility to promote civil dialogue. “We ought to call each other — whether it’s in church, whether it’s in business, whether it’s in the civil league, we ought call each other on ‘Are we being human to each other in the way that we relate’ because to have an open and civil society, you’ve got to have civil debate,” Sanford said.
Another article worth reading about the phenomenon can be found here.
Here’s a photo, by the by, of the headline of an Op-Ed piece in yesterday’s Steamboat Springs Pilot, by syndicated conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg:
Pilot
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So, tell me…do you see a link between events and this editorial?
If not, try this piece by Senator Russ Feingold, again, from The Guardian:

As we are all experiencing, every day there’s some new shock from the Trump-Pence administration. Much of it is disgraceful. Yet we cannot let the tragedy of Donald Trump’s presidency distract us from the broader fight to restore and protect the legitimacy of our democracy.

That legitimacy comes from the voters, and their influence is being systematically devalued by gerrymandering. A bedrock of our democratic legitimacy could rise or fall with the US supreme court’s decision as to whether to hear a case and finally rule on the constitutionality of hyper-partisan gerrymandering.

The court recently reaffirmed the illegality of racial gerrymandering in the case of North Carolina. But to protect fully our democratic legitimacy, the court must go further and prohibit gerrymandering done to cement one-party rule.

Over the past several years, a ground war has been conducted against our democratic legitimacy at the state level by state political parties intent on minimizing the power of certain voters. Their goal: near permanent one-party rule.

This practice of hyper-partisan gerrymandering is destroying our democracy by reverse-engineering the election process. Rather than voters choosing their representatives, representatives choose their voters.

I have reluctantly come to the view that the long-term solution is to take redistricting decisions away from elected officials, either by requiring that maps be drawn using non-partisan independent analysis, or putting redistricting entirely in the hands of independent commissions. I have previously supported legislative redistricting before these brutal tactics were employed.

A short-term solution, however, lies with the US supreme court, which has an opportunity to ban this illegitimate political ploy by agreeing to hear Gill v Whitford, and ruling that Wisconsin’s hyper-gerrymandered map is unconstitutional. The court could almost single-handedly reinstate the influence of voters by doing this.

In Gill v Whitford, Wisconsin voters are arguing that the state’s redistricting map violates their first amendment rights and the equal protection clause in the 14th amendment. Using census data from 2010, the Wisconsin Republican party redrew the state district map so as to essentially guarantee that it wins a majority of seats in the state legislature. The district lines make no sense other than diluting the influence of Democratic voters and inflating the value of Republican voters.

Locking in a Republican majority in Wisconsin took some real creativity, and utter disregard for what makes our democracy legitimate. Democratic and Republican voters are not generally clustered into partisan areas of Wisconsin, but more spread out across the state.

And yet, with roughly 50% of the statewide vote in 2012 and 2014, the Republican party was able to lock in a solid majority in the state assembly, with 60 out of 99 seats in 2012, and 63 out of 99 seats in 2014. These outcomes are only possible with a district map that silences certain voters and gives a megaphone to others.

This delegitimization also affects the resulting loyalties of the elected officials. In partisan gerrymandered districts, an elected official knows that the greatest threat to re-election is a primary challenger, which leads to hyper-loyalty to the party bosses or their financial backers, regardless of their constituency or personal convictions.

Representatives do not need to answer to constituents, hold town halls, or even campaign very hard, so long as they stay in the good graces of the state party and in particular their post-Citizens United big money backers.

The supreme court has never before ruled a state’s redistricting plan unconstitutional because of partisan gerrymandering. While the court is often loathe to overturn its own precedent, it has done so in the past when our country has learned hard lessons from its own history. “Separate but equal” is a prime example. This may seem like a hyperbolic comparison, but it is less so when you consider the motives behind and impact of gerrymandering.

In these sorts of “party politics” cases, the court often defers to the political process, and in theory to the voters who have the power to change something if they oppose it. Solving the problem of gerrymandering, however, is extremely difficult for the voters.

In order for voters to make a statement about gerrymandering, they would have to elect new representatives, most likely from the opposite party. This is the very scenario that gerrymandering is designed to prevent. The Court should assert itself and be a check on out-of-control legislative bodies.

Our democracy’s legitimacy once again hangs in the balance when the Supreme Court considers whether to take this case. The Court cannot shirk this and demur to politicians. Our democratic system is being sorely tested.

Wisconsin Republicans argue that if their map is unconstitutional, so are many other states’ maps. They may be right, but that is no reason to avoid this case. It is actually all the more reason to take it. We need a new precedent, and our democratic legitimacy requires it.

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Smoke and mirrors peddled by snake oil salesmen? Is that where we are now. If so, what are the stakes?

Another story from the Guardian points the way to one possible answer:

Throughout Trump’s time in the White House, I’ve been wondering, like many others, what would it take for the Republican party to break with Trump. I never thought for a moment that they’d break with him over a question of law or constitutional principle or democratic norms or political propriety.

My working assumption, for most of this time, was that if they felt their tax cuts were in jeopardy, they might jump ship, tax cuts being the one thing that unites the party and that they know how to do. But things aren’t looking good for the tax cuts, and I see no signs of any break.

So we’re left with the question: why is the Republican party sticking with Trump? They’re getting so little from him, relative to Republican presidents past. Consider the following:

According to Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, Democrats still control the National Labor Relations Board and are helping shape its agenda. That has created considerable consternation among the business lobbies that depend upon Republican antipathy to organized labor dictating the outcomes of federal agencies.

In the last couple of weeks, the Journal and the New York Times have reported on similar phenomena at the Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (new oil and gas pipelines are having a tough time getting approved) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (no easing up on Obama-era regulations of the futures market) and the justice department, where classic Trumpist issues including gangs, anti-terrorism, and drug trafficking are getting short shrift because Trump has failed to appoint a single US attorney to replace the 93 US attorneys he fired back in February.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post recently reported that the Trump administration had approved or renewed hundreds of thousands of Daca permits for immigrants – much to the rage of Trump’s anti-immigrant base.

I’ve been flagging Trump’s failure to exercise control over the state apparatus for a while, and one of the counter-arguments is that this is part of a plan by his adviser Steve Bannon to downsize the state. But these failures to control the state don’t just involve the soft welfare-ish side of the government.

Some of these failures are making it difficult for Trump to pursue the nastiest, most coercive parts of the hard-right agenda that no one doubts Trump, Bannon, and the hard right wish to pursue. And remember: where some of Trump’s failures have to do with his inability to get the cooperation of Congress or the courts, these are the areas of executive power where Trump has a relatively free hand, where he can act without a lot of consultation or interference. He simply hasn’t exercised it.

So what keeps the Republican party, particularly the elite sectors, with Trump? I’ve begun to think it all comes down to the judiciary. Trump has gotten one supreme court appointment, he may well get more, and he’s moved more quickly on lower-court appointments than Obama did. The legal arm of the conservative movement is probably the best organized, most far-reaching and far-seeing sector of the right.

They truly are playing – and have been playing – the long game. Control the supreme court, stack the judiciary, and you can stop the progressive movement, no matter how popular it is, no matter how much legislative power it has, for decades.

It may seem ironic that a movement that came to power on the basis, in part, of a populist surge against “activist judges” would come to rely upon the judiciary as its most dependable weapon. But it’s not: while conservatism, from its beginning, has struggled to be an elitist movement of the masses, a populist movement for privilege, it has never departed from its elitist origins and supremacist mission.

Going back to the rotten boroughs and lords of early 19th-century Britain, the right has long relied upon the least democratic sectors of the state. With this embrace of the judiciary as its last bastion of power, the right has come home.

If there is an irony here, it is this: since Trump’s election, and before that, liberals have seen the constitution as the greatest weapon against the hard right. But long after Trump is gone, the hard right will be relying upon the judiciary – and behind that, the constitution – to protect its gains.

As was true of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the right will depend upon unelected judges interpreting the law, in defiance of the popular will. The very thing, in other words, that liberals think is the antidote to Trumpism – the constitution – will turn out to be its long-term preservative, the elixir of life.

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Another thread you may want to follow, from Bloomberg?

The U.S. health-care system is full of things that don’t make much sense. A lot of them are extremely profitable.

One of these, recently highlighted by legendary short-seller Jim Chanos, is dialysis, a market largely split in the U.S. between two large firms, DaVita Inc. and Fresenius Medical Care AG & Co KGaA. If the Senate passes a health-care bill similar to one the House of Representatives passed last month, then it may become easier for private insurance plans to stop covering dialysis, cutting off a big source of profit for these companies.

This is just one of the more extreme risks, of many, looming over health-care companies these days. And yet shares of the two biggest dialysis firms have outpaced the broader stock market since the election, and the rest of health care is keeping up.

Health care stocks, including the two biggest dialysis providers, have held up well to the threat of Republican health care reform.

Dialysis is a costly procedure that is mostly paid for by government programs — people with end-stage kidney disease become eligible for Medicare, regardless of age. Trouble is, those programs reimburse dialysis companies at a significantly lower rate than private insurers. According to a Bloomberg Intelligence analysis, DaVita made 95 percent of its Ebitda from patients with private insurance from 2013 to 2016. The profit margin for these patients is 77 percent, versus 2 percent for government patients.

Health care stocks have outperformed the Russell 3000 since Donald Trump’s election, despite the threat of GOP health care reform.

It’s become increasingly clear health-care investors can’t rely on the Senate to save them. The Senate has gone from publicly decrying the House bill to reportedly working on something that copies it in many respects. There’s not all that much roomto soften the House bill, anyway, despite President Donald Trump apparently having come to believe the House bill is “mean.” The revised bill is being designed in secrecy and hastened to a vote (again) for a reason.

The consequences aren’t always as obvious as they are for dialysis firms. But they’re there, and health-care investors appear to be in some denial about it.

For a little more on the Senate’s secret deliberations, read this excerpt, from the NYTimes:

WASHINGTON — As they draft legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Senate Republican leaders are aiming to transform large sections of the American health care system without a single hearing on their bill and without a formal, open drafting session.

That has created an air of distrust and concern — on and off Capitol Hill, with Democrats but also with Republicans.

“I’ve said from Day 1, and I’ll say it again,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee. “The process is better if you do it in public, and that people get buy-in along the way and understand what’s going on. Obviously, that’s not the route that is being taken.”

The secrecy surrounding the Senate measure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act is remarkable — at least for a health care measure this consequential.

Read the entire article at the link above.

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Trump is officially under investigation. How did we get here?

On Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation is widening its probe to include a look at whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice. In a sign of the investigation’s new focus, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s team is interviewing a number of intelligence officials who we know had conversations with Trump about the Russia investigation.

Trump seemed to confirm that he is under investigation on Friday morning when he criticized the special counsel’s probe in a tweet.

“I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt,” Trump said.

The fact that the president is being investigated is an astonishing development on its own. But what’s also striking is that Trump has gone to great lengths to prove that he wasn’t under investigation. Former FBI Director James B. Comey has testified that the president asked him to publicly clear his name, and the director declined. Once the president fired Comey, though, things appear to have changed.

Here’s what you need to know to understand this fast-moving story:

Why is this important?

At this point, the FBI’s investigation has lasted for almost a year and focused on whether there was any coordination between Trump’s campaign and Russia during the 2016 race, as well as the Kremlin’s alleged interference in the 2016 election.

Trump has repeatedly sworn that he is personally not under investigation, and Comey assured him that he wasn’t. Now, that’s no longer the case. The special counsel’s interviews with the senior officials will likely focus on Trump’s firing of Comey and what motivated him.

Who is the special counsel planning to talk to and why do they matter?

Mueller’s investigators plan to speak with Daniel Coats, the director of national intelligence, and Mike Rogers, the head of the NSA, according to five people briefed on the interview requests.

Coats told associates that Trump asked him if he could intervene with Comey to get the FBI to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to officials. Coats ultimately decided that interfering would be inappropriate.

That particular interaction suggests that Trump hoped to get top officials to push back on the bureau’s probe and could be relevant to investigators who want to understand the conversations the president was having regarding the FBI probe.

Investigators might be interested in Rogers because Trump at one point asked him to issue a public statement denying the existence of any evidence of coordination between his campaign and Russia, according to officials. This, too, could be a sign of the president acting inappropriately.

Mueller also hopes to talk with former NSA deputy director Richard Ledgett, who left the agency recently but wrote an internal NSA memo documenting the president’s call with Rogers. It is unclear who the FBI has already questioned.

Can’t the White House just prevent the officials from talking?

Potentially. The White House and the president in theory can try to invoke executive privilege, which protects the private deliberations of the executive branch.

During the Watergate scandal, former president Richard Nixon attempted to use executive privilege to conceal information. However, the Supreme Court ruled that officials cannot invoke executive privilege to suppress evidence in a criminal probe.

Can the president really be charged?

Experts say the Justice Department has held that it would not be appropriate to indict a sitting president. The responsibility would fall to Congress to review any findings of misconduct.

Will Trump fire Mueller, the same way he dismissed Comey? 

The president can be hard to predict, and one of his friends raised the possibility this week.

During an appearance on PBS NewsHour, Christopher Ruddy said Trump was “weighing that option” but thought it would be a “significant mistake” if the president were to take that action. Republicans have tried to tamp down speculation of the president going that far.

“I think the best thing to do is to let Robert Mueller do his job,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said. “I think the best vindication for the president is to let this investigation go on independently.”

Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein said only he has the power to fire Mueller, and in his testimony this week he said he has no cause to fire him.

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Another one of those weeks, isn’t it? Chaos seems to reign supreme these days, I guess. Maybe because it has. Of course, that’s all part of the smoke and mirrors game, you could say…?

A parting thought from James Kunstler: “Then, of course, there was the gunning down of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and others on a Virginia ballfield by a disgruntled Bernie Sanders fan, of all things. Is it hyperbole to say that this incident had the tone of a first shot in a new civil war? Even the hysterical elements over at CNN rushed to put out the very brushfires they had been kindling by broadcasting the Thursday night news against the backdrop of the annual congressional charity baseball gamed held at the Washington Nationals ballpark — as if the sore-beset people of this dissolute land might be stirred from their anomie by the comforting sound of wood on horsehide. Summer’s not quite officially here yet, but who feels like dancing in the streets? It’s more like wanting to hide behind the nearest trash can.”

Is this what it feels like to circle the drain?

Have a nice weekend.

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