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Updated: 28 min 31 sec ago

Hatch takes hundreds of thousands from big pharma, calls Marino report ‘baloney’

3 hours 28 min ago

Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) called a report that led Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA) to withdraw as President Donald Trump’s “drug czar” nominee “complete baloney” on Wednesday. Given that Hatch himself has raked in hundreds of thousands in donations from pharmaceutical and health contributors over the years, his comments were hardly surprising.

The Washington Post report detailed a law that ultimately undermined the Drug Enforcement Authority’s (DEA) ability to go after drug distributors, which was sponsored by Marino in the House and by Hatch in the Senate.

In short, the bill made it more difficult for the DEA to stop drug distribution companies who were potentially supplying pills to doctors and pharmacists who then sold the drugs on the black market. While the DEA had been able to fine distributors making suspicious sales — often millions of pills at once — Hatch and Marino’s law made it nearly impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious shipments, according to the Post.

According to the report, the bill was the result of aggressive lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry.

Marino took much of the heat following the Post’s report, considering he was the nominee to head up Trump’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, and that he pushed the law in the midst of an opioid crisis. (Marino withdrew from consideration on Tuesday.)

Rep.Tom Marino has informed me that he is withdrawing his name from consideration as drug czar. Tom is a fine man and a great Congressman!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2017

But Hatch, too, has close ties with the pharmaceutical industry. From 2013 to 2017 alone, the pharmaceutical and health product industry has lined the veteran senator’s pockets with more than $583,000.

Most members of Congress were not aware what the effects of the bill would be, according to the Post and members like Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and others who spoke to the media following the release of the report.

But Hatch claimed otherwise when he addressed the controversy briefly before a committee hearing Wednesday.

“Every member of the committee supported the bill twice, first in committee and then on the floor,” Hatch said. “I don’t want to hear anyone claim they didn’t know anything about the bill.”

Tough luck, it seems.

“They made it and camouflaged it so well that all of us — all of us — were fooled,” Manchin said in an interview on CBS News Monday. “That bill has to be retracted.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who was being treated for cancer during the vote, has introduced legislation that would repeal Marino and Hatch’s bill.

“There’s a lot of blame to go around,” McCaskill said on CNN Monday. “I don’t know that I would’ve objected. I like to believe I would have… [but] once the upper levels of the DEA said it was okay, that gave it the green light.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

‘This is a slap in the face’: Gubernatorial candidate omits black running mate from campaign fliers

4 hours 26 min ago

With less than three weeks to go before Virginia voters elect a new governor, Democratic nominee Ralph Northam sent out a campaign flier this week promoting the top of the party’s ticket that omitted the name and picture of Justin Fairfax, his black running mate.

The decision to remove Fairfax, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, came at the request of officials at Laborers’ International Union of North America, or LiUNA, who decided against endorsing Fairfax because of his refusal to support pet projects backed by the union, including two natural gas pipelines that are proposed to cross Virginia.

Yielding to the union demands and sending out the campaign literature, which states it was produced and paid for by the Northam campaign, displays a shockingly tone-deaf insensitivity to black Virginia voters, said Quentin James, executive director of The Collective, a Washington, D.C.-based political action committee that seeks to elect black candidates to statewide offices.

“It sends a signal across the state that we, as black voters, are expendable.”

“This is a slap in the face to Justin and to black voters in Virginia,” James said in an interview. “It sends a signal across the state that we, as black voters, are expendable.”

Surely Virginia Democrats don’t want to send that message to black voters, who are expected to cast pivotal ballots in the November 7 election. According to a recent report in Mother Jones, black voters make up one-fifth of the state’s electorate and were largely responsible for current Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s narrow victory in 2013.

As one of only two states holding elections this year, many political observers are watching the November 7th election in Virginia as a bellwether of Democratic strength for the upcoming 2018 midterm elections. Virginia was the only southern state that rejected Donald Trump and supported Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential election.

Given what’s at stake for Democrats, it’s mindboggling that someone inside the Northam campaign didn’t kill the fliers before they were printed, let alone distributed. The decision was made to appease LiUNA, which contributed about $600,000 to the coordinated state Democratic campaign, said a Northam campaign official who agreed to speak freely only without attribution.

A statement released by the Northam campaign praised Fairfax as “clearly the best choice for LT. Governor in November,” but also defended the controversial ad. “One piece of literature carried by LiUNA canvassers does not change that,” the statement said. “Out of over 3 million pieces of literature printed for the campaign, the piece for LiUNA canvassers constituted roughly 0.5% of the literature printed. These doors have also received literature for the full ticket — as have roughly 1.5 million households in Virginia.”

The Northam official declined to address the appearance of racial bias by the campaign for sending out literature that included two white Democrats but deleted the lone black Democrat on the ticket. “I think that’s the wrong question to ask,” the official said.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Fairfax characterized the campaign’s decision to omit him from the fliers as a “mistake,” but stopped short of calling out racial bias.

Calls and emails for comments from LiUNA officials were not immediately returned. However, Brian Petruska, general counsel with the LiUNA Mid-Atlantic Region Organizing Coalition, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the union asked the Northam campaign to take Fairfax’s name off similar fliers so that its members could distribute them. That request was made, he told the newspaper, because union didn’t endorse for his failure to complete a questionnaire and “wasn’t supporting us on the issues.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Jeff Sessions never thought ‘religious freedom’ would allow anti-LGBTQ discrimination

5 hours 21 min ago

During Wednesday’s Justice Department Oversight Hearing, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the Department of Justice’s new “religious freedom” guidance. In particular, Durbin was concerned about how the guidance might enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination, asking Sessions to respond to several hypotheticals.

“Could a social security administration employee refuse to accept or process spousal or survivor benefits paperwork for a surviving same-sex spouse?” Durbin asked.

There was a long pause. “That’s something I never thought would arise, but I would have to give you a written answer to that, if you don’t mind.” Sessions responded.

Durbin countered, “I’d like to have that,” then launched right into another hypothetical. “Could a federal contractor refuse to provide services to LGBTQ people, including in emergencies, without risk of losing federal contracts?”

“Likewise, but I would say to you — are you citing Title VII for this? Or the guidance? I’m not sure that’s covered by it, but I’ll look.”

Durbin: Does religious liberty guidance let fed workers & contractors refuse LGBT people?

Sessions: [4 second pause] I'll get back to you.

— Dominic Holden (@dominicholden) October 18, 2017

It is highly unbelievable that Sessions had never considered these examples prior to Wednesday. More than two years ago, when he was still in the Senate, Sessions was one of the original co-sponsors of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), a bill that would grant those who have religious objections to same-sex marriage a license to discriminate. Many of the provisions in the new guidance mirror FADA’s language.

In response to that bill’s introduction, the ACLU and LGBTQ advocacy groups pushed back, saying that it would be used to prop up discrimination. The ACLU, in particular, outlined FADA’s “parade of horribles” in a 2015 blog post, including the following two:

  • [It would] permit government employees to discriminate against married same-sex couples and their families – federal employees could refuse to process tax returns, visa applications, or Social Security checks for all married same-sex couples.
  • [It would] allow federal contractors or grantees, including those that provide important social services like homeless shelters or drug treatment programs, to turn away LGBT people or anyone who has an intimate relationship outside of a marriage.

Those are nearly identical to the hypotheticals Durbin asked Sessions to respond to on Wednesday. Still, years after they’d been highlighted by advocacy groups, Sessions claimed they had somehow never occurred to him before.

After Sessions’ dodged Durbin’s hypotheticals, the senator asked the attorney general to comment about the fact that “people are discriminating in the name of their own personal religious liberty.”

Sessions responded:

Yes, I would say that wherever possible, a person should be allowed to freely exercise their religion and not to carry out activities that further something they think is contrary to their faith. But at the same time, if you participate in commercial exchanges, you have limits on what you can do under those laws — public accommodation type laws. And so the balance needs to be properly struck — and I think we have. Those issues were discussed as we wrestled with this policy.

It’s unclear with whom Sessions discussed those issues. The Department of Justice apparently held “listening sessions”, but has refused to name which groups it consulted. The reason the public even knows these consultations took place at all is because the Alliance Defending Freedom — an anti-LGBTQ hate group that defends business owners who discriminate and challenges nondiscrimination protections in the name of “religious freedom” — bragged that it had participated in them.

Given Sessions said in an interview last week that he believes such discrimination should be allowed in the case of the anti-gay baker whose case is headed to the Supreme Court, it’s not hard to imagine how he might respond to Durbin’s hypotheticals, if pressed.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Franken meticulously dismantled Sessions’ shifting story on Russia. Then Sessions made things worse.

5 hours 45 min ago

During a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) detailed how Attorney General Jeff Sessions has moved repeatedly the goalposts about his communications with Russians. Sessions responded by subtly moving the goalposts yet again.

Sessions denied having any communications with Russians whatsoever during his conformation hearing in January. But under questioning by Franken on Wednesday, Sessions retreated all the way to merely denying “a continuing exchange of information” with Russian officials.

The exchange came after Franken asked Sessions to explain the shifting statements he’s made since he told senators he “did not have communications with the Russians” during his conformation hearing in January. Less than two months later, Justice Department officials told the Washington Post that Sessions hadn’t told the truth — he had in fact met with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least twice during the campaign. That led to Sessions recusing himself from overseeing the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign for possible collusion with Russia.

In response to the Post’s reporting, Sessions acknowledged that the meetings occurred, but denied discussing anything of a political nature with Kislyak. But as the Wall Street Journal reported, one of Sessions’ meetings with Kislyak happened at the 2016 Republican National Convention — an event Sessions traveled to and from using campaign funds. What’s more, a person who was at the RNC told the Journal that Sessions and Kislyak discussed the Trump campaign.

Ordered by court to disclose his Russia contacts, Sessions releases blank sheet of paper

By July, the Department of Justice was left denying just that Sessions had discussions with foreign officials “concerning any type of interference” with the 2016 election — a far cry from what he said in January.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Franken drilled down on Sessions’ slippery explanations.

“First it was, ‘I did not have communications with Russians,’ which was not true,” Franken told Sessions. “Then it was, ‘I never met with any Russians to discuss any political campaign,’ which may or may not be true. Now it’s, ‘I did not discuss interference in the campaign,’ which further narrows your initial blanket denial about meetings with the Russians.”

“Since you have qualified your denial to say that you did not, quote, discuss issues of the campaign with the Russians, what in your view constitutes ‘issues of the campaign?'” asked Franken.

Sessions didn’t answer. Instead, he asserted he “conducted no improper discussions with Russians at any time regarding a campaign or any other item facing this country,” and made a show of getting indignant about Franken’s line of questioning.

AG Sessions on @senfranken: "I don't have to sit in here and listen to his charges without having a chance to respond. Give me a break."

— CSPAN (@cspan) October 18, 2017

Franken later expressing bewilderment that Sessions was conflating being unsure about what was said during a meeting with forgetting about a meeting entirely.

“Not being able to recall what you discussed with him is very different than saying, ‘I have no had communications with the Russians,'” Franken said. “The ambassador of Russia is a Russian.”

Sessions replied by claiming, absurdly, that when Franken asked him whether “there was a continuing exchange of information between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government,” he thought the question was true only if each and every one of Trump’s surrogates was in touch with Russian officials — an explanation that left Franken guffawing.

“It didn’t say some of [them] — it said his surrogates,” Sessions insisted, before complaining that he was tired when he denied communicating with Russian officials during his confirmation hearing.

“And I responded on the spot — it had been six hours in the hearing, at the end of the day — and I said, ‘I’m not aware of those activities,’ and I wasn’t, and am not, and I don’t believe they occurred,” Sessions said.

“I didn’t have a continuing exchange of information. So now you take that and say if I ever met with a Russian, I haven’t been candid with the committee, and I reject that,” Sessions added — with his remark about “a continuing exchange of information” suggesting that the goalposts are moving yet again. After all, a discussion or possibly two with the Russian ambassador about Russia’s efforts to interfere in the election on Trump’s behalf may not, in Sessions’ mind, constitute a “continuing exchange.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The acronym at the center of Trump’s war on Obamacare, explained

5 hours 46 min ago

On Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump, as he is wont to do, took to Twitter.

“I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co’s who have made a fortune w/ O’Care,” Trump tweeted.

I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co's who have made a fortune w/ O'Care.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2017

The tweet — which was referring to Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-TN) recent health proposal — is the latest development in yet another week of health care drama. Like so many other weeks driven by health care drama during the Trump era, it’s been marked by presidential flip-flops, a pattern of putting politics ahead of good policy, and a whole lot of acronyms.

On Tuesday afternoon, Alexander, who chairs the Senate health committee, announced a deal with the committee’s ranking member Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) that takes steps to stabilize the Obamacare markets. Senate leadership has not yet agreed to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, but, among other things, the deal includes funding for cost-sharing reduction payments.

The CSRs are subsidies the government pays to insurers to help them cover lower-income people. But last Thursday, just before midnight, the White House announced Trump was going to stop making the cost-sharing reduction payments, which were the subject of a 2014 suit filed by House Republicans during the Obama years.

House Republicans won that suit, arguing the subsidies were not officially appropriated in the law, but President Obama appealed and continued making the payments, which are worth an estimated $7 billion per year.

“The Department of Health and Human Services has concluded that there is no appropriation for cost-sharing reduction payments to insurance companies lawfully under Obamacare,” a statement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday.

There it is. No more cost sharing subsidies.

— Margot Sanger-Katz (@sangerkatz) October 13, 2017

The CSRs, Sanders’ statement said, are a “bailout of insurance companies through unlawful payments.”

But on Tuesday, following Alexander’s announcement about the deal, Trump opened the door to supporting the plan.

“We’re going to have a great solution ultimately for health care, OK?” he told reporters during a press conference with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. “And they are working together and I know very much what they’re doing, OK?”

The Alexander-Murray bill seems like the Senate’s most earnest attempt so far to actually craft health care policy that will help people access better care for less money. But health care has always been more about politics than policy for Trump, and he shut the door again Wednesday morning with his tweet saying he could never support bailing out insurance companies (even though he was open to supporting it the day before).

It’s important to note that the CSRs are not a bailout of insurance companies. Insurers rely on the payments to help cover the costs of insuring lower-income people, and the subsidies are vital for keeping health care costs affordable for Obamacare enrollees.

Ending the payments would shift costs onto insurers, which will raise premiums in response. Earlier this year, when insurers filed rate requests with the government, many insurers that requested rate increases cited their expectation that Trump would stop paying the CSRs as a reason why.

Nationally, 80 percent of people receive subsidies to help pay their premiums. The subsidies ensure that consumers pay only a set fraction of their income toward health care premiums, so even if insurers raise premiums in response to Trump’s decision not to make CSR payments, many people won’t actually see their health care costs change.

But people earning more than four times the federal poverty level — about $100,000 per year for a family of four — don’t receive subsidies. About 20 percent of people who buy insurance through the Obamacare markets don’t receive subsidies, and that population will face the premium increases without help from the government.

Trump’s decision to stop paying the CSRs could have other consequences, too. Chief among them is the fact that the move could cause insurers to pull out of the markets before enrollment begins next month, though no major insurer has signaled it aims to leave the market since the announcement last week.

Trumpcare is here

Additionally, ending CSR payments won’t actually save the federal government money.

In August, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected the fallout from ending the CSR payments and doing so would ultimately increase the federal deficit by $6 billion in 2018, $21 billion in 2020, and $26 billion by 2026.

The other player in the CSR fight is a group of states that filed suit against Trump last week in an effort to keep the funds flowing. On Wednesday, the group, which includes 18 states and Washington D.C., filed a motion for a temporary restraining order that would force Trump to continue making the CSR payments until the case is decided.

The Alexander-Murray deal could also keep the payments coming — but on Wednesday afternoon, Sanders confirmed Trump does not support the Alexander-Murray deal.

“We said all along we want something that doesn’t just bail out insurance companies but actually provides relief for all Americans and this bill doesn’t address that fact,” Sanders said at the press briefing. “We want to make sure that’s taken care of and think this is a good step in the right direction. This president certainly supports Republicans and Democrats coming to work together, but it is not a full approach and we need something to go a little further to get on board.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Author of Trump’s tax plan says math forced him to give big cuts to the rich

5 hours 51 min ago

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin acknowledged Wednesday that the GOP tax plan will ultimately benefit wealthy people.

During an appearance on the Politico Money podcast, Mnuchin said it is difficult not to create a tax plan wherein wealthy individuals receive a tax cut.

“The top 20 percent of the people pay 95 percent of the taxes. The top 10 percent of the people pay 81 percent of the taxes,” he said on the podcast. “So when you’re cutting taxes across the board, it’s very hard not to give tax cuts to the wealthy with tax cuts to the middle class. The math, given how much you are collecting, is just hard to do.”

This contradicts a statement Mnuchin made in September on CNBC’s SquawkBox, when he stated, “Any reductions we have in upper-income taxes will be offset by less deductions so that there will be no absolute tax cut for the upper class.”

Avoiding tax cuts for the wealthy, however, is not as difficult as Mnuchin believes it to be. All he really has to do is take closer look at the tax plan he helped create.

In the podcast interview this week, Mnuchin defended the party’s plan to repeal the estate tax by calling it “somewhat of an economic issue and somewhat of a philosophical issue” and asking, “Why should people have to pay taxes again when they die?”

President Donald Trump also kicked off his tax reform campaign by using a family farmer as a prop to prove that repealing the estate tax helps small business owners.

“Your family won’t have to run out and do a fire sale to try to get the money to pay the tax, lose the business, ends up going out of business, all of those jobs are lost,” said Trump. “The farmers in particular are affected. They have wonderful farms but they can’t pay the tax, so they have to sell the farm.”

Eliminating the estate tax has long been pitched to Americans by the GOP as a way to ensure family businesses can be passed down without being heavily taxed. The reality is, thought, that only a few thousand Americans will ever pay the estate tax and they all come from an absurdly wealthy cluster of the country which makes more money than the tens of millions of people at the bottom end of the national income distribution.

In order to qualify for the estate tax, an individual has to have an estate worth more than $5.5 million (or $11 million for a married couple). Half of the families worth that much money are not farmers or small business owners, but rather, suit-wearing plutocrats who live in states like New York, California, Texas, Florida, or New Jersey. In Indiana, where Trump kicked off his tax reform campaign, there are just 70 estates large enough to pay the estate tax next year, according to the IRS figures.

Trump and the 13 of his 24 cabinet members who qualify to pay the estate tax would collectively recieve a massive tax cut worth $1.5 billion.

The GOP plan also proposes eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT), an anti-loophole backstop that was created so the wealthiest individuals couldn’t take so many deductions that would result in them paying little-to-no income tax. The AMT is the only reason Trump paid any income tax on his leaked 2005 tax returns. Without it, he would have only paid a tax rate of about 4 percent on an income worth $150 million.

Analysis from the Tax Policy Center at the Brookings Institute also found this tax plan would be a boon for wealthy individuals at the expense of the working and middle class.

80 percent of the plan’s tax cuts would go to the top 1 percent.

New study eviscerates Trump’s claim that his tax cuts don’t benefit the wealthy

Conversely, some tax deductions claimed by middle class families, like the state and local tax deduction (SALT) are in jeopardy of being eliminated. This would harm middle and upper-middle class families in high-tax states like New Jersey, New York, and California.

New York Congressman Peter King (R-NY) is one of the 52 Republicans representing a district that use the state tax deduction disproportionately and has said he wouldn’t vote for any bill that would eliminate SALT.

“Without the SALT deduction, taxpayers in all 50 states and in the District of Columbia would be doubly taxed — they would pay federal income taxes on the money they pay to their state and local governments,” King and six other New York Republican lawmakers wrote in a June letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “Such a policy is eminently unfair, as the federal tax code has recognized for the past 103 years.”

In the Politico interview, Mnuchin said he was aware of the concerns regarding the SALT deduction and planned to address it.

“We’re working on fixing that right now. We’re conscious of that issue,” Mnuchin said. “And look, I’m sympathetic to that issue. I’ve lived in two of the highest-taxed states, New York and California.”

Many Americans, however, are beginning to see right through the administration’s claims that the tax plan is a win for the middle class. A CBS News Nation Tracker poll released Sunday found that nearly 58 percent of Americans believe the proposed GOP-Trump tax reforms would favor the rich, with only 18 percent believing they would help the middle class.

A separate poll by CNN found that 52 percent of Americans oppose the Trump tax plan, with only 24 percent believing the plan will make them better off.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Wisconsin bill would ban university doctors from performing abortions and training students

5 hours 58 min ago

University of Wisconsin doctors could be severely restricted in their ability to perform abortions or train medical students on the procedure, if the legislature passes a controversial bill that was up for debate at a state Senate hearing on Tuesday.

The measure, AB 206, would ban UW staff from providing abortion services or training at private clinics, like Planned Parenthood, or any medical facilities other than hospitals.

State-funded UW doctors have been performing abortions at clinics like Planned Parenthood for several years, in order to get the training they need and also abide by a state law prohibiting the use of public dollars on abortions. This training is required for UW to maintain its federal accreditation for obstetrician-gynecologist training.

But, citing risks that state-funded employees are being paid by Planned Parenthood, proponents of the bill argued in favor of putting an end to the arrangement, which would effectively shut down UW’s training program.

“This is not just a good bill it’s a very important bill,” state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R) said at Tuesday’s Senate committee hearing. “We really cannot stand for unborn babies being killed, even worse on the state’s dime.”

Robert Golden, dean of the UW’s School of Medicine and Public Health, argued at the hearing that the measure would only weaken the university’s ob-gyn program and do nothing to stop abortions. Calling the bill a “grave concern,” Golden said it would result in the loss of accreditation for the school’s ob-gyn training program, as well as its rural residency track.

Golden added that it would “reduce the number of ob-gyn physicians trained in Wisconsin each year at a time when our state desperately needs more.”

According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, in 2014, Wisconsin had 556 ob-gyn physicians serving a population of more than 2.3 million women. Twenty-six of Wisconsin’s 72 counties have no ob-gyn professionals at all. The number of abortion-providing facilities in Wisconsin is also at an all-time low, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which reported a 13 percent decline in the number of overall providers since 2011. As of 2014, there are seven abortion-providing facilities in Wisconsin, four of which are clinics.

At a July hearing, shortly after the bill was first introduced, state Rep. Deb Kolste (D) said that it’s not simple for medical residents to obtain the skills elsewhere.

“[Medical residents] are under the auspices of certified faculty, and there’s a protocol for all the curriculum they’re going to have to cover,” she said. “They can’t just get it through some other source and say ‘I did it, it’s good.’ It’s defined curriculum under the auspices of defined faculty.”

Ashe McGovern, associate director at the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia Law School, told ThinkProgress that the legislation is “incredibly overbroad and restrictive” and poses numerous constitutional risks, including the due process clause of the 14th amendment, which holds that states cannot impose undue burden on a person’s right to an abortion.

The measure could come to a full vote this fall. While it is unclear whether Gov. Scott Walker (R) will sign the bill, history has shown him to be supportive of such anti-choice proposals.

If the legislation is passed, McGovern said, “will it be incredibly vulnerable to legal challenge? Absolutely.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Most people don’t know Obamacare open enrollment starts in 14 days thanks to Trump

6 hours 16 min ago

Most people who are eligible for coverage offered on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace do not know when they can sign up for insurance. Open enrollment, the time period during which people can enroll in private plans offered on the marketplace, begins on November 1.

The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a leading health policy analysis center, reported its new findings on Wednesday. A majority of uninsured people did not know either when open enrollment begins (85 percent) or ends (95 percent). A significant majority of those currently enrolled in the marketplace also do not know when it begins (59 percent) or ends (75 percent).

The newly released polling data comes as health policy in Washington, D.C. fluctuates minute-by-minute. Within a 24-hour time period last week, President Donald Trump issued an executive order aimed at hobbling the ACA and cut key subsidy payments to insurance companies, further solidifying his intention to undermine current health law. The news prompted legislative action by Congress, but has also confused consumers in the process.

The report also confirms what Rhonda Henry, founder of the ACA Signup Project, has been witnessing firsthand. Many people have been confused about the current health law since the last G.O.P. health bill failed in the Senate mid-September.

“There’s a lot of things to be confused about especially if you haven’t been following this as a geek, wonk person,” Henry told ThinkProgress.

It doesn’t help that the federal marketplace’s greatest and much-needed advertiser has been purporting misleading facts about where the current health law stands.

Last Thursday, Trump said he would stop making cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments necessary for the ACA. On Monday, Trump said “there’s no such thing as Obamacare anymore.” (There is. Again, open enrollment begins on November 1.) On Tuesday, Trump said he was in support of a bipartisan deal in Congress that would reinstall the cost-sharing reduction payments that he himself decided not to make a few days earlier. But by Tuesday night, he disavowed the payments again, claiming during a speech at the Heritage Foundation that “Congress must find a solution to the Obamacare mess instead of providing bailouts to insurance companies.” (Republicans who voted against the Obamacare repeal bill in September, known as the Graham-Cassidy bill, are mostly happy with the bipartisan Senate bill and have said it’s not an insurer bailout.)

These are the lies that Trump is telling to sabotage health care for millions

Health care is complicated. Thankfully, for people who are looking to sign up for coverage on or on their own state’s ACA exchange (California’s exchange, for example is Covered California), it doesn’t need to be. There have been some changes that people who enroll for coverage in two weeks need to take note of.

The first, is premiums are increasing, but the majority of ACA enrollees will not notice.

“We know premiums are increasing in large part because of the Trump administration actions like cutting cost sharing reduction payments,” Kaiser Family Foundation’s Senior Vice President of Special Initiatives Larry Levitt told ThinkProgress and other reporters during a press call on Wednesday.

According to the KFF poll, about half of the marketplace enrollees expect premiums increases in 2018 will be a financial burden. And it could be, but only for people who receive care without federal assistance. Of the 12.2 million people who buy insurance on the ACA marketplace, 83 percent (or 10.1 million) qualify for federal premium subsidies.

In California, insurance companies anticipated that the federal government would not pay them for providing cost sharing reduction subsidies (CSR), or money that helps low-income people pay for out-of-pocket health expenses. To offset financial losses, insurers increased premiums for silver-tier plans, a standard ACA health plan that offers CSRs.

For a 30-year old in Sacramento, California who makes $24,120 in 2018, they will likely see a $130 premium for a benchmark silver plan, a three dollar increase from last year. Although the premium increased from $378 in 2017 to $425 dollars in 2018, the premium subsidy increased as well, safeguarding the consumer and increasing the federal government’s tab.

Another change of note for consumers who buy ACA plans is that open enrollment will be shorter than last year if the state operates on Every state’s open enrollment period begins on November 1, but 42 states will see it end 6 weeks earlier than last year.

Additionally, there will be planned maintenance on during open enrollment. If isn’t working Sundays from midnight to noon, that’s why.

This will be a more challenging enrollment year, Covered California Spokeswoman Lizelda Lopez told ThinkProgress.

“The news is changing every five minutes about what federal government might do, and we are trying to explain to our consumers to stay calm,” said Lopez. Covered California has been sending clarifying emails to consumers every time news breaks.

According to KFF polling, a key reason people do not know about open enrollment is because many have seen few advertisements. The Trump administration cut funding for ACA advertisement by 90 percent.

“It’s certainly not helping,” the director of state health reform for the Kaiser Family Foundation Jennifer Tolbert said on the press call Wednesday. “What we know is consumers need to hear this information over and over again.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

ICE detained immigrant after his green card interview, ‘forcibly pushed out’ lawyer and interpreter

6 hours 17 min ago

Last week, Viviana Andazola Marquez, a 21-year-old Yale University student accompanied her father to a local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency branch in Colorado for a scheduled appointment to get his green card. What happened next, she recounted in a phone interview with ThinkProgress, was a series of confusing events and unsettling claims that led federal immigration agents to detain her dad.

On October 12, Viviana accompanied her dad Melecio Andazola Morales and his lawyer to the USCIS office in Denver for an adjustment of status interview to become a U.S. permanent resident. Initially, the interview with the USCIS agent seemed fine. As expected in all adjustment of status interviews, the officer verified his documents and asked him questions. By the end of the interview, the agent made it seem like she would recommend Viviana’s dad’s green card application for approval. But then the agent asked Viviana to leave the room.

“The agent told me my dad had been recommended for approval, but that she just had one more thing to review and asked me to leave the room,” Viviana said. “I thought, ‘huh that’s weird,’ but left the room. About 15 to 20 minutes later, the lawyer and interpreter came out and told me that three ICE agents had come in to detain my dad and that they hadn’t been allowed to explain any of his rights.”

“Once the ICE agents apprehended my dad, they forcibly pushed out my dad’s lawyer and interpreter.”

“It was a complete shock,” Viviana said. “She didn’t give me a reason. I looked at my lawyer and I was confused… Once the ICE agents apprehended my dad, they forcibly pushed out my dad’s lawyer and interpreter. [ICE agents] shoved them and closed the door on them.”

An ICE spokesperson told ThinkProgress in an emailed response that the agency had reinstated Andazola Morales’s previous removal order and that he will remain in detention “pending his removal from the United States.”

“Depending on the alien’s criminal history, an alien who illegally reenters the United States, after having been previously removed, has committed a felony punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison,” the ICE spokesperson added.

Hans Meyer, an immigration attorney based in Denver who represents Melecio, told the Denver Post that the ICE agency detained the father of four U.S. citizens due to an order of exclusion he received when he tried to enter the southern U.S. border in 1997. Orders of exclusion — which deny entry to  foreign nationals — are no longer the legal term used, but more or less function like a deportation order. Melecio came back in 1998 without inspection and has lived in the country since then. Earlier this year, Viviana, a U.S. citizen, was able to petition for his green card. The process was going smoothly until last week. Now, he might be at risk of deportation because of the old order.

“We had gone in thinking we were going to leave the building with my dad’s green card.”

“We had gone in thinking we were going to leave the building with my dad’s green card,” Viviana said. “I left not knowing what was going to happen to my dad.”

Melecio’s detention could kick off a chain of events that will change the course of Viviana’s life. As the oldest of four kids, she has been thinking of her family’s long-term future if her dad is deported. Viviana has one more semester to go at Yale, where she is studying to become an immigration lawyer one day. If her dad is detained for much longer or if he faces deportation, Viviana said she will need to drop out of school and start a job immediately to financially support her three younger siblings. She has scholarships, a financial incentive that may not be guaranteed in the future if she drops out now.

At the moment, Viviana is only thinking about getting immigration authorities to reopen her dad’s immigration case. She’s sent out online petitions. She’s also turned to the media to help amplify his case, describing Melecio, as her family’s primary breadwinner who worked on various construction projects during the housing boom in Denver. He also worked on the Denver Coliseum and the Denver Airport. In response, Viviana has received a swell of support from immigrant advocates nationwide. Activists at Yale and the greater New Haven area have held a few rallies and vigils in support of her father. Student groups at 14 other colleges also shared messages of solidarity, the Yale Daily News reported. A GoFund me page set up to help support the family has raised more than $67,500 as of Wednesday, still short of its $85,000 goal. 

Perhaps what’s most revealing about Melecio’s detention at a USCIS office — a place where he almost resolved his immigration issue before ICE agents sucked him back into legal status hell — is that it’s become an uniquely unsurprising event under the Trump administration. In March, ICE agents entered a USCIS office in Massachusetts to detain five immigrants seeking legal residency. In May, ICE agents made an arrest at a USCIS office in Ohio to detain a Honduran immigrant who was there for his green card marriage interview with his U.S. citizen wife.

Short of declaring open season on undocumented immigrants, the President Donald Trump has authorized a number of executive orders that make life difficult for immigrants. He has urged local law enforcement officials to collaborate with federal immigration agents or face punishment by withholding federal funds from cities. Trump has put an end to work authorization and deportation relief for many other non-criminal immigrants including undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children and those who had been displaced by bad situations in their home countries. Former Department of Homeland Security John Kelly signed a memorandum in February stating that no undocumented immigrants are free from the possibility of deportation. Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan previously said that that undocumented immigrants “should be afraid” and ICE agents have separately received explicit approval to go after undocumented immigrants.

“He thought he was doing everything he was supposed to do,” Viviana said. “He doesn’t understand why something like this would happen to him. He’s pretty upset. He just wants to be with his family.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Two states brace for public campaigns against transgender equality

6 hours 32 min ago

Given that North Carolina somewhat diluted its anti-transgender law and the Texas’ legislature recessed without passing similar legislation, it may seem as if the bathroom wars are on hiatus. On the contrary, two states — Massachusetts and Montana — will face ballot initiatives of their own next year, rolling back basic rights for transgender people if they’re passed.

Massachusetts’ fight is a novel attack on transgender rights, and equality proponents are trying to fight Montana’s initiative in court to keep it from being on the ballot at all. In both states, conservatives are using the same smear tactics to demonize transgender people as a threat to others’ safety.


The Montana Family Foundation is currently collecting signatures to place Initiative 183, what the organization calls the “Montana Locker Room Privacy Act”, on the ballot next year.

The proposed law mirrors North Carolina’s HB2, defining “sex” as “a person’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics existing at the time of birth” and dictating that all government-run restrooms and locker rooms must be separated accordingly. It would effectively segregate all transgender people in government buildings, schools, and universities, with single occupancy facilities available only “for special circumstances upon request.” It would also entitle individuals who felt their privacy was violated to sue for monetary damages.

The ACLU of Montana has been working to undermine the initiative. In September, it succeeded in asking the state Supreme Court to mandate some changes to the initiative’s language so that prospective signers would better understand its impact. This week, the ACLU, representing several transgender individuals and joined by the cities of Bozeman and Missoula, filed a new suit to try to keep the initiative from reaching the ballot.

The lawsuit argues that the initiative is unconstitutional because it “legalizes discrimination.” As Roberta Zenker, one of the trans plaintiffs, explained to The Missoulian, “What better way to discriminate against a class of people than to effectively exclude them from public places.” The ACLU hopes the state Supreme Court will rule the measure invalid before the state’s citizens even have the opportunity to vote for it.

The Montana Family Foundation criticized the lawsuit, claiming the initiative is about protecting girls — not-so-subtly rejecting the legitimacy of transgender identities in the process. “High school girls shouldn’t be forced to shower in front of a boy, even if he does think he’s a girl,” president and CEO Jeff Laszloffy said in a statement. “The Montana Locker Room Privacy Act is about protecting privacy, safety, and dignity for all Montanans. Males and females use different locker rooms. This isn’t some new idea, it’s just common sense.”

The group has until June to collect some 26,000 signatures to qualify I-183 for the 2018 ballot.


Last summer, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) signed into law legislation that extended public accommodation protections to the transgender community. Prior to that, “gender identity” was only protected in employment and housing in Massachusetts, but not in public spaces. The new law filled the gap, extending the full nondiscrimination protections that had already covered other classes like race and sexual orientation to transgender people as well.

But following its enactment, the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI) collected signatures to challenge the law with a referendum on the 2018 ballot. This will be the first time ever that U.S. citizens will be asked to vote on repealing a trans rights law. And it could prove to be a confusing campaign, because even though the referendum was brought by opponents of transgender equality, those who agree with the law will be asked to vote “Yes” to keep it on the books.

The Institute’s anti-trans campaign, “Keep MA Safe,” is churning out propaganda to convince Massachusetts voters that protecting transgender people somehow requires endangering women and girls. Their examples of how this would happen refer almost entirely to cisgender men committing acts that are still illegal under the law, like spying on or taking photos of people in restrooms. They thus have nothing to do with the law against which they’re advocating.

Simultaneously, MFI is advocating for a legislative solution to undo the protections. One proposed bill (H.2321) would simply repeal the 2016 law, while another (H.2281) would require that access to public accommodations be dictated by “an individual’s anatomical sex of male or female, regardless of that individual’s gender identity.” Both bills were scheduled for hearings this week, but it’s unclear that they have any chance of advancing.

It’s also unclear that the initiative has the support necessary to repeal the law. Even before the law was enacted last year, 53 percent of likely Massachusetts voters supported the legislation, with only 30 percent opposed and 15 percent undecided. The law has now been in effect for well over a year, and it’ll have another year on the books before voters see it in the ballot. Voters will likely see that none of the consequences MFI warns about will come to fruition, just as they haven’t in states that have had such protections for well over a decade.

Regardless of the outcome of either ballot initiative, both will likely have consequences for the trans communities in their respective states. As research on the many votes states held on same-sex marriage bans has shown, public debates and votes on civil rights have a negative psychological impact on the group being debated, as well as their friends and family. This holds true whether they’re involved in the campaign efforts or not.

Australia is currently seeing the exact same effect play out as it holds a nationwide poll on the question of same-sex marriage. Counselors there that serve LGBTQ youth have seen a 20 percent increase in calls, with most of the calls referencing the marriage poll. Likewise, the campaign sparked such antipathy that the Australia parliament passed emergency legislation outlawing anti-LGBTQ intimidation and threats of harm.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Kneeling during the national anthem is a religious issue

14 hours 3 min ago

Ever since President Donald Trump referred to football players who kneel during the national anthem as “sons of bitches” in September, public debate over the controversy has largely revolved around discussions of patriotism, the military, and whether demonstrations during The Star Spangled Banner are disrespectful to the troops. But when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the wave of athletes demonstrating against systemic racism last year, his team’s initial statement affirming his right to protest focused on something else.

“In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem,” the statement read in part.

The mention of religious freedom is a subtle gesture to a pervasive — but rarely discussed — aspect of the ongoing national anthem controversy: the role of faith.

Religion, of course, is not a prerequisite to demonstrate against racism or kneel during the anthem. Kaepernick himself does not appear to have publicly tied his protest to his own Christianity — although his mother Teresa repeatedly insists that Jesus was an activist when discussing her son’s advocacy.

But many players joining him this year have cited their spiritual beliefs as a guiding force behind their choice to kneel during the anthem, implicitly linking their protests to a long history of religious Americans dismissing national symbols in an effort to stay true to their faith.

Protest as piety

For San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid, opposition to racism and police brutality is a matter of faith. He explicitly said as much in a recent New York Times op-ed, arguing his Christianity moved him to kneel with Kaepernick last year.

“That’s when my faith moved me to take action. I looked to James 2:17, which states, ‘Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead,’” Reid, who is connected to various athletic ministries, wrote. “I knew I needed to stand up for what is right.”

“That’s when my faith moved me to take action. I looked to James 2:17, which states, ‘Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.’ I knew I needed to stand up for what is right.”

Other players have voiced similar sentiments. New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram told Sports Illustrated he sat during the anthem because “I’m a Christian,” adding, “When I feel something isn’t right, I just want to bring awareness to it.” When Cleveland Browns tight end Seth DeValve kneeled during the anthem, his wife declared he did it because it was the “godly” thing to do. And Patriots safety Devin McCourty said in a September press conference that he and other players decided to take a knee after attending chapel, implying their actions were rooted in an attempt to be true to their faith.

“We were in chapel, and a lot of guys talked about understanding that in our faith God is first,” McCourty said.

The role of religion also extends to protests beyond NFL players. When then-Nebraska University football player Michael Rose-Ivey and two teammates kneeled during the anthem last year, Rose-Ivey told reporters the group prayed as The Star-Spangled Banner blared, citing scripture and asking God to “look down on this country with grace and mercy.” When “American Idol” star Jessica Sanchez took a knee while singing the anthem during a Chargers/Raiders game over the weekend, she later justified her actions by referencing the Bible.

Devin McCourty talked about why some of his teammates took a knee during the national anthem.

— NESN (@NESN) September 24, 2017

Similarly, when country artist Meghan Linsey knelt while performing the national anthem during a game in September, she later told ThinkProgress in a Twitter exchange it was her faith that spurred her to act.

“[J]ust know that my heart was good and I have to listen when the spirit leads me to do something,” she said in a Facebook post. She later added: “Jesus loved everyone and had empathy. Our current president knows nothing about empathy, and I can’t believe how many of his ‘supposed’ followers he has brainwashed.”

A history of religious pushback to patriotic displays

These demonstrators claim different versions of Christianity, but the overarching theme of their faith-fueled demonstrations appears to be a general attempt to honor their spiritual responsibilities first, and blind patriotism a distant second.

That idea can seem radical in contemporary American politics, where the influence of Christian nationalism — which conflates fervent devotion to country with faith — is on the rise. Rev. Robert Jeffress, an adviser to Trump who often proclaims Christian nationalist views, even went so far as to cast aspersions on the faith of NFL players who protest.

One man started a movement: Tracking the Kaepernick effect

“Many of these players claim to be strong Christians, and I believe they are,” Jeffress, whose church choir performed a song invoking Trump’s campaign slogan, said during an appearance on Fox News last month. “And I think they ought to remember what Jesus said — render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s. Jesus said we have a responsibility toward our government. We owe our government not just our taxes, but we owe them our respect and our prayers.”

But the theology of Jeffress and other critics of NFL demonstrators is rejected by several strains of Christianity, some of which have declined to participate in patriotic gestures for decades — with the support of the federal government. As Quartz noted this week, Jehovah’s Witnesses were subjected to beatings and mob violence after the Supreme Court initially ruled their children were required to say the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, even though saluting national flags was considered idolatrous among members (some of whom had first refused to do so in Nazi Germany). The violence only subsided three years later, when the court reversed its decision after two justices changed their votes.

The majority opinion, penned by Justice Robert Jackson, read: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

“I think the broadest theological argument is that God cares for people around the world…And we make our primary commitment to Jesus—i.e., pledging allegiance, so to speak, to the kingdom of God instead of a nation,”

He later added: “Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”

Mennonites also often refrain from saying the Pledge of Allegiance or standing for the national anthem because of a brief that God is ruler of all nations, not just the United States. Loren Swartzendruber — former president of Mennonite school Hesston College in Hesston, Kansas and president emeritus of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Harrisonburg, Virginia — firmly rejected Jeffress’ claims in a phone interview, explaining Mennonite theology puts God above country.

“I think the broadest theological argument is that God cares for people around the world…And we make our primary commitment to Jesus — i.e., pledging allegiance, so to speak, to the kingdom of God instead of a nation,” he told ThinkProgress. “With respect to the national anthem, many of us are pacifist, so the militaristic language of the national anthem is problematic for us.”

Why Christian nationalists love Trump

Swartzendruber also recalled experiencing fierce criticism over Hesston’s policy of not playing the anthem at sporting events or waving the American flag in isolation around campus — policies mirrored at EMU. He said he received hate mail after the school’s policies became national news in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when patriotic zeal hit a fevered pitch.

“I had a three ring binder filled with emails [such as], ‘We wished you had been present in the twin towers [when the terrorists attacked],’ or ‘Why don’t you move to Cuba?'” he said. He noted that he saw “a lot of parallels” between his experience and that of modern-day NFL players chastised for kneeling.

Even Americans who hail from religions with no firm prohibition sometimes abstain from patriotic rituals. Some Jewish day schools reportedly do not recite the Pledge of Allegiance, for instance, as do individual Christians and other religious Americans who claim any number of faiths: In 1995, NBA point guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the Denver Nuggets cited his devotion to Islam as a reason for declining to stand during the national anthem.

A lasting form of protest?

Although related, most NFL players who cite their faith when protesting aren’t invoking the exact arguments of Mennonites or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their concerns, theological or otherwise, are more immediate, as are others who protest for more purely secular reasons. Most appear willing to stand for the anthem if circumstances change.

In their own words: NFL players on the real meaning of the protests

Yet the role of faith remains a factor all the same. And even if the NFL eventually prohibits players from kneeling during the anthem—as the president has repeatedly encouraged officials to do—some demonstrators are already experimenting with new ways to express faithful dissent.

When singer Jordin Sparks performed the patriotic ballad at an NFL game this year, for instance, she used a black marker to inscribe her hand with the words “PROV 31:8-9,” making sure the message was clearly visible on camera.

It was a reference to Proverbs 31:8-9, which reads: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The problem with Fox’s Alabama Senate race poll

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 5:00pm

The Alabama Senate race is all tied up, according to a Fox News poll released Tuesday. The only problem? The poll doesn’t screen for likely voters.

The Fox poll has Republican nominee Roy Moore and Democratic nominee Doug Jones tied at 42 percent. The results are striking for the deep red state, as Fox notes in their story.

“Donald Trump won Alabama by 28 points in 2016, yet the Steve Bannon-backed Moore defeated the president’s favored candidate, incumbent Luther Strange, in the GOP primary,” Fox writes.

What’s also striking is what an outlier the poll is, as all other available polls of the race found Moore leading by between six to eight points.

What we've got so far in Alabama polling

— Ariel Edwards-Levy (@aedwardslevy) October 17, 2017

Fox finding the contenders neck and neck is likely explained in large part by the fact that the poll did not screen for registered or likely voters, meaning the pool of respondents is much larger than the pool that will actually go to the polls on election day.

As HuffPost’s Ariel Edwards-Levy noted on Twitter, the likely voter screen is especially important because, despite the attention the race has gotten, it’s a December special election in an off-year.

This especially matters because, groundswells of enthusiasm aside, we're talking about an off-year special

— Ariel Edwards-Levy (@aedwardslevy) October 17, 2017

It’s also worth noting that polling in general — and special election polling in particular — is often unreliable, and even other polls that do screen for likely voters may be wrong on election day. The final result comes down to voter turnout, which is very difficult to predict.

The Fox poll did reveal some other interesting points, however, about how Moore and Jones are being received.

According to the poll, 42 percent of Moore’s supporters have some reservations about their candidate, while just 28 percent of Jones’ supporters expressed the same sentiment. Moore’s supporters cited his Christian beliefs and party loyalty as reasons for supporting the Republican, while Jones’ supporters cited party loyalty and the belief that Moore is too extreme.

Moore, who is baked by former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, has said he thinks homosexuality should be illegal and that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress.

In recent days, however, Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) both endorsed Moore’s candidacy.

Twenty-nine percent of the people polled by Fox said they felt Jones was too liberal to represent Alabama, but 39 percent of people — including 24 percent of Republicans — said they felt Moore was out of step with Alabama.

Additionally, the group polled by Fox has a more positive than negative reaction to the Confederate flag, according to the poll. Twenty-six percent of people polled said they have a positive reaction, while 21 percent said negative, and 51 percent said they have no reaction either way.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

There’s a reason you didn’t hear about a man who recently tried to bomb an airport

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 2:40pm

Odds are most Americans have no idea who Michael Christopher Estes is or how close he came earlier this month to exploding a homemade bomb to sow national fear at a regional airport in western North Carolina.

On October 6, officials at the Asheville Regional Airport discovered an explosive device in a backpack left at the entrance of a terminal; FBI agents found and arrested Estes a day later, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court. Authorities said in the complaint that Estes agreed to cooperate with law enforcement and confessed to placing the device — a backpack packed with a Mason jar filled with ammonium nitrate, nails, and shotgun shells, and an alarm clock bell rigged to trigger an explosion — at the airport.

Estes described his plan to authorities, noting he purchased the materials at Asheville-area REI, Walmart, and Lowe’s stores. He told officials he prepared the bomb in a nearby wooded area several days before leaving it at the airport. And, he did all this because, federal officials said, Estes told them he was getting ready to “fight a war on U.S. soil.”

Federal officials charged Estes with attempted malicious use of explosive materials and unlawful possession of explosive materials in an airport. No one was injured in the incident.

While Estes’ plans were thwarted, the paucity of news about the airport bombing attempt raises questions about how and why some potentially dangerous criminal activities raise screaming public alarms, while others go mute due to lack of attention. Reporters, editors, and media executives play a key role in setting perceptions and establishing baselines for public polices.

Through a myriad of choices, media representatives help shape our understanding of the world by selecting which stories to cover and deciding whether to portray criminals as sympathetic or evil. Choosing to ignore a significant story of public interest may have just as much impact on the public’s well being as the seemingly endless repetition of already-known facts.

America has a skewed perception of what qualifies as terrorism

In the Estes’ case, maybe his story didn’t reach the public’s attention because readers and viewers were wholly consumed by a larger and more deadly attack in Las Vegas. Estes’ thwarted attack occurred five days later, while the media remained fixated on trying to understand why a lone gunman opened fire on a crowd at a country music festival, killing at least 58 people and injuring more than 500 others. But that’s hard to reconcile with the bottomless appetite for crime news that seems more voracious than ever with social media and a never-ending news cycle.

Outside of local media in North Carolina and a handful of national media outlets reporting the Associated Press’ account, this story has gone woefully under-reported. I only learned about it, weeks after the fact, when a friend asked why the media — and President Donald Trump, who typically tweets about what he sees as a scary black, Latino, and immigrant criminals  — hadn’t said more about the “Asheville bomber.”

Interesting that the discover of a bomb at Asheville Airport, and the capture of the bomber, has yet to hit mainstream media or social media

— Joon Yun, M.D. (@DrJoonYun) October 14, 2017

White man planted a bomb in Asheville airport last week. Had he been any other color, we would all know about him!

— Engel (@KathleenCEngel) October 13, 2017

I suspect there’s a reason: Estes is a white man. Shaun King, a columnist at The Intercept, nailed it:

The story didn’t go viral and Trump didn’t tweet about it because the bomb was not placed by an immigrant, or a Muslim, or a Mexican. It was placed there by a good ol’ white man, Michael Christopher Estes. Unlike the Las Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, whose motive is still hard to discern, Estes wanted to be very clear that his ultimate goal was to accelerate a war on American soil.

To be fair, no one other than King has labeled Estes a terrorist, but the criminal complaint against him describes the activities of someone who sought to incite fear and sow civil unrest through violent means.

Words and images in the media matter. It’s easy to assume how the visage of a dark-skinned person would have play to the stereotypes of a populace primed to be fearful of some “other” American or immigrant. As we well know, Trump has a quick-trigger finger to name-call and demonize terrorists — often well before the facts of an investigation are known — when it suits his political passions, such as in the London tube attacks last month.

But when Michael Christopher Estes, a white man who admits to wanting to start a war against the nation, is the suspect in a horrific crime, it behooves our media to get the full and unvarnished story out before the public.

Of course, as most of us intuitively know, it would have done so if the suspect had been black, Latino, or Muslim.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The latest silly lie Republicans are using to push a tax reform plan for the wealthy

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 2:25pm

The Job Creators Network, a group of wealthy CEOs partnering with Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to lobby for Trump’s deeply regressive tax cuts for the rich, is running a new television ad in three states this week taking President John F. Kennedy’s words out of context to suggest that tax cuts are urgent.

The ad quotes Kennedy’s 1962 remarks at the Economic Club of New York:

…Tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now…. And the reason is that only full employment can balance the budget, and tax reduction can pave the way to that employment. The purpose of cutting taxes now is not to incur a budget deficit, but to achieve the more prosperous, expanding economy which can bring a budget surplus.

But the quote leaves out crucial context from both Kennedy’s speech and the time he gave it.

Kennedy delivered the remarks at a time when the top marginal tax rate was a whopping 91 percent—instituted in large part to pay for World War II, a fact Kennedy acknowledges in the same speech.

“Our present tax system, developed as it was, in good part, during World War II to restrain growth, exerts too heavy a drag on growth in peace time; that it siphons out of the private economy too large a share of personal and business purchasing power; that it reduces the financial incentives for personal effort, investment, and risk-taking,” Kennedy said at the time.

Kennedy called for lowering the top rate to 65 percent, and the rate was eventually changed to 70 percent under the Revenue Act of 1964.

In contrast, the current top income tax rate is 39.6 percent — more than 50 points lower than it was in Kennedy’s day. Trump and Congressional Republicans’ tax plan calls for lowering the top tax rate to its modern historical low of 35 percent, eliminating the estate tax for multimillionaire estates, and creating a giant new tax loophole for hedge fund owners, real estate financiers, lobbyists and high-powered lawyers.

The Gingrich ad also ignores a key difference between the 1960s and today. Kennedy’s speech came during an era of historically low inequality. At that point, the richest 1 percent of households held less than 10 percent of the income share in 1962. Since then, the share of income going to the top 1 percent has more than doubled — even has the wealthy pay less in taxes.

The ad is the latest in a string of lies told by the Trump administration and its allies to sell their tax plan. Last week, in the face of all evidence, Trump argued that American truckers would benefit most from corporate tax cuts. Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn went as far as to say that the wealthy are not getting a tax cut, even though studies have found that the richest 1 percent of Americans would get nearly 80 percent of the tax cuts by 2027. And the administration repeatedly promised that the tax plan would not benefit Trump himself, even as the plan creates a giant loophole for businesses like the Trump organization.

A more honest ad would acknowledge that corporate tax cuts almost exclusively help CEOs and the wealthy, 47.2 million more Americans would pay higher taxes under Trump’s plan, and that Republican lawmakers want to pay for these tax cuts by slashing Medicare and Medicaid.

But perhaps the CEOs who fund the Job Creators Network are more interested in lowering their own taxes than providing relief for the middle class. The group producing the ad was founded by billionaire former Home Depot CEO Bernard Marcus, and is funded by a who’s who of big business lobbies.

Jeremy Slevin is the Associate Director of Advocacy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAPAF). ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed at CAPAF.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

A Republican Senator brought a giant alpaca picture to the floor — and it’s even dumber than it sounds

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 2:00pm

As Republican Senators begin tax reform negotiations to cut taxes for the wealthy and well-connected, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake (AZ) stood on the floor of the Senate to bring attention to alpacas.

In a rousing, pun-riddled speech, Flake called alpacas a “serious threat” to reforming the tax code. According to Flake, through clever accounting, some are able to claim alpacas as livestock on their taxes and receive a write-off.

Sen. @JeffFlake: "Unfortunately, I recently learned of a serious threat to reforming the tax code…alpacas."

— CSPAN (@cspan) October 17, 2017

“Earlier this year I issued an oversight report entitled ‘Tax rackets: Outlandish loopholes to lower tax liabilities.’ That report demonstrated how clever accounting allows nearly anything imaginable to become a write-off, including alpacas,” said Flake. “To illustrate the point, the report outlined how local and federal tax bills can be sheared by claiming exotic pets — these exotic pets as livestock and turning backyards into barnyards. And that’s when the fur really started to fly. Alpaca owner associations that once brazenly touted tax fleece as a key selling point for the animals now feigned outrage at the suggestion.”

Flake used the “alpaca loophole” as a way to address the “200 tax loopholes buried throughout the tax code that cost the country $123 trillion annually,” and pointed to this as an example of why Republican tax simplification is necessary.

As part of their effort to “simplify” the tax code, Republicans plan to reduce the number of tax brackets to just three. They claim that, under their plan, an individual would be able to file their taxes on a postcard. Both of these proposals are massive gimmicks that do not actually simplify the tax code.

One loophole Flake failed to mention is the one created from the GOP-Trump plan that will benefit some of the wealthiest Americans.

The plan creates a preferential tax rate for income from “pass through” businesses. This includes entities like partnerships and limited liability corporations (LLCs). These business do not pay the corporate tax rate (which would be lowered to 20 percent under the GOP-Trump plan), but rather their owners pay taxes on their share of the profit at their own individual rate. The top individual rate under President Obama was 39.6 percent; Trump’s plan would bring that down to 35 percent.

But this special provision would cap the rate on pass through income at only 25 percent. Through this loophole, lawyers, hedge fund managers, lobbyists, and consultants have the possibility to re-characterize their salary as “business income” to receive that 25 percent rate.

A big beneficiary of this new provision would be Trump himself, as he owns more than 500 pass through businesses. According to Forbes, this loophole would slash the tax rate on profits from pass throughs by more than a third.

Meanwhile, lower and middle income families won’t be seeing tax cuts like that. A Tax Policy Center analysis of the Trump-GOP plan found that taxpayers in the top one percent (which includes incomes of above $730,000), would receive roughly 53 percent of the total tax benefit and that their after-tax income would increase an average of 8.5 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, taxpayers in the bottom 95 percent would see average after-tax incomes increase between 0.5 and 1.2 percent.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Media outlets grant White House official anonymity to make dishonest attack on Obama

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 1:56pm

During a press conference on Monday, President Trump accused President Obama of failing to call the families of some soldiers who had died in the line of duty. Trump’s comments were misleading and inaccurate, and when he was pressed about them later in the news conference, he tried to backtrack.

“I don’t know if he did,” he said, trying to reverse his earlier comment. “I was told [Obama] didn’t often, and a lot of presidents don’t. They write letters.”

As Trump’s comments about Obama’s interactions with the families of dead soldiers continued to be criticized on Tuesday, the White House shifted gears, using quotes from unnamed officials in an attempt to deflect the heat back onto Obama. Multiple outlets ran with the unattributed quotes.

maybe twitter has broken my brain but this seems like an insane thing to let the WH get away with on background

— Steven Perlberg (@perlberg) October 17, 2017

NBC, the AP, and Axios — among other outlets — reported that a “White House official” told them Obama hadn’t called Gen. John Kelly, who now serves as Trump’s chief of staff, after his son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010.

JUST IN: President Obama did not call Gen. John Kelly when his son was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, White House official tells NBC News

— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) October 17, 2017

New: WH official says Obama didn't call Kelly after son killed; no immediate word if he reached out in other fashion

— Jonathan Lemire (@JonLemire) October 17, 2017

NEW: White House says Obama didn't call Kelly after his son's death via @axios

— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) October 17, 2017

The AP added that the anonymous White House official “did not immediately respond to questions about whether the former president reached out in some other fashion.” Axios added similar context.

While the White House didn’t disclose exactly which official was smearing Obama, Steven Perlberg of BuzzFeed later reported that Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was one of the officials confirming on background that Obama hadn’t called Kelly.

Trump attempts to politicize the death of his chief of staff’s son

The White House’s attack on Obama came hours after Trump attempted to politicize the death of Kelly’s son during a radio interview with Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade.

While attempting to defend the comments he made during the press conference on Monday, Trump told Kilmeade, “You could ask General Kelly — did he get a call from Obama?”

On Tuesday afternoon, The Daily Beast reported that “senior White House officials signed off on this specific line of attack as legitimate communications strategy,” though officials they spoke with wouldn’t confirm if Kelly was alright with it.

While the Trump administration enlisted media outlets in its attempt to convince the public that Obama had disrespected Kelly following his son’s death, a person familiar with the situation told reporters on Tuesday that Kelly and his wife sat at First Lady Michelle Obama’s table during a White House breakfast honoring Gold Star Families in 2011.

Gen. Kelly and wife attended Gold Star families breakfast at WH in 2011 and sat at Mrs. Obama's table, person familiar with breakfast says.

— Jeff Zeleny (@jeffzeleny) October 17, 2017

A year later, Kelly attended a White House dinner hosted by the Obamas that honored “those who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn,” according to NBC.

The specifics regarding the Kellys aside, Trump’s attack on Obama for supposedly disrespecting a Gold Star family is rich, given his own attacks on a Gold Star family during the presidential campaign.

During the 2016 Democratic convention, Khizr Khan, father of Muslim U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq while trying to protect his men during an attack, denounced Trump’s Islamophobic stances, and asked whether Trump had “even read the United States Constitution.”

“I will gladly lend you my copy,” Khan said, pulling a pocket-size copy of the Constitution from his jacket. “In the document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law.’”

Trump Smears Muslim Family Of Fallen U.S. Soldier

In response, Trump attacked the Khan family. During an interview with ABC, Trump suggested Khan’s wife remained silent at the DNC because the Muslim faith prohibited her from speaking. He also claimed that Khan was just repeating the words of “Hillary’s speechwriters.”

Trump then claimed that he too had “sacrificed” because he had “created thousands of jobs” and contributed to veterans charities.

Donald Trump to Army Gold Star father Khizr Khan: “I've made a lot of sacrifices"

— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) July 30, 2016

In a statement released Tuesday, the Khan family called Trump’s latest behavior “unbecoming.”

“[O]ne more time he has shown the nation [he is] undeserving of the leadership of our great nation,” they wrote.

While Trump was willing to use anonymous sources in an attempt to smear Obama, he’s repeatedly criticized their use when they appear in stories critical of him.

….it is very possible that those sources don't exist but are made up by fake news writers. #FakeNews is the enemy!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2017

During a White House event last week, Trump accused mainstream media outlets of simply making up sources, saying, “When they make up stories like that, that’s just made up, and the generals will tell you that. And then they have their sources that don’t exist, in my opinion they don’t exist. They make up the sources. There are no sources.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

With fast-charging, electric cars will soon match or beat gasoline cars in every respect

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 1:50pm

Electric cars are on the verge of solving the last challenge they face in competing with gasoline cars — speed of recharging. The race to solve this has gotten so heated that Amazon was just granted a U.S. patent to use its drones for charging.

But long before anyone lets Amazon try to dock battery-carrying drones on their car’s roof, it seems likelier that one or more emerging fast-charging technologies — some as quick as five or six minutes — will solve the problem. That’s particularly true because current charging rates are not a near-term barrier to the exponential success of electric cars worldwide, as I’ll discuss.

Modern electric vehicles (EVs) have several key advantages over traditional vehicles, like faster acceleration, much lower maintenance costs, and zero tail-pipe emissions. And because EVs are so much more efficient than gas-powered cars, they are the only alternative fuel car with a much lower per-mile fueling cost than petrol cars — even when running on carbon-free fuel.

As soon as the fast-charging problem is solved, electric cars will match or beat gasoline cars in every respect, ensuring the century-long dominance of vehicles powered by liquid fossil comes to an end.

This stunning statement from General Motors will keep Big Oil up at night

Until very recently, the barriers to EVs becoming mass-market cars were primarily due to expensive and bulky batteries: high initial cost, relatively short range, and recharging that took hours.

But thanks to smart government policies here and abroad — including a big bet by President Obama’s Department of Energy (DOE) on a once-obscure Silicon Valley start-up named Tesla — we’ve seen both rapid drops in battery cost and dramatic improvements in battery performance.

BNEF chair Michael Liebreich explains how falling battery costs is driving the electric car revolution. CREDIT: Joe Romm/ThinkProgress


These smaller, cheaper batteries are the key reasons EVs are now being embraced by all of the world’s major automakers — and countries like China, India, the UK and France are actively planning to ban gas-powered cars.

One major result, as the lead author of a GTM Research report on EVs explained, is that “a price and energy cost analysis of conventional, hybrid, and electric vehicles illustrates that the EV has the lowest lifetime cost, even in a low-oil-price environment” (emphasis added). Indeed, with the ongoing rapid price drops for solar and wind power — and batteries — both the initial cost and the lifetime cost of EVs will continue to decline for decades.

Another major result is that we have seen multiple EV models introduced already with a range greater than 200 miles on a single charge. Tesla’s new, lower-cost Model 3 is being introduced with a 315-mile range, and multiple car makers, including Tesla, have announced plans for a 400-mile range.

So within a decade or so, EVs will be cheaper to buy, cheaper to fuel, and cheaper to operate than gas-powered cars. They will have better performance, no tailpipe emissions, and no pollution whatsoever when running on renewable power. No wonder BNEF, among others, projects that EV sales will surpass internal combustion engine sales within in a couple of decades:

Unsurprisingly, charging stations are popping up everywhere. In 2016, the UK Guardian reported, “every new or refurbished house in Europe will need to be equipped with an electric vehicle recharging point, under a draft E.U. directive expected to come into effect by 2019.”

Shell Oil, one of the world’s largest petrol companies, recently announced it would soon offer electric charging at its gas stations — and it just bought a major European EV charging provider to help make that happen.

So the one remaining challenge for EVs is the speed of recharging. Recharging has historically taken hours, making very long trips impractical, especially when EV ranges were limited.

That said, Tesla is already building and installing superchargers that can provide an extended range Model 3 a 170-mile charge in 30 minutes, which is the timeframe of a typical rest stop — or a visit to a shopping mall.

Significantly current charging speeds and range are more than adequate for EVs to achieve significant penetration in this country, where over half of households own two cars. Indeed, the average commute is well below 100 miles round trip, so simply charging at home overnight is more than adequate for many cars — even if a second car is used for road trips.

Moreover, in the vast majority of other countries — especially the big, rapidly growing markets like India and China — consumers drive considerably shorter distances on average than they do in this country. The idea that you need a car to be able to drive several hundred miles in a single day is relatively unique to Americans. 

So super-fast charging is not a near-term problem to EV success, but being able to charge quickly would eliminate the last “advantage” gasoline-powered cars will have and be a big selling point in the United States as EVs strive for much deeper penetration in the coming decade.

That’s why so many companies are working on the problem, as detailed in this Research Brief by CBI Insights. Toshiba says its next-generation battery will allow EVs nearly 200 miles of range after only six minutes.

Porsche is working on debuting its Mission E in 2019 with a single-charge range of more than 300 miles and a 15-minute “turbo-charge” that would add another 250 miles of range. That would require a next-generation charger operating at high voltage, but as CBI notes, BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, Porsche and Ford have already teamed up to build 1,000 high-voltage stations in Europe.

In May 2017, Isreali nanotechnology startup StoreDot, demonstrated its “FlashBattery” technology, which it says can be recharged in 5 minutes.

One way or another, the charging challenge will be addressed in the coming years, even if Amazon never gets its fleet of flying battery rechargers off the ground.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

North Carolina Republicans ‘rig the system’ by cancelling 2018 judicial elections

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 1:43pm

In its latest move to dramatically alter the judicial branch, North Carolina state Republicans and several Democrats on Tuesday overturned Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that would cancel the 2018 judicial primary elections.

Cooper warned that the override was part of an effort to amend the constitution to allow the legislature to pick the state’s judges and “rig the system.”

Legislators also introduced a state constitutional amendment that would shorten the terms for judges to two years — the shortest in the nation. This would ensure that every judge would be on the ballot in the 2018 general election, without a primary to narrow down the number of candidates.

As ThinkProgress has reported, the North Carolina General Assembly has taken multiple actions to transform the judicial branch in the past year, including proposals to limit the governor’s authority to appoint judges, make judicial elections partisan, pack the state supreme court, and “unpack” the court of appeals to preserve the conservative majority. These attacks occurred as the state and federal courts began standing in the way of the legislature’s agenda by protecting voting rights.

The veto override comes as another bill aimed at gerrymandering judges in ways that would lead to fewer Democrats and fewer African Americans on the bench is pending in the legislature.

North Carolina gerrymandering bill pits black judges against other incumbents

The legislature is expected to introduce another constitutional amendment to take away the people’s authority to choose North Carolina’s judges. This would be its ultimate power grab. Only two states, South Carolina and Virginia, currently allow legislatures to choose judges.

A recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice documented the conflicts of interest and nepotism that can result from a legislative appointment system. The reported discussed Rhode Island’s 1994 constitutional amendment to abandon legislative appointment after corruption scandals involving misappropriation of funds and connections to organized crime. It also noted that, “As recently as 2000, every justice on the South Carolina Supreme Court was a former General Assembly member.”

“What this means, in effect, is that by the time a judicial nominee becomes a judge in South Carolina, he or she is personally and professionally beholden to state lawmakers in unhealthy ways. Can judicial independence really exist in such a system?” the South Carolina Policy Council, a conservative think tank, said in a February analysis.

Judicial elections also raise questions about independence, because judges should be able to follow the law, even when it is unpopular with voters or campaign donors. But recent actions have shown that the North Carolina General Assembly is only interested in judges who will rubber stamp their agenda.

Gov. Cooper supported a switch from the current system of electing judges decades ago, as a legislator, but he criticized the proposed amendment as “an effort to take over the judiciary for political reasons instead of trying to find a way to get the best judges,” according to The News & Observer.

“Election of judges isn’t perfect, but it’s far better than this legislature controlling who the judges are going to be in every district at every level. I don’t think the people of North Carolina want to give up the right to vote for their own local judges and give that power to legislative political party bosses in Raleigh.”

Any amendment to the North Carolina Constitution to change how judges are chosen requires a supermajority vote in the legislature. Republicans in the legislature have a supermajority in both houses, thanks to gerrymandering.

The amendment would then need to go before the voters in a referendum. No state has approved a constitutional amendment to end judicial elections since the 1980s, and voters in several states have rejected such amendments since then.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

GOP election commissioner wants to curb early voting, which two in five voters used last November

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 1:39pm

A prominent member of President Trump’s voting commission is speaking out about the “disadvantages” of early voting as new data shows the rising number of U.S. voters who cast a ballot before Election Day.

The independent, bipartisan Election Assistance Commission on Tuesday released a brief on the growing number of states allowing voters to cast a ballot ahead of Election Day. Thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia currently allow at least some form of early voting, and according to the data collected from the 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey, the number of voters who voted early, absentee, or by mail more than doubled from 2004 to 2016. Last year, roughly two in five ballots were cast early across the country.

The research is still unclear when it comes to the effect early voting has on overall voter turnout — some studies have shown that it increases turnout by two to four percent, while a smaller number show that is actually reduces it by the same amount.

Yet Hans A. von Spakovsky, a Heritage Foundation legal fellow and a member of Trump’s Presidential Commission on Election Integrity, looks at just two studies — including one that’s more than a decade old — to claim that states should reconsider allowing people to vote early.

“It actually decreases turnout,” he wrote in a column in the Washington Times on Monday. “A number of studies, including one by American University and another by professors from the University of Wisconsin, conclude that states that have adopted early voting have lower voter turnout than states without early voting.”

Paul Gronke, a political science professor at Reed College who founded the Early Voting Information Center, told ThinkProgress that while he appreciates von Spakovsky’s analysis of both the costs and benefits of early voting, the argument he makes in his column relies on selected, cherry-picked citations.

“He’s citing one study in isolation, and there’s a lot of work — there are 20 or 30 studies — and he’s ignoring those,” Gronke said, adding that state-by-state data is also far more reliable than national studies.

In his column, von Spakovsky claims that early voting “increases the already skyrocketing cost of political campaigns.” But Gronke said that systematic data on its effects on campaigns doesn’t exist, and anecdotal evidence shows the opposite.

The Heritage Foundation fellow also makes the argument that voters could come to regret their voting choices if events “occur later in a campaign or just before Election Day that could be important to their choice of candidates.”

Gronke, however, said that there’s consistence evidence showing that voting regret does not occur.

“This idea of a last minute surprise — it doesn’t happen,” he said. “That surprise would have to be something that would substantially change people’s votes, and many voters, particularly in this system today, are pretty set in their decisions. The kinds of people whose decisions will be changed by that last minute information are the kinds of people who actually don’t cast early ballots. Early ballots are cast by decided voters.”

Early voting also has other benefits that von Spakovsky does not mention. While studies showing the effects of early voting on overall turnout may not be decisive, the data is more clear when it comes to the impact of the policy on minorities, particularly African Americans, who tend to vote for Democratic candidates.

Black voters are more likely to take advantage of early voting, especially in states that allow voting on weekends when people with inflexible work schedules are more likely to make it to the polls. Black churches across the country organize “Souls to the Polls” initiatives, transporting churchgoers to cast ballots on Sundays leading up to an election, which can boost turnout in those communities.

Black voters celebrate ‘Souls to the Polls’ despite efforts to cut the crucial early voting day

According to ProPublica, African Americans were more likely to cast in-person absentee ballots than white voters in Florida in 2008. And in Ohio, a 2015 paper found that making cuts to the state’s “Golden Week” — the period of time when voters can both register and cast an early ballot — would hit African Americans the hardest.

Black turnout also declined in North Carolina last year when the state GOP reduced the number of early voting locations. After the state’s attempt to eliminate an entire week of early voting was struck down by a federal court in July 2016, the executive director of the state Republican Party reached out to county election boards in September, encouraging them to make other efforts to restrict early voting in ways that would benefit the GOP. As a result, voters in the urban centers of Charlotte, Raleigh, Fayetteville, and Winston-Salem waited in line for hours to cast an early ballot.

Dozens of North Carolina counties slash early voting weeks before Election Day

Von Spakovsky, however, does not mention the racial impact that cutting early voting would have across the United States and was not immediately available for comment. Instead, he focuses on studies that note that in-person absentee voting eliminates Election Day of its “stimulating effects,” lowering overall turnout.

“Early voting seems to damage the civic cohesiveness inherent in having voters throughout the nation turn out on a single day to choose our president and our legislative representatives,” he wrote. “Given the costs, particularly its tendency to lower turnout, early voting is a ‘reform’ that states should consider undoing.”

Gronke said he found von Spakovsky’s argument especially puzzling because it’s not predicated on the conservative attorney’s frequently repeated, false claim that voter fraud is rampant.

“I’m going to have a hard time coming up with a name or an instance when I’ve interacted with an election official who does not appreciate the way that early voting helps them run a more secure and efficient election,” Gronke said. “Election officials really like it. Campaigners that I’ve dealt with all really like it. Voters really like it.”

“So I don’t know what audience this is intended to address,” he continued. “There is nobody out there that doesn’t like early voting except people that are not interested in providing more access to the polls.”

Because he is a prominent member of Trump’s voting commission, who, according to emails, has attempted to help set the group’s conservative agenda, von Spakovsky is likely to steer the panel toward recommending states do away with early voting. Already the commission is likely to recommend the Trump administration make other changes to voting law that make it harder for people to both register to vote and cast a ballot. Recently unsealed documents authored by commission Vice Chair Kris Kobach show that Kobach seeks to dismantle the National Voter Registration Act, which prohibits states from requiring that people show proof of citizenship before registering to vote.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Federal judge halts the third version of Trump’s Muslim Ban

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 12:56pm

President Donald Trump has now revised his Muslim ban twice, both times in efforts to rescue the ban from court decisions halting at least some of its provisions. On Tuesday, however, a federal judge held that Trump’s latest efforts are not good enough.

According to Judge Derrick Watson’s opinion in Hawaii v. Trump, the latest round of changes to Trump’s ban are not significant enough to rescue it from the same legal attacks that placed the previous version of the ban in legal jeopardy. Watson handed down a temporary order on halting the ban.

This round of litigation concerns the provisions of the ban restricting citizens of certain nations from entering the United States. Though the Supreme Court has not fully considered any version of these provisions on the merits, it handed down a temporary order in June holding that a previous version of the ban could not be enforced against close relatives of people in the United States, or other “foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

The version of the ban considered by the Supreme Court prohibited nationals of six countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — from entering the United States. The latest version removes Sudan from this list, adds Chad and North Korea (though, in some cases, some nationals of some of the banned nations are allowed in the United States), and bans certain Venezuelan government officials and their families from entering the United States.

Two of the nations impacted by the latest version of the ban — North Korea and Venezuela — are not majority Muslim nations, perhaps in an effort to deflect allegations that Trump issued the ban specifically to target Muslims. But the addition of these two nations serves little more than a cosmetic purpose. As mentioned above, only a small number of Venezuelan officials and their families are impacted by the new ban, and virtually no North Koreans travel to the United States.

The thrust of Judge Watson’s opinion is that the latest version of the policy, Muslim Ban 3.0, does not correct significant problems that led courts to block much of Muslim Ban 2.0. To reach this conclusion, he relies heavily on a previous opinion by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which is binding upon Watson.

That opinion held, among other things, that federal immigration law “requires that the President find that the entry of a class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States” before they can be banned, and also “requires that the President’s findings support the conclusion that entry of all nationals from the [list of] designated countries…would be harmful to the national interest” in a case such as this one.

Trump has not met that burden. The new order, Watson explains, “‘does not tie these nationals in any way to terrorist organizations within the six designated countries,’ find them ‘responsible for insecure country conditions,’ or provide ‘any link between an individual’s nationality and their propensity to commit terrorism or their inherent dangerousness.’”

Additionally, the new order “contains internal incoherencies that markedly undermine its stated ‘national security’ rationale.” Trump, for example, “finds that Iraq fails the ‘baseline’ security assessment but then omits Iraq from the ban for policy reasons.” Meanwhile, it restricts travel from Somalia despite the fact that Somalia passes a test that other nations which are not subject to a sweeping ban fail.

The problem with the Ninth Circuit’s decision striking down Trump’s Muslim ban

So Watson’s order is good news for opponents of the ban, but it remains to be seen whether it will stand. For one thing, as ThinkProgress previously explained, the Ninth Circuit decision that Watson relies upon includes some dubious legal analysis that may not stand up in the Supreme Court.

Watson, moreover, does not reach a constitutional question at the heart of the case — whether the ban was enacted for the very purpose of targeting Muslims — so it remains to be seen whether courts will view Trump’s nominal inclusion of two non-Muslim majority states in the ban as significant.

Categories: SCCDP Allies