DC Report

Manchin and Sinema are ‘unlikely’ to get in the way of a Biden Supreme Court nominee: reporter

Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both centrist Democrats, have been a major thorn in the side of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda — drawing vehement criticism from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party for getting in the way of everything from the Build Back Better Act to voting rights. But one area in which Manchin and Sinema are “unlikely” to be an obstacle for Biden, according to The Hill reporter Alexander Bolton, is a U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

A Supreme Court bombshell came on Wednesday, January 26 when the news broke that liberal Justice Stephen Breyer, now 83, is retiring. Breyer has been on the High Court since 1994, when he was nominated by President Bill Clinton and replaced Justice Harry Blackmun — a Republican who President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed to the Warren Court in 1959.

A Biden nominee to replace Breyer won’t be a major game changer, as six of the nine justices will still be appointees of Republican presidents. But if Biden’s nominee is young enough, that person could still keep that seat in liberal hands for the next 20, 25 or 30 years. One person being mentioned as a possible Biden nominee is D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, a 51-year-old Gen-Xer.

“The retirement of liberal Justice Stephen Breyer sets up a battle in the Senate that is almost certain to result in the confirmation of President Biden’s pick to succeed him,” Bolton reports in an article published by The Hill on January 27. “At the same time, there’s likely to be some drama along the way, and many eyes will be on the centrist Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.VA.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), who have impeded Biden and frustrated fellow Senate Democrats by blocking key parts of the president’s agenda.”

Bolton adds, however, that “Manchin and Sinema have backed judicial nominees from Biden and seem unlikely to stand in the way of a Biden pick for the Court — an appointment that will not change the balance of a body that now has six conservative justices.”

It remains to be seen whether or not Jackson will be Biden’s High Court nominee. But Jackson, Bolton notes, had no problem being confirmed by the Senate to her current D.C. Circuit Court position in June 2021 — and she even got some GOP votes.

Bolton recalls, “Manchin and Sinema joined the rest of their Democratic colleagues in backing her confirmation to the D.C. Circuit in a 53-44 in June. Three Republicans also voted to confirm: Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) and Lindsey Graham (SC).”

Graham has spoken out about Breyer’s retirement, and the conservative South Carolina senator doesn’t see Manchin or Sinema opposing a Biden nominee. On January 26, Graham tweeted, “As to his replacement: If all Democrats hang together — which I expect they will — they have the power to replace Justice Breyer in 2022 without one Republican vote in support. Elections have consequences, and that is most evident when it comes to fulfilling vacancies on the Supreme Court.”

Biden has said that he will nominate a Black woman to the Supreme Court, and Jackson is African-American. Bolton, however, points out that she isn’t the only person being mentioned as a possible nominee.

“Biden’s Supreme Court shortlist also includes 7th Circuit judge Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, 2nd Circuit Judge Eunice Lee, California Supreme Court Justice Leondra Kruger, Federal Circuit Judge Tiffany Cunningham, South Carolina District Judge J. Michelle Childs and Minnesota District Judge Wilhelmina Wright,” Bolton reports. “Judges Brown Jackson, Jackson-Akiwumi, Eunice Lee and Cunningham all have the advantage of having been confirmed to their current positions in this Congress, and all 50 members of the Democratic caucus are already on the record supporting them as qualified nominees. Jackson-Akiwumi was confirmed to the 7th Circuit by a 53-47 vote in June and also had the support of Collins, Murkowski and Graham.”

Arizona journalist explains why Ruben Gallego could become Kyrsten Sinema’s biggest 'headache'

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona once again infuriated the liberal/progressive wing of the Democratic Party when she not only restated her opposition to ending the filibuster, but also, made it abundantly clear that she even opposes creating a filibuster exception for voting rights bills. Some progressive Democrats are calling for a primary challenge to Sinema in 2024, and the liberal they have in mind is Rep. Ruben Gallego.

But if Gallego defeats Sinema in a Democratic primary, could he win a statewide race in Arizona? Journalist Laurie Roberts grapples with that question in an op-ed published by the Arizona Republic on January 21.

Arizona’s political landscape has changed considerably from what it was 30 or 40 years ago. Once deeply Republican, Arizona was closely identified with conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater and later, Sen. John McCain — who considered himself a “Goldwater conservative” or “Goldwater Republican.” But Arizona has evolved into a swing state. While Gov. Doug Ducey is a conservative Republican, Arizona now has two Democratic U.S. senators (Sinema and Sen. Mark Kelly) and favored Democrat Joe Biden over Republican Donald Trump in 2020’s presidential election.

But here’s the thing: Sinema, Biden and Kelly are all centrists. So is Democratic ex- Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano. There is no example of a true liberal or progressive winning a statewide race in Arizona in recent years. And while Sinema is wildly unpopular with progressives, independents and Never Trump conservatives have a much more favorable opinion of her. GOP activist and Trump critic Meghan McCain, who is Sen. McCain’s daughter and a former co-host of ABC’s “The View,” is an ardent Sinema cheerleader. And the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial board vigorously defended Sinema as “principled” in an editorial published on January 23.

In 2021, McCain warned, “If (Manchin and Sinema) are out, a Democrat’s not coming in. A Republican is.”

Roberts observes, “Liberals are furious with (Sinema’s) refusal to vote to suspend the filibuster so the voting rights bill she supports could pass on a party-line vote. In the past, their fury hasn’t mattered. It was either Sinema’s way or the Republican highway. Democrats didn’t have a viable Plan B. Until now, perhaps.”

The “Plan B” that Roberts is referring to is Gallego.

“Rep. Ruben Gallego was all set to run for the Senate in 2020 until old-school party leaders waved him off, calculating wisely that the more moderate Mark Kelly stood a better chance of winning,” Roberts explains. “He did. But like Sinema, he didn’t beat McSally, in her second run for the Senate, by much. Gallego’s been grumbling all week about Sinema’s disloyalty, telling CNN that ‘more than one’ Senate Democrat has approached him about challenging her in a primary.”

Roberts believes that if Gallego challenged Sinema in a Democratic primary in 2024, he would win. But the general election, Roberts stresses, could be a much heavier lift for the liberal congressman.

“Gallego could beat Sinema in a primary,” Robert says with confidence. “Probably, at this point, Krusty the Clown could beat Sinema in a Democratic primary. Gallego has a great story, and he’s a rising star on the left. The question is: Could he win the general election? Two years ago, no way. But two years from now? That’s the calculation Democrats need to make.”

How well Gallego would perform against a Republican in 2024’s general election, according to Roberts, would depend on how crazy that GOP nominee is.

“If Republicans regain their sanity in the next two years and put up a candidate with broad appeal,” Roberts argues, “Gallego would have a hard time pulling out a win. Democrats would have no choice but to stick with Sinema or risk losing the seat altogether. If, however, Republicans continue their bizarre obsession with Donald Trump and nominate, as Arizona Mirror’s Jim Small put it, ‘a Big Lie-spouting, pandemic-downplaying, misinformation-peddling Republican?’”

Roberts continues, “If state GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward is the nominee, hoping the third time’s the charm, or someone like her? Gallego’s fortunes would dramatically improve. And since, at this point, there appear to be precious few Republicans outside of Team MAGA who could win a Republican primary — well, you can see why Sinema might be feeling a headache coming on.”

Biden pursues Trump plan that creates big profits by denying health care

In 2020, the Trump administration launched a plan to hand traditional Medicare over to Wall Street. Inexplicably, the Biden administration is playing along.

The overwhelming evidence demonstrates that the plan will drive up healthcare costs, inhibiting people from getting needed care.

So-called Direct Contracting Entities, DCEs, must pay for the care of the people assigned to them.

Here’s the sweet part for Wall Street: In addition to the normal profits from providing services, these firms can keep as much as 40 percent of the money they don’t spend on care.Talk about a financial incentive to deny treatments.

President Joe Biden won in part because of his commitment to science and data. Yet politics, so far, has gotten in the way of cost-effective health care. The Biden administration is forcing our nation’s elderly into a new form of Medicare Advantage plans, against their will and generally without their knowledge or consent.

In addition, a new safe harbor rule lets DCEs owned by the same investors shuffle money between them without risking civil or criminal penalties for paying kickbacks. That’s the kind of system that makes profiteering easy.

In phase one of this healthcare experiment, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, CMS, pays 53 DCEs. They receive a fixed amount of money to cover care for each traditional Medicare enrollee whose primary care doctor signs up with that DCE. The government already auto-assigned hundreds of thousands of people to DCEs.

Since people on Medicare did not sign up for this, they likely do not know or understand what’s in store. Yes, they should have received written notice of their new status. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, CMS, treats the change as if it does not affect the quality of care provided to these older and disabled people.

Hiding a Right

Astonishingly, CMS does not require DCEs to tell people that they have the right to opt out, let alone alert them that there is good reason to do so.

Anyone enrolled in a DCE should worry that their primary care doctors will limit their access t costly necessary care. The DCEs are likely paying these doctors more to keep patients away from specialty care or providing them with guidance to delay and withhold care. We have seen this profit-maximizing approach before and it isn’t pretty.

With Medicare Advantage, which corporate health insurers administer, the Office of the Inspector General found widespread and persistent inappropriate delays and denials of care and coverage.

The Biden administration continues to mislead people about Medicare Advantage or Part C of Medicare with information claiming it offers people more than traditional Medicare without explaining its risks, including considerable financial and administrative barriers to care.

Conflicts of Interest Abound

These business models mean that providing quality health care and abiding by their legal obligations is at odds with profiting handsomely, reports by government agencies and independent researchers have shown again and again.

Private equity firms and corporations that own or operate dialysis centers, hospice programs, long-term care programs and even dermatology practices put their own interests first, to the detriment of their patients, government watchdogs found.

Similarly, the DCEs can deliver more for their investors when they avoid paying for costly care.

How can they do that? Unlike other wealthy countries and large employers in the United States, our government pays a flat fee per person to insurers regardless of the amount they spend on care. Unlike other wealthy countries, our government does not dictate the terms for providing care. Instead, our government lets DCEs decide when to cover care and to do so without accountability. The DCEs don’t even have to make public their coverage policies.

Covering Medicare benefits, which DCEs must do, is very different from providing people with the medically necessary services and treatments they need.

For example, as far as a DCE is concerned, three physical therapy visits might be all that is medically necessary after a hip replacement, even though many more are needed. Likewise, a DCE may decide a plain old X-ray will suffice when the treating physician has determined that an MRI is required.

What Wall Street Loves

Why would the Biden administration want to give corporations control over the health care of the most vulnerable Americans?

Wall Street loves it. And the Trump administration, which promised to drain the swamp and stop Wall Street predations, instead turned Washington into a prosperous paradise for the worst Wall Street predators.

This move away from quality healthcare service to profit-oriented denials of care is worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year in taxpayer money flowing to private industry.

The CMS description of the program shows how much it is directed at Wall Street, not to the quality of care.

The DCE approach “draws upon private sector approaches to risk-sharing arrangements and payment with reduced administrative burden commensurate with the level of downside risk.

“The risk-sharing options… also includes a reduced set of quality measures that focuses more on outcomes and beneficiary experience than on process.

“By providing flexible options with regard to, for example, risk-sharing arrangements, financial protections, and benefit enhancements” they are expected to be attractive to people with Medicare but also to “organizations that have experience with risk-based contracts.” That’s a euphemistic way to refer to the DCEs financed by Wall Street.

That description, interestingly, is contained in an announcement about a new rule that effectively exempts related DCEs from civil and criminal liability for paying kickbacks so long as they pay in accord with the new rule.

If that sounds like a license to loot the Treasury, it’s because that is precisely what it can and likely will become.

Basically, one DCE can make payments to a brother or sister entity, which can become a way for these related businesses to keep more of the money taxpayers pay them.

President Joe Biden won in part because of his commitment to science and data. Yet politics, so far, has gotten in the way of cost-effective health care.

Consequently, the Biden administration is forcing our nation’s elderly into DCEs, essentially a new form of Medicare Advantage plans, against their will and generally without their knowledge or consent.

These private business dis-Advantage plans are a far less cost-effective, quality-questionable arm of Medicare.

Pilot Program Metastasizes

Direct contracting is supposed to be a pilot program, yet Medicare has no plans to limit the number of people it enrolls in these new plans. Instead, Medicare has announced plans to enroll 100% of traditional Medicare members into DCE-like programs by 2030.

This massive handover appears to violate the limited authority that Congress granted to conduct an experiment. Without any Congressional oversight, CMS is moving all people on Medicare into these private business plans by the Orwellian redefining of its direct contracting authority with providers and suppliers.

Through the Medicare Innovation Center, Congress gave CMS authority to test new models for paying for care provided that they neither increase costs nor undermine quality.

Our Congress did not authorize models that are known to be more costly, that are subject to large-scale inappropriate denials of care or to systems that involve private insurers and investors as intermediaries with complete control over people’s care.

Our Congress did not authorize the wholesale overhaul of traditional Medicare, so why is this happening?

The Biden administration should be held to account immediately and pressured to halt this dangerous and costly Medicare transformation. And members of Congress, especially on the committees that oversee Medicare, need to hold public hearings where people denied care would testify to their experiences.

How Democrats may have blown their chance to seriously dominate US politics after the Jan. 6 insurrection

After the January 6, 2021 insurrection, some pundits were predicting the death of the MAGA movement. But that didn’t happen; the GOP has only grown more extreme, more Trumpified and more authoritarian, declaring that even arch-conservative Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming isn’t right-wing enough. President Joe Biden, meanwhile, continues to suffer from weak approval ratings, and Republicans have a very good chance of recapturing both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate in the 2022 midterms.

Liam Kerr, in an article published by the conservative website The Bulwark on January 7, argues that after the Capitol insurrection, Democrats had a golden opportunity to seriously crush the MAGA movement — and they blew it. Kerr is a co-founder of The Welcome Party, an organization that believes an alliance of independents, centrist Democrats, swing voters and Never Trump conservatives is the key to defeating Trumpist extremism.

“It’s hard to overstate just how significant an opportunity January 6 initially represented for Democrats,” Kerr writes. “Donald Trump’s anti-democratic movement had, in violent and grotesque fashion, paraded its true colors in front of the nation and the world. In the aftermath of the attacks, the Republican Party shed 12 points in favorability among its own voters while Democrats made a 7-point gain with independents. A disgraced Trump was banned from Twitter and Facebook, his loudest megaphones. Even some of Trump’s most ardent and vocal propagandists from Fox News acknowledged in private that the president had crossed a serious line.”

Kerr continues, “Democrats were handed a chance to win over the middle of the country. Instead, the biggest recruitment story in the aftermath of the insurrection was the far-left trying to recruit candidates to knock off a fellow Democrat.”

The fellow Democrat that Kerr is referring to is Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and the progressives who wanted to primary Manchin as well as Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona were the No Excuses PAC.

“Three weeks after the January 6 insurrection, a high-profile faction on the left launched an aggressive recruitment campaign looking for candidates to primary a vulnerable incumbent,” Kerr explains. “The recruitment target? Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, fresh off casting his vote to impeach President Trump. The recruiting entity? An offshoot of Justice Democrats, the progressive group aligned with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. That’s right: The founders of Justice Democrats went on the offensive against Manchin — immediately after the insurrection — in an attempt to find a more liberal West Virginia Democrat to primary him.”

Kerr adds, “West Virginia is one of the reddest states in the country, making Manchin an electoral miracle; if the group were to be successful in its effort to oust him with a left-wing primary challenger, that challenger would lose to any GOP nominee in the general — meaning that these progressives watched the January 6 attack on democracy and decided that what America needed was one more Republican senator.”

When Biden defeated Trump by more than 7 million votes in the 2020 election, he did so with an anti-MAGA coalition that ranged from liberals and progressives to Never Trump conservatives. Kerr stresses that progressives alone are not going to defeat Trumpism and that Democrats will need the support of centrists, independents and “Red Dog Democrats” (conservatives who voted for Biden) in swing districts.

Kerr writes, “Not all is lost…. There’s Will Rollins, a former aide to Gov. (Arnold) Schwarzenegger, who credits January 6 with his decision to challenge GOP incumbent Ken Calvert — who supported Trump’s attempts to overturn the election. And Ben Samuels, a former advisor to Republican (Massachusetts) Gov. Charlie Baker, who cites the insurrection in his decision to do the same. It’s not enough. But having a couple dynamic former aides to Republicans running as Democrats to knock out authoritarian-abetting GOP incumbents is a good start. More please.”

Retired army general urges the US military to prepare for a possible ‘coup’ attempt in 2024

In a sobering op-ed published by the Washington Post on December 17, three retired U.S. Army generals — Paul D. Eaton, Antonio M. Taguba and Steven M. Anderson — warned that that if Republicans make another coup attempt following the 2024 presidential election, there could be a “potential for lethal chaos inside our military, which would put all Americans at severe risk.” Eaton discussed his worries with National Public Radio’s Mary Louise Kelly in an interview aired in late December.

Kelly reports, “As the anniversary of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol approaches, three retired U.S. generals have warned that another insurrection could occur after the 2024 presidential election, and the military could instigate it.” The retired generals, in their Post op-ed, wrote, “We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time.” And Eaton didn’t sound any less worried when he spoke to Kelly for NPR.

Kelly asked Eaton how a “coup” could “play out in 2024,” to which he responded, “The real question is, does everybody understand who the duly elected president is? If that is not a clear-cut understanding, that can infect the rank and file or at any level in the U.S. military. And we saw it when 124 retired generals and admirals signed a letter contesting the 2020 election. We're concerned about that. And we're interested in seeing mitigating measures applied to make sure that our military is better prepared for a contested election, should that happen in 2024.”

Eaton went on to say that in the military, there is “a lot of war-gaming” in order to prepare for various “scenarios” and “ferret out what might happen.” One possible scenario to be concerned about in 2024, Eaton told Kelly, is “a U.S. military compromised” — and the U.S., according to Eaton, is in trouble when “39% of the Republican Party” is “refusing to accept President Biden as president.”

The retired general told Kelly, “We advocate that that particular scenario needs to be addressed in a future war game held well in advance of 2024…. I just don't want the doubt that has compromised or infected the greater population of the United States to infect our military.”

In addition to “war-gaming” a possible coup attempt in 2024, Eaton recommends that military recruits be thoroughly educated about the U.S. Constitution.

“I had a conversation with somebody about my age, and we were talking about civics lessons, liberal arts education, and the development of the philosophical underpinnings of the U.S. Constitution,” Eaton told Kelly. “And I believe that bears a re-teach to make sure that each and every 18-year-old American truly understands the Constitution of the United States, how we got there, how we developed it and what our forefathers wanted us to understand years down the road. That's an important bit of education that I think that we need to re-address.”

Eaton continued, “I believe that we need to wargame the possibility of a problem and what we are going to do. The fact that we were caught completely unprepared — militarily, and from a policing function — on January 6, is incomprehensible to me. Civilian control of the military is sacrosanct in the U.S., and that is a position that we need to reinforce…. If there is any doubt in the loyalty and the willingness to follow the Oath of the United States, the support and defend part of the U.S. Constitution, then those folks need to be identified and addressed in some capacity.”

Trump’s voter fraud lies enabled a surprising benefit

With voting rights legislation and the Build Back Better Act stalled in the U.S. Senate, some liberals and progressives are complaining that President Joe Biden hasn’t been getting enough done. But journalist S.V. Date, in an article published by HuffPost on December 29, stresses that Biden has been a major success in terms of getting “progressive judges” on the federal bench — and Date argues that former President Donald Trump played a role in Biden’s achievement, even though that wasn’t his intention.

Date explains, “The former president’s sabotage of two Georgia Senate runoffs in early January with his endless lies about ‘massive fraud’ having cost him reelection almost certainly cost the two Republican incumbents their seats, giving Democrats control of the chamber and the ability to push through judicial nominations without a single GOP vote.”

A year ago, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky was still Senate majority leader. But that changed when, in Georgia, Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff were elected to the U.S. Senate — giving Democrats a narrow majority. Trump’s message to GOP voters in Georgia was that since Democrats rigged those Senate races, it was pointless for Republicans to vote. And that message did not serve the GOP well.

Of course, there was nothing “rigged” about those two runoffs. Democrats did a better job getting out the vote in Georgia, whereas Trump’s nonsense claims about widespread voter fraud discouraged Republican turnout.

Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor in Virginia, agrees that Trump’s actions in Georgia ultimately gave Biden a chance to get more federal judges confirmed — something they wouldn’t have been able to do had Republicans maintained control of the U.S. Senate.

“Trump handed it to them,” Tobias told HuffPost. “They just wouldn’t have had the votes. I don’t know what they would have done.”

Date notes that “of the 40 Biden judges confirmed so far — 35 more are already in the pipeline — a full 80% are women.”

“Those nominees would have faced a much tougher path in a Senate run by Mitch McConnell with a 52-48 Republican majority, which appeared as if it would be the outcome in November 2020 after the votes were counted in Georgia with no candidate in either of the two Senate races receiving over 50%,” Date observes.

Tobias said of Biden’s federal judicial nominees, “I think very few of those people would have been confirmed. Biden would have pulled back and.… chosen more moderates, picked more people who were less ideologically liberal.”

HuffPost also interviewed the American Enterprise Institute’s Norm Ornstein, who agrees that had McConnell remained Senate majority leader, Biden would have had a much harder time getting his judicial nominees confirmed.

Ornstein told HuffPost, “If Biden were able to get a half dozen judges through — most likely, only district courts — in a McConnell-led Senate, that would be because Mitch was feeling especially generous. And Mitch does not feel generous.”

Democrats feared a gerrymandering bloodbath — but new analysis finds 'surprisingly' good news for them

Many Democratic strategists and activists have been expressing fears that partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts will give Republicans an unfair advantage in the United States' 2022 midterms. But Data for Progress’ Joel Wertheimer, in an analysis published this week, argues that the redistricting news for Democrats may be better than previously thought.

“Conventional wisdom suggests that, because Republicans control more of the redistricting process than Democrats, they will inexorably benefit from this redistricting cycle,” Wertheimer explains. “But an analysis of each of the 50 states’ specific or expected outcomes leads to the opposite conclusion: when redistricting is finished, more districts in 2022 will be to the left of Joe Biden’s 4.5-point national margin against (Donald) Trump than in 2020, and there is an outside chance that the median seat will be to the left of the nation as a whole.”

Wertheimer adds, however, that his analysis “only looks at whether a seat is to the left or right of Joe Biden’s margin in 2020 and not whether a ‘seat’ is gained or lost in redistricting, as Cook Political does.”

“Given the significantly reduced power of incumbency, the key question for determining power in a given congressional election is the partisan lean of the tipping point congressional district,” Wertheimer notes. “This is also the most relevant small-d democratic concern: in an election that results in a 50.1% to 49.9% split, are the voters in the 50.1% able to elect the Congress of their choosing? Even if Democrats lose power this year, the partisan valence of the map may allow them to regain the House in 2024 — unlike in 2012.”

2010 saw a major red wave, with Republicans retaking the U.S. House of Representatives that year just as they had in 1994. President Barack Obama, who described the 2010 midterms as a “shellacking” for his party, was reelected in 2012. But Republicans held the House that year and regained the U.S. Senate in 2014.

According to Wertheimer, “In the 25 states that have concluded redistricting or are single-member states, and where the maps are not facing state courts that are hostile to the maps, Democrats have improved their standing compared to 2020 — with a net of 16 seats moving to the left of Joe Biden’s +4.5 national margin in 2020.”

This week, the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman also weighed in on the possible effects of redistricting, tweeting:

The American Enterprise Institute's Norman Ornstein, in response, tweeted:

Wasserman noted that, nevertheless, Democrats are quite likely to lose control of the House in 2022. And he argued that the party could've sustained a much stronger advantage through gerrymandering, had fewer Democrat-controlled states opted for non-partisan redistricting commissions.

Wertheimer, in his Data for Progress analysis, poses the question: “Why is the conventional wisdom suggesting that Democrats are doomed this cycle so wrong?” And he goes on to answer it.

“First, analysts are failing to compare to the relevant baseline: the 2011 redistricting cycle,” Wertheimer argues. “In 2011, Republican trifectas or veto-proof majorities controlled the redistricting of 219 seats, whereas Democratic trifectas controlled the redistricting of just 44 seats, with at-large districts, split control, or independent commissions deciding the remainder. This cycle, those numbers are 193 Republican and 94 Democratic seats, due to Democratic consolidation of power in blue states like New York and the introduction of commissions in a number of states…. Second, Democrats have been much more aggressive this cycle, and in particular are unpacking their own seats.”

Wertheimer continues, “Illinois and Oregon gerrymandered much more aggressively for explicitly partisan purposes than Democrats have in the past…. Third, and conversely, Republicans have not used their gerrymandering power as aggressively as Democrats towards a goal of maximizing the overall partisan lean of the national map.”

Merrick Garland needs to end his 'relative silence' about DOJ matters and speak out: legal experts

Eleven months into Joe Biden’s presidency and almost a year after the January 6 insurrection, many critics of former President Donald Trump and his cronies are arguing that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland hasn’t gone after MAGA criminality aggressively enough. Legal experts Quinta Jurecic, Andrew Kent and Benjamin Wittes address that criticism in an article published by Lawfare on December 21.

The article defends Garland, for the most part. But Jurecic, Kent and Wittes agree that Garland needs to speak out a lot more.

“Attorney General Merrick Garland is taking a great deal of criticism these days,” they observe. “He’s being attacked for not having indicted former President Trump, for not having brought cases faster against witnesses who have defied the January 6 committee, and for not having moved more aggressively against political figures for their supposed involvement in the January 6 insurrection. These criticisms speak to genuine frustrations with the slow pace of Department (of Justice) action. They are also based on two flawed assumptions.”

Jurecic, Kent and Wittes continue, “The first is the assumption that the evidence and equities would support prosecutions and, consequently, that the absence of criminal cases reveals weakness or hypercaution on the Justice Department’s part. This may be the case — but it may not…. The second problem is the confusion of what has not happened with what has not happened yet. The Justice Department can be very busy without making a lot of noise. The fact that indictments have not materialized so far does not mean they won’t appear tomorrow — or the day after. But nearly a year into his tenure as attorney general, though much of the criticism of Garland has been unfair or at least premature, the attorney general does have something to answer for: his relative silence.”

READ: This 232-year-old power has never been used by Congress — but it could save the republic

The legal experts go on to say that Garland has cited Edward Levi, who served as U.S. attorney general under President Gerald R. Ford in the mid-1970s, as a role model. Levi, Garland said, “enunciated the norms that would ensure the Department’s adherence to the rule of law.”

“There’s a very good reason the senior Justice Department leadership keeps pointing to Ed Levi as a kind of founding father of the Justice Department they seek to restore,” Jurecic, Kent and Wittes write. “Indeed, we are sympathetic to the Justice Department’s need to revive the norms and practices of apolitical, independent and professional justice that Levi did more than any other single person to create…. Yet Garland seems to be ignoring one crucial aspect of Levi’s legacy: Ed Levi spoke a lot. Garland has been, in sharp contrast, largely invisible.”

Levi, they add, “personally attached great importance to his speeches and testimonies.”

“Despite our sympathy with the challenges facing Garland,” the legal experts write, “his unwillingness to give the public any insight into his thinking seems ripe for criticism. It reflects a decision not to sell a vision — a vision that Garland clearly possesses and embodies — about how decisions should get made when the Department is functioning properly.”

READ: New report says 'evidence is mounting' for a disturbing reason the National Guard failed to act on Jan. 6

Biden White House lays out the ways in which Americans are better off now than under Trump

Although President Joe Biden had decent approval ratings back in the spring, recent polls haven’t been nearly as encouraging for the 79-year-old Scranton native — who, according to Gallup, only enjoyed 43% approval during the first half of December. And Sen. Joe Manchin’s declaration, on Fox News, that he is still a “no” vote on the Build Back Better Act won’t help. Some Democratic strategists have argued that Biden, regardless of BBB, needs to do a much better job of selling his accomplishments — and according to Axios, a year-end memo from the Biden White House to fellow Democrats lays out some things they should be bragging about.

When President Ronald Reagan was seeking reelection in 1984, a prominent theme of his campaign was, “Are you better off now than you were before Reagan’s presidency?” And similarly, the late 2021/almost 2022 Biden White House memo argues that Americans are much better off now under Biden than were when Donald Trump was still president a year ago.

“The White House will send a year-end recap to Democrats on the Hill and allied groups, arguing that Americans are better off after one year of President Biden than when President Trump left office,” Axios Mike Allen reports. “Why it matters: The memo, ‘2021: POTUS Delivered Results for Working Families,’ uses data to frame Biden's Year 1 as a season of accomplishment, despite the collapse of Build Back Better at year's end.”

Allen adds that the memo’s “featured metrics” include “vaccinations, school openings, unemployment, economic growth and child poverty.”

Axios has obtained a copy of a graphic that the Biden White House is including in the memo, and it offers some Biden/Trump contrasts. For example, the graphic reads, “Before President Biden took office: less than 1% of Americans were fully vaccinated. Today, more than 71% of American adults are fully vaccinated.”

The graphic also says, “Before President Biden took office: only 46% of schools were open. Today: 99% of schools are open.”

How much the memo will help Democrats in the 2022 midterms remains to be seen. In the U.S., many presidents have watched their parties suffer major midterms losses — from Reagan in 1982 to Obama in 2010 to President Bill Clinton in 1994. But Reagan, Obama and Clinton were all reelected, whereas Trump — after the blue wave of 2018 — was voted out of office two years later.

How the owners of a 'vital Democratic data firm' are helping elect 'authoritarian far-right' Republicans: report

TargetSmart is a data firm that works with major players in the Democratic Party, from the Democratic National Committee to state democratic parties. According to Mother Jones' David Corn, TargetSmart's owners and founders have another association: extremist far-right Republicans.

Corn reports, "A Mother Jones investigation found that the owners and founders of TargetSmart also own a company that earns millions by helping to elect Republicans, including far-right GOP state legislators who have tried to overturn the 2020 election results, who were involved in the January 6 march on the U.S. Capitol that turned into a seditious riot, and who have been part of the Republican crusade to skew election laws against the Democrats. That is, the parent company of this vital Democratic data firm is profiting by aiding conservative and authoritarian political forces that seek to defeat the Democrats and progressives supported by TargetSmart."

Corn describes TargetSmart as a "for-profit company that few Democratic voters, grassroots activists or cable news junkies have ever head of" but notes that it "provides crucial services to" the DNC and other major players in the Democratic Party.

"The involvement of TargetSmart's owners in electing right-wing Republicans has remained unknown among the political professionals within Democratic and progressive campaign circles," Corn explains. "Informed about this, a former technology specialist for the Democrats says, 'This is not a good look for TargetSmart.'"

Mother Jones also interviewed a union official, who presumably spoke on condition of anonymity and told the publication, "This is pretty damning…. In the world (TargetSmart) occupies, it couldn't be much worse. A lot of Democratic consulting firms do work for corporations that don't always support Democrats or progressives. But to have a sister company working on behalf of Republicans is not good for its standing."

According to Corn, "TargetSmart is owned by a holding company called the TARA Group, which itself is owned by Jeffrey Ferguson and Drew Brighton, two of the four original founders of TargetSmart…. Ferguson spent many years working for Democratic senators and various Democratic Party organizations before TargetSmart was launched in 2006…. The TARA Group also owns three other firms: American Strategies, Real Strategies, and Access Marketing Services…. (Access) says it has been hired for 1028 candidate campaigns — and that includes campaigns that elect Republican office seekers."

Corn also notes that "several of the Arizona Republicans aided by Access Marketing Services championed Trump's Big Lie that he lost the election due to massive fraud. Anthony Kern, who failed in his state representative reelection bid in 2020, has been a Stop the Steal advocate who attended the January 6 riot at the Capitol."

But even thought TargetSmart, according to Corn, has a "direct corporate link to a company aiding Republican candidates," the firm insists that the link doesn't affect the work it does for Democrats.

A TargetSmart spokesperson told Mother Jones, "TargetSmart is separate from and run independently of the other companies controlled by its owners…. TargetSmart's service agreement with clients is very clear: we do not allow our data to be used by any organization that is affiliated with the Republican Party."

TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier spoke to Mother Jones as well, saying, "TargetSmart is proud to be the leading data provider to Democratic parties and progressive organizations. In recent years, TargetSmart has been able to invest roughly $20 million back into the progressive data infrastructure. Historically, many political firms grow in even years and contract in odd years. We're changed the model by building a company that's grown year after year while staying true to our progressive values."

Trump-appointed election commission holdovers accused of delaying campaign finance cases

Holdover Trump election officials are trying to run out the clock on campaign finance cases, including a serious accusation that gun lovers secretly gave Republican leaders millions of dollars.

Charges against the National Rifle Association were leveled by the gun-control group founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, a gunshot victim from Arizona.

The Federal Election Commission generally has five years to act on campaign finance violations. The FEC spent much of the presidential election year of 2020 not even able to meet because it didn't have enough commissioners and has an enormous backlog of cases.

"The court should not allow the FEC to capitalize on its years-long failure to act on these complaints by simply waiting out the clock," wrote the attorneys for Giffords, a nonprofit that sued the FEC in 2019 in federal court.

Trump appointees voted to dismiss a case against former Trump fixer Michael Cohen over his $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels

Trump appointees Sean Cooksey and Trey Trainor voted to dismiss a case against former Trump fixer Michael Cohen over his $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, citing the backlog of cases and the statute of limitations.

Trump appointee Allen Dickerson, Cooksey and Trainor cited the statute of limitations to dismiss a case about allegations filed in 2018 that the son of former Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, was paid to do social media consulting for his father's 2016 campaign.

"We believe the Commission is better served prioritizing other investigations," they wrote.

FEC head Shana Broussard and a commissioner, Ellen Weintraub, both Democrats, also voted to dismiss the case against Heller.

Giffords, founded by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot and seriously injured in a 2011 assassination attempt, sued the FEC. She said the commission failed to act on allegations that the NRA coordinated millions of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to Trump and other candidates.

Giffords wants a federal judge to order the commission to act on complaints filed with the FEC. The lawsuit says the NRA used a network of shell corporations to illegally coordinate spending millions with the campaigns of Trump and at least six other federal candidates, including Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.)

"The allegations … constitute a substantial and ongoing threat to the integrity of the election system," wrote the attorneys for Giffords.

Giffords said the scheme funneled millions of dollars in illegal, unreported and excessive in-kind contributions. Giffords accused the National Rifle Institute for Legislative Action and the NRA Political Victory Fund of spending more than $25 million during the 2016 election cycle supporting Trump and distributing and placing those ads with the same employees who were placing Trump's own ads.

Other candidates who benefited from NRA scheme in 2014 were:

  • Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) who defeated Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan
  • Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Co.) who beat Democratic incumbent Mark Udall
  • Cotton who ousted Democratic incumbent Mark Pryor in Arkansas

In 2016, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) kept his seat with NRA help.

Hawley beat Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill in 2018 in Missouri with assistance from the NRA.

Matt Rosendale challenged Democratic incumbent Jon Tester for the U.S. Senate in Montana in 2018 with NRA help but lost.

Rosendale was elected to the U.S. House in 2020.

FEC attorneys argued in 2020 that there had been no unreasonable delay in addressing the complaints and said that the commission was incapable of acting at that time because it didn't have enough commissioners.

In fiscal 2019, the commission started 31 investigations, at least twice as many as were opened in each of the previous six fiscal years.

Trump stuffed the commission with anti-regulation attorneys like Cooksey, previously Hawley's general counsel, and Trainor, who represented Trump's 2016 campaign.

The Supreme Court has permitted unlimited independent political spending by groups like the NRA on the theory that independent spending does not pose the same risk of corruption as direct contributions. Expenditures coordinated with a candidate are not considered independent.

Bradley Todd, one of the founders of a consulting firm named in the Giffords lawsuit, also worked as a consultant for Gardner, Cotton, Johnson and Hawley and as a media strategist for Tillis. Former NRA lobbyist Chris Cox, a friend of Todd's, is also named in the Giffords lawsuit.

The NRA accused Cox of fleecing more than $1 million from the organization from 2015 to 2019. He is cooperating with the investigation of the NRA by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

This is why a conservative Supreme Court is bad for America

The real disappointing impact of the Supreme Court decision upholding Arizona's voting restriction laws will be in the ripples, of course.

The two specific practices that the Supreme Court ruled as constitutional, overturning both the appeals court and district court that heard the challenge, will likely not change election outcomes in Arizona or other states, but the chill emanating from this case will encourage Republican-led states to crack down faster and harder on limits seen as aimed at minority, Democratic voters.

As The New York Times noted, "The decision suggested that the Supreme Court would not be inclined to strike down many of the measures" now spreading among states with Republican legislative majorities.

Legally, the importance of the decision is further eroding the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and shielding those seeking to make voting harder for minorities in the driver's seat.

Congratulations go to Donald Trump, proponents of the Big Steal, and a compliant Supreme Court bound either by its thinking of its conservative majority or over a reluctance to challenge states' rights. In any case, it has immediately become more difficult to put together challenges to any restrictive voting law.

From a racial viewpoint, the big hit to the Voting Rights Bill had come in 2013, in Shelby County v. Holder, which overturned the law's Section 5 requiring prior federal approval of changes to voting procedures in parts of the country with a history of racial discrimination. But Section 2 had still allowed challenges after the fact.

Narrowing the Focus

This decision involved two kinds of voting restrictions in Arizona. One required election officials to discard ballots cast at the wrong precinct. The other made it a crime for campaign workers, community activists and most other people to collect ballots for delivery to polling places, a practice critics call "ballot harvesting." The law made exceptions for family members, caregivers and election officials.

Lower courts found that there was evidence to show that limits would affect Black and Brown voters more than Whites. The Supreme Court decided the opposite way, 6-3, voted along its own conservative-liberal split. It can only be a signal to Republican legislatures that there is no legal way to support more challenges to suppression laws.

Now, Congress is making clear that it cannot pass a necessarily bipartisan bill to keep these voter restrictions from spreading. By defining the issue before it so literal and legally narrow, Supreme Court justices are making clear that had the Congress passed such a bill, they would have been open to challenging the law rather considering Republican bad campaign practices.

What the Court apparently did not consider is how voting restrictions affect living while Black in America.
The decision, written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., argued that the system in Arizona offers ample opportunity for everyone to vote, even if it seems to fall heavier on some people, and concluded that the state's interest in preventing voter fraud outweighs whatever overall disparate impact the law has.

As a Washington Post columnist noted, "The fact that voter fraud is almost entirely fictional did not disturb the justice."

Building a Pattern

Instead, the Court is following a map of reducing laws meant to maintain voting by all.
In 2010, the justices said corporations have the right to use their billions to influence elections. Since 2010, the Court has killed a public financing law meant to allow candidates relying on small donations to compete with self-financed millionaires and billionaires, squashed the heart of the Voting Rights Act, claiming it was no longer necessary because racism is pretty much over, upheld voter purges that disenfranchise thousands of voters and ruled that partisan gerrymandering, no matter how clearly it disenfranchises people, is beyond the ability of the courts to do anything about.

It is now accepted Republican outlook that if elections were fair, they would lose, we need new laws that tilt those states that accept the challenge to tilt the rules to make "voting more cumbersome, inconvenient and difficult, all aimed directly at populations they believe are more likely to vote for Democrats," argued that Post columnist.

On the same day, the Supreme Court decided by the same 6-3 line-up that California legally could not require charities soliciting contributions in the state to report the identities of their major donors. That requirement had drawn a challenge by Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a group affiliated with the Koch family, and the Thomas More Law Center, a conservative Christian public-interest law firm. They said it violated the First Amendment's protection of the freedom of association by subjecting donors to possible harassment by making the information public.
Again, the court is protecting conservative Republicans seeking to influence public elections. And, again, the court is ignoring the role that dark money plays in elections.

Just curious that these are all rulings by justices labeled as conservative.

Noting originalist here.

Biden-Buttigieg put the brakes on 'bomb trains'

President Joe Biden, known as "Amtrak Joe" for his train trips to Washington, D.C., from Delaware as a senator, could reverse the Team Trump approval of "bomb trains" carrying carrying liquefied natural gas.

The Trump rule financially benefits an energy company tied to a hedge fund that loaned millions to the Trump Organization and the Kushner Companies. New York prosecutors are examining those financial ties to Trump.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said during his confirmation hearing that he planned to take a "hard look" at the rule.

Liquefied natural gas is even more volatile than Bakken crude oil carried on trains like the one that derailed and caught fire on July 6, 2013, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. Most of the victims had to be identified with DNA samples and dental records. The bodies of five of the people were never recovered.

In April 2019, Trump called for federal rules to be rewritten so trains could carry liquefied natural gas. Drue Pearce, the political appointee who was the deputy administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, helped shepherd the regulation through the agency.

The Biden administration asked a federal judge in February to put lawsuits challenging the rule on hold to give Biden regulators time to review Trump's rules that affect climate disruption. Biden issued an executive order the day after he was sworn in to review rules that may worsen greenhouse gas emissions.

Earthjustice, one of the environmental organizations involved in the lawsuits, said the rule could bring LNG railroad cars through virtually all major U.S. cities and that a disaster could destroy an entire city.

Vapor clouds from liquified natural gas that ignite can burn as hot as 2,426 degrees. Liquefied natural gas is odorless because ethyl mercaptan, the foul-smelling compound added to natural gas for residential use freezes above the boiling point for liquefied natural gas.

On Oct. 20, 1944, liquefied natural gas leaked from a storage tank at East Ohio Gas Co. in Cleveland and got into the sewer lines, causing explosions over a square mile. The explosions and fires spread through 20 blocks, killing 130 people and destroying 79 homes and two factories in a neighborhood of Slovenian immigrants.

The Trump regulation financially benefits New Fortress Energy, a publicly traded company founded by billionaire Wes Edens. Fortress Investment Group, a New York City hedge fund co-founded by Edens, was part of a deal to loan the Trump organization $130 million to help build the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago in 2005.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. has subpoenaed documents from Fortress about the deal.

Trump couldn't pay the loan which ultimately grew to about $150 million, according to documents filed in the New York Supreme Court by New York Attorney General Letitia James. She is investigating possible fraud by the Trump Organization.

James said that Fortress forgave more than $100 million of the loan, money that may have been taxable.

Fortress also loaned $57 million in October 2017 to a Jersey City, N.J., real estate project owned by Kushner Companies. Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, transferred his stake in the project to a family trust.

SoftBank Group, a Japanese firm, bought Fortress Investment Group in 2017.

Corporate CEOs don't earn the millions they're paid

A new study shows that the top five executives of major corporations pocketed 15 to 19 cents of every dollar their companies gained from two recent tax cuts. The paper, by Eric Ohrn at Grinnell College, should be a really big deal.

The basic point is CEOs and other top executives rip off their companies. The officers are not worth the $20 million or more that many of them pocket each year.

Again, this is not a moral judgment about their value to society. It is a simple dollars-and-cents calculation about how much money they produce for shareholders. The piece suggests that it is nothing close to what they pocket.

This is a big deal because it is yet another piece of evidence that executives are able to pocket money that they did nothing to earn.

It is no more desirable to pay a CEO $20 million if someone just as effective can be hired for $2 million than to pay an extra $18 million for rent.

In the case of these tax cuts, company profits increased because of a change in government policy, not because their management had developed new products, increased market share or reduced production costs. Some of them presumably paid for lobbyists to push for the tax breaks, so their contribution to higher profits may not have been exactly nothing.

There is much other work along similar lines. An analysis of the pay of oil company CEOs found that they got large increases in compensation when oil prices rose. Since the CEOs were not responsible for the rise in world oil prices, this meant they were getting compensated for factors that had little to do with their work. A more recent study found the same result.

Another study found that CEO pay soared in the 1990s because it seemed that corporate boards did not understand the value of the options they were issuing.

A few years ago, Jessica Schieder and I wrote a paper showing that the loss of the tax deduction for CEO pay in the health insurance industry, which was part of the Affordable Care Act, had no impact on CEO pay.

The loss of this deduction effectively raised the cost of CEO pay to firms by more than 50%. If CEO pay were closely related to the value they added to the company's bottom line, we should have unambiguously expected to see some decline in CEO pay in the industry relative to other sectors. In a wide variety of specifications, we found no negative effect. Bebchuk and Fried's book, Pay Without Performance, presents a wide range of evidence on this issue.

Ripping Off Companies

As can be easily shown the bulk of the upward redistribution from the 1970s was not due to a shift from wages to profits, it was due to an upward redistribution among wage earners. Instead of money going to ordinary workers, it was going to those at the top end of the wage distribution, such as doctors and dentists, STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] workers, and especially to Wall Street trader types and top corporate management. If we want to reverse this upward redistribution then we have to take back the money from those who got it.

If top management actually earned their pay in the sense of increasing profits for the companies they led, then there would be at least some sort of trade-off. Reducing their pay would mean a corresponding loss in profit for these companies. It still might be desirable to see top executives pocket less money, but shareholders would be unhappy in this story since they will have fewer profits.

But if CEOs and other top management are not increasing profits in a way that is commensurate with their pay, their excess pay is a direct drain on the companies that employ them.

Money Thrown in Garbage

From the standpoint of the shareholders, it is no more desirable to pay a CEO $20 million if someone just as effective can be hired for $2 million than to pay an extra $18 million for rent, utilities or any other input. It is money thrown in the garbage.

As I have argued in the past, the excess pay for CEOs is not just an issue because of a relatively small number of very highly paid top executives. It matters because of its impact on pay structures throughout the economy. When the CEO gets paid more, it means more money for those next to the CEO in the corporate hierarchy and even the third-tier corporate executives. That leaves less money for everyone else.

The Ohrn study found that 15% to 19% of the benefits of the tax breaks he examined went to the top five executives. If half this amount went to the next 20 or 30 people in the corporate hierarchy, it would imply that between 22% and 37% of the money gained from a tax break went to 25 of the highest paid people in the corporate hierarchy.

If the CEO is getting $20 million, then the rest of the top five executives are likely making close to $10 million; the next echelon making $1 to $2 million.

If we envision pay structures comparable to what we had in the 1960s and 1970s, CEOs would be getting $2 to $3 million. The next four executives likely would earn $1 to $2 million. The third tier would be paid in the high six figures. With the pay structures from the corporate sector carrying over to other sectors, such as government, universities and non-profits, we would be looking at a very different economy.

Arranging Their Own Pay

If CEOs really don't earn their pay, the obvious question is how do they get away with it? The answer is they largely control the boards of directors that determine their pay.

Top management typically plays a large role in getting people appointed to the board. Once there, the best way to remain on the board is to avoid pissing off your colleagues. More than 99% of the directors nominated for re-election by the board win their elections.

Being a corporate director is great work if you can get it.

As Steven Clifford documents in his book, the CEO Pay Machine, which is largely based on his experience at several corporate boards, being a director can pay several hundred thousand dollars a year for 200 to 400 hours of work. Directors typically want to keep their jobs, and the best way to do this is by avoiding asking pesky questions like, "Can we get a CEO who is just as good for half the money?"

While many people seem to recognize that CEOs rip off their companies, they fail to see the obvious implication that shareholders have a direct interest in lowering CEO pay.

For example, a common complaint about share buybacks is that they allow top management to manipulate stock prices to increase the value of their options. (Editor's note: Before 1982, buybacks were illegal, deemed a form of manipulation.)

If this is true, then shareholders should want buybacks to be more tightly restricted, since they are allowing top management to steal from the company. If shareholders actually wanted CEOs to get more money from their options, they would simply give them more options, not allow them to manipulate share prices. Yet, somehow buybacks in their current form are still seen as serving shareholders.

Shareholders Losing Out

As a practical matter, it is easy to show that the last two decades have not been a period of especially high returns for shareholders. This is in spite of the large cut in corporate taxes under the Trump administration.

There seems to be confusion on this point because there has been a large run-up in stock prices over this period. Much of this story is that shareholders are increasingly getting their returns in the form of higher share prices rather than dividends.

Before 1980, dividends were typically 3% to 4% of the share price, providing close to half of the return to shareholders. In recent years, dividend yields have dropped to not much over 1%, with the rest of the return coming from a rise in share prices. If we only look at the share price, the story looks very good for shareholders, but if we look at the total return, the opposite is the case.

If CEOs really are ripping off the companies they lead, then shareholders should be allies in the effort to contain CEO pay. This would mean that giving shareholders more ability to control corporate boards would result in lower CEO pay.

As with much past work, Ohrn's study found that better corporate governance reduced the portion of the tax breaks the CEO and other top executives were able to pocket.

Reform Proposal

There are many ways to increase the ability of shareholders to contain CEO pay, but my favorite is to build on the "Say on Pay," provision of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. This provision required companies to submit their CEO compensation package to an up or down vote of the shareholders every three years. The vote is nonbinding, but it allows for direct input from shareholders. As it is, most pay packages are approved with less than 3% being voted down.

I would take the Say on Pay provision a step further by imposing a serious penalty on corporate boards when a pay package gets voted down. My penalty would be that they lose their own pay if the shareholders vote down the CEO pay package.

While a small share of pay packages get voted down, my guess is that if just one or two corporate boards lost their pay through this route, it would radically transform the way boards view CEO pay. They suddenly would take very seriously the question of whether they could get away with paying their CEO less money.

I also like this approach because it is no more socialistic than the current system of corporate governance. It would be hard to make an argument that giving shareholders more control over CEO pay is a step toward communism.

The basic point here is a simple one: The rules of corporate governance are unavoidably set by the government. There is no single way to structure these rules. As we have now structured them, they make it easy for CEOs to rip off their companies. We can make rules that make it harder for CEOs to take advantage of their employers and easier for shareholders to contain pay.

Progressives should strongly favor mechanisms that contain CEO pay because of the impact that high CEO pay has on wage inequality more generally. And, shareholders should be allies in this effort. There is no reason for us to feel sorry for shareholders, who are the richest people in the country. They can help us contain CEO pay and we should welcome their assistance.

There's a sad truth behind some terrific new income statistics

We have stunningly good news today: Wages in 2020 grew at by far the fastest rate in the last 45 years.

The bad news: It's a statistical anomaly caused by Donald Trump's lethal mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. The scourge wiped out almost eight million jobs held by lower-paid workers and only two million better-paying jobs.

The worse news: Two Republican senators who publicly profess their Christian faith to win over voters want to oppress millions of people trapped in poverty. With straight faces, they call their plan the Higher Wages for American Workers Act.

The good news starts out this way—in 2020, average wages grew a stunningly robust 7.2% over the previous year.

More than 80% of the 9.6 million jobs that disappeared in the pandemic paid in the bottom quarter of wages. Wipe out those jobs and the statistics on wages show an increase.

That's by far the greatest one-year growth in wages in the past 45 years. In fact, it's 80% more than the fastest previous year's wage growth, analysis of Census data shows.

Typical Pay

The better measurement, however, is the median wage. It indicates what the typical worker makes. The median marks the halfway point in wages with half of workers making more, half less. The median wage grew 6.9%, a new report by the Economic Policy Institute shows.

EPI is a nonprofit research organization that advocates for poorly paid workers and regularly issues The State of Working America report with lots of interactive graphics. I've checked its work and always find it rock solid.

The obvious question is how could wages skyrocket during a pandemic that created the worst joblessness since the Great Depression? How could wages rise at all since by the end of May more than 42 million Americans, a quarter of those with any paid labor, had filed for jobless benefits?

Just beneath the surface, we find a compelling and distorting fact: More than 80% of the 9.6 million jobs that disappeared in the pandemic paid in the bottom quarter of wages. Wipe out those jobs and the statistics on wages show an increase. What's surprising is that the increase is only about 7%.

America's low-paid jobs are disproportionately held by women, especially those with children and little education, and by minorities. In real terms, these groups have been losing ground for years even as the economy keeps growing.

But by killing their jobs, at least until the pandemic is over and recovery is complete, the data in wages paid were distorted by the fact that most of those who are out of work were in the bottom half of the pay ladder.

Forgotten Americans Forgotten

What was it that Trump promised The Forgotten Men and Women? Oh yes, "The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer." Well, he forgot about them and in addition to a real jobless rate of about 10% plus more than a half-million Americans needlessly dead. Had Trump followed sound public health advice, as we saw South Korea do, the coronavirus butcher's bill would be only about 10,000 dead Americans.

So how to alleviate the misery of America's working poor?

Senators Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) say they are coming to the rescue. In a display of chutzpah and cluelessness that is extraordinary even for rich white men in high government positions, they call their bill the Higher Wages for American Workers Act.

Their bill's provisions are at odds with their professed devotion to a religion that imposes as a core duty alleviating the suffering of the poor. Cotton is a Methodist. Romney belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Cotton and Romney say the Biden administration plan for a $15 minimum wage in 2025 is way too much money. They propose a minimum wage of $10 an hour in 2025.

How much higher would real wages rise under the Cotton-Romney plan?

$12 A Week

Given the expected rate of inflation, that $10 an hour in 2025 would mean about 30-cents more in real pay than the current federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. That's $12 a week more for a full-time week. The current minimum wage has been in place since 2009 under legislation signed by President George W. Bush. Inflation since 2009 has shaved roughly a buck off each hour's minimum wage.

Measured back to President George W. Bush, the Cotton-Romney plan leaves workers worse off in 2025 than in 2009.

Now watch the news and see if the record rise in median and average wages is reported. Where it is, pay close attention—especially in reports by Fox News and its like—whether they say the increase is a statistical anomaly or proclaim a miracle wrought by Trump.

Having read this at least you won't be fooled.

The 1.5 million child slaves behind your chocolate bar

Next time you take a bite of a chocolate bar, consider the small hands that farmed the cocoa beans.

Industrial food heavyweights like Nestlé USA, Hershey and MARS Inc., rely on cocoa grown in Côte D'Ivoire, the Ivory Coast, to make their confections. And the West African nation relies on enslaved child laborers to farm its cocoa crops, a well-known fact in the candy world that keeps the cocoa at favorably low prices for the big companies.

A class-action civil suit brought against the big chocolate companies sheds stark light on the entire candy bar industry. It outlines the relationships between the candy makers and the cocoa farms in West Africa, which provide 70% of the world's cocoa supply. Half is grown in Ghana and Ivory Coast. Most American chocolate is made from Ivory Coast cocoa beans.

In cocoa-growing regions of Ghana and the Ivory Coast more than 43% of all children between the ages of 5 and 17 living in agricultural households are engaged in hazardous work.

The plaintiffs are eight former enslaved children who, the court papers charge, were trafficked from their home country Mali, and sold to cocoa farms in the neighboring West African country.

"This lawsuit against the cocoa and chocolate industry is about much more than the eight Malian citizens who were trafficked and exploited as child slaves to harvest cocoa," says Fernando Morales-de la Cruz, founder of Cacao for Change and Cartoons for Change. Both organizations in Strasbourg, France, seek to raise awareness of child labor in both the cocoa and coffee trades.

Low Price Business Model

"The business model of the chocolate industry is cruel, exploitative, and illegal because it exploits between 2.2 and 3 million children worldwide, besides exploiting millions of farmers and farmworkers, all to buy cocoa for less than one-third of the real price," Morales-de la Cruz said.

He noted that a number of chocolate companies run their revenues through Switzerland to avoid taxes in countries, like the United States, where they earn their profits selling chocolate confections. "With their Swissploitation business model the cartel of cocoa companies 'saves' more than $20 billion per year buying cheap cocoa," he said.

This is the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labor as declared by the United Nation's International Labor Organization. The time is ripe to press for an end to profiting off exploitive and forced child labor.

Make no mistake, chocolate is big business. The global chocolate market is a $136 billion business. It's expected to grow to $182 billion by 2025.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Columbia just days ago, selecting the U.S. legal system for several reasons. In 2000, Congress and President Bill Clinton enacted a landmark law against human trafficking known as the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, or TVPA. It has been reauthorized five times, most recently in 2019 with Congress earmarking $250 million toward the effort. That law gives us extraterritorial jurisdiction.

Our Government Knows

Since the 1990s, the U.S. State Department and the Department of Labor have recognized the existence of child slavery in the cocoa industry in the Ivory Coast. In 2004, State estimated there were at least 15,000 child laborers working on cocoa, coffee and cotton farms there. As the photo above shows these children wield machetes to do their dangerous harvesting.

A study conducted by Tulane University in 2015 found that the number of children engaged in the 'Worst Forms of Child Labor' on cocoa plantations grew substantially between 2009 and 2014.

In October 2020, a new report by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, which was funded by Labor, was released showing child labor had increased again in the cocoa production sector since the Tulane study.

In the 2018 to 2019 harvest season, the prevalence of children involved in hazardous child labor in the cocoa sector in the Ivory Coast and Ghana rose to almost 1.5 million children. That's also 1,000 times the official U.S. estimate in 2004. The Ivory Coast has fewer than 26 million people.

Hazardous Work

The study also found that in cocoa-growing regions of Ghana and the Ivory Coast more than 43% of all children between the ages of 5 and 17 living in agricultural households are engaged in hazardous work – not just child labor, but hazardous child labor.

Comparing a 10-year span concluding with the 2018-2019 harvest season, the NORC report found a 14% increase in child labor and a 62% increase in production over the same period.

"There is a large group of extremely poor, vulnerable boys in Mali and Burkina Faso who are on the verge of starving and will do about anything for the promise of a paying job," said Terry Collingsworth, who was arrested by the Ivory Coast police as he interviewed enslaved boys at a cocoa plantation. Collingsworth is executive director of International Rights Advocates.

Mali and Burkina Faso both border the Ivory Coast. Cacao refers to the beans harvested to make chocolate. Cocoa refers to the product after the beans are roasted.

Sweet Talk

So, what's the U.S. government doing besides bankrolling studies?

In 2001, the House passed a bill that would require U.S. importers and manufacturers to certify and label their products "slave-free." Have you seen those startling words on your recent candy wrappers? No? That's because of what's known as the Cocoa Cartel, the defendants in the lawsuit, rallied against it.

Instead, they were able to get themselves a sweet deal, the Harkin-Engel Protocol, a voluntary private inspection and enforcement system that all but guaranteed the continuance of enslaved child labor.

In fact, as part of the initial Harkin-Engel Protocol, the candy companies gave themselves an arbitrary deadline till 2005 to end their reliance on child labor for cocoa harvesting. That deadline got extended again and again.

Now the industry has a goal to stop profiting from enslaved child labor by 2025, though an industry spokesperson admitted in 2018 that the industry would fail to meet that deadline.

As the class-action suit alleges, the defendants' "voluntary initiative is a sham, and they are getting away with and profiting from an international human rights crime while claiming they are making progress."

Given the fact that enslaved children are still picking the beans, it's fair to call it the Cocoa Cartel strategy "see no enslaved children." Clearly, this willful blindless strategy worked.

The U.S. government has several agencies monitoring human trafficking, in addition to the State Department and Department of Labor, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

A Loophole Hurts Kids

There are several federal laws going back to the Tariff Act of 1930 designed to reduce the profit motive for labor trafficking by barring the import of goods made with trafficked labor.

But these laws had a loophole. All importers had to do was show that domestic production could not meet demand and the use of enslaved children was irrelevant. Since the United States is not a cocoa bean country, that was as easy as breaking off a piece of a KitKat bar.

That loophole was supposedly closed in 2015, although almost no one noticed. The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 was intended to close a loophole in an earlier law that made it possible for goods produced using forced labor to still enter the United States.

The new law enhanced the Customs and Border Patrol's ability to block such products altogether.

Clearly, the chocolate titans found a workaround. The lawsuit brought on behalf of the enslaved children asserts that the "defendants have engaged in various deceptive practices to avoid taking responsibility for their long-term profiting from various forms of child slavery."

After the Tulane report came out, the defendants "renewed their false assurances to consumers and regulators that they would initiate programs to reduce child labor in their supply chains," according to the suit. As the NORC study showed, child labor increased.

The suit states, "Defendants control production and could, if they wanted to, stop profiting from child labor. Instead, they chose to delay taking action by creating ineffective programs that provide public relations cover for their obviously failed efforts."

Helping 1 in 1,000

One such example is Nestlé's remediation assistance for some 15,000 children. By remediation, they mean handing out school kits, birth certificates, tutoring and other provisions – not assistance ending their enslaved labor conditions.

Other chocolate heavyweights named as defendants are Cargill Inc., Barry Callebaut USA LLC, Mars Wrigley Confectionery, Olam Americas Inc. and Mondelēz International Inc. (Nestle's American candy division has been sold to the Ferraro Group.) In addition, the suit lists 10 unidentified 'Corporate Does' as defendants.

These candy companies have higher profits because using child laborers keeps the cost of cocoa down. If the farms paid adult workers using proper protective equipment to maintain the crops and harvest the beans, prices would rise. Chocolate makers would see profits fall unless they could raise their prices. Upping consumer prices, whether by subtly shrinking candy bars or slapping on a higher price, runs the risk that people will eat fewer chocolate treats, causing sales volume to fall, lowering the profit margins of the Cocoa Cartel companies.

Dangerous Jobs for Kids

We've already noted that the work done by children on cocoa plantations is classified as hazardous and the "worst forms of child labor," according to the Tulane and NORC studies.

So, what are these enslaved children doing exactly? Children who work on cocoa plantations burn and clear fields, fell trees to expand cocoa plantations, spray hazardous pesticides without any personal protection, wield machetes to break cocoa pods and transport heavy loads of cocoa pods and water.

Add to that claims of negligent supervision, intentional infliction of emotional distress and physical abuse. Enslaved child laborers are not usually paid. They are forced to work long hours. That's true even when sick. The lawsuit says they are underfed and locked in their housing at night to prevent them from running away.

Industry Standard

Though the defendants, the Hershey's, MARS' and Nestlés, do not own cocoa farms – a fact they like to hide behind – they maintain and protect a steady supply of cocoa by forming exclusive buyer-seller relationships with Ivorian farms, according to the lawsuit. This is similar to the practice with chicken farms in the United States where companies like Perdue and Tyson Foods require chicken ranchers to rear the birds in cages of specific sizes, to feed them exact amounts of food bought from the big meat companies or at their direction and many more details that effectively make the farmers not independent businesspeople, but 21st century American serfs.

The Cocoa Cartel manages its relationships with the cocoa farms through memorandums of understanding and written and oral agreements and contracts, according to the suit. These companies dictate the terms by which such farms produce and supply cocoa to them, including "specifying labor conditions under which the beans are produced."

The candy companies control so much of the world chocolate business that they can easily wield economic leverage over the West African farmers, effectively controlling the production of Ivorian cocoa while insisting they have not seen any enslaved children.

Willful Blindness

To cultivate and keep their exclusive relationships with the farms, candy makers offer both financial assistance and technical farming assistance designed to support cocoa agriculture. Financial assistance includes advanced payment for cocoa and spending money for the farmers' personal use, according to the lawsuit. Tech support includes equipment and training in various growing techniquesnand even appropriate labor practices. Just what do these conglomerates consider appropriate?

The defendants or agents working for them visit the cocoa plantations regularly throughout the year and therefore must see firsthand the enslaved children working the crops. They know the deal. Instead of using their position to effect change for the sake of the enslaved children, they choose profit via willful blindness and zero accountability.

"The chocolate industry owned by multibillionaires and large corporations exploits millions of children and women, paying them less than the price of a candy bar," Morales-de la Cruz says. "They also deceive consumers claiming that they are fair and ethical.

"This has to stop!"

Meanwhile, Nestlé USA Inc. and Cargill Inc., which is also named in the class-action suit, are facing a consolidated legal battle before the U.S. Supreme Court with an anonymous defendant for their responsibility in the human rights violations in the cocoa industry. A third defendant, Archer Daniels Midland, reportedly was dropped from the suit after settling with the plaintiffs.

The court heard oral arguments in January in that consolidated case, Nestlé USA, Inc. v. Doe 1 and Cargill, Inc. v. Doe 1.

That case goes back to an initial filing in 2005. It was dismissed in 2010 by Judge Stephen V. Wilson of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. He held that "corporations could not be sued under the current understanding of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS)." In 2013, that decision was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The candy companies filed petitions for review by the Supreme Court after being denied an en banc hearing, a review by a panel of judges or all the judges of a court.

Corporate Accountability

At the heart of that lawsuit is whether domestic corporations can be held accountable and liable for aiding and abetting human rights crimes committed abroad. The case could redefine the limits of corporate liability under the ATS, according to the blog Just Security.

The Trump administration tried to intervene in the case. Strangely, the acting solicitor general filed briefs on an issue none of the parties raised: whether aiding and abetting liability claims are ever permissible under the Alien Tort Statute.

"Child labor is unacceptable and goes against everything we stand for. Nestlé has explicit policies against it and is unwavering in our dedication to ending it. We remain committed to combatting child labor within the cocoa supply chain and addressing its root causes as part of the Nestlé Cocoa Plan and through collaborative efforts," a Nestlé spokesperson said. "This lawsuit does not advance the shared goal of ending child labor in the cocoa industry. Child labor is a complex, global problem. Tackling this issue is a shared responsibility. All stakeholders – including governments, NGOs, the communities and the broader cocoa industry – need to continue to address its root causes to have an impact."

Some candy companies have made public efforts to at least make seem like they are trying to make changes – putting band-aids on a cancerous practice. MARS launched an endeavor in 2018 to "reshape the cocoa industry," noting the child labor and forced labor practices of the cocoa farms, for example. That effort is backed by what the company says is $1 billion.

Since the cocoa industry's use of child labor has been on the world's radar for years, it clearly will require a large-scale public reckoning and massive revenue loss to see any real change.

We would love to tell you much more about this story from the perspective of the candy companies and the federal agencies that are supposed to seize as contraband imported products made with child labor and slave labor. The problem? Calls to Hershey's, MARS and the Customs Border Patrol were not returned. Only Nestlé responded, as noted above.

Baby bust: Why the coronavirus pandemic is making many Americans rethink having kids

When lockdowns rippled across the country last March, many experts speculated that couples cohabitating together would be more apt to have sex and therefore procreate. There is precedent for this speculation: a month-long blackout in Zanzibar in 2008 — in which many were forced to stay home more frequently, just as one might during a pandemic — caused a mini-baby boom nine months later.

Yet predictions of a pandemic baby boom did not take into account how the loss of jobs, income, childcare services — and an overburdened healthcare system fighting a highly contagious coronavirus — would take a massive mental and emotional toll on women and families across the country. Monthly birth data shows that being confined to one house with your significant other doesn't make for primed conditions to bring another human being into this world, even if popular Etsy baby-wear emblazoned with "Mommy and daddy didn't practice social distancing" suggests otherwise.

According to a Bloomberg analysis, births decreased by 19 percent in California between December 2019 and December 2020. Data from Florida, Hawaii, Arizona, and Ohio show large declines in birth rates since the pandemic started compared to the previous year's data, too. A survey conducted by Modern Fertility, a company that sells fertility tests directly to consumers, found that 30 percent of nearly 4,000 people surveyed stated they changed their fertility plans due to COVID-19. One in four of those respondents said they've become unsure about having children at all; the most commonly cited reason was uncertainty about the world. Notably, a similar number of respondents stated that COVID-19 accelerated their timelines for having children.

Indeed, this tumultuous moment has caused many to rethink having kids.

Sarah Logan, editor of The Bunny Hub, told Salon via email that she and her husband decided not to have another baby right now because of the pandemic.

"These difficult times are not the best time to have another family member," Logan said.

Sandra Henderson, a love dating coach in Los Angeles, told Salon via email she can't help but feel "worried" about raising a child in this "chaos."

"For us, it is better to have a child when everything's back to normal and where everything and every place is a safe place to be," Henderson said. "Plus, we are both working from home now, and with lots of responsibilities we are currently juggling in our hands right now, we think we really can't do it for now."

"These difficult times are not the best time to have another family member," Logan said.

Sandra Henderson, a love dating coach in Los Angeles, told Salon via email she can't help but feel "worried" about raising a child in this "chaos."

"For us, it is better to have a child when everything's back to normal and where everything and every place is a safe place to be," Henderson said. "Plus, we are both working from home now, and with lots of responsibilities we are currently juggling in our hands right now, we think we really can't do it for now."

Nearly a year later, they are still on pause.

"With both of us working from home while there are two little rugrats running circles around us all day long, it's a miracle we manage to get anything done," Miller said. "We know we're not getting any younger, but unfortunately our biological clocks don't always align perfectly with our plans in life; if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that no good comes of forcing something that doesn't feel right. So, our plan is to sit tight and see how things unravel."

But deciding not to have children during the pandemic is a choice that not everyone has the privilege to make. For some who were pregnant and seeking abortions just as the pandemic hit, lockdown limited their access to providers and clinics as a handful of states made it it nearly impossible to terminate pregnancies. For people who were planning on undergoing fertility procedures like in vitro fertilization, the pandemic completely threw a wrench in those plans too — as, at the beginning of the pandemic, many of these appointments were put on hold, delayed, or deemed "non-essential" or "elective" procedures.

Sarah Urbanski had originally planned to utilize a known donor's sperm who lived abroad. The known donor would also be the same donor for her partner's pregnancy later on. But the couple quickly realized that once the pandemic hit, due to travel restrictions, that they were going to have to change plans.

"We pivoted to egg retrievals to allow ourselves to push our timeline out with our known donor hoping that travel restrictions might lessen," Urbanski said, adding that they're now doing reciprocal IVF which is when one partner supplies the eggs to be used for IVF, while the other partner carries the pregnancy. "We're trying to see it as a wonderful option for us, but no part in our fertility journey has gone according to what we originally had planned."

Urbanski said they will be working with an anonymous donor from a cryobank now, but it's been tough to rework their original plan in the middle of the pandemic.

"Any given day there's definitely some highs and lows and you know there's nothing really easy about that, and we're not in a vacuum," Urbanski said. "We have folks who are becoming pregnant and announcing that, and we're so happy for people in our chosen family and community. But it's definitely tough when we're coming around — you know, a year and a half, two years that we've been talking about this — and we still feel like we're at the starting line of our journey."

This bizarre conspiracy theory is why QAnon believers are predicting Trump’s return on March 4th

On CNN Wednesday, "QAnon Anonymous" podcast host Julian Feeld explained the strange new conspiracy theory that Trump will be re-inaugurated on March 4th as the "19th president" of the "restored" United States — and how it ties into long-standing "sovereign citizen" beliefs that the United States has been an illegitimate government for over a century.

"Can you explain the convoluted conspiracy theory that has begun to take hold that involved March 4th?" asked anchor Alisyn Camerota. "What are they expecting to happen on March 4th?"

"The March 4th theory actually comes from sovereign citizen beliefs," said Feeld. "Now in the past, we haven't seen such a huge overlap, but in this case, QAnon — certain QAnon followers have borrowed whole cloth from a belief that the last legitimate president was the 18th president, so this goes back to 1871, and this is the belief that Trump will be actually inaugurated as our 19th president."

"Now, of course, this is illogical since he was the 45th, but what they believe is that there is — there has been no country known as the United States ever since it was unstuck from the gold standard and they don't believe that any amendment past the 16th Amendment is valid," said Feeld. "They essentially believe that Ulysses S. Grant was the last American — valid American president. They believe — I mean, I think there's different beliefs, obviously, of what will happen on that day, but I think many are expecting a ceremony, and that ceremony may be accompanied in their mind by what QAnon believers called 'The Storm.' That would be, you know, as described a little earlier on the segment, the rounding up and often military tribunals, you know, for leading Democrats, but also some celebrities they believe falsely to be part of this pedophile cabal."

"So essentially people are still in this belief that Trump will come back and will become the president again. Obviously, falsely," he added.

Watch below:

Julian Feeld explains new QAnon/sovereign citizen conspiracy theory www.youtube.com

QAnon and evangelicals: Republicans baptized in crazy

Donald Trump is out, but parts of the Republican Party warmly embrace his dark legacy of white supremacy, the crazy QAnon conspiracy and civil war wrapped in faux Christianity.

Like Trump, these fake Christians reject turning the other cheek in favor of threatening or promoting violence.

The problem here isn't partisan politics, but public mental health. DCReport has covered extensively the mental-health debacle thanks to Dr. Bandy X. Lee, Harper West and other experts on how delusions spread like viruses, with Trump being a carrier.

The evidence of craziness seems to be found entirely in the Republican Party. We looked for, but have yet to discover any Democratic Party leaders pushing baseless conspiracy theories or urging civil war.

Readers who have found such material, please send links via our DCReport Tipline.

Here are some of the ways that Republican leaders reveal their affinity for the anti-democratic nature of Trumpism and QAnon, its attendant conspiracy theory:

  • In California, the Sacramento County Republican Party elected to its Central Committee a Proud Boys member who has advocated violence.

"Illegal immigrants should have their heads smashed into the concrete," a 2018 post by an antifascist group quotes Perrine as saying.

Perrine didn't deny this call to violence, he only insisted that he's not a racist.

He told the newspaper, "They can call me a Nazi all they want, and I know I have plenty of friends of all races that don't always agree with me, but they still love me.

"The Proud Boys that I affiliate with are all working men, all married men, they all have good jobs, they all believe in God."

Only after The Bee reported this did some Republicans in the California capital come to their senses and demand Perrine's ouster.

  • Oregon's Republican Party this month aligned itself with conspiracy theories as well as denouncing all 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for inciting the murderous attack on our Capitol.
  • Texas' GOP uses a QAnon conspiracy phrase—We Are The Storm—in its new logo.

The slogan comes from a poem, not crazies, according to the Texas party chairman, Alan West. He is the former congressman from Florida and retired military officer known for making bizarre statements. In 2011, he wrote, "When I see anyone with an Obama 2012 bumper sticker, I recognize them as a threat to the gene pool."

Arizona GOP for Trump, Still

Texas GOP Twitter Page

  • Arizona's GOP retweeted messages in December asking if people were ready to die for Trump and his baseless claim that he really won in 2020. The original Stop The Steal tweet was deleted, but the party's official Twitter account still refers to a person who says he's ready to die for Trump. It states: "He is. Are you?"
  • You might think that the party leadership in the Grand Canyon state, long a bright red jurisdiction, would examine its position after Democrats won both U.S. Senate seats and Joe Biden beat Trump in Arizona.

While the GOP added registered voters in 2020, it lost in ballots cast. Instead of reassessing, however, Arizona's Republican leaders decided to enforce Trumpian purity. On Jan. 23 the Arizona GOP censured three leading Republicans for not embracing Trumpian madness: Gov. Doug Ducey, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain. The widow of Sen. John McCain said she considers the censure a badge of honor.

Party leaders also re-elected the erratic and autocratic Kelli Ward as the Arizona GOP leader. She said her party suffers from "people who have been namby-pamby, lie down and allow the Democrats to walk all over them."

The party retweeted a menacing message. It is one of many from a Republican who holds himself out as a Christian despite tweets that are aggressively contrary to New Testament teachings about love, doing good to others and turning the other cheek:

"The Arizona Republican Party is still Trump country in all districts. Weak self-righteous sanctimonious Rs are on notice."

"Satan-Worshipping Pedophiles"

Arizona state Sen. David Farnsworth acknowledged last fall to the Arizona Mirror, a news website, that he believes the QAnon conspiracy theory but with a twist.

He said some Republicans have joined the top Democrats who, he imagines, run a global Satan worshipping cabal of pedophiles Trump is singlehandedly trying to bring down. Farnsworth told audiences that Arizona's Department of Child Safety is covering up, or complicit, in child sex trafficking.

Meanwhile, the FBI says QAnon is a domestic terror threat.

Other delusional beliefs so deeply and broadly infect the Arizona GOP that its leaders blame antifascists for joining in when our national Capitol was violently invaded by a murderous mob of Trumpers on Jan. 6.

  • Mentioned earlier, the Oregon Republican Party went further. It adopted a resolution asserting, "The violence at the Capitol was a 'false flag' operation designed to discredit President Trump, his supporters, and all conservative Republicans; this provided the sham motivation to impeach President Trump in order to advance the Democratic goal of seizing total power."

That's as crazy as QAnon.

Antifascist Nonsense

The FBI calls that nonsense, but you don't need law enforcement to know that the idea is ridiculous.

Saying Trumpers and Antifa jointly attacked our Capitol is like saying Trump is in league with Bernie Sanders. Believing, as the Oregon GOP leadership does, that the insurgents were lefties posing as Trumpers moves the party well into the realm of delusion.

  • In Hawaii, the official Republican Twitter account claims war is being waged against its members' values. And its relentless attacks on news organizations that check facts and correct mistakes include many fabrications.

Witness this Inauguration Day tweet: "Will you be joining PBS in calling for internment and re-education camps also?"

Nothing in the news clips it tweeted came close to substantiating the tweet, nor did the full PBS report.

There is a glimmer of hope that reality plays a role in the Hawaii GOP. On Sunday, Jan. 24, the state party's communications vice-chair, Edwin Boyette, resigned after sane Republicans complained about his tweets supporting QAnon.

Building a Theocracy

It's not just Trump purity that many GOP influencers are pushing. There is also their brand of Christianity, which promotes racial animosity, hatred of Democrats, intolerance and would subvert our Constitution to create a theocracy.

Consider Jenna Ellis, one of Trump's television lawyers who was paid at least $173,900 by his campaign. Ellis has met with GOP leaders in several states making fact-free claims that Trump won in November.

Ellis has a long and well-documented history of just making self-aggrandizing claims. She has a checkered career and her accomplishments are negligible, but Trump got one look at her on television and was enchanted.

Some principled Republicans see no future in a party swaddled in craziness. On Monday Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, a conservative with a level head, announced that he won't seek a third term in 2022 because of what he called partisan gridlock.

While it's true that compromise is rare on Capitol Hill, intransigence traces back to anti-taxer Grover Norquist declaring, "Bipartisanship is just another name for date rape" and Trump repeatedly retweeting QAnon-supporting craziness.

Like Flake, a Libertarian whose family founded Arizona, Portman would face a primary challenge from the crazy wing of the GOP if he seeks third term.

Republicans have a friend in the company that counts their votes

After initially focusing on the surprisingly lopsided results of the senatorial election in Kentucky, DCReport broadened our scope to look at the electronic vote-counting software and electronic voting systems that we rely on to tally our votes. This prompted us to raise questions about Electronic Systems & Software (ES&S), America's largest voting machine company. What we found was a revolving door between government officials and ES&S.

Voting results in three states that saw surprising majorities by vulnerable incumbent Republican senators—Maine, North Carolina and South Carolina—were almost all tabulated on ES&S machines.

Trump and his inept legal team barely have mentioned ES&S, focusing almost exclusively on Dominion Voting Systems.

Team Trump has been so vigorous in going after Dominion that it prompted us to look into how ES&S operates. What we have found so far is far from comforting.

Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell and Fox hosts have been making such bold and naked claims against the ES&S competitors, without any substance or evidence, that Fox News, NewsMax and OAN have all been threatened with litigation unless they fully retract their claims and correct a number of egregious factual errors.

Team Trump has been so vigorous in going after Dominion that it prompted us to look into how ES&S operates. What we have found so far is far from comforting.

  • Owned by a private equity firm, ES&S has been elusive about identifying the people in its ownership.
  • A number of ES&S executives and lobbyists have ties to top GOP election officials and politicians.
  • The ES&S executive in charge of the security previously worked in the Trump administration as a government executive at Health and Human Services before leaving under a cloud.
  • Forty of the 50 states use ES&S to cast and count some of their votes.
  • Of the 25 states Trump won, all but 3 either partially or fully relied on ES&S machines. The states where Trump won that didn't use ES&S machines were Oklahoma, Louisiana and Alaska.
[caption id="attachment_21864" align="aligncenter" width="620"] Counties that used ES&S equipment in the 2020 elections. (Verified Voting)[/caption]

Concerns about the reliability of vote-counting software are not new, dating back to the 1980s. Having the ability to audit votes, and making sure ballots are counted properly, has long been a major concern of computer scientists, politicians and election officials.

In December 2019, Democratic lawmakers sought answers from those top three voting machine vendors which "facilitate voting for over 90% of all eligible voters in the United States."

Three separate letters were sent to the private equity firms who reportedly own or control each of these vendors, with very limited information available in the public domain about their operations and financial performance.

Elections at Risk

In the second letter, addressed directly to the McCarthy Group, the private equity firm that owns ES&S, lawmakers wrote, "Voting machines are reportedly falling apart across the country, as vendors neglect to innovate and improve important voting systems, putting our elections at avoidable and increased risk."

In requesting details about the ownership of ES&S, the lawmakers specifically noted, "We are particularly concerned that secretive and 'trouble-plagued companies,' owned by private equity firms and responsible for manufacturing and maintaining voting machines and other election administration equipment, 'have long skimped on security in favor of convenience,' leaving voting systems across the country 'prone to security problems'."

DCReport placed numerous calls and emails to ES&S at its headquarters on John Galt Boulevard in Omaha. Only once was the phone answered. Someone who would not put us through said, "They are not going to be able to talk to you." DCReport was directed to ES&S's website. We submitted the form repeatedly but got no reply.

Understanding the Software

Our democracy now relies on private companies, which build proprietary electronic systems, to reliably count our votes. It seems reasonable, if not crucial, to understand who is behind these companies as a standard to ensure election integrity. Without such knowledge we run the risk that zealots, investors with financial stakes in who wins elections or those susceptible to bribery have an incentive to use subtle software programming techniques to deliberately miscount votes to guarantee an outcome. In close elections, software code that invalidates or miscounts a mere sliver of ballots can change the outcome.

One of our concerns is ES&S providing junkets and gratuities to election officials, as uncovered in June 2018 by McClatchy newspapers. For at least 11 years, the voting equipment and software company curried favor with election officials by paying for trips to Las Vegas, tickets to shows and gifts.

"As many as a dozen election officials" attended a meeting in Las Vegas, with a number of them accepting airfare, lodging and meals, McClatchy reported. A company spokeswoman told McClatchy the junkets were "immensely valuable in providing customer feedback. One of our key results is customer satisfaction, and this is how we achieve that."

Marci Andino, the current executive director of the South Carolina State Election Commission, received more than $19,000 worth of flights, hotels and meals from ES&S since 2009, according to South Carolina Ethics Commission disclosure forms.

Andino's influence extends beyond the Palmetto State. She is also a member of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission's Standards Board and has testified on election issues. She is a former president of the National Association of State Election Directors. To have an election official tied to a voting company creates concerns about conflicts.

Executives with Political Ties

DCReport also looked into the careers of some key ES&S executives. What we found is concerning.

Kathy Rogers, ES&S's senior vice president for government affairs, landed at ES&S after controversy over her work as a Georgia state elections official. She opposed legislation trying to ensure vote counts could be verified.

In 2019, The New Yorker wrote about her actions in "How Voting-Machine Lobbyists Undermine the Democratic Process."

"In 2006, a bill requiring a verifiable paper record of each ballot, introduced in the Georgia legislature at the urging of election-integrity advocates, failed after the state's elections director, Kathy Rogers, opposed it," the magazine reported.

Georgia used ES&S machines in 2018 but now relies on Dominion equipment.

Georgia's 2018 gubernatorial race is noteworthy because it was overseen by Brian Kemp, who was then in charge of Georgia elections as secretary of state. That year, Kemp also ran for governor while overseeing his own election, a conflict of interest he disregarded.

Kemp won a narrow victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams, but only after his office blocked 53,000 voter registration applications using a strict name-matching protocol comparing state records to voter registration forms.

Kemp's Conflicts

Registrations were tossed if, for example, a person used a first name, middle initial and last name, on one form, but then used all three names in full on another. This invalidated a huge number of voter registration applications.

After Kemp won, a federal judge declared Georgia had to implement a completely new voting system in time for the 2020 elections, replacing what the judge called "unsecure, unreliable and grossly outdated technology." Kemp tried to keep using the ES&S equipment for future elections, prompting Peach State Democrats to assert cronyism in the Kemp administration.

In January 2019, the Georgia Democratic Party challenged the integrity of voting machines that did not create an auditable paper trial, a policy he pursued through the creation of the Secure, Accessible & Fair Election or SAFE Commission.

The Democrats demanded a delay on recommendations for a new voting system "following the discovery that a leading vendor under consideration, whose machines are currently being investigated in a lawsuit due to errors in the 2018 election, has deep connections to Brian Kemp's office." That vendor was ES&S. The deep ties were due to Kemp having hired a longtime associate who was a registered lobbyist for ES&S.

As Politico characterized it at the time: "Georgia likely to plow ahead with buying insecure voting machines." It also reported, "Critics argued that the bill appeared to be written with one vendor in mind: the voting technology giant Election Systems & Software, whose former top lobbyist, is now Kemp's deputy chief of staff."

How many other states are conducting elections on grossly outdated or otherwise unreliable ES&S technology in 2018 and in 2020? This is an issue we are still investigating.

In Georgia, it was Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who succeeded Kemp as the elections overseer, who announced Dominion Voting Systems as the new elections vendor.

A Clean Election

The most recent Georgia election seems to be the first election in recent Georgian history not marred by voting-machine controversy other than Trump's nakedly false claims of vote stealing and corruption aimed at Republican Raffensperger.

The 2020 voting took place on a new system with an auditable paper ballot system. Three recounts, including an audit requiring "roughly 5 million votes in that contest to be recounted by hand" and as Secretary of State Raffensperger stated, showed results as close as imaginable.

"We have now counted legally cast ballots three times, and the results remain unchanged," Raffensperger said. Furthermore, a judge declared Trump's legal team produced "precious little proof" in their pleadings.

ES&S's revolving door policy means its lobbyists are taking top government official positions as well as government political appointees are becoming ES&S executives.

One of these is Chris Wlaschin, who left the Trump administration in March 2018. He was the chief information security official in the Health & Human Services Department. A few weeks later he landed at ES&S as "its new vice president of systems security responsible for the company's security efforts."


Wlaschin abruptly left the Trump administration after HHS Secretary Alex Azar received a letter from a lawyer representing two HHS executives. The letter asserted that Wlaschin improperly had removed the pair and cited an eye-popping false claim Wlaschin used to justify disciplinary action.

"Mr. Wlaschin has stated that my clients were removed from their positions in order to protect an ongoing OIG investigation," wrote lawyer I. Charles McCullough, a former inspector general for the National Security Community.

"You can, therefore, imagine the shock and surprise of my clients when they were both recently advised, unequivocally and categorically, by senior investigators from the HHS OIG, that neither of them are currently or were at any time in the past under investigation" by the inspector general's office, McCullough wrote.

The letter was dated March 12, 2018. Wlaschin's resume says he joined ES&S the next month.

The integrity of voting systems, and especially the ability to audit vote counts, has been the subject of public debate for more than four decades. But most of the recent attention has been focused on one company, Dominion Voting Systems, most recently because of frivolous lawsuits filed by Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sydney Powell and others. But is that simply a distraction.

We think the issue of who counts our votes, how they are counted, and what ties the companies selling these systems have to politicians deserves more attention. Politicians who must win elections, in order to wield power, must not be able to exert influence on the companies we rely on to tally our votes. We need serious scrutiny over our elections so we can be assured that they represent the will of the people, not of the politicians themselves, and the companies they hire to process our ballots.

There's a secret message buried in Trump's pardons everyone seems to have missed

This article was paid for by Raw Story subscribers. Not a subscriber? Try us and go ad-free for $1. Prefer to give a one-time tip? Click here.

The 24 pardons that Donald Trump granted last week drew a lot of attention, but no one seemed to notice the message Trump sent by not issuing pardons. Trump's choices made it clear that he is a white-collar crime boss.

Trump pardoned four mercenaries who murdered Iraqi civilians, but not Jeremy Ridgeway the soldier-for-hire who plead guilty to manslaughter, testified against the others, and was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison.

Trump pardoned Roger Stone, his dirty trickster confidant; General Michael Flynn his national security adviser who was on the Kremlin payroll; and his 2016 campaign manager Paul Manafort, but not Manafort deputy Rick Gates, who turned state's evidence and confessed to his crimes.

He also pardoned Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor convicted of trying to sell a Senate seat. But there was no pardon for Michael Cohen, Trump's lawyer, and longtime fixer who confessed to committing felonies at the direction of unindicted coconspirator "Individual 1," identified in federal court as Trump.

A future president could use the pardon power to protect elaborate criminal schemes, to subvert the Bill of Rights, to frame political opponents, and even direct political murders.

The pardons of the mercenaries, who worked for Trump ally Erik Prince who supplies hired armies, of campaign aides Stone and Manafort, of Flynn and of Blagojevich carried a clear message. You can bet that lawyers for others considering ratting out Trump or who are already working with authorities to rein in the Trump crime family got the message.

The message: the boss takes care of friends and allies if they lie for the boss or keep silent, but does nothing for those who cooperate with law enforcement. Give Trump's many attacks on the FBI and other law enforcement, this should surprise no one, especially journalists -- and yet it eluded them.

Missing The Story

How is it that none of our major news organizations figured this out? Hint: they rely too much on the official version of events, official announcements and access instead of thinking and exercising reportorial authority, afraid they will be seen as tendentious. If Trump declared that the Sun rises in the West many news organizations would flee from reporting that was false, crazy, or nonsense, and some would focus on how the Sun only appears to rise, never mind that it appears to rise in the East.

The pardons issued so far and more that are no doubt coming in the next three weeks, raise grave questions about the future of our democracy that have received less comment than outrage over the brazen abuse of the pardon power, especially as part of a scheme to obstruct justice.

Think about what will happen the next time someone as lawless as Trump becomes president. Imagine a president with much more skill, smarts, and vigor than Trump, and one with better lawyers. A future president could use the pardon power to protect elaborate criminal schemes, to subvert the Bill of Rights, to frame political opponents, and even direct political murders so long as they were committed in federal jurisdictions so no state-level charges could be brought. The presidential pardon, remember, applies only to federal crimes.

Trump behaved last week exactly as any crime boss would act if he could exercise the powers of the American presidency: show mercy to criminals, especially criminals who have aided your crimes or whose supporters may be useful to you in the future but do nothing for those who did the right thing once they were caught and helped bring others to justice.

Trump Helps Cocaine Trafficker Buddy

This is exactly what Trump, as a private citizen, did in a series of extraordinary favors for a major international cocaine and marijuana trafficker with whom he had extensive and close business ties.

In that case, Trump sought mercy three-time felon Joseph Weichselbaum. The trafficker personally managed and piloted Trump's helicopter in the 1980s, supplied Trump with a fleet of helicopters to ferry high rollers to Atlantic City, and rented a luxury Manhattan apartment from Trump under an unusual lease that obscured how much rent was actually paid.

In a 1986 letter to the sentencing judge, Trump called Weichselbaum "a credit to the community." Trump wrote that Weichselbaum should serve no prison time for a long-running scheme in which the mules – people who drove cars and vans loaded with drugs from Miami to Cincinnati – got 20 years.

Read carefully, Trump's letter was really directed not at the judge, but at Weichselbaum.

Trump's clear message to his buddy: don't rat me out and I'll take care of you.

Trump took excellent care of his cocaine trafficker buddy. Weichselbaum spent just 18 months in a Manhattan prison, paid only a token sum on his $30,000 federal fine because he said he was broke and yet he moved into a $2.4 million double apartment at Trump Tower upon his release. Weichselbaum said the Trump Organization also gave him a new job -- as Trump's helicopter consultant.

Now is the time to demand that Congress act to protect us from a future lawless president so he or she cannot use the pardon power balm to criminal pals and an ax to eviscerate our liberties and our control of our government.

There's a secret message buried in Trump's pardons everyone seems to have missed