Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Obama Administration Quietly Announces Rule Changes, Substantially Weakens Endangered Species Act


Endangered species by county in the U.S. This includes only the species that have been listed, not the many still under (very slow) review. (Source; click to enlarge)

by Gaius Publius

Thanks to Jeffrey St. Clair at Counterpunch for this heads-up...
In related news, the Obama administration quietly announced today drastic rule changes that will substantially weaken the Endangered Species Act by placing complicated and intractable burdens on environmental groups working to protect rare species. The rule changes are deemed a huge gift to the timber, mining and oil cartels.
...we find another of what has to be called a betrayal by Barack Obama, once more selling out the public interest to those with plenty of cash to spread around. In this case it's the big-money people running the industries listed above — timber, mining and oil extraction.

The details, from Lydia Wheeler at The Hill (my emphasis):
Endangered species rule changed, angering environmental group

The Obama administration is changing the process for petitioning the government to protect an endangered or threatened animal.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries finalized a rule Monday that changes the process by which species are petitioned for listing, delisting or reclassification under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Under the rule, first proposed in May 2015, petitioners will be required to notify each state wildlife agency where a species is located at least 30 days before submitting a petition to the federal government. The delay will gives states an opportunity to provide agencies with pertinent information on the species.

The new rule also restricts the number of species that can be petitioned for at one time. Under the rule, only one species is allowed per petition.
Note that this is being done entirely within the Executive Branch, at Barack Obama's sole discretion. No congressional stimulus was needed.

The lie is in the explanation of this industry-friendly change. As the article notes: "The agencies say the changes will allow them to better leverage limited resources and more effectively conserve America’s imperiled wildlife."

The opposite, of course, is true. The "limited resources" are a result of budget cuts, which means the agency is underfunded, and the statement that the rule will "more effectively" conserve imperiled wildlife, they mean "less effectively." According to Brett Hartl at the Center for Biological Diversity, the change will indeed further weaken enforcement of the Endangered Species Act:
These new restrictions on citizen petitions are nothing more than a gift to industries and right-wing states that are hostile to endangered species. ... These rules make it harder to get imperiled species the Endangered Species Act protections they desperately need and they do nothing to address the backlog of hundreds of imperiled species that are still waiting to get the protections they deserve.
In addition, the change that requires petitioners to notify states prior to petitioning the Fish and Wildlife Service gives developers in those states a nice heads up. 

The piece also notes that a legally mandated two-year process is taking more than a decade for most applications, thus the backlog. Note that the applications place species on the list — until listed, companies can do with them as they choose.

Your bottom line — Would a new Trump administration be almost completely evil, in this and most other regards? Of course. (I'll write more about how it would be evil if it looks like there may be one. Trump would be worse than Bush for one unique and simple reason. He won't be the one governing.)

But will a second Clinton administration be any better at protecting public resources from big-money campaign donors who want to exploit (monetize) and pillage them? Three guesses.


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Would Trump's Cocaine Addiction Affect His Ability To Be President?


By the time I started working at Warner Bros Records I had long given up drugs, something I left behind with the 1960s, a dear old friend that was no longer part of my life. "Drugs," for the most part meant marijuana. Smoking weed had been an integral part of my college life and it ended there. I was in a sweltering parking lot in my van at the Pakistan-India border on December 1, 1969 when I had a life-changing experience. Instead of having to exercise will power top avoid drugs-- something I sometimes succeeded at and sometimes failed at-- the desire itself was ripped from my body. Thank God! And that was the end of that. A life of drug use was o-v-e-r. The pull wasn't something I had to resist; it no longer existed. And in those years I was smoking pot, I was, less regularly, using other drugs as well. I tried almost everything and I loved some, like acid, and hated others, like DMT. Cocaine was something in between-- something that gave me a lot of pleasure but that I could tell was very bad for me. It wasn't hard for me to stop using it-- considerably before by experience in my VW van on the Pakistan-India border. I never felt the slightest interest in using it since and soon it'll be 50 years!

But I still remember very much what it's like to be high on coke or to be strung out on coke. What time did the debate start last night? 4-5 minutes after 6 (PT)? 10 minutes in-- check the time stamp-- I sensed something crazy about Trump-- I mean crazy in a different than normal Trump crazy way. I had heard rumors in the past that he had a prescription drug problem and certainly what could have happened last night was that he chopped up some adderall of something and snorted it before hitting the stage. Hey, don't be judgmental; different people prepare in different ways. When I was in the midst of chemotherapy, somewhere along the line my doctor prescribed adderall. I hated it. But many people love it and its supposed to be especially helpful for people who, like Trump, have short attention spans. It contains a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, which stimulate the central nervous system and affect chemicals in the brain and nerves that contribute to hyperactivity and impulse control. Just sayin'. But adderall isn't what I was sensing even in the first few minutes of the debate. Nor were the diet pills (meth) he used to peddle on his pyramid scheme infomercials.

This is what I tweeted 10 minutes in:

Ten minutes later I wasn't laughing. He really was coked up! The next tweet:

Right around that time Hillary was saying, "Donald, I know you live in your own reality." Yeah, he does, but what I was feeling was that at the moment he was living in a cocaine reality. 11 minutes passed and I was positive.

Utterly positive... it was totally affecting his thought and speech patterns, even more than usual:

So was my old friend Susan positive-- and she's very smart:

I was glad I wasn't the only one who noticed. Another old friend, a Warner Bros co-worker, Steve, sent me a photo:

I ran a little poll when I noticed the incoherent babbling was getting worse and worse.

That's when the DWT art director sent me the photo up top. GOP strategist--and hipster-- Rick Wilson seemed to recognize the same same thing:

I wondered why no one in the mainstream media was saying anything about it. Then he started blaming all the sniffing on a "defective mic," something he doubled down on the next morning when he was making a fool of himself on Fox and Friends.

By the end of the night, I was suggesting that Kellyanne check him into one of those fancy Republican Party detox centers where they put their officials when everything explodes on their faces. I learned today that about an hour after I started tweeting about Trump's sniffling and crazy behavior could signify coke use, that Howard Dean had suggested it as well, significant not because of his place in politics but because he's also a medical doctor. On MSNBC Tuesday he explained his tweet to a hostile and especially moronic anchor-- establishment media hates this kind of speculation.
[H]e sniffs during the presentation, which is something that users do. He also has grandiosity, which is something that accompanies that problem. He has delusions. He has trouble with pressured speech. He interrupted Hillary Clinton 29 times. He couldn't keep himself together. So, look, do I think at 70 years old he has a cocaine habit? Probably not. But, you know, it's something that-- I think it would be interesting to ask him and see if he ever had a problem with that.
Dean's right; dummy MSNBC anchor is wrong. But the mainstream media won't go near this with a 10 foot pole. John Podhoretz, once a proud #NeverTrump dude, has been slinking back to the GOP OK Corral the same way Ted Cruz did. He sounded jilted the morning after but nothing to do with the cocaine elephant in the room. Although he found the unhinged Trump "exciting," he also admitted he was "embarrassingly undisciplined." When the coke was sparking all Trump's brain cells in the first 20 minutes, Podhoretz claims he was making sense (at least to inhabitants of RepublicanWorld) but then, as the high started wearing off... Well Podhoretz explained that "due to the vanity and laziness that led him to think he could wing the most important 95 minutes of his life, he lost the thread of his argument, he lost control of his temper and he lost the perspective necessary to correct these mistakes as he went... Trump was reduced to a sputtering mess blathering about Rosie O’Donnell and about how he hasn’t yet said the mean things about Hillary that he is thinking... [H]e went into a bizarre digression in which he alternately wondered whether his son Barron might grow up to become a hacker and defended Vladimir Putin from the accusation Russia had tapped into the Democratic National Committee’s emails (which the FBI says almost certainly happened). That has to count as the biggest choke of his political life... [Everything] was buried inside a weird word salad that reduced its effectiveness to almost nil." If you know anything about coke freaks, that should sound very familiar. And here's the part about Podhoetz feeling jilted:
His supporters should be furious with him, and so should the public in general. By performing this incompetently, by refusing to prepare properly for this exchange, by not learning enough to put meat on the bones of his populist case against Clinton, he displayed nothing but contempt for the people who have brought him this far-- and for the American people who are going to make this momentous decision on Nov. 8.
Canadian journalist John Ibbitson, writing for the Toronto Globe And Mail Tuesday morning felt the decision had been made, namely that no reasonable voter could want Trump as president after the debate. "Trump," he wrote, "was loud, angry, rude, boastful. He bashed China and Mexico, he constantly interrupted, he swaggered and strutted and jutted his chin. Most of all, he described a dying dystopian republic brought to its knees by Hillary Clinton and her friends that he alone could redeem." Sounds like a crazy cokehead to me-- "rambling, bloviating, incoherent, shouting, interrupting, boasting, ridiculing, low-blowing-- while rarely landing a single palpable hit."
And late in the debate, when asked by the moderator why he said he opposed the war in Iraq when in fact he had supported it in 2002, Mr. Trump went off on a rant of such length and violence of tone that millions could only have watched in horror, ending with the audience laughing when he pronounced: “I have a much better temperament than she does.”

He disproved that, however, by then insinuating he knew some terrible secret about Ms. Clinton that he would not repeat, because he was above such things. Simply disgraceful.

...To want Donald Trump as president, you would have to be as angry and bitter as Donald Trump was Monday night.
Or on crack.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Media Still Unwilling To Say What Everyone Already Knows-- That Christie Ordered Bridge Closure And Coverup


I don't know if politics attracts inherently corrupt individuals or if politics turns weak individuals corrupt, but I'd one of those explanations or the other covers most of the American political establishment. My informed guess is that by the time Chris Christie-- an anti-regulations lobbyist (on behalf of corrupt banksters, the energy industry and for-profit higher education), a former Morris County freeholder and then a Bush appointee to the U.S. Attorney for New Jersey job-- he was already a rotting, stinking cesspool of corruption. All of his early campaigns resulted in lawsuits based on misconduct. As State Attorney, he went after his political foes and get Big Business off again and again. But the media cover Christie as though he was born, immaculately, in the Governor's chair and, at worst, was the victim of nefarious staffers.

Yesterday's NYTimes, in covering two of the country's most egregiously corrupt governors-- Christe and his pal Andrew Cuomo-- was quick to point out that of the 2 criminal masterminds who should be sharing a prison cell, "neither governor is accused of breaking the law" and that the two gang leaders claim "to have been blind to alleged acts of petty revenge and bribery at the highest levels of state government seems bad enough." The Times doesn't point out that the claims are ludicrous.
Each man had cultivated a small group of trusted advisers who, driven by unshakable tribal loyalty and a hunger to see their bosses taste the White House one day, enforced the governor’s will, punished his enemies and rewarded his friends.

For Mr. Christie, they included Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, the two former officials currently on trial, and Bill Stepien, his former top lieutenant, an old friend and political operative who left ears ringing across New Jersey on the governor’s behalf.

They met for strategy sessions around Mr. Christie’s kitchen table in Mendham and mingled at N.F.L. games. They worked together to single out local officials who supported the governor’s 2013 re-election bid for perks and to mete out revenge to those who did not-- including Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee, N.J., a Democrat who, having declined to endorse the governor, got a catastrophic traffic jam in return, prosecutors say.

Their equivalents in Albany were a group of stalwarts who had marched at Mr. Cuomo’s side, in some cases as far back as the administration of Mr. Cuomo’s father, former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, who became governor in 1983. The men, and they were all men, even had a “term of endearment” for one another, according to the federal criminal complaint released on Thursday: “Herb.” (It remains unclear why.)

Chief among them was Joseph Percoco, who had started working for the elder Mr. Cuomo when he was 19. So high was his place in the family firmament that during Mr. Cuomo’s eulogy for his father in January 2015, he called Mr. Percoco “my father’s third son, who I sometimes think he loved the most.”

It was Mr. Percoco who, everyone in New York’s political establishment understood, woke Mr. Cuomo up in the morning, dispensed threats for him during the day and put him to bed at night.

It was also Mr. Percoco, working with another “Herb” and former Cuomo aide, Todd R. Howe, who shook down a developer and an energy company for at least $315,000 in bribes in exchange for putting his considerable power at their service, prosecutors say.

There was the legal opinion that Mr. Percoco got reversed. The energy policy decisions, made by state experts, that he overrode. The $5,700 raise, the criminal complaint says, that he berated human-resources staff at the governor’s office into approving for the son of an executive who had paid him off.

And there was the fact, apparent from the complaint, that no one in state government questioned his authority to do so.

These days, there is no avoiding the central question: How could the governors not have known?

Mr. Christie has said that while he took ultimate responsibility for the lane closings, it was impossible for him to keep tabs on 65,000 state employees. He was “disturbed,” he said, by Mr. Stepien’s behavior, while Ms. Kelly was “stupid” and “a liar.”

Mr. Cuomo, too, has been moved to muse on personal betrayal.

“The central plank of my administration has always been about public integrity and zero tolerance for any waste, fraud or abuse. If anything, I hold a friend to a higher standard,” he said in Buffalo on Friday. “It’s the first time since we lost my father that I didn’t miss him being here yesterday, because it would’ve broken his heart.”
Precook didn't blink without Cuomo's OK-- and the whole menagerie of crooks in Christie's orbit, Sapien, Wildstein, Baroni and Kelly were less likely to do anything that hadn't been ordered by Christie than his own hands were. The Wall Street Journal story on Monday's trial events referred to Kelly and Baroni as "two former associates of Mr. Christie," as though there were something other than his closely directed operatives.
On trial are Mr. Baroni, deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Ms. Kelly, a deputy chief of staff to Mr. Christie. Prosecutors say the defendants were part of a scheme to create a traffic jam in Fort Lee, N.J. to punish the borough’s Democratic mayor for not endorsing Mr. Christie, a Republican.

Mr. Christie hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing.

On Monday, the government projected what has become the most well-known exchange of the scandal. On the morning of August 13, 2013, Ms. Kelly emailed Mr. Wildstein, writing “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Mr. Wildstein replied, “Got it.”

Mr. Wildstein said he understood from that email it was time to change the lane configurations on the George Washington Bridge.

“Did you think Ms. Kelly was joking?” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Lee Cortes.

“No sir, I did not,” Mr. Wildstein replied.

Shortly after receiving the email, Mr. Wildstein said he called Mr. Baroni.

Prosecutors projected a list of more than a dozen phone calls that took place that day. Most were between Messrs. Wildstein and Baroni. At 5:48 p.m., for 16 minutes and 30 seconds, Ms. Kelly and Mr. Wildstein spoke on the phone, the list showed.

Mr. Cortes, the prosecutor, asked if Ms. Kelly explained why she wanted traffic problems.

She wanted to send a message, Mr. Wildstein replied. “Mayor Sokolich needed to fully understand life would be more difficult in the second Christie term than it had been in the first,” he added.

During August, the three planned their traffic jam, with Mr. Wildstein communicating separately with both of his alleged co-conspirators. Mr. Wildstein came up with the idea of using a traffic study as a cover story, he said, and said he would create a file of documents that would support it. Both Mr. Baroni and Ms. Kelly approved this cover story, Mr. Wildstein said. They also discussed “radio silence,” or the policy of not responding to inquiries about the traffic from local officials.

They planned to not give Fort Lee any advance notice because that would have allowed commuters to change their driving patterns. “The purpose was to create as big a traffic jam as possible,” Mr. Wildstein said.

Another detail was timing. August was considered a little too sleepy, since people tend to go out of town. They considered the week after Labor Day, but nixed that idea, too. Then Mr. Baroni asked when school began. Mr. Wildstein said he looked it up online, then told his boss that the first day of Fort Lee schools was Sept. 9.

Mr. Cortes, the prosecutor, asked how Mr. Baroni responded.

“He smiled and said, ‘Fantastic’,” Mr. Wildstein said.
And this morning-- day 3 of testimony-- Wildstein admitted that he and Baroni spoke with Christie as the traffic on the George Washington Bridge was being blocked... in real time. He also confessed that he had texted Kelly with reports from the clogged bridge on day 2 of the jam they had created and that Kelly texted back, "Is it wrong that I'm smiling?" They ignored repeated pleas from Ft Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich for state assistance. Although the egregiously corrupt Christie Administration was happy to lavish plenty of cash on crooked Democratic Party boss Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, it also came out today that the Christie Administration was looking for a way to bring Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop-- and his constituents-- some pain for his refusal to back Christie's reelection. I'm not suggesting that Christie was told how many cones blocked each lane. But I am asserting that this could never have happened had Christie not completely approved it in every strategic-- if not tactical-- detail. It will be a great miscarriage of Justice if Christie doesn't wind up in a prison cell.

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Mr. Trump Is Bad Man


Over the weekend, when the NYTimes published it's largely positive endorsement of Clinton the editors promised an anti-Trump version soon. "Soon" came quickly. Monday they hit the stands with an entirely negative slam against the candidate from down the street who they've known so well for so long: Why Donald Trump Should Not Be President. Even before they could go to town on Trump, his campaign attacked The Times: "The news that the ultra-liberal, elitist, out-of-touch New York Times Editorial Board endorsed an ultra-liberal, elitist, out-of-touch candidate in Hillary Clinton has to be some of the least surprising news ever." Nor is the indictment from Keith Olbermann above-- an addendum to last week's rant-- nor the Trump-goring The Times served up yesterday.

They endeavored to lay out how Trump is selling himself to the voters and "why he can't be believed, starting with the utter nonsense about him being some kind of a "financial wizard who can bring executive magic to government."
Despite his towering properties, Mr. Trump has a record rife with bankruptcies and sketchy ventures like Trump University, which authorities are investigating after numerous complaints of fraud. His name has been chiseled off his failed casinos in Atlantic City.

Mr. Trump’s brazen refusal to disclose his tax returns-- as Mrs. Clinton and other nominees for decades have done-- should sharpen voter wariness of his business and charitable operations. Disclosure would undoubtedly raise numerous red flags; the public record already indicates that in at least some years he made full use of available loopholes and paid no taxes.

Mr. Trump has been opaque about his questionable global investments in Russia and elsewhere, which could present conflicts of interest as president, particularly if his business interests are left in the hands of his children, as he intends. Investigations have found self-dealing. He notably tapped $258,000 in donors’ money from his charitable foundation to settle lawsuits involving his for-profit businesses, according to the Washington Post.
No critique of Trump is complete without mentioning that he's a compulsive-- or in Ted Cruz's words, "pathological"-- liar who virtually never opens his yap without expelling utter bullshit from it.

Trump, who has no experience in national security, declares that he has a plan to soundly defeat the Islamic State militants in Syria, but won’t reveal it, bobbing and weaving about whether he would commit ground troops. Voters cannot judge whether he has any idea what he’s talking about without an outline of his plan, yet Mr. Trump ludicrously insists he must not tip off the enemy.

Another of his cornerstone proposals-- his campaign pledge of a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim newcomers plus the deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants across a border wall paid for by Mexico-- has been subjected to endless qualifications as he zigs and zags in pursuit of middle-ground voters.

Whatever his gyrations, Mr. Trump always does make clear where his heart lies-- with the anti-immigrant, nativist and racist signals that he scurrilously employed to build his base.

He used the shameful “birther” campaign against President Obama’s legitimacy as a wedge for his candidacy. But then he opportunistically denied his own record, trolling for undecided voters by conceding that Mr. Obama was a born American. In the process he tried to smear Mrs. Clinton as the instigator of the birther canard and then fled reporters’ questions.

Since his campaign began, NBC News has tabulated that Mr. Trump has made 117 distinct policy shifts on 20 major issues, including three contradictory views on abortion in one eight-hour stretch. As reporters try to pin down his contradictions, Mr. Trump has mocked them at his rallies. He said he would “loosen” libel laws to make it easier to sue news organizations that displease him.

An expert negotiator who can fix government and overpower other world leaders?

His plan for cutting the national debt was far from a confidence builder: He said he might try to persuade creditors to accept less than the government owed. This fanciful notion, imported from Mr. Trump’s debt-steeped real estate world, would undermine faith in the government and the stability of global financial markets. His tax-cut plan has been no less alarming. It was initially estimated to cost $10 trillion in tax revenue, then, after revisions, maybe $3 trillion, by one adviser’s estimate. There is no credible indication of how this would be paid for-- only assurances that those in the upper brackets will be favored.

If Mr. Trump were to become president, his open doubts about the value of NATO would present a major diplomatic and security challenge, as would his repeated denunciations of trade deals and relations with China. Mr. Trump promises to renegotiate the Iran nuclear control agreement, as if it were an air-rights deal on Broadway. Numerous experts on national defense and international affairs have recoiled at the thought of his commanding the nuclear arsenal. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell privately called Mr. Trump “an international pariah.” Mr. Trump has repeatedly denounced global warming as a “hoax,” although a golf course he owns in Ireland is citing global warming in seeking to build a protective wall against a rising sea.

In expressing admiration for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, Mr. Trump implies acceptance of Mr. Putin’s dictatorial abuse of critics and dissenters, some of whom have turned up murdered, and Mr. Putin’s vicious crackdown on the press. Even worse was Mr. Trump’s urging Russia to meddle in the presidential campaign by hacking the email of former Secretary of State Clinton. Voters should consider what sort of deals Mr. Putin might obtain if Mr. Trump, his admirer, wins the White House.

A change agent for the nation and the world?

There can be little doubt of that. But voters should be asking themselves if Mr. Trump will deliver the kind of change they want. Starting a series of trade wars is a recipe for recession, not for new American jobs. Blowing a hole in the deficit by cutting taxes for the wealthy will not secure Americans’ financial future, and alienating our allies won’t protect our security. Mr. Trump has also said he will get rid of the new national health insurance system that millions now depend on, without saying how he would replace it.

The list goes on: He would scuttle the financial reforms and consumer protections born of the Great Recession. He would upend the Obama administration’s progress on the environment, vowing to “cancel the Paris climate agreement” on global warming. He would return to the use of waterboarding, a torture method, in violation of international treaty law. He has blithely called for reconsideration of Japan’s commitment not to develop nuclear weapons. He favors a national campaign of “stop and frisk” policing, which has been ruled unconstitutional. He has blessed the National Rifle Association’s ambition to arm citizens to engage in what he imagines would be defensive “shootouts” with gunmen. He has so coarsened our politics that he remains a contender for the presidency despite musing about his opponent as a gunshot target.

Voters should also consider Mr. Trump’s silence about areas of national life that are crying out for constructive change: How would he change our schools for the better? How would he lift more Americans out of poverty? How would his condescending appeal to black voters-- a cynical signal to white moderates concerned about his racist supporters-- translate into credible White House initiatives to promote racial progress? How would his call to monitor and even close some mosques affect the nation’s life and global reputation? Would his Supreme Court nominees be zealous, self-certain extensions of himself? In all these areas, Mrs. Clinton has offered constructive proposals. He has offered bluster, or nothing. The most specific domestic policy he has put forward, on tax breaks for child care, would tilt toward the wealthy.

Voters attracted by the force of the Trump personality should pause and take note of the precise qualities he exudes as an audaciously different politician: bluster, savage mockery of those who challenge him, degrading comments about women, mendacity, crude generalizations about nations and religions. Our presidents are role models for generations of our children. Is this the example we want for them?

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Cruz And Trump-- Not Really That Much Of A Stretch


Saturday afternoon Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith interviewed Ted Cruz in front of a lively audience in Austin, Texas' capital city, famously described as a big blue dot in a sea of red. When Cruz ran for the Senate he lost Austin-- badly. Travis County gave his opponent, Paul Sadler 224,070 votes (59%) and gave Cruz 133,354 (35%)-- around the same outcome that Obama and Romney had the same day. Austin voters believe in science and knowledge and don't believe in the hogwash that conservative ideologues like Ted Cruz peddle. To stifle it's voice and minimize it's electoral impact, Austin in divided up between 4 congressional districts. One of the congressmen-- far right Republican Lamar Smith, a Trump fanatic, was on the ballot that same day. He won his district, TX-21 61-35% but the Travis County part of the district was a nightmare for him. He lost in his part of Travis County 48,104 (61%) to 25,607 (32%) to Candace Duval, who spent $56,932 to Smith's $1,705,681. Point being: Austin might not be the best audience for Senator Cruz. So I applaud him for going to the University of Texas' Hogg Memorial Auditorium to be grilled-- and he was grilled-- about why he endorsed Trump. Evan Smith did a really good job.

Cruz admitted his decision to endorse Trump was "agonizing." Why agonizing? Check out the video at the bottom of the page. But why did he do it? One-- he gave his word that he would endorse the winner of the GOP primary process, and, two-- he asked the campaign to guarantee him that they would pick Supreme Court nominees from an expanded list (21) of far right judicial extremists-- and they did. If you believe in Ted Cruz and his hope about being a principled, freedom-loving conservative, the story ends there.

If on the other hand, you see Cruz as a crass and craven politician, who was staring at the end of his career after he tried the principled freedom-loving shtik in Cleveland, only to see it collapse catastrophically as Texas Republicans began openly debating who would be a better candidate to take him down in 2018, Rick Perry or Michael McCaul. Parenthetically, McCaul, who married into the Clear Channel fortune and is now one of the richest men in Congress, also has a chunk of Austin in his congressional district and of the 7 counties in the district only Travis County voted against him-- 51,121 (55%) for Tawana Cadien, an African-American nurse, to 37,302 (40%) for him. Cadien had spent $51,855 against McCaul's $1,075,667. On his Facebook post endorsing the same Trump he asserted "is a pathological liar" who "doesn't know the difference between truth and lies," one of his excuses for the endorsement was the time-honored conservative shibboleth-- he prayed on it. Yeah... God wants Ted Cruz to endorse the pathological liar.

Anyway, if you don't see Cruz as the prayerful idealist, you might see that he decided to take the gamble that he'll be accepted back into the Republican mainstream fold now that he's kissed and made up with The Donald. Starting with Austerity-obsessed Paul Ryan, the party establishment has normalized Trump and successfully moved to paint him-- often against his will-- into a Republican-in-good-standing. The GOP grassroots now overwhelming sees him as such. Cruz keeps saying something to the effect of that no matter what one thinks of Trump, Hillary is the greater of two evils. More and more Republicans have been doing so in the last month. Cruz just came late to the party. Oh-- and that party is presided over by Cruz's biggest life-time donor, right-wing sociopath and hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer-- who also happens to be Trump's biggest donor and who was loudly pissed off that Cruz wasn't on board.

Glenn Beck says he now wishes he had backed Rubio instead of Cruz. His idol cracked! "For the very first time I heard Ted Cruz calculate. And when that happened, the whole thing fell apart for me. And it’s my fault. It’s my fault for believing men can actually be George Washington. It’s my fault. I should have said, 'You know who can win? You know who can beat Hillary Clinton? Marco Rubio.'"

And the most recent poll of Texas voters shows, predictably enough, the state firmly in Trump's hands-- 42% to 36% among likely voters. Perhaps more concerning to Cruz, though, were the unfavorable numbers immediately before his prayers told him to endorse Trump. "Extremely unfavorable" among likely Texas voters:
Cruz- 33%
Senator John Cornyn- 11%
Governor Greg Abbott- 16%
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick- 18%
Attorney General Ken Paxton- 13%
Obama- 40%

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Law Firm Files Suit on Behalf of Government Against Giant Chemical Firms; Government Declines to Join


Victims blinded by a methyl isocyanate gas leak from a chemical factory in Bhopal, India, 1984 (source).

by Gaius Publius

This news brought to you by the hashtag #CultureOfCorruption.

There's a fair amount to digest in the news story below, so I'll try to give you the short strokes first:
  • Four huge chemical companies have been lying to the federal government about how dangerous some of its chemicals in consumer products are. These products include mattress foam.
  • A whistleblower apparently went, not to the government, but to a law firm, Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman — or at least came to the attention of the law firm, then didn't go to the government.
  • The law firm is bringing a lawsuit against these companies, on behalf of the federal government, which has decline to join.
  • The damages sought — $90 billion.
I know there are questions around the way this is playing out. For example, why didn't the whistleblower(s) go to the government? Why isn't the government suing on its own behalf? And so on.

About the first question, I think there's an obvious explanation. The Obama administration treats whistleblowers with disdain, and it also tends to give corporations, especially those with a lot of money to spread around, a considerable pass. After all, today's sued company could be tomorrow's campaign contributor, or employer. For example, Eric Holder came from and went back to a law firm that lobbies for Wall Street banks he himself failed to prosecute as Attorney General.

About the second question, we'll have to see, as this story develops, what the Obama administration will do. But if they do decline to act, it may be time to look again at our hashtag.

Now the story, from Lorainne Chow at EcoWatch (my emphasis):
$90 Billion Whistleblower Suit Filed Against Four of the Nation's Largest Chemical Companies

Four of the country's largest chemical companies have been accused of selling billions of dollars worth of harmful isocyanate chemicals but intentionally concealing their dangers to consumers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the past several decades.

BASF Corporation, Bayer Material Science LLC, Dow Chemical Company and Huntsman International LLC have been named in a False Claims Act (FCA) lawsuit brought by New York law firm Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP on behalf of the U.S. government.

EcoWatch learned that the recently unsealed whistleblower lawsuit was served on the chemical companies on Wednesday. The lawsuit was originally filed under seal in federal court in Northern California.

Kasowitz brought this action on behalf of itself and the federal government to recover more than $90 billion in damages and penalties under the FCA, which imposes penalties for concealing obligations to the government.

According to a copy of the lawsuit seen by EcoWatch, "Each of these companies is separately liable to the United States Government for billions of dollars in civil reporting penalties, which continue to accumulate by tens of thousands of dollars daily, and for billions of dollars in similarly increasing breach of contract damages."

In the suit, the law firm said that the defendants manufacture and sell isocyanate chemicals such as methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI), polymeric MDI (PMDI) and toluene diisocyanate (TDI). These raw materials make up polyurethane products such as liquid coatings, paints and adhesives; flexible foam used in mattresses and cushions; rigid foam used as insulation; and elastomers used to make automotive interiors.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that exposure to isocyanate can irritate the skin and mucous membranes, cause chest tightness and difficult breathing. Isocyanates also include compounds classified as potential human carcinogens and is known to cause cancer in animals.
The piece concludes with this:
According to Andy Davenport of Kasowitz, "The defendants' cover-up implicates major human health concerns. Thankfully, the whistleblower law allows us to assist the federal government in holding these companies responsible for their actions while we alert regulators and the public to the serious undisclosed hazards of these chemicals."
Assisting a government that may not want assisting creates an interesting situation. Because the lawsuit was brought privately, it's (a) civil, not criminal; (b) a potential generator of large fees for the firm (I've seen estimates as high as $27 billion); (c) a suit that may go nowhere.

About (a) — According to one of the links in the above piece, the federal government "has declined to intervene" in this suit, meaning, that it is not joining as a plaintiff. The site states: "The firm brought the action as a qui tam complaint, which is when a whistleblower brings legal action on behalf of the U.S. government. These complaints typically remain under seal while the government reviews them and decides whether to join."

The government has declined the opportunity to join the suit, which means that the law firm is on its own.

About (c) — It may be difficult to sue for unpaid penalties if those penalties were never assessed. reached out to an industry spokesperson and received this reply:
"This qui tam complaint is meritless. Dow has complied with all the federal laws and requirements referenced in the complaint. It is noteworthy that the law firm provided these allegations to the United States Department of Justice, which declined to intervene or take any action in support of the lawsuit. Moreover, the False Claims Act does not allow a claim for unassessed civil penalties."
It may well be that the strategy of the suit is to publicize this, if true, horrendous action and shame the government into acting, either by joining the suit or by suing on its own.

Culture of Corruption

I think it's fair to ask why the government declined to sue, either with the law firm or on its own — or more to the point, is failing to pursue criminal charges for the companies' failing to meet reporting requirements that keep the public from harm. If the allegations are true, and it seems pretty clear they could be, not only were the companies derelict in their duty to the public — in other words, corrupt — but so is the government in its response to this new information.

I don't know if this will go anywhere without greater publicity, but do stay tuned. I think being poisoned by isocyanates in your brand new foam mattress might be something the American consumer may care about.

Bayer and Monsanto

Oh, and if you weren't aware, Bayer, mentioned above, wants to buy Monsanto. Here's why that's a terrible idea. Bayer is also one of the companies whose pesticides are killing bees. None of the people running these companies has your health, or that of our species, at heart.


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Herr Professor Trumpf Probably Never Heard Of Hayek, But I'm Sure Paul Ryan Will Try Explaining His Neoliberal Doctrine To Him


Ryan and his horde of congressional zombies have discovered hash tags and can't get enough of #BetterWay which is nothing more than a package of failed reactionary austerity plans that would utterly destroy the lives of working families. To Paul Ryan, whose intellectual development stopped in junior high school when he read his first Ayn Rand novela, #BetterWay is also the excuse for his support for as unqualified and dangerous a presidential candidate as Donald J. Trump. "He'll sign our legislation," he promises others interested in his goals for continuing the catastrophic neoliberal agenda Ryan has built his sorry career around.

George Monbiot, writing in Friday's Guardian asked a crucial question the neoliberal disaster for working families, namely, why the left has been so ineffective in fighting it. In fact, he says, the left hasn't even bothered to define what it is and what dangers are lurking behind it. "It has," he offered, "played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007‑8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump. But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has-- or had-- a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly?" See how much Paul Ryan you recognize in this description:
Neoliberalism sees competition as the defining characteristic of human relations. It redefines citizens as consumers, whose democratic choices are best exercised by buying and selling, a process that rewards merit and punishes inefficiency. It maintains that “the market” delivers benefits that could never be achieved by planning.

Attempts to limit competition are treated as inimical to liberty. Tax and regulation should be minimised, public services should be privatised. The organisation of labour and collective bargaining by trade unions are portrayed as market distortions that impede the formation of a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Inequality is recast as virtuous: a reward for utility and a generator of wealth, which trickles down to enrich everyone. Efforts to create a more equal society are both counterproductive and morally corrosive. The market ensures that everyone gets what they deserve.

We internalise and reproduce its creeds. The rich persuade themselves that they acquired their wealth through merit, ignoring the advantages-- such as education, inheritance and class-- that may have helped to secure it. The poor begin to blame themselves for their failures, even when they can do little to change their circumstances.

Never mind structural unemployment: if you don’t have a job it’s because you are unenterprising. Never mind the impossible costs of housing: if your credit card is maxed out, you’re feckless and improvident. Never mind that your children no longer have a school playing field: if they get fat, it’s your fault. In a world governed by competition, those who fall behind become defined and self-defined as losers.

...The term neoliberalism was coined at a meeting in Paris in 1938. Among the delegates were two men who came to define the ideology, Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Both exiles from Austria, they saw social democracy, exemplified by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the gradual development of Britain’s welfare state, as manifestations of a collectivism that occupied the same spectrum as nazism and communism.

In The Road to Serfdom, published in 1944, Hayek argued that government planning, by crushing individualism, would lead inexorably to totalitarian control. Like Mises’s book Bureaucracy, The Road to Serfdom was widely read. It came to the attention of some very wealthy people, who saw in the philosophy an opportunity to free themselves from regulation and tax. When, in 1947, Hayek founded the first organisation that would spread the doctrine of neoliberalism-- the Mont Pelerin Society-- it was supported financially by millionaires and their foundations.

With their help, he began to create what Daniel Stedman Jones describes in Masters of the Universe as “a kind of neoliberal international”: a transatlantic network of academics, businessmen, journalists and activists. The movement’s rich backers funded a series of thinktanks which would refine and promote the ideology. Among them were the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Centre for Policy Studies and the Adam Smith Institute. They also financed academic positions and departments, particularly at the universities of Chicago and Virginia.

As it evolved, neoliberalism became more strident. Hayek’s view that governments should regulate competition to prevent monopolies from forming gave way-- among American apostles such as Milton Friedman-- to the belief that monopoly power could be seen as a reward for efficiency.

...[I]n the 1970s, when Keynesian policies began to fall apart and economic crises struck on both sides of the Atlantic, neoliberal ideas began to enter the mainstream. As Friedman remarked, “when the time came that you had to change ... there was an alternative ready there to be picked up.” With the help of sympathetic journalists and political advisers, elements of neoliberalism, especially its prescriptions for monetary policy, were adopted by Jimmy Carter’s administration in the US and Jim Callaghan’s government in Britain.

After Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan took power, the rest of the package soon followed: massive tax cuts for the rich, the crushing of trade unions, deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing and competition in public services. Through the IMF, the World Bank, the Maastricht treaty and the World Trade Organisation, neoliberal policies were imposed-- often without democratic consent-- on much of the world. Most remarkable was its adoption among parties that once belonged to the left: Labour and the Democrats, for example. As Stedman Jones notes, “it is hard to think of another utopia to have been as fully realised.”

It may seem strange that a doctrine promising choice and freedom should have been promoted with the slogan “there is no alternative.” But, as Hayek remarked on a visit to Pinochet’s Chile-- one of the first nations in which the programme was comprehensively applied-- “my personal preference leans toward a liberal dictatorship rather than toward a democratic government devoid of liberalism.” The freedom that neoliberalism offers, which sounds so beguiling when expressed in general terms, turns out to mean freedom for the pike, not for the minnows.

Freedom from trade unions and collective bargaining means the freedom to suppress wages. Freedom from regulation means the freedom to poison rivers, endanger workers, charge iniquitous rates of interest and design exotic financial instruments. Freedom from tax means freedom from the distribution of wealth that lifts people out of poverty.

As Naomi Klein documents in The Shock Doctrine, neoliberal theorists advocated the use of crises to impose unpopular policies while people were distracted: for example, in the aftermath of Pinochet’s coup, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina, which Friedman described as “an opportunity to radically reform the educational system” in New Orleans.

Where neoliberal policies cannot be imposed domestically, they are imposed internationally, through trade treaties incorporating “investor-state dispute settlement”: offshore tribunals in which corporations can press for the removal of social and environmental protections. When parliaments have voted to restrict sales of cigarettes, protect water supplies from mining companies, freeze energy bills or prevent pharmaceutical firms from ripping off the state, corporations have sued, often successfully. Democracy is reduced to theatre.

Another paradox of neoliberalism is that universal competition relies upon universal quantification and comparison. The result is that workers, job-seekers and public services of every kind are subject to a pettifogging, stifling regime of assessment and monitoring, designed to identify the winners and punish the losers. The doctrine that Von Mises proposed would free us from the bureaucratic nightmare of central planning has instead created one.

Neoliberalism was not conceived as a self-serving racket, but it rapidly became one. Economic growth has been markedly slower in the neoliberal era (since 1980 in Britain and the US) than it was in the preceding decades; but not for the very rich. Inequality in the distribution of both income and wealth, after 60 years of decline, rose rapidly in this era, due to the smashing of trade unions, tax reductions, rising rents, privatisation and deregulation.

The privatisation or marketisation of public services such as energy, water, trains, health, education, roads and prisons has enabled corporations to set up tollbooths in front of essential assets and charge rent, either to citizens or to government, for their use. Rent is another term for unearned income. When you pay an inflated price for a train ticket, only part of the fare compensates the operators for the money they spend on fuel, wages, rolling stock and other outlays. The rest reflects the fact that they have you over a barrel.

Those who own and run the UK’s privatised or semi-privatised services make stupendous fortunes by investing little and charging much. In Russia and India, oligarchs acquired state assets through firesales. In Mexico, Carlos Slim was granted control of almost all landline and mobile phone services and soon became the world’s richest man.

Financialisation, as Andrew Sayer notes in Why We Can’t Afford the Rich, has had a similar impact. “Like rent,” he argues, “interest is ... unearned income that accrues without any effort.” As the poor become poorer and the rich become richer, the rich acquire increasing control over another crucial asset: money. Interest payments, overwhelmingly, are a transfer of money from the poor to the rich. As property prices and the withdrawal of state funding load people with debt (think of the switch from student grants to student loans), the banks and their executives clean up.

Sayer argues that the past four decades have been characterised by a transfer of wealth not only from the poor to the rich, but within the ranks of the wealthy: from those who make their money by producing new goods or services to those who make their money by controlling existing assets and harvesting rent, interest or capital gains. Earned income has been supplanted by unearned income.

Neoliberal policies are everywhere beset by market failures. Not only are the banks too big to fail, but so are the corporations now charged with delivering public services. As Tony Judt pointed out in Ill Fares the Land, Hayek forgot that vital national services cannot be allowed to collapse, which means that competition cannot run its course. Business takes the profits, the state keeps the risk.

The greater the failure, the more extreme the ideology becomes. Governments use neoliberal crises as both excuse and opportunity to cut taxes, privatise remaining public services, rip holes in the social safety net, deregulate corporations and re-regulate citizens. The self-hating state now sinks its teeth into every organ of the public sector.

Perhaps the most dangerous impact of neoliberalism is not the economic crises it has caused, but the political crisis. As the domain of the state is reduced, our ability to change the course of our lives through voting also contracts. Instead, neoliberal theory asserts, people can exercise choice through spending. But some have more to spend than others: in the great consumer or shareholder democracy, votes are not equally distributed. The result is a disempowerment of the poor and middle. As parties of the right and former left adopt similar neoliberal policies, disempowerment turns to disenfranchisement. Large numbers of people have been shed from politics.

Chris Hedges remarks that “fascist movements build their base not from the politically active but the politically inactive, the ‘losers’ who feel, often correctly, they have no voice or role to play in the political establishment.” When political debate no longer speaks to us, people become responsive instead to slogans, symbols and sensation. To the admirers of Trump, for example, facts and arguments appear irrelevant.

Judt explained that when the thick mesh of interactions between people and the state has been reduced to nothing but authority and obedience, the only remaining force that binds us is state power. The totalitarianism Hayek feared is more likely to emerge when governments, having lost the moral authority that arises from the delivery of public services, are reduced to “cajoling, threatening and ultimately coercing people to obey them.”

Like communism, neoliberalism is the God that failed. But the zombie doctrine staggers on, and one of the reasons is its anonymity... [W]hen neoliberalism fell apart in 2008 there was ... nothing. This is why the zombie walks. The left and centre have produced no new general framework of economic thought for 80 years.

A cohesive and compelling alternative isn't likely to be coming from Pelosi (let alone her "ideas and messaging man," Blue Dog Steve Israel). In fact, the New Dems and Blue Dogs are the embodiment, as much as Republican hacks like Paul Ryan, of neoLiberalism. Is there a solution? It has nothing to do with the DCCC or the corrupted and sclerotic Democratic Party establishment. But it has everything in the world to do with the next generation of Democratic leaders, from Ted Lieu, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Alan Grayson and Barbara Lee to Zephyr Teachout, Pramila Jayapal, Bao Nguyen and Jamie Raskin.

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Monday, September 26, 2016

The Hell With Fact Checkers, The Debates Should Feature A Panel Of Psychiatrists


Many in the media prepared for today's debate by doing features on how much Trump lies. People who have been paying attention for the last year-- or who have been aware of him outside of the political realm-- have long realized that virtually nothing he says is true. Before tonight, PolitiFact had investigated 259 statements he's made and found just 11 true (4%). 70% of his statements are false (and that leaves out another 15% that are half false). Look at the headline of yesterday's L.A. Times. They reported that "never in modern presidential politics has a major candidate made false statements as routinely as Trump has. Over and over, independent researchers have examined what the Republican nominee says and concluded it was not the truth-- but “pants on fire” (PolitiFact) or “four Pinocchios” (Washington Post Fact Checker). [T]he scope of Trump’s falsehoods is unprecedented, and he is dogged in refusing to stop saying things once they are proved untrue... Trump’s pattern of saying things that are provably false has no doubt contributed to his high unfavorable ratings. It also has forced journalists to grapple with how aggressive they should be in correcting candidates’ inaccurate statements, particularly in the presidential debates that start Monday.

Thomas E. Mann, a resident scholar at UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, said Trump appears to recognize that a faction of the Republican Party has lost respect for facts, evidence and science... “He’s a salesman,” Mann said. “He’s a con man. He’s hustled people out of money that they’re owed. He’s lived off tax shelters. He’s always looking for a scheme and a con, and in that sphere, you just fall into telling lies as a matter of course.”

...Marty Kaplan, a professor of entertainment, media and society at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, has two theories on Trump’s falsehoods.

Perhaps he’s just putting on  an act, like P.T. Barnum-- a “marketer, con, snake-oil salesman who knows better, knows how to get the rubes into the tent.” Or maybe, Kaplan suggested, Trump is just “completely unconstrained by logic, rules, tradition, truth, law.”

“I’m confused,” he said, “whether the whole fact-free zone that he’s in is a strategic calculation or a kind of psychosis.”

Over the weekend, Maggie Haberman and Alexander Burns compiled a list of easily refutable whoppers Trump told-- just last week! Newspaper editorials are piling up against him; virtually all of them mention he's a compulsive liar when explaining why he's patently unfit for office. So what can we expect tomorrow? How many lies will Trump tell per question? His campaign has been screaming all week that fact-checking is unfair. There's an implicit threat he could walk out if a moderator points out that he's lying.

On Sunday, Politico published a lengthy post fact-checking both candidates for a week. The headline: Donald Trump's Week Of Misrepresentations, Exaggerations And Half-Truths. At this point, his supporters are relieved when it's half-truths.
We subjected every statement made by both the Republican and Democratic candidates – in speeches, in interviews and on Twitter – to our magazine’s rigorous fact-checking process. The conclusion is inescapable: Trump’s mishandling of facts and propensity for exaggeration so greatly exceed Clinton’s as to make the comparison almost ludicrous.

Though few statements match the audacity of his statement about his role in questioning Obama’s citizenship, Trump has built a cottage industry around stretching the truth. According to Politico’s five-day analysis Trump averaged about one falsehood every three minutes and 15 seconds over nearly five hours of remarks.
But what the media doesn't do is attempt to assert a motivation or any kind of real analysis about why Trump seems incapable of being truthful. Lists of his lies are completely passé this late in the campaign. We all know he lies every time he opens his mouth. Who will be the first to explain why? Politico's silly attempt-- "he simply talks more"-- comes off more like an excuse than an analysis.

I did enjoy how Politico ended their deep look into his lies though, making it more about what the American conservative movement has turned into, than just another instance of Trump making crap up:
87. “I certainly don't think you want Candy Crowley again. ... She turned out to be wrong.” (Sept. 22, Fox and Friends interview)

Trump was referring to a dramatic moment in Candy Crowley’s moderating of the second presidential debate in 2012. President Obama said he called the Benghazi attack an act of terror the day afterward in the Rose Garden, and Mitt Romney claimed he hadn’t used the word for 14 days. “Get the transcript,” Obama said, and Crowley interjected that he was correct and Romney was mistaken. Conservatives criticized Crowley for interfering, but her live fact-check was accurate. “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation,” Obama said on Sept. 12 in the Rose Garden.
Of course when your news universe is reading Breibart, listening to Limbaugh and watching Fox... you're in an alternative universe anyway. It looks, at this point-- at least according to the latest polling-- that half the country is now unmoored from objective reality.

These sum up the debate in two pictures. Is Trump's candidacy going to survive tonight? And now we don't just need his tax returns released; we need to see a drug test.

Trump is trying to blame his miserable performance on a defective mic. Maybe someone cut his coke with some rotgut amphetamine sulfate

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