Saturday, June 24, 2017

Astronomy Adventure - Messier 13

Messier 13 is a fantastic globular cluster in the constellation of Hercules that contains over 300,000 stars. In good conditions, it is actually a naked eye object and a beautiful sight in even a small telescope.

Here are the technical details for those who might be interested:
Scope: Starblast 4.5; tracking on
Magnification: ~30x
Camera: iPhone6 using NightCapPro app; ISO 8000
Processing: 2x15 sec. images stacked in Deep Sky Stacker; with darks; adjusted curves using GIMP

Natural Weeknds - Ospreys

Friday, June 23, 2017

GOP Caught Between Its Base And Its Lies

The Republican party is caught between its base, its promises, Trump, and the future and the general consensus is that there may be no way out of the trap they have created, largely by themselves.

The recent special elections have shown that the GOP needs to keep almost its entire base motivated and happy just to survive in 2018. That primarily means following through on repealing and replacing the ACA. There are two paths for "achieving" this goal, either actually go through with the AHCA and make it law or let the bill pass both houses of Congress but let the conference bill die in the House or Senate.

The problem with actually making the AHCA law is that it will devastate many parts of the GOP base. As Joy Reid pointed out on Last Word a few nights ago, the base actually likes big government and the attending programs. They just only want those programs for themselves and want Republicans to ensure that those benefits don't go to the "underserving others", immigrants, minorities, etc. And Republicans have fed that desire in their base for years. But the AHCA will not discriminate in its devastation of American lives.

On the other hand, if they let the AHCA die in the second vote, it is hard to see how the base would be fooled by that. But Republicans have performed such magic in deceiving their base for decades so it is quite possible they can do it again. But, considering that they need every element of their base just to survive in 2018, this is also a risky strategy.

The additional problem they have is that, despite the ACA being on pretty good footing as a whole, there are areas of the country where insurers have simply pulled up stakes entirely. And the uncertainty that Trump has created by dealing with the insurers' subsidies on a monthly basis as well as the ultimate fate of the AHCA will probably cause even more insurers to leave the exchanges. We all know that Republicans will keep on saying that this is more proof that the ACA is failing but it is also hard to see how that argument will still fly. The GOP would have had over a year to fix those issues and they did nothing.

Obviously a lot can happen between now and 2018. And the tribal nature of the Republican base is pretty strong, as we have seen. But the Republicans can only keep spinning their lies for so long before it all comes crashing down. For the good of the country, let's hope that happens before the 2018 election.

GOP Lies Assert Power Over Truth And Threaten Our Democracy

Last December, Masha Gessen wrote one of her insightful articles remarking on the similarities between Trump and Putin. In that article, she states, "Lying is the message. It’s not just that both Putin and Trump lie, it is that they lie in the same way and for the same purpose: blatantly, to assert power over truth itself...Trump has exhibited similar behavior, apparently for the same reason: when he claims that he didn’t make statements that he is on record as making, or when he claims that millions of people voting illegally cost him the popular vote, he is not making easily disprovable factual claims: he is claiming control over reality itself...Both Trump and Putin use language primarily to communicate not facts or opinions but power: it’s not what the words mean that matters but who says them and when."

As she predicted, Trump has continued this tactic of trying to assert power over truth in his short time as President. The Washington Post kindly keeps a database of Trump's false and misleading statements so that we can all track them. And in just the first five months, Trump has managed to rack up an amazing 669 statements that are at odds with documented facts and the truth, repeating many of his lies multiple times for extra effect. At his rally the other day, Trump managed to add a few more whoppers, including the claim the Democrats were obstructing the Senate healthcare bill which, of course, they hadn't even seen because Republicans were crafting it in secret.

Apparently, this has proven so effective for Trump that his administration and the Republican party itself is taking the same tack. Sean Spicer spent the first few months of his tenure as press secretary spouting almost as many lies as Trump himself. Recently, he's taken a new approach by saying he hasn't talked to the President about a particular issue or has no knowledge of this issue at hand but promising to get back to the reporter with an answer. ABC News has compiled its own list of 25 questions just since May 1st that Spicer or Sarah Huckabee has promised to get back on and reporters are still waiting.

Or take Trump's lawyer, Jay Sekulow, in his interviews on the Sunday talk shows. In the span of just a few seconds on multiple shows Sekulow declared that the President is not under investigation and then immediately contradicted himself by saying that the President was under investigation by the very people in the Justice Department who recommended that Trump fire Comey and then appointed Mueller as an special counsel. In his Fox interview Sekulow said, "So he's [Trump's] being investigated for taking the action that the attorney general and deputy attorney general recommended him to take by the agency who recommended the termination." When confronted by Chris Wallace that Sekulow's statement contradicted his earlier statement that Trump was not being investigated, Sekulow responded, "No, he's not being investigated!"

The entire Congressional Republican party has also taken the same approach with their attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. Paul Ryan in particular has been especially egregious with his lies, saying that the AHCA will lower premiums, increase access to health care, still protect pre-existing conditions, and not cut Medicaid while at the same time claiming Obamacare is failing. And Senator John Cornyn laughably described the Senate's secret plan for their own version of the AHCA by saying, "There's nothing being done in secret here."

These are but a sampling of the lies Republicans have been telling just in the past few months. But this process began many years ago and Trump is just the culmination of years of Republicans succeeding because of, rather than in spite of, the lies they tell not only to their own supporters but to the public as a whole.

David Frum has a remarkable piece in the Atlantic about how democracies fail where he identifies the root issue with today's Republican party in a way that most reporters or pundits are afraid to articulate, but which I have been stressing since I began this blog over a year ago. According to Frum, "It’s a striking feature of American politics since 2008 that the Republican right has combined extraordinary down-ballot electoral success with an ever-intensifying pessimism about American society. If you listen to conservative discussion and debate, it’s hard to miss the rising tone of skepticism about democracy—and increasing impatience with the claim that everybody should have convenient access to the ballot. The pessimism about the society and the weakness of the party have left Republicans vulnerable to an authoritarian populist like Donald Trump. Party rules that would once have screened out a Trump have given way to partisan antagonisms that empower him.
Some conservative intellectuals attribute Trump’s ascendancy to a betrayal of conservative ideals. That’s true so far as it goes. But the more relevant that Trump arose because of the hollowing out of conservative institutions. The Republican party could not stop him. Now it cannot restrain him. And this weakness of the Republican party—and its craven subordination to the ego, ambition, and will-to-power of one man—now stands as the gravest immediate threat to American democracy."

Truer words have not been spoken. But the Republican party is not as distinct from Trump as Frum seems to imply. They, are in fact, different manifestations of the same creature. But Frum is correct that the autocratic tendencies and quest for power at all cost that exemplifies today's Republican party, and Donald Trump in particular, is, to use Frum's own words, "the gravest immediate threat to American democracy."

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pharmaceutical Companies Find Imaginative New Ways To Screw Americans

Apparently, the pharmaceutical industry manages to attract some of the best criminal minds in the country. With extensive patent protections, the industry has engaged in massive price-gouging for decades. Having taken their cue from drug dealers throughout history, they managed to push highly addictive opioids on unsuspecting Americans by essentially misrepresenting the addictive dangers of the drug they were promoting and thereby created one of the worst public health problems in decades with massive opioid addiction.

But the pharameutical company Mylan really has outdone the competition when it comes to horrific corporate behavior. Besides the enormous price-gouging of EpiPens before their patent monopoly ran out, besides their engaging in clear tax avoidance, besides trying to get the government to force taxpayers and consumers to subsidize the company's profits, Mylan has crafted a brilliant plan to get tax credits to invest in coal which is known to increase asthma problems which, unsurprisingly, can be treated by two products that Mylan produces.

According to Reuters' Michael Erman, "Since 2011, Mylan has bought 99 percent stakes in five companies across the U.S. that own plants which process coal to reduce smog-causing emissions. It then sells the coal at a loss to power plants to generate the real benefit for the drug company: credits that allow Mylan to lower its own tax bill."

But the New Republic adds to that Reuters report by pointing out the coal fired power plants increase air pollution which leads to an increase in cases of severe asthma. And, unsurprisingly, Mylan offers two products, Perforomist, an inhaler that treats COPD, and EasiVent, which helps asthma medicine reach the lugs more efficiently.

The more you look at the pharmaceutical industry, the more you realize they are solely in business to ensure that consumers use their drugs as long as possible and pay as much as possible in the process. It's capitalism at it's best with results for actual Americans at its worst.

Health Care Lobby Chooses Tax Cuts Over Americans' Lives

So we are getting details on the Senate version of the AHCA and it's pretty clear that it is pretty much the same as the House bill except the Medicaid phase-out period will probably be extended until 2023 or 2026. On the other hand, those Medicaid cuts may actually be deeper than the House plan. The Senate plan actually increases subsidies over what the House has and links them to income rather than age. The Senate also removes the House language on restricting abortion coverage because it would not pass parliamentary muster and would require 60 votes.

This isn't even AHCA-lite. It is just the same old AHCA with a few things moved around. But we knew this was what Republicans would do back in November after the election when it was clear they controlled Congress and the White House. What has been especially disappointing in this whole health care debate has been the reaction, or lack of one, from the health care industry.

Despite having enormous input into the crafting of Obamacare, the health care lobby has been remarkably silent as Republicans plan to destroy it. As Dylan Scott writes, "Health industry groups generally don’t love Obamacare enough to jeopardize their ability to shape the rest of the Republican agenda — including big corporate tax cuts. They also fear incurring White House retaliation."

In fact, for certain segments of the health care industry, the tax cuts the Republicans are promising not only in the repeal of the ACA but also in the proposed cut in the corporate tax rate is far more important than defending Obamacare. Scott continues, "the House health care bill repeals Obamacare’s various taxes on the industry, totaling nearly $200 billion in tax cuts over 10 years for drug companies, health insurers, and medical device companies...Some rough back-of-the-napkin math, based on figures from the IRS, suggests the health care industry could see its collective taxes lowered by $2 billion a year if Trump gets his 15 percent corporate tax rate...Other parts of a reform plan, such as reducing or eliminating taxes on income earned abroad by American companies, could carry enormous benefits for, say, pharmaceutical companies."

In many ways, Republicans have become a retreating army that is determined to destroy as much as possible so that it will take the enemy as long as possible to rebuild. The repeal of Obamacare and replacement with whatever version of the AHCA Republicans can pass will be a disaster for Americans. Americans will be worse off than even before the ACA was passed, millions will lose insurance, and tens of thousands will needlessly die. But the Republican gamble is that it will take Democrats decades to rebuild the infrastructure of Medicaid and health insurance in general.

But, some day, hopefully sooner rather than later, Democrats will have that chance and they should never forget how the health care industry chose to line their own pockets and let thousands of Americans die when they had the chance to save and improve Obamacare.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Why Is House GOP Refusing To Take Up Senate Bill Strengthening Russian Sanctions

A few weeks ago I wrote that there is already proof that the Russians colluded with Republicans in the 2016 election and it was designed to elect down-ballot Republicans more so than Donald Trump himself. In addition, there is also evidence that the Republican House leadership was well aware that the Russians were funding at least one GOP House candidate and were also well aware that the Russians were also targeting their hacks on what were competitive House races in order help elect Republicans.

So a cynical guy like myself is hardly surprised that Bloomberg is reporting that the House is citing a procedural roadblock which is keeping it from taking up the recently passed Senate bill that required the Trump administration to get Congressional approval in order to ease or lift sanctions on Russia and authorized new sanctions on Russian-linked individuals or entities that engaged in "malicious cyber activity". The same bill also authorizes some additional sanctions on Iran.

House Republicans, however, say they can not take up the bill because it violates the origination clause that requires any revenue-producing bill originate in the House. According to House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Kevin Brady, "This isn’t a policy issue. It’s not a partisan issue. It is a constitutional issue that we’ll address in a positive way. Revenue measures have to start in the House. The Senate can move pretty quickly to correct that provision and send it back to us. That’d be my preference."

It's interesting that Republicans, who have demolished virtually all governing norms over the last few years, can't find a way to get around this particular obstacle. In fact, the easiest way around this issue would be for the House to craft its own bill with exactly the same language as the Senate and pass it. The two bills could then be reconciled, passed, and signed into law. There is absolutely nothing unusual about this procedure and it has been used probably hundreds of times in the past.

The fact that Republicans are balking on this issue makes you really wonder how much they relied on Russian hacking in the last election, how much Russian dark money is funding their campaigns today, and how much the GOP is planning to rely on the Russians in 2018.

SCOTUS Agrees To Hear Partisan Gerrymander Case But Disenfranchises Voters in 2018

While it is potentially good news that the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case about politically partisan gerrymandering, the problems with enforcement and remedy still exist and remain unaddressed. The specific case that the Court will hear Gill v. Whitford, a Wisconsin case that specifically targets partisan gerrymanders that "wastes" one party's votes by packing them into creatively drawn districts.

Technically, partisan gerrymanders violate the First Amendment but the Supreme Court and its conservative majority have shown no interest in hearing, much less ruling on, partisan gerrymander cases. Certainly part of that desire is the general conservative attitude that voting rights are not all that important and that it is largely the domain of the states, not the courts. In addition, even if they agreed that partisan gerrymanders were unconstitutional, it seemed impossible to find a standard by which that could be reasonably judged.

The Court actually tried to shut the door on these cases in 2004 and basically did so in the classic conservative 5-4 decision. Justice Kennedy, a member of the majority, however, wrote his own concurrent opinion in which he declared that the Court should act "if workable standards do emerge to measure these burdens". With the use of big data and advanced computing methods, it is now possible to compare the numbers of votes of each party that are "wasted" in these partisan gerrymanders and an obviously large disparity would certainly indicate that the gerrymander violates the Constitution. It remains to be seen whether this amounts to a "workable standard" that will sway Justice Kennedy.

On the other hand, an additional ruling that went along with the decision to hear the Wisconsin case was a similar 5-4 ruling not to uphold the lower court's ruling that struck down the current district maps as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and instructed the maps be redrawn for the 2018 election. Just to show you how bad the Wisconsin maps have been, in the 2012 election Democrats won 53% of the total vote but ended up with the Wisconsin Assembly controlled by Republicans with 60 seats compared to the Democrats 39. In that election, it was estimated that it took 1.74 Democratic votes to offset just one Republican. In around a dozen other states in 2012, Democrats won more votes but ended up not in control of at least one house in those states' legislatures. Not all of these were the result of partisan gerrymanders but a number certainly were.

This related ruling means that now Wisconsin voters are being asked to live under an unconstitutional system again in 2018 and again mainly Democratic voters will be effectively disenfranchised. This means that, once again, voters in Wisconsin, primarily Democrats, will have their votes "wasted" in 2018. So much for democracy.

This situation simply highlights the weakness of relying on the courts to stop unconstitutional electoral laws. This extends beyond gerrymandering and into voter registration issues, early voting, the number of voters per voting machine and other voting rights issues. These cases take so long to adjudicate that many voters are effectively disenfranchised not just for one election but for multiple election cycles. In this decade, there are voters in a number of states who will have voted more times in an unconstitutional system than not. That is simply unacceptable in a real democracy.

Obviously, there is no easy solution to this gerrymander problem. Even having the Supreme Court come up with a workable standard, which is still a reach as it is, will not solve the problem of delayed justice that plagues our voting systems. A number of states have come up with independent non-partisan commissions that draw electoral districts with "communities of interest" as one member of California's redistricting commission describes it. But, again, those commissions are only as good as the people appointed but they are certainly better than what we have now.

Just like increasing Social Security and the fight for $15, the system will not change until we, as Democrats, start talking about real electoral reform and make it an important part of what we stand for. That can be done through ballot initiatives or actual legislation. Yes, we still have to fight all the AHCA and massive tax cuts with everything we've got. But we also can't lose sight of the fight for voting rights and real electoral reform because that fight is a fight for our democracy.

Ossoff Defeat Means GOP Will Steamroll Its Devastating Legislation Until 2018

A win for Jon Ossoff last night might have made congressional Republicans nervous enough to think twice about the AHCA and massive tax cuts for the rich. And the close result not only in Georgia but also, surprisingly, in South Carolina might still give some pause. But politics is all about winning and Democrats have not done enough of that lately.

In sports like hockey and baseball, you will usually find that successful teams win a large proportion of the one goal or one run games. And the "bad" teams invariably lose almost all the close games. Right now, Democrats look like a bad team. But, to continue the analogy, it's early in the season, we've been playing all our games in the other team's building where they've traditionally had an enormous advantage, and we've been keeping those games close. There still plenty of time and lots of indications we can turn it around in 2018, especially in the House.

As the Cook Political Report points out, Democrats have overperformed their generic numbers in these recent special elections by anywhere from 6% to 12%. That is massive and anything like that in 2018 will probably give us control of the House. There are at least 70 other districts that are more favorable to Democrats in 2018 than the one in Georgia. And Handel in Georgia and Norman in South Carolina will have to defend their votes on healthcare, tax cuts, and other thorny issues come 2018.

Ironically, however, this result probably made Republicans even more determined to repeal Obamacare, no matter what the damage, and move on massive tax cuts as it showed the path to victory for Republicans lies in keeping their base intact rather than changing course. Following through on their devastating promises is the only way for congressional Republicans to keep their base motivated. In addition, moving forward on these issues keeps the far-right "independent" money from the Kochs, the Mercers, the Adelsons, and others all flowing to fight these kind of races for them. As Paul Ryan says, "This is a once in a generation opportunity" and conservative Republicans are determined to exploit it.

For Democrats, now, more than ever, we need the resistance to be even stronger and more vocal. That's hard to do when you're in the middle of a losing streak. But it's one of the only ways we can be winners until 2018 comes along.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Finally! A Senior Financial Executive Is Charged In 2008 Crisis

We are nearly a decade past the financial collapse of 2008. And, as time has passed, it has become clear that one of the critical errors of the Obama administration was to forgo hauling the senior executives of the major Wall Street firms that taxpayers were forced to bail out into court and throwing the book at them. Even if the cases eventually came to naught, it would have been an important signal to the rest of the country and probably would have helped Hillary Clinton win the 2016 election.

But finally the senior executives at one financial firm are at last being charged. The problem is that it is happening over in the UK, where the senior executives at Barclays in 2008 are being charged with conspiracy to commit fraud. Unfortunately, the fraud accusations have nothing to do with what actually precipitated the financial crisis, but are related to the financing that Barclays desperately needed to avoid a bailout and received from the government of Qatar.

In June and October of 2008, Barclays received investments from both Qatar Holding and Challenger Universal, an entity set up by Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani and his family. In addition to these investments, there was also an apparently undisclosed agreement to pay the Qatar Investment Authority for "advisory services". Subsequently, in November of 2008, Barclays loaned around $3 billion to the State of Qatar.

The fraud charges relate to these transactions and the accused are Barclays itself, along with the chief executive at that time, John Varley, and three other senior executives. Just to show that the leadership at the top of the bank hasn't really improved in their adherence to the law, the current chief executive of the bank, Jes Staley, is currently under investigation for his efforts to unmask a whistleblower in the bank. In finance, nothing really changes, just the name of the criminals at the top.

Why Are Democrats So Bad At Crafting Stories?

Democrats were on the Senate floor all last night trying to highlight the gutting of Obamacare by Senate Republicans with the secret plan that will be voted on with minimal debate and amendments. As usual for Democrats, the outrage made very little impact on the national media if the lack of coverage on the front page of the NY Times today is any indication. You would think that the mainstream media might be concerned about a bill effecting nearly 20% of the American economy being negotiated and passed virtually in secret.

As Josh Marshall points out, the press is taking a free pass when they say that no one knows what is in the Senate bill and giving a free pass to Republicans who say they haven't seen the bill. The parameters are quite clear and everyone knows it is going to look remarkably similar to the House bill which will force 23 million off the insurance rolls and end up killing tens of thousands of Americans. It is hard to see that the Senate bill will dramatically change those numbers, perhaps only extending the period before those numbers become reality or, if you believe other reports, it could be even worse than the House bill.

But Senate Democrats have also been pretty weak in crafting a story that might actually grab the media and the general public and make them focus on this issue. The story is not so much that the bill is being crafted in secret. It is not so much that Republicans are engaging in the ultimate hypocrisy by passing this in secrecy and without hearings after complaining that Democrats rammed through the ACA without GOP input when, in fact, their were dozens of hearings and amendments. The story the Democrats should be telling is that this is all a part of a piece, an attack on our democracy by the Republican party.

Refusing to give Merrick Garland a hearing was an attack on our democracy. Changing Senate rules to put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court was an attack on our democracy. Getting the House to vote on a bill without a CBO score so that the economic and societal effects of the bill are unknown to those voting is an attack on our democracy. Crafting a bill in total secrecy that effects one-sixth of our economy is an attack on our democracy. In fact, these are the actions of a third world dictatorship.

The refusal of the President of the United States to acknowledge that the Russians hacked our election is an attack on our democracy twice over. The firing of the man leading the investigation of that Russian attack on our democracy is itself an attack on our democracy. Having the Attorney General lie under oath to the Senate confirmation committee is an attack on our democracy. That same Attorney General recused himself for the Russian investigation and then recommended firing the man leading that investigation. That is an attack on our democracy. Having the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, recuse himself from the Russian investigation and then yesterday state that he has never done so is an attack on our democracy.

This is far more than a partisan issue. What the Republicans are doing in the Senate is affront to every American. Democracy demands that the actions of our representatives be transparent and open. When bills that effect millions of Americans and one-sixth of our economy are negotiated in secret and passed in the middle of the night, when government officials feel free to lie to Americans and flout the rule of law, then we cease to be a democracy. And that is the story Democrats need to be telling every single day.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Democrats Must Take Electoral Reform Seriously, As GA06 Shows

With the new revelations that Russian hacking of the last presidential election was far deeper and broader than anyone had imagined and that the Russians were capable of distorting that election result by hacking the voter rolls, Politico's report last week that the voting system to be used in tomorrow's election in Georgia's 6th were also open to hacking have raised real concerns about the validity of the vote.

The Politico story detailed how important information about the entire voting process was left totally unprotected on a server run by a university group that programs and tests the systems used in the state of Georgia. Among the unprotected information was instructions and passwords for logging into the state's central election database, software for the ExpressPoll poll books that monitors use to verify a voter is actually registered and eligible to vote, and the databases to create ballots and actually tabulate the votes. In addition, the server did not have up-to-date antivirus software, meaning that the entire server was capable of being controlled by hackers.

If this server had, in fact, been hacked, then malware could have been planted that would infect county computers that accessed that server and software files distributed to counties for elections. As Politico notes, "If someone were to alter the files, machines could be made to record votes for the wrong candidate. And since Georgia’s machines lack a proper paper trail — which would allow voters to verify their choices before ballots are cast and could also be used to compare against electronic tallies during an audit — officials might never know the machines recorded votes inaccurately."

In addition, Georgia has already seen problems with its ExpressPoll software. In last year's election, many voters in Fulton County were turned away and told they had reported to the wrong voting precinct because of an apparent "glitch" in the poll book software. There is no indication whether that glitch was simple a software error or a potential hack. Considering that this is exactly what the Russians were hacking, it would probably be worthwhile to investigate. That is especially true because Georgia was one of two states that rejected help from the Obama administration in order to secure their voting systems after it became clear that the Russians were attempting to hack those systems. In addition, Georgia was at one point in the campaign considered to be a potentially important swing state, making it a natural target to influence the election.

As Politico notes, Georgia's voting system makes it an ideal target for hacking, with its centralized system, reliance on computerized touch screen voting, and lack of a paper trail. What is more disturbing is that these vulnerabilities to the Georgia system were discovered by a cybersecurity expert last August. He notified the university about these vulnerabilities and was told the issues would be resolved. But another expert found the same vulnerabilities still existed in March of this year.

Issues with Georgia's system have existed for a decade. In 2007, another security expert showed how a computer virus could be inserted into the touch screen machines and effect the tallying of the votes. At that time Georgia's Secretary of State ordered a full scale review of Georgia's entire voting system. But, interestingly, the university center that was responsible for programming and testing the election software, poll book, and touch screen systems were exempt from this review.

The Secretary of State at the time is none other than Karen Handel, Jon Ossoff's opponent in tomorrow's election.  Over at the Washington Monthly, D.R. Tucker asks whether Democrats will demand a recount if Ossoff loses a close race. Says Tucker, "After the events of November 2016, validating the outcome of an election is of paramount importance. Do Democrats recognize this reality? It’s unlikely. In fact, if Democrat Jon Ossoff, leading in some polls heading into tomorrow’s high-profile race to fill Georgia’s vacant Sixth Congressional District seat, loses to Republican Karen Handel, expect Democrats, fearful of being attacked as conspiracy theorists and whining losers, to raise zero questions about whether the result was legitimate. (Of course, if Ossoff wins, Republicans will immediately yell 'voter fraud!')"

Democrats largely took the stolen 2000 election lying down for the good of the country and Kerry refused to demand an investigation of the irregularities in Ohio in the wake of the 2004 election. Republicans have been suppressing the vote and crying about mythical voter fraud for well over a decade and Democrats have been spent most of that time merely reacting to Republican actions and accusations.

Rather than merely reacting, Democrats need to make major reform of our electoral system a critical part of the party's message. This includes valid paper trails for all votes. More importantly, it requires making the entire electoral system more democratic with automated registration, an election day holiday and/or weekend, rules about voting machines per population, and neutral gerrymandering. These should not be platitudes the party mouths but be repeated and harped on every chance we get, just like the GOP talks about voter fraud. Doing so would allow Democrats to demand recounts in close elections without looking like sore losers.

A more democratic system will increase voter turnout and make our politicians more accountable to their constituents. Republicans will oppose these efforts but Democrats can reasonably claim that these changes will actually make voter fraud far less likely while increasing voter participation. And that's what democracy should really be all about. The GOP can oppose these changes at their peril.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Trump's Poll Numbers Crater Even Further As GOP Support Slips

Lost amid all the dramatics of Jeff Sessions' testimony,Trump's ranting and ravings, and his reported desire to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, (which we all know he will eventually do), was an AP poll that confirmed Nate Silver's earlier analysis that Trump's support among Republicans is beginning to not only slip, but to slip badly.

Silver has pointed out that the level of strong support for Trump has slipped by almost one-third since his inauguration. And now the most recent AP-NORC poll shows that Trump's approval rating has dropped to 35% and over half of the country strongly disapproves of the job he is doing. But here is the real kicker from the AP poll: "Nearly a third of Republicans and independents who lean toward the Republican party think Trump has little to no respect for the country’s democratic institutions, and a quarter disapprove of the job he’s doing as president."

An earlier Fox news poll showed that GOP support for Trump had plummeted from 90% to 81% in just one month. If the AP poll holds, it will mean that Trump's support from Republicans has now fallen into the mid-70% range. That is not only a precipitous fall in such a short period but is approaching the true danger zone for Congressional Republicans.

The President's actions alone should make Congressional Republicans nervous but numbers like these will make them positively freak out. But polls are just polls. The GOP will probably only respond to an electoral defeat. That is what makes the upcoming election in Georgia's 6th so incredibly important. Ossoff coming close in this election would be a bad sign for Republicans but one that they will probably shake off as they've done with other elections in deep red country where Democrats have done remarkably well.

But an Ossoff victory will change the dynamic for the Republicans drastically, I believe. To my mind, an Ossoff victory may, in fact kill any chance for the AHCA in the Senate. Trump's cratering poll numbers, the horrible generic ballot numbers for House Republicans where Democrats lead by numbers never seen before, and losing elections in areas where the GOP won by 20 points a mere 7 months ago will give pause to even Mitch McConnell in jamming through an incredibly unpopular piece of legislation in total secrecy. Yes, Republicans have an extreme advantage in the Senate in 2018 as Democrats are defending so many seats, many in red states. But a 20 point swing even in a House district is likely to get McConnell's attention.

Republicans have slavishly lashed themselves to the mast of Trump. But, as we all know, even rats will desert a sinking ship and right now Trump and the GOP are taking on quite a bit of water.

Natural Weekends - Clouds