Archive for the ‘GOP’ Category
Kansas really seems to opposed to the way government works in a democracy, particularly a government with three co-equal branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. Lincoln Caplan writes in the New Yorker:
In his annual State of the Judiciary speech a couple of years ago, Chief Justice Lawton R. Nuss, of the Kansas Supreme Court, began with a joke about bribery. A lawyer was sure his side would win a court case because he had given the judge a lot of money. The punch line went, “We are dealing with a respectable judge. He is a man of honor. He would not think of taking from both sides.” The chief justice continued, “We chuckle, and perhaps even laugh. Because that is certainly not the way judges decide cases in Kansas. We do not take money from either side. Nor do we decide cases based on money’s distant cousins: threats and other pressures.”
A week earlier, in his State of the State speech, Kansas’s governor, Sam Brownback, had pointedly pressured Nuss and his colleagues on the state’s highest court. A trial court had found, “beyond any question,” that the state system of financing public schools was unconstitutional because it provided inadequate funding and distributed money unfairly. The Kansas Supreme Court had recently heard oral argument in an appeal of the ruling. The court was expected to decide the case soon. Brownback claimed, “This is the people’s business, done by the people’s house through the wonderfully untidy—but open for all to see—business of appropriations.” He contrasted this with the “unaccountable, opaque” decision-making of the Kansas Supreme Court.
Since 1958, Kansas has relied on a merit-selection system to choose the members of its Supreme Court: a commission of lawyers and non-lawyers nominates three candidates for an open position, and the governor picks one to appoint. Merit selection is meant to strike a balance between independence and accountability. The justices are held accountable in retention elections, but, in the fifty-six years that the system has been used, no justice has been voted out of office, because no justice has proved inept, unethical, or otherwise unfit for service on the court. The court is largely viewed as moderate, reasonable, and business-friendly. That has not kept Brownback from making regular attacks on it.
When the Kansas Supreme Court upheld the heart of the trial-court ruling on financing public schools, it devoted about two-thirds of its opinion to explaining why the court had a duty under the state constitution to decide the issue and not leave the problem to the governor and the legislature. “Determining whether an act of the legislature is invalid under the people’s constitution is solely the duty of the judiciary,” the court wrote. “The judiciary is not at liberty to surrender, ignore, or waive this duty.” The legislature and the governor’s response was to pass and sign a law that stripped the State Supreme Court of administrative power over lower state courts. And then to pass and sign another law that stripped the state’s entire court system of funding if any court struck down any part of the previous law.
This past December, the State Supreme Court ruled that the first of the retaliatory laws is unconstitutional because it usurps the “general administrative authority” that the state constitution gives the judiciary. Because of the second retaliatory law, the ruling put in jeopardy all of the judiciary’s funding.
Last week, the legislature blinked, passing a bill that would reverse the defunding law. Jeff King, the Republican chairman of the Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee, was its main proponent. On Thursday, he told me that the superseded law was not intended to defund the judiciary, but rather to give the legislature an opportunity to reconsider the judiciary’s budget if a court struck down the part of the law shifting budgetary authority from the State Supreme Court to local trial courts. “That’s what we have courts for,” he said. “We in the legislature get to rewrite the law when the court interprets it differently from what we intended.” That is a clever but unconvincing revision of recent history, to save face for the legislature while abiding by the court’s decision.
The bill is being hailed as a victory for judicial independence. It will be a victory if it becomes law—and King told me that Brownback will sign it “very soon”—but a modest and perhaps short-lived one. Republicans in the legislature have drafted bills calling for a system in which the governor would nominate and the State Senate would confirm justices. That sounds benign but could be terrible for Kansas, where the right wing holds the governor’s office and is prominent in the State Senate. There is little balance between the political branches. There is scant check of one by the other.
Republicans have also drafted bills calling for partisan election of justices. That has proved to be a travesty in many states, but particularly in Wisconsin, as I have reported. Since 2000, when spending in judicial elections jumped significantly, they have become a case study in the worst aspects of money in politics. Spending by special interests, which are clearly concerned about the decisions that judges reach rather than their capability and impartiality in reaching them, has grown dramatically as a share of total spending. An increasing portion of that spending has come from national organizations or their local affiliates, which are, again, clearly concerned about results, with most of the money coming from the political right.
The nature of the campaigns is often as misleading and bad for judges and for the law as their purpose. . .
Later in the article:
Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who is the most prominent and persistent critic of judicial elections, called them “political prizefights where partisans and special interests seek to install judges who will answer to them instead of the law and the Constitution.”
By all means, read the whole thing.
Kevin Drum posts in his Mother Jones blog:
Watching Donald Trump make excuses for yet another business failure is edifying.Here’s Trump on why he lost in Iowa:
I think we could’ve used a better ground game, a term I wasn’t even familiar with….But people told me my ground game was fine. And I think by most standards it was.
Hey, “people” told him his ground game was fine! And it was. By most standards. Anyway, Iowa doesn’t really matter. And Ted Cruz cheated. And the grass was wet. And the sun was in his eyes.
This is Trump all over. He hops from one failure to another, always with a handy excuse. Football is a lousy business. Eastern Airlines ripped me off. The Plaza would have done great if the economy hadn’t turned down. Atlantic City was overbuilt. I never really had anything to do with Trump University.
This is the same guy who thinks that running America will be child’s play. It’s so easy. Just watch. But he’s such a lousy manager that he never bothered to learn what a “ground game” is—which is roughly the equivalent of understanding about food costs if you run a restaurant.
I wouldn’t hire Donald Trump to run a lemonade stand, let alone the United States of America. I don’t think I could stand the pity party. He needs to take his daddy issues to a shrink, not the Oval Office.
In the NY Times Jacques Leslie describes a jaw-dropping instance of corruption and a financial attack on the public:
WHEN President Obama proclaimed in his State of the Union address last month that “solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills,” he clearly wasn’t talking about Nevada.
In late December, the state’s Public Utilities Commission, which regulates Nevada’s energy market, announced a rate change drastic enough to kill Nevada’s booming rooftop solar market and drive providers out of the state. Effective Jan. 1, the new tariffs will gradually increase until they triple monthly fees that solar users pay to use the electric grid and cut by three-quarters users’ reimbursements for feeding electricity into it.
More startlingly, the commission made its decision retroactive. That means that the 17,000 Nevada residents who were lured into solar purchases by state-mandated one-time rebates of up to $23,000 suddenly discovered that they were victims of a bait-and-switch. They made the deals assuming that, allowing for inflation, their rates would stay constant over their contracts’ 20- to 30-year lifetimes; instead, they face the prospect of paying much more for electricity than if they had never made the change, even though they’re generating almost all their electricity themselves.
The commission justified its decision by citing grid construction and maintenance costs that rooftop solar users haven’t been charged for, but circumstantial evidence suggests that other factors played a role. All three commission members were appointed or reappointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, whose two election campaigns have received a total of $20,000, the maximum allowed donation under Nevada law, from NV Energy, the Berkshire Hathaway-owned utility that is a major beneficiary of the rate changes. Two of Mr. Sandoval’s closest informal advisers, Pete Ernaut and Gregory W. Ferraro, are NV Energy lobbyists.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, which drafts model bills for right-wing state legislators and receives financial support from fossil fuel interests, has campaigned for rates like those the commission adopted, and, according to Greenpeace, NV Energy was at one time an ALEC member.
The outcry among solar users and providers has been so vehement that the commission has agreed to hold a hearing next week to reconsider imposing the new rates on existing solar users, and NV Energy announced a week ago that it would not insist on the retroactive provision. But even if limited to future customers, the rate changes will almost certainly decimate one of the largest residential solar markets in the nation. As a result, residential consumers will have little alternative to NV Energy, which uses fossil fuels to generate more than 80 percent of the state’s electricity.
The decision is likely to have national repercussions. One indication is that the stock price of SolarCity, which served 60 percent of Nevada’s rooftop market, has dropped 30 percent since the commission’s decision was announced Dec. 22. Investors in solar companies now have reason to fear that retroactive provisions will spread to other states, no matter what happens in Nevada.
All of this amounts to the most consequential skirmish so far in the struggle over the future of utilities. In fact, it reflects utilities’ defensiveness, as modular devices located close to consumers are undermining their monopolies. Cleaner, more energy-efficient and potentially cheaper than fossil fuels, these technologies include solar, wind, batteries, microturbines, microgrids and smart appliances. As they spread, they strike at the heart of utilities’ business models: To increase profits, utilities must expand operations, but the emergence of distributed energy reduces the need for expansion.
Three years ago, the Edison Electric Institute, the utilities’ trade group, published a report called “Disruptive Challenges” that became famous in the utilities sector for its seeming candor. It describes how distributed forms of energy could send the industry into what has become known as the “utility death spiral.” As more and more consumers switch to distributed energy, the utilities’ costs must be shared among a dwindling number of customers, whose rates therefore increase, causing more of them to shift to distributed energy. The report may be exaggerating when it says that if 10 percent of utility customers switch to distributed energy, utilities’ rates would rise by 20 percent, but even a smaller shift might devastate utilities’ business models.
The industry’s response has been . . .
So much for the free market ideal that the GOP claims to respect. Obviously, what the GOP respects is greed.
Ryan Lizza has a good report on a sleazy campaign fraud perpetrated by the Cruz campaign—more or less the sort of thing one would expect from a guy like Ted Cruz. The entire column is worth reading, but here’s the response of the Cruz campaign:
After looking at several mailers posted online, I was more curious about how the Cruz campaign came up with its scores. On all the mailers I saw, every voter listed had only one of three possible scores: fifty-five per cent, sixty-five per cent, or seventy-five per cent, which translate to F, D, and C grades, respectively. Iowans take voting pretty seriously. Why was it that nobody had a higher grade?
In Iowa, although voter registration information is free and available to the public, voter history is not. That information is maintained by the secretary of state, which licenses it to campaigns, super PACs, polling firms, and any other entity that might want it. So was the Cruz campaign accurately portraying the voter histories of Iowans? Or did it simply make up the numbers?
It seems to have made them up. Dave Peterson, who happens to be a political scientist at Iowa State University and is well-acquainted with the research on “social pressure” turnout techniques, received a mailer last week. The Cruz campaign pegged his voting percentage at fifty-five per cent, which seems to be the most common score that the campaign gives out. (All of the neighbors listed on Peterson’s mailer also received a score of fifty-five per cent.)
Peterson, who is actually a Hillary Clinton supporter, moved to Iowa in 2009. He told me that he has voted in three out of the last three general elections and in two out of the last three primaries.
“There are other people listed on my mailer who live in my neighborhood that are all different ages, but everyone on this sheet has the same score of fifty-five per cent,” he said. “Some are significantly younger and would have not been eligible to vote in these elections, and others are older and have voted consistently going back years. There is no way to get to us all having the same score.” (Peterson also spoke with Mother Jones.)
If the Cruz campaign based its score on local elections, Peterson said, the number also wouldn’t make sense, based on his participation in those elections as well. A source with access to the Iowa voter file told me that he checked several other names on Cruz mailers and that the voting histories of those individuals did not match the scores that the Cruz campaign assigned them in the mailer.
I e-mailed Catherine Frazier, a spokeswoman for the Cruz campaign, and asked her what the campaign’s methodology was for arriving at its voting scores and whether the scores were fraudulent or not. “This was a mailer designed from public information and modeled on past successful mailers used by the Iowa GOP to turn out voters, so that we can have as high of a turnout as possible on caucus day,” she said. “I’ll leave it at that.” She did not explain the methodology used nor did she answer my question about whether the numbers were made up.
The scores are obviously fraudulent. This is not a person one should trust.
10 things about the Flint tragedy, from Michael Moore, including the use of Flint for live-ammunition military exercises
Michael Moore reports:
News of the poisoned water crisis in Flint has reached a wide audience around the world. The basics are now known: the Republican governor, Rick Snyder, nullified the free elections in Flint, deposed the mayor and city council, then appointed his own man to run the city. To save money, they decided to unhook the people of Flint from their fresh water drinking source, Lake Huron, and instead, make the public drink from the toxic Flint River. When the governor’s office discovered just how toxic the water was, they decided to keep quiet about it and covered up the extent of the damage being done to Flint’s residents, most notably the lead affecting the children, causing irreversible and permanent brain damage. Citizen activists uncovered these actions, and the governor now faces growing cries to resign or be arrested.
Here are ten things that you probably don’t know about this crisis because the media, having come to the story so late, can only process so much. But if you live in Flint or the State of Michigan as I do, you know all to well that what the greater public has been told only scratches the surface.
- While the Children in Flint Were Given Poisoned Water to Drink, General Motors Was Given a Special Hookup to the Clean Water. A few months after Governor Snyder removed Flint from the clean fresh water we had been drinking for decades, the brass from General Motors went to him and complained that the Flint River water was causing their car parts to corrode when being washed on the assembly line. The Governor was appalled to hear that GM property was being damaged, so he jumped through a number of hoops and quietly spent $440,000 to hook GM back up to the Lake Huron water, while keeping the rest of Flint on the Flint River water. Which means that while the children in Flint were drinking lead-filled water, there was one — and only one — address in Flint that got clean water: the GM factory.
- For Just $100 a Day, This Crisis Could’ve Been Prevented. Federal law requires that water systems which are sent through lead pipes must contain an additive that seals the lead into the pipe and prevents it from leaching into the water. Someone at the beginning suggested to the Governor that they add this anti-corrosive element to the water coming out of the Flint River. “How much would that cost?” came the question. “$100 a day for three months,” was the answer. I guess that was too much, so, in order to save $9,000, the state government said f*** it — and as a result the State may now end up having to pay upwards of $1.5 billion to fix the mess.
- There’s More Than the Lead in Flint’s Water. In addition to exposing every child in the city of Flint to lead poisoning on a daily basis, there appears to be a number of other diseases we may be hearing about in the months ahead. The number of cases in Flint of Legionnaires Disease has increased tenfold since the switch to the river water. Eighty-seven people have come down with it, and at least ten have died. In the five years before the river water, not a single person in Flint had died of Legionnaires Disease. Doctors are now discovering that another half-dozen toxins are being found in the blood of Flint’s citizens, causing concern that there are other health catastrophes which may soon come to light.
- People’s Homes in Flint Are Now Worth Nothing Because They Cant Be Sold. Would you buy a house in Flint right now? Who would? So every homeowner in Flint is stuck with a house that’s now worth nothing. That’s a total home value of $2.4 billion down the economic drain. People in Flint, one of the poorest cities in the U.S., don’t have much to their name, and for many their only asset is their home. So, in addition to being poisoned, they have now a net worth of zero. (And as for employment, who is going to move jobs or start a company in Flint under these conditions? No one.) Has Flint’s future just been flushed down that river?
- While They Were Being Poisoned, They Were Also Being Bombed. Here’s a story which has received little or no coverage outside of Flint. During these two years of water contamination, residents in Flint have had to contend with a decision made by the Pentagon to use Flint for target practice. Literally. Actual unannounced military exercises – complete with live ammo and explosives – were conducted last year inside the city of Flint. The army decided to practice urban warfare on Flint, making use of the thousands of abandoned homes which they could drop bombs on. Streets with dilapidated homes had rocket-propelled grenades fired upon them. For weeks, an undisclosed number of army troops pretended Flint was Baghdad or Damascus and basically had at it. It sounded as if the city was under attack from an invading army or from terrorists. People were shocked this could be going on in their neighborhoods. Wait – did I say “people?” I meant, Flint people. As with the Governor, it was OK to abuse a community that held no political power or money to fight back. BOOM!
- The Wife of the Governor’s Chief of Staff Is a Spokeswoman for Nestle, Michigan’s Largest Owner of Private Water Reserves. . .
I want some confirmation on some of this: the Army practicing urban warfare with live ammunition seems incredible.
This story shows a very ugly aspect of the Michigan government’s view of its responsibilities and suggests to me that criminal penalties are in order. Liam Stack reports in the NY Times:
Throughout most of 2015, the administration of Gov. Rick Snyder told the residents of Flint, Mich., that their tap water was safe to drink. But emails released on Thursday suggest the state was concerned about its own employees’ exposure to the city’s water as early as January of last year, even arranging for purified water to be provided at a state office building there.
The emails depict an exchange that month between employees of two state departments that expresses concern about the water’s safety within the Michigan government long before Mr. Snyder acknowledged to residents in the fall that there was a problem.
The correspondence — between employees of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget — was obtained by a liberal advocacy group, Progress Michigan. The news was reported on Thursday by The Detroit Free Press.
Lonnie Scott, the executive director of Progress Michigan, accused the state government of valuing the well-being of its employees more than that of Flint’s residents.
“While residents were being told to relax and not worry about the water, the Snyder administration was taking steps to limit exposure in its own building,” Mr. Scott said in a statement.
The emails, he added, show that “the response was not only late and so far ineffective, but it was also unequal.”
The email exchange began on Jan. 9, 2015, when Jeanette Doll, an employee of the management and budget department, which oversees state buildings, wrote to Jennifer Wolf, an employee of the environmental department, to forward her a “facility notification” regarding the State Office Building in Flint.
The management and budget department had recently been told by city officials that the tap water no longer met safety standards, the document said. It wanted to reassure employees of the state office that it would provide coolers of purified water.
“While the city of Flint states that correction actions are not necessary, D.T.M.B. is in the process of providing a water cooler on each occupied floor, positioned near the water fountain, so you can choose which water to drink,” the notification said. “The coolers will arrive today and will be provided as long as the public water does not meet treatment requirements.”
Ms. Doll sent the notification to Ms. Wolf with a question attached: Would the environmental department be able to determine by March 1, 2015, whether the tap water contained unsafe levels of trihalomethanes, or T.T.H.M., a by-product of chlorine that had been added to the water to kill coliform bacteria?
Ms. Doll’s email was forwarded at least twice by environmental department employees, according to the email thread. One of the recipients was Stephen Busch, a district manager in the department’s drinking water division who was responsible for Flint.
“Steve, appears certain state departments are concerned with Flint’s WQ,” wrote Michael Prsyby, an engineer in the department, using an abbreviation for water quality.
Mr. Busch has since been reassigned within the department and has no role in resolving the water crisis, according to The Detroit Free Press. . . .
David Daley in Salon interviews Jane Mayer about her book about the Kochs, Dark Money:
Jane Mayer is the best reporter we have, period. In one truly essential book after another, she gets behind the scenes and to the real truth of the most important stories — and the hardest stories to cover — in American politics today.
Her latest book is Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, and damn if Mayer doesn’t unpack — clearly, tenaciously, intently — every tentacle of the Koch brothers’ megamillion-dollar operation to reshape politics and policy, no matter how brilliantly the Kochs tried to bury and disguise its roots. (Or, as she shares in this book, no matter how much digging private investigators believed to have Koch ties did into her personal and professional life.)
The book’s roots emerged from Mayer’s brilliant New Yorker stories on the Kochs, including this political thriller about the “billionaire brothers who are waging a war on Obama,” and this masterful look at how the Koch network and other wealthy and often secret GOP donors remade North Carolina politics after Citizens United. Go order a copy right now, then come back.
We sat down with Mayer last week in New York to talk about the Kochs, the audacious Republican plan to remake state and national politics, the impact that conservative money has had on the media and universities, and much more.
I loved your history of the Powell Memorandum, which feels like the clarion call in many ways that started billionaires and big business thinking seriously about how to use their money to influence the political process. Lewis Powell had been a lawyer for the tobacco industry, and would become a justice on the Supreme Court, but in the early 1970s he sounded the alarm to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. That’s almost the starting line for the decades-long process of building think tanks and foundations and conservative media — but you dug out new information on what Powell was up to. How influential was he, and what did he help create?
I think it was the Rosetta Stone in some ways. It was 1971 and Lewis Powell had been a lawyer for the tobacco industry. He had felt firsthand the sting of the modern-regulatory state as the government began to crack down on tobacco for health reasons and he was trying to defend it. What I found that was new and interesting came when I got ahold of Richard Mellon Scaife’s unpublished memoir. It tells this story of how he’s in this little tiny club with Lewis Powell; they call it “The Committee to Save Carthage.” And what they want to do is be an elite that will get together and save America by really sacking American politics. They want to have basically a surprise attack on American politics — and they plan it. Richard Mellon Scaife’s got the money and Powell’s got the ideas. And what they build very deliberately is a counter-intelligentsia. What’s so interesting about Powell is that what he sees as the enemy is not the hippies, or the yippies, or even the anti-war movement necessarily, which was sort of still going in 1971.
He identified the enemy as the universities and the educated elite.
Right, the enemy for big business in America was the intelligentsia. The educated elite, the media, the scientists specifically, judges were very key. They wanted to change the whole judiciary and influence opinion-makers. And so they set out to build this counter-intelligentsia and Scaife describes in his memoir how he put — what he reckons by modern dollars — $1 billion into this project, which is a stupendous amount of money. It comes from the Gulf Oil fortune that he inherited and he’s working with Powell. Powell then gets on the Supreme Court, but they build the early foundations, literally, that created, and they use private philanthropy, which gives these families huge tax deductions to essentially propagate theories that serve their personal interests, their personal financial interests.
Let alone the specific regulatory interests they have in front of Congress.
Right — it’s almost like a lobbying operation disguised as a charity. They build up the think tanks that we all know, the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute — which already existed but they pour more money into it — the Cato Institute becomes the special think tank of the Koch family, and several others. And these counter-intellectual centers start waging a war of ideas. Then they very deliberately move on into the universities too.
What’s so impressive to me is the ruthless efficiency of the right’s strategy. They had a plan in 1971. Year after year, they have stuck to and refined the script. They keep executing on all of these fronts — whether it is pouring money into judicial races, funding free-enterprise professors at business schools, supporting the conservative media. Over 40 years, all of these projects have taken shape and paid dividends.
Exactly. And I think one of the things that’s most important that the Kochs have done is to subsidize programs in universities and colleges all over the country. It’s hard to count because they’re not transparent particularly, but there’s somewhere between 220 and maybe 300 universities and colleges now that have Koch-funded programs.
What they would say, of course, is, well, the universities are left-leaning and liberal — but the thing is what they’re doing is subsidizing one point of view, whereas the others have grown organically because it’s academic freedom, and that happens to be what the scholars are teaching and believing. They instead are waging a war of ideas, but one in which they push their own point of view by paying for it, and paying universities to push it. And it’s growing at a very fast clip at this point.
One of the things in the final chapter of the book, there is a tape of them talking about all of this, at one of the secret meetings the Kochs hold, with the donor group that they’ve assembled. And their operatives are saying, “We’ve created something that the other side (meaning the liberals) can’t compete with, it’s unrivaled.” And they say, “What it is is a pipeline, a talent pipeline.” And they describe it: You take the most promising students that you can convert to your point of view and you move them on through the other institutions that they’ve got, which are political think tanks, advocacy groups, turning them into people who work in their campaigns, authors, media personalities.
They talk about this in such an amazing way and openly, because they’re talking in front of their own group, that they’ve created an integrated network. And it is an integrated network.
Did you ever step back and just marvel at both the audacity and the success of what they imagined and what they pulled off?
It’s kind of astounding when you look at the thing all together. You understand when you look at it, that of course it’s been designed by engineers.
And what’s interesting is — it’s not what people often write about, in the daily press they talk about it as something that’s just about winning elections. They are aiming at elections, and they’ve won many and they’ve lost some. But it’s much more comprehensive than that, it’s much more ambitious than that. It’s aiming at shaping the whole conversation of the country. They want to be the gatekeepers for policy, what’s decided, how it’s talked about.
What’s the back story of this book? You’ve covered Washington for decades — how did you begin to realize this network existed and had such tentacles? . . .
And definitely read the whole thing. It’s a startling story she tells, and it’s well-founded in facts.