Sunday night owls. Denison: ‘The Abominations of Congress’

Dave Denison at The Baffler writes—The Abominations of Congress. An excerpt:

MORE THAN TWENTY YEARS AGO Charles Lewis noted in The Buying of the Congress that for most Americans the national legislature is “a distant abomination.” You can put the emphasis on “distant”—fewer than half the citizenry can name their representative and even fewer can name both their senators. Or you can emphasize the “abomination,” since most people are aware that Congress is perennially in the grip of the high-paid influencers who haunt its marbled lobbies and fund congressional campaigns. It’s part of our national folklore to believe, as Mark Twain put it, “There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”

In a simpler age it was customary to find humor in the fact that some of the most, um, ordinary intellects stumbled into the august chambers of the United States Congress. Today’s longest-serving House member, Alaska Republican Don Young, is known for sometimes brandishing a penis bone of a walrus—and for once pulling a knife on former Speaker John Boehner. Louisiana Democrat Rep. William Jefferson was indicted in 2007 for taking about a half million dollars in bribes. The FBI found $90,000 in his freezer.

When I was a grade school student, I became aware that there was a man who represented mein Congress, sent to Washington, D.C., from our Second Congressional District in Indiana. His name was Earl Landgrebe, and he was a Republican, as were most people in the district of small towns in Northwest Indiana’s Lake and Porter counties. Yet in the summer of 1974, when I was riveted to the televised Watergate hearings and was becoming aware that the president was corrupt, and that some Republicans were beginning to acknowledge as much, I also learned that my own representative was unable to speak intelligently about the national crisis.

The House had voted earlier that year 410–4 to authorize the Judiciary Committee to start impeachment hearings. Rep. Landgrebe was among the four dissenting voters. He was loyal to Nixon all the way to the end: the day before Nixon resigned Landgrebe made himself famous by telling a reporter, “Don’t confuse me with the facts. I’ve got a closed mind. I will not vote for impeachment. I’m going to stick with my president even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot.” That was the year the magazine New Times named Landgrebe to their “Ten Dumbest Congressmen” list.

To be young in America, in every generation, is to become at least vaguely aware that an incompetent and malignant Congress is not entirely funny. These people can get you killed. It was a clear and present danger when neither party was able to put a stop to the Vietnam War, and again when Congress authorized George W. Bush & Co. in 2002 to launch an invasion of Iraq. And it’s true today, as any high school student knows who walks through metal detectors and endures “active shooter” drills at school: Congress, despite its constant protestations, has a long record of negligence when it comes to meaningful national security—especially for young and marginalized people.

Yet it’s a feature of #resistance politics today to focus almost entirely on the abuses of presidential power. We’re stuck in a president-centric political system—and the unlimited goonery of the current president makes it almost impossible to gain perspective on the depth of our democratic dysfunctions. But a corrupt president can be voted out after four years. Congress can be impervious to reform for generations at a time. [...]

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If @BarackObama tried to get documents that were hacked by the Russian military, Republicans would have cancelled Easter to impeach him.

— David Cicilline (@davidcicilline) April 21, 2019

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On this date at Daily Kos in 2006—More Flu Stories:

It's interesting that ANY discussion of bird flu engenders a reflex "fear/hype" response amongst some posters, (and the usual media culprits) as if the very existence of the discussion (and the provision of neutral information) is an affront to propriety. For example,  here's a simulation from the Los Alamos National Laboratory on Avian Flu infection dynamics should 10 people be found positive in a major America City like Los Angeles. The low probability, high impact nature of the Quicktime movie simulation speaks for itself. But as the Science editorial goes on to say:

An energetic response to H5N1 does not have to be alarmist. [emphasis mine] We can marshal existing concern about this particular strain of avian influenza to build a long-lasting international infrastructure to monitor and thwart threats from such emerging infections.

And Americans are concerned. They're a little concerned about bird flu (or the pandemic flu version) and very concerned about the government's ability to deal. 

Monday through Friday you can catch the Kagro in the Morning Show 9 AM ET by dropping in here, or you can download the Stitcher app (found in the app stores or at Stitcher.com), and find a live stream there, by searching for "Netroots Radio.”

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Politicians are not celebrities, and we are constituents, not fans

I think I first started hearing the words “I am a fan of…” in regard to politicians in 2008, when Barack Obama was running. Granted, I had probably heard it most of my life, but I’d never paid much attention to it. In 2008 I did not think much of it—just the turn of a phrase. However, in 2019, the use of that phrase has grown, and when used with a politician’s name—the cult of personality is a very dangerous path to do down.

Now this is not an uncommon occurrence in American politics. In recent history one only has to look back to the 1960s to see it with the Kennedys and Camelot, or to remember how Reagan, Schwarzenegger, and Trump used their celebrity to propel them to state and national offices.

If you are a fan of Bernie, Kamala, Pete, Joe, or, heaven forbid, Donald, then you need to look at yourself in the mirror and promise to change. Politicians are not celebrities; they do not deserve fawning worship. They are public servants, who can and should be scrutinized, and must be held accountable for their actions. On the obverse, we are not fans; we are constituents, and we must demand better from our public servants. We must hold their feet to the fire, and if they fail—they must not be re-elected.

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Trump’s immigration plans are all about pain, fear, cowardice, bigotry, and punishment

When Trump first slithered down an escalator pronounce his stunt to get paid more than Gwen Stefani by NBC, announce his run for the White House, he came out of the gate with a ridiculously bigoted false notion that “Mexicans are rapists.” 

“If you go to Fusion, you will see a story: About 80% of the women coming in — you know who owns Fusion? Univision!” Trump told [Don} Lemon. “Go to Fusion and pick up the stories on rape. And it’s unbelievable when you look at what’s going on. So all I’m doing is telling the truth,” Trump told Lemon.

It really didn’t take me more than three minutes to look up what he claimed was his source for this argument to find that he had totally misconstrued the Fusion report about migrant women from Central America being tricked and trapped into prostitution as trade and barter to help pay for their passage through Mexico. The report said literally nothing about “Mexico sending rapists to America” because that’s seriously not a thing. 

I still don’t know what excuse has been made for the rest of the so-called professional media—because I was certainly an unpaid amateur at the time—to simply fact check his statement up front by using his own source and point out that it he was spouting bullshit from Day One. It should be easy to point out that the reason they started traveling in caravans was to protect them from these gangs, cartels, and corrupt officials that were forcing them to pay for the price of passage in pounds of flesh. Unfortunately, that never happened.

Consequently, the opinion that certain immigrants are largely criminals and basically scum has always been Trump’s starting point for his “thinking” and policies. Hence we have this crazy Rube Goldberg/Wile E. Coyote plot to deal with the migration problem on our southern border.

Trump has apparently concocted this plan that a) since Immigrants are “criminals” that he can use their inherent threat against public safety as a b) political targeted cudgel in violation of the Hatch Act which prohibits the use of government for partisan purposes against his political opponents. You know, those squishy liberal Democrats in so-called Sanctuary Cities—in order to get them to c) agree to carve out an override and exception to the 5th Amendment Due Process Clause, the 14th Amendment Equal Protection Clause, the 1951 UN Convention on the Refugee which as a treaty that was ratified in 1969 through the Supremacy Clause is currently considered part of the “supreme law of the land” so that d) hundreds of thousand of undocumented immigrants can be summarily deported without an immigration or asylum hearing before a judge.

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Giuliani’s Sunday talking point: ‘There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians’

The Sunday shows exist so that powerful people can dispense the week's preferred talking points. It has been unfortunate, for the most part, in that it has revealed most of the nation's most powerful people to be distinctly not too bright, and dishonest as a class. Which brings us, inevitably, to Rudy Giuliani.

Former New York Mayor turned Trump butler Giuliani leapt in front of the cameras this particular week to insist that the redacted Mueller report, which laid out an obsessive pattern of obstruction and a Trump campaign that was only too eager to solicit the products of a foreign espionage effort, was both a nasty piece of work and of no particular consequence. To CNN's Jake Tapper, Giuliani claimed Mueller's team "tortured" Trump campaign head Paul Manafort by interviewing and imprisoning in, and blasted Mueller deputy Andrew Weissman as "a hit man" and an "unethical prosecutor", proclaiming that Mueller "put together a staff of Hillary loving, Trump-hating people."

As for what Mueller's team of apparent vicious "Hillary loving, Trump-hating people" found, Giuliani that all of it Was Legal Now. That would be his talking point of the day, suggesting that the White House (and wider Republican) strategy will be to insist that foreign intelligence services are allowed to interfere in United States elections, and Republican candidates are allowed to solicit and use stolen information from those efforts in their campaigns.

“There's nothing wrong with taking information from Russians," Giuliani said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."

Taking information from, as Jake Tapper emphasized, "a foreign source, a hostile foreign source?"

"Who's to say it's even illegal?"

To NBC's Chuck Todd, Giuliani was no less combative.

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Trump and Barr bring three decades of GOP criminality full circle

Historical events occur twice, Karl Marx famously said, first as tragedy and then as farce. But when it comes to the rampant lawlessness of Republican presidential administrations, the record is a succession of national tragedies for the United States. And the damage to America’s democratic institutions is no laughing matter. As President Trump, his attorney general, and their allies in right-wing media demonstrated this week in their thus far very successful effort to suppress the Mueller report, the Republican Scandal Defense Machine™ has featured many of the same odious operatives, sham sound bites, and laughable legal theories since the late 1980s. From the Iran-Contra affair, the outing of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame, and President George W. Bush’s purge of U.S. attorneys to his regime of detainee torture, and now the Trump-Russia imbroglio, only the stakes have changed.

For starters, consider the role of Attorney General William Barr. Trump, after all, hired Barr precisely because of—and not despite—his 2017 memo, which argued that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was “grossly irresponsible” and “fatally misconceived,” and risked “grave consequences far beyond the immediate confines of this case and would do lasting damage to the presidency and to the administration of law within the executive branch.” That opposition, echoed by many Republicans in the spring of 2017, sounds eerily similar to the language used by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Tom DeLay and others in initially refusing to support the creation of the 9/11 Commission. And when Barr warned, “Mueller’s sweeping obstruction theory would now open the way for the ‘criminalization’ of these [political] disputes,” he was only dusting off the talking point President George H.W. Bush debuted to defend Iran-Contra pardons that he and Barr engineered 25 years earlier.

But Barr’s 21st-century reprisal of his role as GOP legal hatchet man isn’t merely rhetorical. The same attorney general who in his March 24 letter and again in his highly redacted version of the Mueller report promised to share its “principal conclusions” lied to Congress 30 years ago when he made the same pledge. As Ryan Goodman documented this week, as head of the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, Barr refused to release a memo justifying the supposed legality of the FBI’s power to abduct foreigners (like Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega) and bring them to the United States without consent from the leaders of those countries. Wrong on both the facts and the law, Barr shared only his summary of the secret memo in written testimony to Congress. As Goodman explained, worse than what Barr misrepresented was what he omitted altogether.

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Resurrection from the ashes

Easter is the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. In two different parts of the world in recent days, in France and the United States, we have witnessed the destruction by fire of churches. One is the towering Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, which captured global attention this last week.

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A overwhelmingly positive symbol standing proudly amidst the damage at Notre Dame! #NotreDameCathedralFire #NotreDame #NotreDameFire pic.twitter.com/VQ6EchuLYE

— devin jarvis (@devinjarvis) April 16, 2019

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Saturday night owls: Dem governor’s NJ audit exposes corporate extortion that’s endemic nationwide

Pat Garafalo at The Nation writes—New Jersey Exposed One of Corporate America’s Favorite Schemes. A state investigation revealed how companies use empty threats to pry money from local governments:

When the tax-preparation firm Jackson Hewittwanted a round of tax breaks from New Jersey, its executives knew exactly how to get them: by threatening to move jobs to another state. It apparently didn’t matter to them that the threat was entirely hollow.

Testifying last month before a task force examining New Jersey’s corporate-tax-break programs, former Jackson Hewitt executive Gulsen Kama said that even though the company’s decision to stay in New Jersey was a “done deal,” it nevertheless invented a potential move to Florida or New York, which won it nearly $3 million in “inducements” to remain in the Garden State. Kama also alleged that the company didn’t keep the promises it made in order to qualify for its tax breaks, and then fired her when she pointed out the violations.

All in all, Kama presented a portrait of corporate greed run amok. But that we’re hearing about this sordid episode at all is actually a testament to the state’s officials. New Jersey is doing the nation a favor by pulling back the curtain on a problem with which nearly every city and state in America deals: being blackmailed by corporations into coughing up public money.

Democratic Governor Phil Murphy initiated an audit of his state’s corporate-tax-break programs shortly after he came into office, and the effort has shown how taxpayers consistently lose these corporate-state arrangements. In theory, programs like New Jersey’s Grow New Jersey Assistance Program and the Economic Redevelopment and Growth Grant Program give companies a break on their taxes or some sort of lump payment that encourages job creation and growth, thereby garnering the city more revenue and economic development in the long run. States and cities spend tens of billions of dollars annually on these sorts of tax breaks and giveaways: Estimates range from $45 billion to nearly $100 billion.

On every measure that should matter, though—jobs, incomes, economic growth—studies reveal that corporate-tax incentives do little to nothing. Instead, corporations simply receive windfalls to do what they would have done anyway, or turn around and break their promises regarding job creation, while keeping the money they received. [...]

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— Louis Morgan (@MasterMorgan317) April 20, 2019

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On this date at Daily Kos in 2004—GOP wants Kerry to release military records;

Monday through Friday you can catch the Kagro in the Morning Show 9 AM ET by dropping in here, or you can download the Stitcher app (found in the app stores or at Stitcher.com), and find a live stream there, by searching for "Netroots Radio.”

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14 years ago, chef’s mother made him cook a meal for hungry child. He has now cooked 3 million meals

Chef Bruno Serato has served millions of meals to children in need during the past 14 years. Born in France to Italian parents, Serato moved to the United States in 1980. According to Serato, on April 18, 2005, his mother Caterina was visiting from Italy. The two toured a center for underprivileged children that was located near his restaurant. There, they met a young boy who was eating potato chips for dinner. Caterina made Serato go back with her to the restaurant to cook up spaghetti for the child.

"I haven't stopped making pasta since," Serato told reporters. From that small beginning, Serato started the Caterina Club—a foundation that has grown to 89 locations—that serves food to children, helps families find housing, and teaches “at-risk” teens skills from the hospitality industry, in the hopes of finding them work. The nonprofit says it serves 5,000 meals a day across 29 cities. 

Serato’s advice for helping is simple: "Just start with one small thing. You can start with a 'hello,' a 'good morning.' Do one plate of pasta, give a hug, give a little jacket that you don’t use to someone who needs it.”

On Thursday, April 11, Serato served his 3 millionth meal. Alongside him was Billy Saldana, a 23-year-old who met Serato 14 years earlier, one of the first boys to get a meal from the Caterina Club. Saldana told the Orange County Register that while Serato cannot help everybody, he does change the life of every single child he serves.

The world can always use more people like Serato, willing to put their labor into serving those who need help. But it highlights the need for more government intervention in food assistance, not less.

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Researchers believe they have a cure for ‘Bubble Boy’ disease in infants

Severe Combined Immunodeficiency (SCID) is a rare illness affecting an estimated 1 in 100,000 infants. It is a fatal condition caused by mutations in different genes involved in the development and function of infection-fighting immune cells.” Researchers led by a team out of St. Jude’s Medical Center in Memphis, Tennessee, have announced that they have been employing a new experimental gene therapy that has shown amazing results, so much so that they are calling it a “cure.”

“It’s a game changer,” said Jennifer Hemall, a pediatric immunologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who was not involved in the study. “For immunologists following this disease, gene therapy has always been out there as the hope of the future. It’s exciting to see this wave of treatments actually becoming a reality.”

While an infant with SCID may seem healthy, they are vulnerable to severe infections, resulting in death within the first two years of life if the disorder goes untreated. The disease became widely known through a young boy named David Vetter, who lived his entire life inside of a bubble to protect him from outside pathogens and became known as “Bubble Boy.” Since then, treatments for infants with SCID have developed, frequently including bone marrow transplants that try to kickstart the child’s immune system. And while these treatments have broadened the lifespan for people with the disease and allowed a lot of those children to grow up, many of those kids must rely on continuing therapies while hoping that the new immune system they are developing won’t attack their own body.

There are a few kinds of SCID, and there has been some success treating some forms of the immune disease with gene therapy, but researchers have had less success with the most prevalent form, XSCID, until now. 

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Couple walks around Rhode Island Holocaust memorial wearing Nazi armbands and MAGA hat

It’s not against the law to wear a swastika. That’s something that falls under the protection of the First Amendment to our Constitution. It is arguably the most fundamental freedom we have, and the most important one in defending ourselves against sliding into fascism. The irony of course is that our constitutional tool to thwart fascism can be applied to brandishing fascist symbolism and ideology. The Providence Journal reports that a man and woman were seen outside a downtown eatery on South Main Street in Providence, Rhode Island, wearing swastika armbands—the woman had on a swastika-emblazoned shirt, while the man also wore a red Make America Great Again Trump hat.

According to Sondra Pierson, who took photos of the two and spoke with the Journal, the two smoked cigarettes, crossed the street to the Rhode Island Holocaust Memorial, and took photos of one another posing around the memorial park. Pierson says she confronted the two, who responded sarcastically and then got into their car and drove away. Pierson called the police, but realized there really wasn’t much the police could do.

Steven Brown, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, told the Providence Journal that while their actions were “shameful” and “despicable,” the two asshats were well within their legal rights. Signs of hate and anti-Semitism have increased across the country as the movement that swept Donald Trump into power and buoys him up becomes more prevalent. It is legal to say those things, but the line between protected speech and incitement to violence is getting blurrier and blurrier, as the hatred and right-wing political rhetoric find their way into the mouths of mass-murdering bigots more and more often.

The continuing empowerment of those spouting white supremacist ideas by our current administration and its state propaganda outlets such as Fox News only spurs more scumbags like these two to walk around in the light of day.

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