Today In Congressional Delegations That Haven’t Been Cancelled In A Fit Of Presidential Pique: Where In The World Is Lindsey Graham?

Why he’s right here meeting with Erdogan in Ankara!

emIHA Photo/em

I’m sure President Erdogan has important facts for Senator Graham regarding matters under his oversight as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Perhaps Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization has SIGINT that will once and for all put to bed whether Associate Justice “I Like Beer” Kavanaugh was or was not having brewskies with PJ and Squi. I’m sure that Erdogan, being a noted proponent of the Rule of Law, wanted to ensure this got to the right person.

The Daily Sabah has the details:

U. S. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham arrived in Turkey on Friday for meetings with top officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

In both meetings, Erdoğan and Çavuşoğlu discussed with Graham the murder of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the U.S. decision to withdraw from Syria.

It is important to remember that while Senator Graham is a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, he is not the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s chair. That would be Senator Risch, who has no professional or personal experience with foreign policy or foreign relations. He’s a former prosecutor and former governor from Idaho.

While Senator Graham was en route to Turkey to conduct congressional business far, far outside of his actual duties and responsibilities, the President and his enablers – Mick “Man of a Thousand Jobs” Mulvaney, Bill “I Fix Sexual Harassment Issues for All My Bosses” Shine, Mercedes “My Family Were Refugees, Which is Why it is Important that No One Else’s Can Be” Schlapp, Sarah “I Slept Through the Class on Bearing False Witness at Ouchita Bible College” Huckabee Sanders, Stephen “I Don’t Care if I am Jewish, I can too be a White Supremacist!!!” Miller, and Jared “Shonda for the Goyim” Kushner and Ivanka “Almost a Willowy Shiksa” Trump, decided to further endanger Speaker Pelosi, the other members of the House who were scheduled to go with her on her Congressional Delegation to NATO in Brussels and Afghanistan, as well as the military and civilian personnel scheduled to meet with them in Afghanistan.

Maybe if Speaker Pelosi were to play golf with the President and let him cheat like Senator Graham does, she might be able to go somewhere some day.

And that last bit is serious. Because of changes made in the wake of 9-11, the Speaker of the House flies on official US aircraft for security purposes. This is not a legislative requirement. There is no statute that requires it, however, it has become the customary and routine security arrangements for the Speaker of the House, no matter who he or she is, and no matter how badly they’re annoying the President on policy disagreements. While Speaker Pelosi has the wherewithal to travel commercially, this isn’t a change in policy being made after a review, this is a temper tantrum that placed not just Speaker Pelosi, but other members of the House of Representatives, members of their staffs, members of their security details assigned for the trip, and the military and civilian personnel awaiting them in Afghanistan in danger.

We are off the looking glass and through the map.

Open thread.



Economists Who Are Really Bad At Their Jobs For $200: Who Is Kevin Hassett?

Kevin Hassett is a really, really, really bad economist. He’s so bad that he’s basically Megan McArdle’s idea of someone who is good at math. This wouldn’t be a problem if he wasn’t also the chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors. First Hassett made this really tone deaf remark in a TV interview:

We now know that that was only the shot, here’s the chaser:

Here’s the video if you want to see it with your own eyes and hear it with your own ears:

I’ve been hesitant to write about the shutdown, especially its effects on contractors, because I am one. But I think it is important that people realize that Hassett’s failure to be even remotely competent at his job by not accounting for the effects of contractors being out of work is actually worse than he’s now owned up to. Does anyone know, by any chance, what happens when a veteran owned or minority owned or Native American owned or Native Alaskan owned or some combination of those owned small business gets a contract award from a part of the government, say the Department of Defense, that is not shutdown right now? The answer is quite simple. In order for the contract award to be finalized so that actual people waiting for start dates and on boarding dates can be issued, the Small Business Administration has to verify that the small business is indeed a small business. This is routine paperwork. Unfortunately, the Small Business Administration is currently closed because of the shutdown. As a result that routine paperwork certifying that small businesses are, indeed, small businesses cannot be issued. This means that every contract award to a small business, whether owned by a veteran or a minority or a Native American or a Native Alaskan or by some combination, can’t be finalized. The people lined up to fill the positions in those contracts can’t start. And the ripples through the economy get larger.

This effects everything from new contracts for maintenance and janitorial services to food service to IT to a whole range of other technical specialties – many of them essential for national security. And it is important to remember that a lot of these companies and the people that work for them have been stretched thin over the past five years because of the combination of the Budget Control Act (doing business as the sequester), as well as the inability of the GOP majority Congress to pass a budget and regular appropriations from 2015 through 2018 or the GOP majority House to actually do its job in terms of appropriations from 2011 through 2014 because they were using the budget as leverage against President Obama. Every time the US has approached a shutdown or a rolling, short term Continuing Budget Resolution (CR) is passed, it effects whether people start new contract assignments. And because of the sequester, when this happens repeatedly, contract award money for specific positions can be, and often is, clawed back to fund other needs that aren’t provided by contractors. All of these budgetary failures, from those created by the GOP majorities in the House and the Senate from 2015 through 2018 and the House GOP majority’s budgetary brinksmanship from 2011 through 2014.

Another major issue is that the longer the Small Business Administration is closed and these contracts awarded to small businesses can’t be finalized, especially for essential functions, the more likely that the government agencies that need the work done will seek an exemption to policy and make a default no bid award to one of the non-small business companies that have prime contracts with that department, agency, and/or office. Not only does this mean that the contractors expecting to start these jobs will never do so, the small businesses that employ them will lose the award, but that the point of having laws and regulations that privilege small businesses in these awards will be thwarted.

The simple reality here is that nothing will happen to get Senate Majority Leader McConnell to actually function as he was the leader of one half of a co-equal branch of government until something catastrophic happens. Not even Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s excellent social media skills. As I wrote yesterday, McConnell is immune to the type of pressure that she and her colleagues tried to bring to bear today. Until or unless something really bad happens, civil servants and contractors are going to continue to either have to work without pay or are going to be on furlough. That money, as well as money that should have started flowing into the economy through new contract awards to small businesses, but can’t because the Small Business Administration is closed because of the shutdown, will continue to not circulate through the economy. And the failure of that money to be circulated, through mortgage and rent payments, through the purchase of groceries and clothes, through car payments, gas purchases, and paying for mass transit to get to work, for haircuts delayed, and for non-essentials like movies, the occasional dining out, or other social activities, will have a massive effect on both the macro and micro economies of the US. And those effects won’t be positive.

Open thread.



Live Feed: Opening of the 116th Congress

For those not near a TV who want to see Nancy Pelosi retake the gavel as the Speaker of the House, here’s the live feed:



Blue Wave — Arriving

The 116th Congress is currently being sworn in.

The gavel is being handed over.

The Blue Wave arrived.

Open thread

Image of one of the Healthcare Gavels from Napa Valley Register



Voter Suppression: Rights Restoration Edition

One of the few bright spots in Florida’s 2018 election results was the passage of Amendment 4, the ballot initiative to automatically restore voting rights to ex-felons (excluding those convicted of murder or sex crimes) who complete their sentences. Amendment 4 won in a landslide — nearly 65% voted for it. It brought Florida’s draconian eligibility restrictions in line with the sane states.

The current, Republican-authored system effectively disenfranchises a staggering number of African American citizens, something like one in five, IIRC. Many of those Floridians were convicted long ago on bullshit charges based on racist laws that let white kids off for possession of powered cocaine but threw the book at black kids busted with crack.

The current system requires ex-felons to grovel in front of (Republican) governors and (Republican) cabinet officials for a tiny chance of regaining their rights, and they can’t apply for clemency until five years after they complete all of their sentence, including parole, etc.

It’s a terrible system — even a large portion of the drooling yahoos who voted for Trump recognized that. But regardless of the clear will of the people of Florida, the incoming Republican governor and statehouse Republicans are in no hurry to implement the law:

In an interview with the Palm Beach Post’s George Bennett, Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis said that Amendment 4, which was approved by 64.6 percent (or 5.2 million) of Florida voters, shouldn’t go into effect as intended by the people who wrote the ballot measure.

Instead, DeSantis said the amendment, which would restore voting rights for most ex-felons who have served their sentences, should take effect after state lawmakers pass “implementing language” in a bill that is then sent to him for his signature.

That means at least a two-month delay in restoring voting rights. Conveeeeeeniently, that delay could help Republicans in special elections, like the Tampa mayoral race. And I have a feeling the Republicans will find ways to slow-walk it even more or fuck with the language to their advantage given the opportunity. Here’s a sample of the bad-faith “concerns” statehouse Republicans are raising to delay implementation:

“How do you evaluate eligibility?” [Dennis] Baxley [R-Ocala] told the Times/Herald last week. “I still have some questions … What were the terms of their sentence? Do they have to meet probation? Did they complete their debt to society or not?”

Gee, what a mystery…until you look at the language on the ballot, which Baxley presumably had an opportunity to view as he was voting for himself and fellow Republicans:

This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.

Any other questions, Baxley, you goddamned nitwit?

Ballot initiatives in Florida are amendments to the state constitution. Initiatives require sponsors to collect more than 750K signatures for the amendment to appear on the ballot, and it must achieve a 60% or higher super-majority to become law. Those are high hurdles, and Amendment 4 cleared them all.

I’m an introvert, and I spent hours accosting strangers on street corners and in parking lots to collect signatures to get Amendment 4 on the ballot, so it pisses me off in a personal way to see these vote-suppressing goobers shit all over the will of the people. This is bullshit.



Breaking News: Maria Butina Has Reached a Plea Agreement with Federal Prosecutors

Ms. Butina has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and cooperate with Federal, state, and local investigations. ABC News has the details (emphasis mine):

Maria Butina, a 30-year-old Russian gun rights activist who stands accused developing a covert influence operation in the United States, has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy and cooperate with federal, state and local authorities in any ongoing investigations.

She admits, as part of the deal, according to a copy obtained by ABC News that is expected to be filed to the court, that she and an unnamed “U.S. Person 1,” which sources have identified as longtime Republican operative Paul Erickson, with whom she had a multiyear romantic relationship, “agreed and conspired, with a Russian government official (“Russian Official”) and at least one other person, for Butina to act in the United States under the direction of Russian Official without prior notification to the Attorney General.”

Based on the description, the “Russian Official” appears to be Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Russian Central Bank and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under his direction, the agreement said, she “sought to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics.”

The agreement, which Butina signed on Saturday, Dec. 8, also notes that the conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison, but the deal could see Butina receive a lesser sentence, depending on the level of her cooperation, before likely being deported back to Russia.

It is unclear what Butina’s cooperation might entail, but federal prosecutors have reportedly notified Erickson that he is a target of an ongoing investigation. The target letter sent to Erickson is from federal prosecutors in Washington, sources familiar with the case told ABC News, and separate from any South Dakota-based federal fraud investigation into his business dealings that has been the subject of earlier media reports.

But now, according to the agreement, Butina has acknowledged that with U.S. Person 1’s assistance, she drafted a proposal called “Description of the Diplomacy Project” in March of 2015 which was later sent to the Russian Official, in which she said that she had already “laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration” and requested $125,000 from a Russian billionaire to attend conferences and meetings to further develop those ties. The Russian Official, the agreement said, confirmed that her proposal would be at least partially supported.

The government has alleged that U.S. Person 1 “worked with Butina to arrange introductions to U.S. persons having influence in American politics,” including high-ranking members of the National Rifle Association and organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast, that would ultimately give her a surprising level of access to conservative politicians, including — in one memorable interaction captured on video— to then-candidate Donald Trump.

Most notably, Butina’s Russian gun rights group “Right to Bear Arms” hosted a delegation of former NRA presidents, board members and major donors in Moscow in 2015, where she appears to have succeeded in arranging a meeting between NRA insiders and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, raising the prospect of a discussion between conservative political operatives and a powerful member of Russian President Putin’s inner circle in the midst of a presidential campaign.

After that now infamous meeting, the agreement said, Butina sent the Russian Official a message, which was translated as saying “We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later.”

Much more at the link!

While we’ve covered Ms. Butina’s endeavors here before, one of the most interesting items in ABC’s report is that the plea deal was reached this past Saturday. There are also some non-surprises here. That US Individual is Paul Erickson who, apparently, is not very bright! And given the attempts to run a petroleum sale using funding partial raised by former NRA President David Keene’s wife, as well as her ability to get access to Governor Scott Walker, former Senator Rick Santorum, Donald Trump Jr, former sheriff and flair aficionado David Clarke, and a number of other high level Republican elected and appointed officials, as well as conservative activists, there could be multiple Federal, state, and local targets of this investigation.

And, of course, that the Russian official is Alexander Torshin and oligarch and leader within Russian organized crime circles who is close to Putin. Depending on how this proceeds, keep an eye out to see if Torshin suffers an accidental death that will clearly be anything but accidental.

What we don’t know right now is exactly what Butina is going to provide to the Federal prosecutors, as well as state and local investigators. Some of it will likely deal with Russian attempts to penetrate the NRA, the National Prayer Breakfast, and related groups and organizations in an attempt to influence the Republican Party, Republican elected officials, and the outcome of the 2016 election.

Just to be thorough, I did a quick search of the top firearms/guns/2nd Amendment sites and there’s no mention of this at all.

Always make sure to identify your target and know what’s beyond it!

Open thread!



Late Night Repub Clown Car Open Thread: Floriduh Men

To be fair (to be ecumenically unfair), while the confrontation concerned Florida politics, Lewandowski is a Masshole native who chose to become a Granite Header. And, IMO, further evidence of why New Hampshire should lose its front-runner primary status, because that state just encourages two-bit bullies like Lewandowski…

MIAMI — It was supposed to be a friendly introduction between Republicans at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on Wednesday night, when the president’s former campaign manager and the Republican leader of the Florida Senate met.

But, witnesses say, the impromptu meeting between Corey Lewandowski, Florida Senate President Bill Galvano and Florida state Sen. Jeff Brandes unexpectedly morphed into a hostile debate over a question that encapsulates today’s GOP politics: How much credit should Donald Trump get for GOP successes?…

Three others who witnessed the contretemps and two others who had spoken to the senators also confirmed the surprising public disagreement and relayed the events to POLITICO. All described Lewandowski as needlessly confrontational and disrespectful to the senators who were caught off guard by the former campaign manager, now a reliable cable news defender and promoter of his former boss. The witnesses and confidants of the senators spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive moment.

With Trump laser focused on winning his second home state of Florida for the second time, the disagreement may foreshadow debates to come for Republicans in the nation’s largest swing state heading into the 2020 cycle.

“Donald Trump saved Florida, from the top to the bottom of the ticket,” Lewandowski said, according to one witness whose account was confirmed by a second.

Galvano, who was in charge of running GOP campaigns for the Florida Senate in the last election cycle, reportedly agreed that Trump deserved credit but added, said another witness, that the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee he led and the various GOP candidates and committees spent a record $44 million on their campaigns across the state, thereby driving GOP turnout that helped in the top-of-the-ticket races.

“There were lots of efforts put forward,” Galvano said, according to a witness…

Violence solves nothing, she said piously, but I kinda look forward Lewandowski throwing the first punch at the wrong person…

New cartoon from America’s single finest political cartoonist, Jeff Danziger:

(Jeff Danziger via GoComics.com)
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