Mother of injured Capitol officer has a message for Trump: ‘Where is your courage?’

Mother of injured Capitol officer has a message for Trump: ‘Where is your courage?’

 

The mother of a Capitol police officer who was badly injured during the attack on the Capitol on January 6 appeared on CNN Tonight With Don Lemon Monday where she responded to former President Donald Trump and his congressional allies spreading misinformation about the events of that day. Terry Fanone’s son, Michael, was pulled into the crowd by the violent mob where he was tased multiple times and beaten, suffering a heart attack and a concussion. Officer Fanone is still dealing with a traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder. But in an interview with Fox News last week, Trump claimed that the rioters posed “zero threat,” and that they were “hugging and kissing the police.”

Asked if there was anything she’d like to say to Trump or others who continue to push misinformation about the day her son could have lost his life, Fanone simply answered, “Where’s your courage?”

But Fanone’s biggest problem isn’t with Trump, it’s with the members of Congress who were there that day, yet still try to pretend it was something different than what it was.

“For me to say anything to Trump would be—it wouldn’t matter because he just can’t hear. It’s all the other people that are so complicit in this. That’s who I would speak to,” Fanone said. “How dare you? How dare you? How dare you take advantage of these people who were defending and fighting for their lives that day, to save these people, preserve democracy, civility, to restore the Capitol to what it’s supposed to be? Where are you? With all of these officers stood with you, why don’t you stand with them?”

John Oliver Shares Horrific Truths About Recycling Plastics

John Oliver Shares Horrific Truths About Recycling Plastics

M. Arbeiter                          March 22, 2021

 

John Oliver. Purveyor of laughs, purveyor of doom. By now, you likely know the drill when you tune into Last Week Tonight. You’ll get some pretty horrifying information about a facet of our society you maybe haven’t paid too much attention to. But you’ll also get a few dozen jokes about funny-looking animals! So you take your medicine with a spoonful of sugar. This week’s episode, concerning the recyclability (or lack thereof) of plastics, provides all of the above.

We learn about the deeply convoluted nature of the recycling institution. John touches on how so few plastics are actually recycled. As you’ll learn in the above video, such a small percentage of plastic products are recycle-friendly. And that’s before the concern of recyclable plastics becoming contaminated or just tossed out. And that’s not even factoring how many of those recyclable plastics end up recycling into non-recyclable plastics. I told you it was convoluted!

Another interesting piece of John’s latest lesson involves the marketing of recycling. The video highlights how major corporations have long put the onus on the consumer alone to “save the environment.” Meanwhile, with so many non-recyclable plastics in production, it’s practically out of the everyday person’s hands to manage this issue whatsoever.

A man roots through a landfill.
A man roots through a landfill. HBO

 

Of course, John closes out the segment with encouragement to keep recycling, albeit more mindfully. Following this, an appropriate castigation of the major corporations producing plastics; they’re the ones that need to change behavior in order to get the planet into better shape.

Some harrowing statistics in this video really drive this point home. Half the plastics ever produced have come into being since 2005; additionally, so much plastic litters the ocean, that by 2050, the mass of plastic should outnumber the mass of fish.

Yeah, harrowing! But John Oliver tosses in a talking blobfish and a demonic goat-man to make it all a bit more palatable.

John Oliver stares at a man wearing a goat head mask.
John Oliver stares at a man wearing a goat head mask.

Energy companies have left Colorado with billions of dollars in oil and gas cleanup

High County News – Energy & Industry

Energy companies have left Colorado with billions of dollars in oil and gas cleanup

As the state tries to reform its relationship to drilling, an expensive task awaits.

Nick Bowlin                  March 11, 2021

 

When an oil or gas well reaches the end of its lifespan, it must be plugged. If it isn’t, the well might leak toxic chemicals into groundwater and spew methane, carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere for years on end.

But plugging a well is no simple task: Cement must be pumped down into it to block the opening, and the tubes connecting it to tanks or pipelines must be removed, along with all the other onsite equipment. Then the top of the well has to be chopped off near the surface and plugged again, and the area around the rig must be cleaned up.

There are nearly 60,000 unplugged wells in Colorado in need of this treatment — each costing $140,000 on average, according to the Carbon Tracker, a climate think tank, in a new report that analyzes oil and gas permitting data. Plugging this many wells will cost a lot —more than $8 billion, the report found.

Companies that drill wells in Colorado are legally required to pay for plugging them. They do so in the form of bonds, which the state can call on to pay for the plugging. But as it stands today, Colorado has only about $185 million from industry — just 2% of the estimated cleanup bill, according to the new study. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) assumes an average cost of $82,500 per well — lower than the Carbon Tracker’s figure, which factors in issues like well depth. But even using the state’s more conservative number, the overall cleanup would cost nearly $5 billion, of which the money currently available from energy companies would cover less than 5%.

This situation is the product of more than 150 years of energy extraction. Now, with the oil and gas industry looking less robust every year and reeling in the wake of the pandemic, the state of Colorado and its people could be on the hook for billions in cleanup costs. Meanwhile, unplugged wells persist as environmental hazards. This spring, Colorado will try to tackle the problem; state energy regulators have been tasked with reforming the policies governing well cleanup and financial commitments from industry.

“The system has put the state at risk, and it needs to change,” said Josh Joswick, an organizer with the environmental group Earthworks. “Now we have a government that wants to do something about it.”

Data not collected for Texas’ clean up funds.
Source: Carbon Tracker Initiative Data visualization: Luna Anna Archey/High Country News

 

THE FIRST WESTERN OIL WELL broke ground in Colorado in 1860. Drilling has been an important part of the state’s economy ever since; as of 2019, Colorado ranked in the sixth and seventh in the nation for oil and natural gas production, respectively.

When it comes to cleanup, Colorado uses a tiered system known as blanket bonding. Small operators can pay ahead with bonds on single wells. Drillers with more than 100 wells statewide pay a fixed reclamation fee of $100,000, regardless of the number of wells. A similar system also applies to wells on federal public land in the state. Large companies pay a single $150,000 bond, which covers unlimited federal public land wells throughout the country. There are about 7,400 public-land wells capable of producing oil or gas in Colorado, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

When a driller walks away or cannot pay for cleanup, the well enters the state’s Orphan Well Program, which works to identify and plug these wells. There are about 200 wells in the program right now, according to the state. But a closer look at state data reveals a large number of wells at risk. Nearly half of the state’s unplugged wells are stripper wells — low-producing operations with small profit margins often at the end of their lifespans. These wells are particularly vulnerable to shifts in oil prices. That means they change hands often. “This is a common tactic in the oil and gas industry: Spinning off liabilities to progressively weaker companies, until the final owner goes bankrupt and none of the previous owners are on the hook for cleanup,” said Clark Williams-Derry, a finance analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis.

“This is a common tactic in the oil and gas industry: Spinning off liabilities to progressively weaker companies, until the final owner goes bankrupt and none of the previous owners are on the hook for cleanup.”

There are also inactive wells: Nearly 10% of the state’s wells have not produced oil or gas in at least two years, according to a Carbon Tracker analysis of state permitting data. Unlike some of the neighboring oil states, Colorado requires that companies pay a single bond on each inactive well of this sort. This costs either $10,000 or $20,000, depending on the depth of the well. In theory, these payments protect the state, in case the well owner goes bankrupt. But in Colorado, it’s still far cheaper for energy companies to pay the cost of that single, unused well — and the small annual premium payments on the bond — than to actually plug it. “Colorado clearly makes it cheaper to idle a well than to clean it up,” Williams-Derry said.

In Colorado, just two companies are responsible for nearly 70% of the bonds for currently inactive wells. One is Noble Energy Inc., which was purchased by the global oil giant Chevron in October 2020. The other is Kerr-McGee, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum. Kerr-McGee was responsible for the 2017 home explosion in Firestone, Colorado, that killed two people. Last year, the COGCC fined the company more than $18 million for the accident, by far the largest fine in state history. Both companies still own large numbers of wells in the Denver-Julesburg Basin, the prolific oil and gas formation beneath central and eastern Colorado. And the mass desertion of wells is not hypothetical: In fall of 2019, a small company called Petroshare Corporation went bankrupt and left about 90 wells for the state to cleanup. That alone will cost Colorado millions of dollars. Last summer, when California’s largest oil driller filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, it left billions in debt and more than 17,000 unplugged wells.

The oil and gas industry is already mired in a years-long decline that raises doubts about its ability to meet cleanup costs. In six out of the past seven years, energy has been either the worst- or second-worst-performing sector on the S&P 500. And the economic fallout from COVID-19 has only accelerated the decline. Oil prices hit record lows in 2020. The industry’s debt approached record levels, and thousands of oilfield workers lost their jobs, Colorado Public Radio reported. Many companies went bankrupt, including 12 drilling companies and six oilfield service companies in Colorado, according to Haynes and Boone LLP, a law firm that tracks industry trends.

Oil and gas development on the Roan Plateau near Grand Junction, Colorado. Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

 

IN 2019, A NEW LAW completely overhauled the state’s relationship to oil and gas. This spring, Colorado oil and gas regulators are tasked with reforming the financial requirements for well plugging. It’s a big deal, especially in an oil state like Colorado: The law gives local governments more control over oil and gas development, and it rewrote the mission of the COGCC, the state’s energy regulator. The COGCC has subsequently banned the burning off or releasing of natural gas, a routine drilling practice, and instituted a broad range of wildlife and public health protection policies. Recently, it voted for the nation’s largest setback rule, which requires oil and gas operations to stay at least 2,000 feet from homes and schools.

The deep divide between the true cost of cleanup and what industry has so far ponied up is not news to Colorado regulators. In a 2017 letter to lawmakers, the COGCC estimated that the average costs of plugging wells and cleaning up the drilling site “exceed available financial assurance by a factor of fourteen.” With this new rulemaking process, Colorado has a chance to make up this gap.

How to handle this looming liability remains an open question, said John Messner, a COGCC Commissioner. The rulemaking process is still in its early stages and will take months. The commission is asking stakeholders of all kinds — industry, local governments, environmental groups and more — to submit suggestions and opinions to the commission. There are several different methods for how best to reform the process, Messner said. That might involve leaving the current structure in place, while increasing the bond amounts, including on individual well bonds. It might mean a revamped tiered system, where more prolific producers pay more, or a different fee structure based on the number of drilled wells. Messner mentioned the option of a bond pool, where companies pay into a communal cleanup fund and, at least in theory, provide industry-wide insurance to guard against companies defaulting on cleanup obligations. Messner stressed that no formal decisions have been made and that the final rule could involve some combination of these and other tools.

“Regulatory changes in the past two years alone are costing oil and gas businesses an extra $200 million a year.”

I asked Messner about balancing the pressing need to increase cleanup requirements with the possibility of companies walking away from their wells if the cost to operate in Colorado spikes. “It’s a real risk,” Messner said. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association expressed a similar concern in an email to HCN. 

“When it comes to financial assurance for current or future wells, we need to ensure that the potential solution doesn’t create an even bigger problem by raising the cost of doing business in Colorado for small businesses,” said COGA President Dan Haley in a statement. “Regulatory changes in the past two years alone are costing oil and gas businesses an extra $200 million a year. For our state to stay competitive, regulators and lawmakers need to be cognizant of that growing tally and the rising cost of doing business.”

But as it stands today, oil and gas companies aren’t realistically paying anywhere near the true cost of cleaning up their drilling sites. And with the industry’s murky financial future, experts predict more and more sales of risky wells to less-wealthy operators, until the state could end stuck with the final cost.

“It’s like a game of hot potato,” Williams-Derry said, “except that when the potato goes off, it’s the public who loses.”

Nick Bowlin is a contributing editor at High Country News.

Why the “Reagan Revolution” Scheme to Gut America’s Middle Class is Coming to an End

The Hartmann Report

Why the “Reagan Revolution” Scheme to Gut America’s Middle Class is Coming to an End

The signal was in Biden’s speech, but entirely missed by the press

Thom Hartmann          March 13, 2021

Alex McCarthy at Unsplash

 

As we stand on the edge of the end of the Reagan Revolution, an end signaled by one particular phrase in President Biden‘s speech in early March (which I’ll get to in a minute), its really important that Americans understand the backstory.

Reagan and his conservative buddies intentionally gutted the American middle class, but they did so not just out of greed but also with what they thought was a good and noble justification.

As I lay out in more granular detail in my new book The Hidden History of American Oligarchy, back in the early 1950s conservative thinker Russell Kirk proposed a startling hypothesis that would fundamentally change our nation and the world.

The American middle-class at that time was growing more rapidly than any middle-class had ever grown in the history of the world, in terms of the number of people in the middle class, the income of those people, and the overall wealth that those people were accumulating. The middle-class was growing in wealth and income back then, in fact, faster than were the top 1%.

Kirk postulated in 1951 that if the middle-class got too wealthy, we would see an absolute collapse of our nation’s social order, producing chaos, riots and possibly even the end of the republic.

The first chapter of his 1951 book, The Conservative Mind, is devoted to Edmund Burke, the British conservative who Thomas Paine visited for two weeks in 1787 on his way to get arrested in the French revolution. Paine was so outraged by Burke’s arguments that he wrote an entire book rebutting them titled The Rights Of Man.

Burke was defending, among other things, Britain’s restrictions on who could vote or participate in politics based on wealth and land ownership, as well as the British maximum wage.

That’s right, maximum wage.

Burke and his contemporaries in the late 1700s believed that if working-class people made too much money, they would challenge the social order and collapse the British form of government. So Parliament passed a law making it illegal for employers to pay people over a certain amount, so as to keep wage-earners right at the edge of poverty throughout their lives. (For the outcome of this policy, read pretty much any Dickens novel.)

Picking up on this, Kirk’s followers argued that if the American middle-class got too rich there would be similarly dire consequences. Young people would cease to respect their elders, women would stop respecting (and depending on) their husbands, and minorities would begin making outrageous demands and set the country on fire.

When Kirk laid this out in 1951, only a few conservative intellectuals took him seriously. People like William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater were electrified by his writings and line of thinking, but Republicans like then-President Dwight Eisenhower said, of people like Kirk and his rich buddies, “Their numbers are negligible and they are stupid.“

And then came the 1960s.

In 1961, the birth control pill was legalized and by 1964 was in widespread use; this helped kick off the modern-day Women’s Liberation Movement, as women, now in control of their reproductive capacity, demanded equality in politics and the workplace. Bra burning became a thing, at least in pop culture lore.

By 1967, young people on college campuses we’re also in revolt; the object of their scorn was an illegal war in Vietnam that President Johnson had lied us into. Along with national protest, draft card burning was also a thing.

And throughout that decade African Americans were increasingly demanding an end to police violence and an expansion of Civil Rights. In response to several brutal and well-publicized instances of police violence against Black people in the late 1960s, riots broke out and several of our cities were on fire.

These three movements all hitting America at the same time got the attention of conservatives and Republicans who had previously ignored or even ridiculed Kirk back in the 1950s. Suddenly, he seemed like a prophet.

The Republican/Conservative “solution” to the “crisis” these three movements represented was put into place in 1981: the explicit goal of the so-called Reagan Revolution was to take the middle class down a peg and end the protests and social instability.

Their plan was to declare war on labor unions so wages could slide back down again, end free college all across the nation so students would be in fear rather than willing to protest, and increase the penalties Nixon had already put on drugs so they could use those laws against hippy antiwar protesters and Black people.

As Nixon‘s right hand man, John Ehrlichman, told reporter Dan Baum: “You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people. Do you understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.“

While it looks from the outside like the singular mission of the Reagan Revolution was simply to help rich people and giant corporations get richer and bigger, the ideologues driving the movement actually believed they were helping to restore safety and stability to the United States, both politically and economically.

The middle class was out of control, they believed, and something had to be done. Looking back at the “solutions” England used around the time of the American Revolution and advocated by Edmund Burke and other conservative thinkers throughout history, they saw a solution to the crisis…that also had the pleasant side effect of helping their biggest donors and thus boosting their political fortunes.

Reagan massively cut taxes on rich people, and raised taxes on working-class people 11 times.

For example, he put a tax on Social Security income and unemployment income, and put in a mechanism to track and tax tips income all of which had previously been tax-free but were exclusively needed and used by middle-class people.

He ended the deductability of credit-card, car-loan and student-debt interest, overwhelmingly claimed by working-class people. At the same time, he cut the top tax bracket for millionaires and multimillionaires from 74% to 25%. (There were no billionaires in America then, in large part because of previous tax policies; the explosion of billionaires followed Reagan’s, Bush’s and Trump’s massive tax cuts on the rich.)

He declared war on labor unions, crushed PATCO in less than a week, and over the next decade the result of his war on labor was that union membership went from about a third of the American workforce when he came into office to around 10% at the end of the Reagan/Bush presidencies. It’s at 6% of the private workforce now.

He and Bush also husbanded the moribund 1947 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades (GATT, which let Clinton help create the WTO) and NAFTA, which Clinton signed and thus opened a floodgate for American companies to move manufacturing overseas, leaving American workers underemployed while radically cutting corporate labor costs and union membership.

And, sure enough, Reagan’s doubling-down on the War on Drugs was successful in shattering Black communities.

His War on Labor cut average inflation-adjusted minimum and median wages by more over a couple of decades than anybody had seen since the Republican Great Depression of the 1920s and ’30s.

And his War on Colleges jacked up the cost of education so high that an entire generation is today so saddled with more than $1.5 trillion in student debt that many aren’t willing to jeopardize it all by “acting up” on campuses.

The key to selling all this to the American people was the idea that the US shouldn’t protect the rights of workers, subsidize education, or enforce Civil Rights laws because, “conservatives” said, government itself is a remote, dangerous and incompetent power that can legally use guns to enforce its will.

As Reagan told us in his first inaugural, government was not the solution to our problems, but instead was the problem itself.

He ridiculed the formerly-noble idea of service to one’s country and joked that there were really no good people left in government because if they were smart or competent they’d be working in the private sector for a lot more money.

He told us that the nine most frightening words in the English language were, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, billionaires associated with the Republicans built a massive infrastructure of think tanks and media outlets to promote and amplify this message.

It so completely swept America that by the 1990s even President Bill Clinton was saying things like, “The era of big government is over,” and “This is the end of welfare as we know it.” Limbaugh, Hannity and other right-wing radio talkers were getting millions a year in subsidies from groups like the Heritage Foundation. Fox News today carries on the tradition.

Which brings us to President Joe Biden’s speech.

Probably the most important thing he said in that speech was almost completely ignored by the mainstream American press. It certainly didn’t make a single headline, anywhere.

Yet President Biden said something that Presidents Clinton and Obama were absolutely unwilling to say, so deeply ingrained was the Reagan orthodoxy about the dangers of “big government” during their presidencies.

President Biden said, “We need to remember the government isn’t some foreign force in a distant capital. No, it’s us. All of us. We, the people.“

This was an all-out declaration of war on the underlying premise of the Reagan Revolution. And a full-throated embrace of the first three words of the Constitution, “We, the people.”

In March, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt talked about the “mysterious cycle in human events.” He correctly identified the end of the Republican orthodoxy cycle of the 1920s, embodied in the presidencies of Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, of deregulation, privatization and tax cuts.

(Warren Harding in 1920 successfully ran for president on two slogans. The first was “A return to normalcy,” which meant dropping Democratic President Woodrow Wilson’s 90% tax bracket down to 25%, something Harding did in his first few years in office. The second was, “Less government in business, more business in government.” In other words, deregulate and privatize. These actions, of course, brought us the Great Crash of 1929 and what was known for a generation as the Republican Great Depression.)

Americans are now watching, for the third time in just 30 years, a Democratic president clean up the economic and social debris of a prior Republican presidency.

They’re starting to figure out that crushing the middle-class didn’t produce prosperity and stability, but instead destroyed tens of millions of people’s lives and dreams.

And they’re seeing the hollowness of the Republican’s promises as we all watch, aghast, as the GOP scrambles to mobilize the last remnants of its white racist base, at the same time waging an all-out war on the ability of Black, young and working-class people to vote.

President Biden’s speech was the beginning of the end for the Republicans, although it appears only a few of them realize it.

Let’s hope the damage the GOP has done over the last 40 years isn’t so severe that America can’t be brought back from the brink of chaos and desperation.

Hopefully, it’s a new day in America.

Sen. Tina Smith supports ending filibuster

Star Tribune

Sen. Tina Smith supports ending filibuster

The Minnesota Democrat says the 60-vote threshold should be abolished.

WASHINGTON – Sen. Tina Smith said Thursday she supports abolishing the Senate filibuster amid growing debate over whether Democrats should throw out the 60-vote threshold now that they control the chamber.

“I believe that the filibuster should be abolished in all cases, not just for any particular piece of legislation,” Smith said. “We have already abolished the filibuster for judicial nominations and the Supreme Court, and to me this is a very important step that we need to take in order to make sure that the Senate can function and can do the work that we need to do.”

The Minnesota Democrat, who was elected to a full term in the 2020 election after being appointed to replace former Sen. Al Franken, said the issue was “sort of a theoretical” one when Republicans were in the majority. But with Democrats now holding a razor-thin edge by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris’ ability to cast a tiebreaking vote, the issue has become more timely, Smith said.

But even with Smith’s support, she conceded that Democrats still lack enough support to eliminate the filibuster.

“To be honest, it’s not clear to me that there is a majority in the Senate right now that is in favor of getting rid of the filibuster,” Smith said.

The filibuster has become a major political flash point in the early days of President Joe Biden’s administration, given the expansive policy changes Democrats hope to make now that they have control of the White House and Congress.

Because the filibuster allows the GOP minority to try to block most legislation it opposes, Democrats are using the budget reconciliation process to try to pass a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package, meaning the legislation only needs the votes of the 50 Democratic senators and Harris.

On Wednesday night, the Democrat-controlled House passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act and soon after, the voting and ethics overhaul Democrats named the For the People Act. But even after passing the House, both need at least some GOP support in the Senate to overcome the 60-vote threshold. That’s unlikely to happen given the steep GOP resistance to the measures.

Minnesota’s GOP House delegation opposed both bills, and former President Donald Trump criticized the House version of the For the People Act as “a disaster” and a “monster,” during his Sunday CPAC speech as he called for the further tightening of voting restrictions.

What’s at stake in the filibuster discussions also hasn’t been lost on Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. She said Thursday night that “something has to change or we’re going to be just in this quagmire of not being able to advance legislation,” and emphasized that she has already supported filibuster reform.

Klobuchar is a leading driver of the For the People Act on the Senate side. Before the House passed its version Wednesday, she had already announced a hearing in the Senate’s Committee on Rules and Administration, which she chairs. The House passed a version of the bill in 2019, months after Democrats won back control of the chamber. But the legislation failed to gain traction in the then-GOP-controlled Senate.

“I’ve acknowledged there’s different ways you could do it,” Klobuchar said of filibuster reform. “You can get rid of it, which I support. You can change the numbers needed, which is something that we had talked about in early days, you know, have less numbers, not to get to 60. You can require what we call a talking filibuster, where you have to actually be there and object and speak the whole time.”

Fears of further inaction in the Senate despite Democratic control have only added to the filibuster debate.

Smith’s stance on what has become a key issue early in the Biden era is playing out against a backdrop of division within her own party over the filibuster.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has maintained his clear resistance to doing away with the filibuster, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.

In an explanation on Facebook of her stance, Smith said when she arrived in the Senate she “started out believing that we should keep the filibuster.”

“I kept thinking about what would happen, what would stop a conservative president and a conservative Congress from doing terrible damage, for example, to women’s health care without the filibuster,” Smith said. “But the more I’ve thought about this, the more I realized that the filibuster has long been the enemy of progress.”

It’s time to flush out secret political donors

It’s time to flush out secret political donors

Rick Newman, Senior Columnist                

 

The Jan. 6 Capitol Hill rioters had some unseen help. Shady fundraising groups such as Women for America First and Turning Point Action helped organize the gathering and transport people to Washington for the event. Secretive shell companies and nonprofits affiliated with former President Donald Trump’s own campaign committee supported other elements of the rally.

It’s nearly impossible to know who funded such organizations, or what exactly they spent their money on, because the most sordid money in American politics hides—legally—in “dark money” groups that don’t have to report such details publicly. While many of the rioters who committed crimes at the Capitol now face charges, we may never know the names of political financiers who helped make it happen.

The House of Representatives passed new legislation on March 3 that would address this problem and end the ability of political donors to launder their money to avoid connection with unsavory causes. The For the People Act, as it is known, includes a provision that would require all political groups to disclose the names of donors who give more than $10,000, and ban the transfer of money from group to group to hide donor identities. “Dark money comes into the election system without anyone knowing its true source,” says Adav Noti, chief of staff at the Campaign Legal Center, which backs campaign-finance reforms. “This would eliminate dark money contributions that end up in campaign systems.”

Campaign finance in the United States is a complex web of opaque activities that invites abuse. Traditional campaigns and political-action committees must abide by four- or five-figure donation limits and identify donors, except for those giving small amounts. They must also detail what they spend their money on in regular reports to the Federal Election Commission.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol in Washington. In what could be the longest of legal longshots, several of those arrested for storming the U.S. Capitol are holding out hope that President Donald Trump will use some of his last hours in office to grant all the rioters a full and complete pardon. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
In this Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump climb the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

 

So called “super PACs” must identify donors and expenditures as well, but there’s no limit on donations. Since these are “independent expenditure” groups, they’re not allowed to coordinate with the candidate or campaign they’re backing. But they do coordinate informally and some just break the rules. The biggest super PACs raise millions of dollars per election cycle and run many of the ads that blanket the media during campaigns.

Anonymous donors

Dark money groups are different. Many have nonprofit status but don’t have to report anything to the FEC. Some run ads or conduct campaign activities—such as transporting protesters to the Jan. 6 Trump rally. Others raise money from donors able to remain secret, then contribute to super PACs able to accept huge donations. Those PACs must list the dark-money group as a donor, but whoever gave the money in the first place remains anonymous.

A new dark-money twist is a shell company affiliated with a traditional campaign that can spend campaign funds without the normal disclosure requirements. The 2020 Trump campaign used a private company called American Made Media Consultants for nearly half of its $1.3 billion in spending on advertising, direct mail, software and a variety of other things. The Trump campaign had to disclose disbursements to the shell company, but the shell company didn’t have to disclose what it spent the money on. That raises the possibility the firm is a kind of slush fund directing donor money to favored vendors and perhaps even Trump family members getting paid as “consultants.” The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the FEC, arguing the arrangement is illegal.

Dark-money groups spent at least $750 million in the 2020 elections, a record. One dark-money group funneled more than $1 million in foreign donations to Trump operations, which is flatly illegal. Author Jane Mayer asserts in her book “Dark Money” that secret funding by billionaires allows plutocrats to control government policy, worsening wealth and income inequality.

Photo by: JT/STAR MAX/IPx 2021 3/5/21 Feds continue probe between US lawmakers and Capitol rioters. STAR MAX File Photo: 1/6/21 The United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. was breached by thousands of protesters during a
The US Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. was breached by thousands of protesters during a “Stop The Steal” rally in support of President Donald Trump during the worldwide coronavirus pandemic. (STAR MAX File Photo: 1/6/21)

 

The For the People Act wouldn’t ban any donations. It would only illuminate dark money, by requiring disclosure of the donors and the activities their money is spent on. That’s a deliberate effort to survive court challenges, given that the Supreme Court’s “Citizen’s United” decision in 2010 opened the financial floodgates by allowing unlimited corporate donations to super PACs. “The bill has been drafted with great care and with the Supreme Court in mind,” Noti says. “The court has been hostile toward democracy reform laws, but it has been uniformly supportive of disclosure.”

The For the People Act has gotten more attention for controversial changes to voting procedures that are arguably partisan. Democrats say these changes are necessary to prevent Republican-led states from restricting access to the polls, while Republicans argue it represents federal overreach. The bill passed the House with no Republican support, and it’s likely to die in the Senate, because it would take 10 Republicans in addition to all 50 Democrats voting for it to overcome the 60-vote filibuster threshold.

The disclosure measures should be less controversial, since there’s nothing democratic about funding political activity in secret. The Capitol riots should be a further spur for basic reforms. Yet Democrats have pushed to bring dark-money funding into the light for nearly a decade, with consistent opposition from Republicans, and that seems likely to continue. If the overall voting-reform bill dies, Democrats can introduce the disclosure requirements as a standalone measure, and if Republicans still block it, run on the issue in the 2022 and 2024 elections. If political money is vital to democracy, the people who provide it should be happy to say who they are.

Right to Work Defeated in Montana and Colorado

ucomm Blog

Right to Work Defeated in Montana and Colorado

However, a Right to Work bill continues forward in New Hampshire

By Brian Young                                  March 02, 2021
Photo By: KPAX
Montana and Colorado have both stopped attempts to pass Right to Work laws and will continue to be free bargaining states.

 

In Montana, Republicans have control over the entire state government, a first in over 16 years. Yet, over the past month, union members and employers have successfully pushed legislators to vote against Right to Work. On Tuesday, with union members filling the gallery and lining the hallways, legislators voted down the bill by a vote of 38 in favor to 62 opposed. In a show of bipartisanship, 29 Republicans joined with 33 Democrats in opposing the bill.

In speaking in opposition to the bill Rep. Derek Harvey, a Democrat from Butte spoke about the role that unions played in his city producing the copper that fueled the industrial revolution, electrified the nation, and supplied ammunition during both World Wars.

“I know my past. I know my town’s past. I also know the history of a man named Frank. Frank (Little) was standing up for his fellow workers when one night he was drug out of his boarding house and beat nearly to death and drug behind a car through the center of my district,” Harvey said before going on to list the Anaconda Road massacre and labor strikes of 1914 that led to martial law in his district. “This is an outrageous bill, and it’s an outrage that it’s made it (this far) through the process.”

Members from around the state came to the Capitol to pressure lawmakers into voting against the bill.

“These are not partisan members,” said Al Eklbad,  Executive Secretary of the AFL-CIO, who was among those in the hallway. “These are people who believe in their collective bargaining rights. They vote for a lot of different issues but the bottom line is our membership will stand for its right to collectively bargain.”

In Colorado, a similar Right to Work bill was rejected. By an 8-5 party-line vote, the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee voted down the bill. “What we didn’t hear today was any examples of people saying that they had bad impacts from a union,” committee chair Dylan Roberts said. “What we did hear a lot of evidence of was the benefit of a union for workers across the state from all different types of professions. We certainly need to take more steps, whether government or non-governmental, to improve our economy but I don’t think that this is one of those things.”

Mark Thompson, a member of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America testified against the bill saying “This is union-busting legislation — it always has been, always will be. This is strictly to weaken unions.”

With Montana and Colorado blocking Right to Work bills, New Hampshire is the only other state currently considering a Right to Work bill. That bill passed the State Senate by 13-11, with only one Republican voting against the bill. The Right to Work bill now heads to the State House.

Georgia Republicans File Sweeping Elections Bill To Limit Early And Absentee Voting

NPR – GPB – Politics

Georgia Republicans File Sweeping Elections Bill To Limit Early And Absentee Voting

Items at a Gwinnett County, Ga., voting location on Jan. 5, when Democrats flipped two U.S. Senate seats after President Biden won the state in November. Georgia Republicans are proposing a sweeping new state law that would restrict early and absentee voting. Megan Varner/Getty Images

 

version of this story was originally published by Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Republicans in the Georgia legislature have released legislation that proposes tougher restrictions on both absentee and in-person early voting, among other sweeping changes to election laws after an election in which Democrats won the presidential race in the state and flipped two U.S. Senate seats.

The bill, HB 531, filed by GOP state Rep. Barry Fleming was introduced directly into the Georgia House’s Special Committee on Election Integrity on Thursday, and the text of the bill was made available about an hour before a hearing.

Many of the changes in the bill would predominantly affect larger, minority-heavy Democratic strongholds of the state, constituencies that helped President Biden narrowly defeat former President Donald Trump in the state last November, then boosted Democratic Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in Georgia’s January runoff elections. In recent months, many Republicans at the local, state and federal level have pushed false claims of election fraud, and lawmakers in Georgia have vowed to change laws in response.

Part of the bill would provide “uniformity” to the three-week early voting period, Fleming said, requiring all counties to hold early voting from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for three weeks before the election, plus a mandatory 9-to-5 period of voting the second Saturday before the election. It would allow counties to extend hours to 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., but would prohibit counties from holding early voting any other days — including Sunday voting popular in larger metro counties and a day of traditionally high turnout for Black voters through “souls to the polls” voter mobilization events.

Like other bills making their way through the GOP-controlled legislature, there would be a new photo ID requirement for absentee ballots. The bill would require voters to include their driver’s license number, state ID number or a copy of an acceptable form of photo ID. The driver’s license number or state ID number is already required for a new online request portal for Georgia voters, and photo ID is required to vote in person.

But the proposal would also shrink the window for Georgia voters to request an absentee ballot and limit the timeline for county officials to mail them out. No absentee ballot could be requested earlier than 11 weeks before an election or later than two Fridays before the election, and absentee ballots would not be sent out by mail until four weeks before day of the election.

The bill aims to restrict the location of secure drop boxes in the state to early voting sites and would limit the use of those drop boxes to just the days and times when early voting takes place. Another section would ban county elections offices from directly accepting outside funding for elections, after the Center for Tech and Civic Life and the Schwarzenegger Institute gave tens of millions of dollars to counties across Georgia to run the November and January elections in the midst of the pandemic.

One section appears to target mobile voting buses in Fulton County, which includes part of Atlanta. They were used during early voting to provide several pop-up polling locations in the Atlanta area under a recent Georgia law that allows early voting sites to be held at any location that is an Election Day polling place.

Some changes would give county elections workers more flexibility and greater staffing for polling locations, such as a tweak that would allow poll workers to operate sites in adjoining counties instead of just the county of their residence. Another would allow officials leeway in the requirement of voting equipment for typically lower-turnout primaries and runoffs. However, the deadline for results to be counted and certified would move up four days sooner to the Monday after the election.

Fleming’s bill revives a measure supported by Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger last year that would require precincts with over 2,000 voters and waiting times over one hour to add more workers, more machines or split the precinct.

Democratic state Rep. Rhonda Burnough expressed concern that Democrats did not have any input into the 48-page measure, as well as the quick timing of the bill.

“The public, people of color, they didn’t have opportunity to review or to give an opinion and there’s a lot of information in here that needs to be digested and looked at,” she said. “I think if we’re trying to really work towards restoring confidence that we should be working towards improving everything based on suggestions from the entire state of Georgia, not just us down here in the General Assembly.”

There will be more hearings on the bill in the coming days before it’s potentially sent to the floor of the Georgia House.

Republican senator who voted to convict Trump was not sent to DC to ‘do the right thing’, his party complains

Independent

Republican senator who voted to convict Trump was not sent to DC to ‘do the right thing’, his party complains

Gustaf Kilander                                  February 16, 2021
Senator Pat Toomey walks through the Senate subway after the end of Mr Trump’s second impeachment trial on February 13, 2021. (Getty Images)
Senator Pat Toomey walks through the Senate subway after the end of Mr. Trump’s second impeachment trial on February 13, 2021. (Getty Images)

 

A Republican senator who voted to convict Donald Trump in his impeachment trial was not sent to Washington to “do the right thing”, the GOP chair of one county in his state has said.

Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey was one of seven Republicans who voted with all 50 Democrats on Saturday to convict the former president of incitement following the lethal insurrection at the US Capitol on 6January, when a mob of Trump supporters tried to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory.

Those Republican senators are now facing blowback from their parties back home.

Speaking to KDTV, Washington County Republican Party chair Dave Ball said: “We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do the right thing, whatever he said he was doing. We sent him there to represent us, and we feel very strongly that he did not represent us.”

 

Mr. Toomey was censured by the Washington County GOP, and Mr. Ball said that he didn’t think Mr. Toomey “was straightforward with us”, on his thinking surrounding his looming impeachment vote.

Westmoreland County Republican Party chair Bill Bretz told KDTV that they too are looking to censure Mr. Toomey.

Mr. Bretz said: “We strongly disapprove of his action both to hear the case and the subsequent vote to convict,” adding “This is a matter of magnitude beyond a simple up or down vote on some trade policy or something”.

Allegheny County Republican Party chair Sam DeMarco was worried that censuring retiring senators like Mr. Toomey was focusing too much on the past.

He said: “Every minute that we spend sitting there and fighting among each other and going back and trying to censure somebody who has already announced they’re retiring and are leaving is a moment where we’re not focused on the future.”

He added: “We’re a big tent party. I believe there is room under this tent for people who don’t always agree.”

As county parties censure the senator, the state party chairman Lawrence Tabas has signaled that a meeting will be called to “address and consider actions related to the impeachment vote,” meaning that there’s a movement in the party to censure the Senator on a statewide basis.

The York county GOP passed a resolution on Saturday before Mr. Toomey voted to convict, saying that the county’s Republican Committee “condemns, in the strongest terms, the actions of United States Senator Patrick Joseph Toomey, Jr for his failure to defend the Constitution and the freedoms it guarantees”. The resolution was passed because Mr. Toomey voted to proceed with the trial, something the county GOP considered unconstitutional.

York County GOP chair Jeff Piccola told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the vote was “overwhelming,” and added: “There was no debate. They were cheering when they were voting and when the resolution was being read. It bubbled up from beneath, it wasn’t my idea.”

Mr. Toomey has been part of the GOP’s rightward journey and has supported almost all of Mr. Trump’s policies and nominees but failed what is becoming the most important litmus test within huge swathes of the Republican Party: unwavering support for Donald Trump.

A poll released on Tuesday shows Mr. Trump routing all possible competitors in a hypothetical 2024 GOP primary, with 54 per cent supporting him. His past right-hand man, former Vice President Mike Pence, came in second with 12 per cent.

Mr. Toomey said on Saturday that Mr Trump’s “betrayal of the Constitution and his oath of office required conviction. Had he accepted the outcome of the election, acknowledged defeat, and cooperated with a peaceful transfer, then he’d be celebrated for a lot of the accomplishments that he deserves credit for. Instead, he’ll be remembered throughout history as the president who resorted to non-legal steps to try to hold on to power”.

The vote to convict Mr. Trump was 57 to 43, a majority but short of the 67 senators needed for conviction.

Spare us: After Trump, seven Republican lectures Democrats never need to hear again

Spare us: After Trump, seven Republican lectures Democrats never need to hear again

Jill Lawrence, USA TODAY                          February 17, 2021

 

There’s nothing like a new Democratic administration and a second Trump impeachment trial to clarify where Republicans truly stand on the values and policies they profess to believe. The impeachment verdict, with 86% of GOP senators voting “not guilty,” is the ultimate confirmation of the party’s galactic hypocrisy and the damage it has done.

Democrats have been hoping for years that, as former President Barack Obama put it during the 2012 campaign, “the fever may break.” Instead, the temperature rose higher and higher as Republicans nominated and elected Donald Trump, indulged his corruption, and acquitted him twice.

It’s an understatement to say Republicans have no credibility to lecture Democrats or anyone else. Don’t be fooled in the future when they try to claim superiority on these issues:

►Constitutional originalism. The second impeachment trial crushed that claim like a trash compactor. The House managers used historic precedent, the Framers’ words and the Constitution itself to prove it is constitutional to try an impeached ex-president. That was also the consensus of constitutional lawyers from right to left and, last week, the consensus of a Senate majority. The GOP 86% stuck with their own newfangled, Trump-friendly view of the Constitution as an excuse to vote not guilty. So no more lectures, please, on what the Founders “truly” intended on guns, religion, D.C. statehood or anything else.

Captive to a former leader

►Rule of law. No words are strong enough to express what the Republican Party has allowed Trump to get away with. Inciting a deadly riot at the seat of his own government may be the latest instance, but it was preceded by an astonishing four-year stretch of corruption and potential criminality. When Trump said in January 2016 that “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters,” it was a joke. And yet, here we are: His base loves him more than ever, and captive Republicans — who have racked up their own astonishing four-year stretch of failing to hold Trump accountable — are continuing in that vein even though he’s gone.

►Abuse of power. There can be no worse abuse of power than inciting an insurrection against the government you lead. It makes all Trump’s other abuses seem forgettable, even though each one was outrageous, from turning the White House into a convention prop and backdrop to grabbing money Congress appropriated for military construction projects and using it for his border wall. Remember that conservatives attacked Barack Obama’s supposedly “imperial presidency” for years. Remember all of this as Republicans complain (already) about President Joe Biden’s executive orders as overreach.

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces storm the US Capitol in Washington D.C on January 6, 2021.
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces storm the US Capitol in Washington D.C on January 6, 2021.

►Blue Lives Matter. You don’t often see someone using an American flag to attack a police officer, but a Trump supporter did that on Jan. 6, 2021. And video of that day, shown at the impeachment trial, may have set a record for F-words on daytime TV as Trump supporters repeatedly shouted it at police trying to protect the building. Republican “caring” about cops apparently doesn’t extend to making Trump say he’s sorry for inciting the Capitol attack and failing to stop it, or making him pay in some way for the deaths and despair it caused.

►True patriotism. The insurrection and Trump’s acquittal destroyed the mythology of conservative patriotism. Real patriotism means loving what makes America special: its diversity, its opportunity, its role in the world, and a history of peaceful transfers of power that lasted from the founding until Jan. 6, 2021. It means flag waving, not U.S. flags as weapons. It means never, ever countenancing racism or Confederate flags or violence or death threats masquerading as a new American Revolution. It means punishing a president who does countenance all that, and who told the lies to start it — not letting him off on a technicality because you fear a primary challenge.

Nothing left to pontificate about

►Value of human life. Republicans are pro-life when it comes to the unborn, because they cannot speak for themselves. But the dead of the Capitol attack can’t speak for themselves (nor can those who died in the tragically mismanaged coronavirus pandemic or because Trump and Republicans cut people off Medicaid or failed to expand it, but I digress). Where was the determination to insist on accountability for the inciter in chief, whose words and actions led to the violence? And what was “pro-life” about Republicans refusing to wear masks as they hid from the Trump supporters storming the Capitol? At least three Democrats who sheltered with them contracted covid.

►The party of Everyman. “We are a working class party now,” Sen. Josh Hawley tweeted on Election Night last year. But when Biden won, the “populist” Ivy League senator quickly turned to purveying the “populist” Ivy League president’s “stolen election” lie, which involved trying to rob millions of working-class voters of their legally cast votes and culminated in the Capitol siege. Trust but verify, as Ronald Reagan used to say. And look at who cleaned up during the Trump administration, starting with that well known working-class couple, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.

It might have been easier to list what Republicans are still qualified to pontificate on. Why the federal deficit is a huge, huge problem? Hmmm. Never mind.

With this impeachment travesty, are they finally at rock bottom? Probably not. Trump has left plenty of acolytes to carry on the competition for new lows.

Jill Lawrence is the commentary editor of USA TODAY and author of “The Art of the Political Deal: How Congress Beat the Odds and Broke Through Gridlock.