The Lights Came On in Georgia for Congressional Race

Ossoff marching next to Rep. John Lewis

New Orleans     Jon Ossoff, a 30-year old documentary filmmaker in Georgia and a former Congressional aide, took a run at winning an election in a suburban Atlanta district so conservative that it had not sent a Democrat to Congress since the days Jimmy Carter, 40 years ago. Ossoff was running as a Democrat to replace arch-conservative Congressman Tom Price, who is wrecking his special brand of havoc in Washington as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. In the heavily funded and much watched primary as one of the early barometers of voters’ feelings about President Trump, Ossoff narrowly missed winning the election without a runoff, polling more than 46% against a field of Republicans and now headed for a runoff.

Certainly, Ossoff’s victory is not assured in June in the runoff, but there is no doubt that this race, as well as a better than expected showing recently in a rock ribbed district in Kansas, narrowly won by a Republican, means that the lights have come on in Georgia, the White House, and everywhere else that Republican strategists and pollsters are burning the midnight oil trying to figure out what these early races could portend for continuing one-party control of Congress and the already tenuous Trump presidency. If nothing else, we are already seeing a financial arms race at work as Republican donors are having to recalculate the likely cost of defending what have been crimson solid Republican-base districts. Ossoff attracted more than $3 million dollars for his campaign, many multiples over the Republican field, but reportedly Republicans have also been forced to dig deep to stay in the battle.

Are these early elections really barometers of opinion on Trump and his presidency? Yes and no. Off-year special elections are always more local than national with their own set of issues, so the results are not definitively about Trump. Saying that doesn’t change the fact that the White House and the Republican Party can’t be happy about any of this. The candidates are first time neophytes and they are running against Trump hard and polling with unexpected strength which will embolden others, including more seasoned political warriors. Furthermore, the lessons for incumbents watching these early contests doesn’t lead any of them to a conclusion that Trump has coattails that will help them win reelection in 2018 or that a warm embrace of the President is part of the path to power now. If there is no such thing as a safe harbor district, then the rats will be jumping off the ship in increasing numbers, and no matter what bragging might be done by the President, the American people will have trouble hearing him while staring at the huge L increasingly being tattooed on his forehead.

At the point that Trump and his people can’t win for losing, it’s all over but the shouting.

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Trump’s Taxes Trip Up His Tax Reform

New Orleans    A reported number of 100,000 hit the streets in various cities, not to celebrate Easter, but to continue to demand on the eve of the US tax deadline that President Trump release his tax returns. The President was golfing and preparing for the annual Easter Egg Hunt on the White House lawn, so was nonplused about these latest rallies.

On the other hand, in a rich irony, a steady stream of Republican Congressional representatives are now joining the Democrats in calling for Trump to release his returns as well. Many in Congress are unprepared now to move forward on Trump’s much vaunted campaign promise to achieve significant tax reform until they see Trump’s own returns to make sure that the President and his family are not going to personally benefit from any tax reform proposals. Talk about being hoisted by your own petard!

These are not trivial matters obviously. There is always the risk of a massive giveaway to the rich, because that has been pretty much standard procedure for many tax issues in recent years, and of course whether Trump is just a millionaire or a billionaire, if there’s a giveaway, he would certainly be in line. More tellingly, a number of the proposals being floated out there, including one that would collect an extra billion dollars in revenue would mean eliminating one of the real estate developers favorites which allows them to deduct the price of interest on debt from their taxes, and god knows, Trump the developer loved debt and that deduction. Some of the sticklers in Congress are saying they have to see Trump’s taxes to make sure they are not lining his pockets, which would be hard to explain to voters around the country.

The additional irony in the land of dysfunction that has typified the first 100 days of Trump time is that there still is no tax reform proposal for all the talk and promises. The Ryan plan which would have larded on an export tax at the border, also helping pay for the wall, has come under fire from a host of businesses and the deep-pocketed Koch brothers who have mobilized their troops against any such notion. Trump has also flip flopped back and forth in fits and starts about trying to resuscitate his healthcare mess because of some tax implications they would have achieved by taking away peoples’ insurance.

The bottom line seems to be that there is no tax reform proposal that has jelled sufficiently on the right or left, leaving him once again without a winning coalition or a coalition at all that could win passage. Trump is stuck. Polls are clear that the American people want to see his returns, but it’s not a life or death issue for them. He wants to keep his business on the down low but can’t move without a plan and a dose of transparency. This guy can’t seem to win for losing and tripping over his own tie.

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Corporate Takeover of Government Means Trouble for All of Us

New Orleans    The one thing that President Trump has proven thus far is that there is nothing about running a family business that qualifies anyone to believe that they have learned how to manage the government. Any thoughtful person would have to have now realized that the loud and long-winded call for government to be run like a business has now been permanently discredited.

The scariest part of this horror continues to be the corporate takeover of government in the wake of the dysfunctional White House. Lobbyists by the score are moving in kit and caboodle to take over the posts of people they previously were paid to lobby. The Trump waiver of the two year bar from employment at an agency where a lobbyist had been involved means that the turnstile is swinging wide for lobbyist infiltrations. Foxes by the score have come in to watch the chicken coups transferring their payroll from their corporate paymasters to the taxpayers.

Corporate takeovers work best in secret and the Trump White House has moved hard against transparency. The contract with the web company that furnished data on employment and financial disclosures as well as the log of White House visitors has been cancelled. In the future, the public will have no idea who goes in and out and what access or conflicts of interest they might have or that the Trump family might have with them.   All of this is foreboding and depressing as the United States takes on the trappings of developing country run by a kleptocracy.

Work at the department and agency level is stalled by the unfilled vacancies, allowing the operators to flourish in the vacuum. Outside of the glare in places like the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), it is easy to see the devastation. Immediate rollbacks of Obama Administration signature consumer protections on privacy from the telecommunications went out the window quickly. Threats to net neutrality and the protection of the internet as virtually a public utility are an immediate target to favor legacy telecoms once again.

The pattern seems duplicated from agency to agency as the corporate takeover from companies large and small accelerates behind the fog machine of Trump flip flops and White House daily drama. Battles on so many fronts are impossible for the public to follow or progressives to effectively engage, so such efforts seem diffuse and coalitions uncertain.

No one should make the mistake of watching the Trump polling numbers or his confusion and feeling like we’re winning. All of that is nothing but a stagecraft distraction allowing the corporate takeover to continue behind the curtains.

We’re in huge trouble.

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Breitbart’s Bannon, More Proof that What Goes Around, Comes Around?

Bannon with Breitbart Crew

Little Rock   I don’t want to speak too soon, because I don’t want to put my dirty mouth on it, but as depressing as it has been to read the Stephen Bannon fan mail in the media since the election, it has been equally exhilarating to follow his comet’s rapid descent to hard ground. I don’t want to jinx this. He’s still in the West Wing of the White House, and he’s still carrying the title of strategic advisor to the president or some such, but it’s safe to say he’s currently taking a huge beating, including straight up slap downs from President Trump himself. No matter what ends up happening, how sweet it is this minute.

If nothing else all of the big whoops are finally getting some understanding about what it’s like over there at Breitbart and what’s it’s like to be on the receiving end of crazy-ville. When Andrew Breitbart was still alive, you could spend a minute speculating how much he personally believed all of his own site’s garbage spewing. He had been an early player in the Huffington Post startup, so the many cynical bones in my body could wonder if he simply saw an open niche he now had the ability to fill on the right, and went for it for the bucks and theater of it all. The more that comes out on scrutiny of Bannon, there’s no question here whatsoever. He lives in the darkness and embraces the night.

And, there’s some really creeping critters in his night it turns out. A recent story talked about how he is a huge fan of the discredited notion that history runs in 80-year cycles, and we are coming to the downside of one of those cycles. It’s a knocking on the door of the apocalypse notion that fits snugly with his chokehold on the necessity of disruption and chaos as an operating principle. He sees himself as a “Game of Thrones” character and “winter is coming.” Whether the President gets the message or just sees the storm clouds, I wouldn’t say, but clearly the fact that the new team at the National Security Council cashiered him off of the committee is worth at least one sigh of relief from the rest of us.

Bannon is made for the late night, afterhours show, not prime time. No matter what any of us think of Trump, we know for darned sure that he is never someone who likes wiping egg off of his face every day, and Bannon has been hurling them at him. First there was the divisive inaugural rant, roundly condemned everywhere. Then there was the visa fiasco that unraveled the Muslim ban for the president, making millions the face of his abuse.

As one of my organizers always says, “you gotta learn.” In Bannon’s case, he seems incapable. Trump only knows one thing well: how to run a family business. He still thinks the White House and the Presidency is just another huge division of his family’s business. Now Bannon has managed to get sideways with son-in-law, Jared, and alienate daughter, Ivanka. A lot of what Bannon believes and has done is just plain crazy, but not knowing that Trump is always going to default to family and getting crosswise with that foundational principle is just stupid.

The clock is ticking on Bannon. He’s probably debating how to save face now. The power in his job seems already gone.

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White House and Rightwing Creating a Red State Healthcare Kill Zone

Pittsburgh   When someone is elected president, they used to actually believe the words their speechwriters would scribble on the line that they were the president of all of the people in America. It is becoming clearer under the Trump Administration that even though he and the White House might parrot those words, they clearly no longer believe them at all. The problem probably starts with the fact that when you are elected by the states through the weirdness of the archaic pro-slavery roots of the Electoral College, rather than the majority of the actual voters, as was the case for Trump, then you may easily slide to the incorrect understanding that you mandate is in the states.

Looking at the wrongheaded, feeble, and gutless concessions that the White House is offering to the Freedom Caucus, the 30-odd member secret cabal in the House of Representatives, it is hard to escape this theme that the President no long believes we are one united government with a national vision and program, but a patchwork quilt of states doing their own thing. What is really confusing to me though is why he would be willing to make his red state base a killing zone of his supporters.

The lead balloon floated to the Freedom Caucus by Vice-President Pence and Trump’s chief of staff would give states the ability to waive the crucial life and death protections that were part of the fabric of a national healthcare plan. According to the New York Times,

According to the so-called Freedom Caucus the White House is pitching a healthcare evisceration that would involve the following: States would have the option to jettison two major parts of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance regulations. They could decide to opt out of provisions that require insurers to cover a standard, minimum package of benefits, known as the essential health benefits. And they could decide to do away with a rule that requires insurance companies to charge the same price to everyone who is the same age, a provision called community rating.

Yes, you get it. The President’s offer to the cabal was that the full force and strength of the United States government would allow the far right and their allies and supporters in the states to eviscerate any semblance of health care coverage to allow insurance companies, soon to be their largest campaign contributors, to do whatever they want to whomever can’t pay the price. So, gone would be the bar against not insuring people with preexisting conditions, if they state said so be it. Gone would go the basic protections. Gone would be bars against pricing discrimination, and who knows what might be left. Once the White House says that they are going to greenlight any crazy waiver that comes their way, and leave that state’s people on bleeding and dying on the emergency room floor, then who knows what might go next.

Were this gutting of healthcare to proceed, it’s not really just about red states and blue states, but mainly about rich and poor. Besides this healthcare proposal being a huge giveaway to the rich on tax breaks, it would also further divide rich and poor based on their ability to pay the insurance piper whatever price they set as they establish the divide between their profit and loss as the same as the divide between life and death based on your wallet size.

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Bannon and Conway: Part of a Movement, Just Not Ours!

New Orleans   I’ve come to a conclusion that has been obvious in many ways, but I was refusing to recognize it probably because I was still in denial at some level. Unbelievably, I, along with probably a gazillion others, have been waiting for the evil axis of Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway to explode and disappear, caught in the vortex of one mind thumping disaster after another, victims of their own self-delusion and President Trump’s mercurial impatience and narcissism. I’ve finally realized that’s not going to happen, because they are walled in behind the embrace and ideology of a movement which ensconces them totally, allowing them to perfectly rationalize every sting and arrow of outrageous fortune as simply “haters,” as Conway calls them and a broad “opposition party,” as Bannon has referred to the press.

I get it now. Part of the prerequisite for working within movements and organizations dedicated and determined to win change is a relentless conviction of the rightness of your cause, the expectation of constant attack, and the resilient ability to bounce back and continue on course no matter what obstacles and arguments are thrown in your path. I’ve been there and done that. In the middle of such operations you always have to work hard to keep some doors and windows open to the outside or you’re caught in a tactical and strategic jail cell of your own making. What finally slapped me awake to recognize my own mirror was reading a long piece by Molly Ball in a recent issue of The Atlantic which took Kellyanne Conway as it’s subject with extensive quotes from Stephen Bannon, working as her cheerleader.

Let me share the clues:

Stephen Bannon says, “Remember, Kellyanne was not a mainstream pollster. She had every marginal act out there, Social issues, security moms, immigration – she was a movement-conservative pollster.”

Bannon told me [Molly Ball] Sean Trende’s “missing whites” theory and Conway’s polling on immigration formed the “intellectual infrastructure” of 2016’s populist revolt. He added that Conway was part of a “cabal” he had started to build with Jeff Sessions and Sessions’s then aide Stephen Miller, who is now a senior White House police adviser. “This is her central thing,” he said, “the reason I got to know her.”

The idea that she was merely a spokeswoman rather than a true campaign manager misses the point, Bannon said: Communications was everything to Trump…”No offense, this wasn’t the Bush campaign.”

“She can stand in the breach and take incoming all day long,” Steve Bannon…told me [Molly Ball]. That’s something you can’t coach.” She’s figured out that she doesn’t need to win the argument. All she has to do is craft a semi-plausible (if not entirely coherent) counternarrative, so that those who don’t want to look past the façade of Trump’s Potemkin village don’t have to.

Anyway, she [Kellyanne Conway] contended, nobody cared about “alternative facts” except the elite, out-of-touch intelligentsia who spend all day winding one another up in the echo chamber of Twitter and cable news. “It was haters talking to each other and it was the media.”

Quoting Jason Miller, a Trump campaign and transition team member, “One thing people don’t quite get is that she is a living, breathing folk hero for millions of people around the country.”

Need I say more? You get it right? In their movement they have created their own closed circuit channel where they are only interested in talking to the base for their revolution and only – at least for now – really communicating to their people where both of them are heroes in their own parade. The problem for their movement, like every movement, is that you at least have to neutralize the opposition to win, not simply discount and ignore them, and to the degree their movement depends on one leader, Donald Trump, they face the same risk as any charismatic movement faces, especially if the patience and support of the public continues to wane.

Until that happens, in the rush and adrenaline of their moment, the rest is all just water off a duck’s back, and haters going hoarse who they don’t hear, who are just spitting in the wind.

***

Please enjoy Ani DiFranco’s Play God.

Thanks to KABF.

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