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Daily Bread for 2.12.20

Good morning.

Wednesday in Whitewater will be cloudy, with occasional snowfall, and a high of thirty-six.  Sunrise is 6:55 AM and sunset 5:22 PM, for 10h 27m 29s of daytime.  The moon is a waning gibbous with 85.5% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the one thousand one hundred ninety-first day.

On this day in 1809, Abraham Lincoln is born.

Recommended for reading in full —

Mikhaila Fogel, Susan Hennessey, Quinta Jurecic, Benjamin Wittes write The President Tweets and the Justice Department Complies:

Corruption of the justice system has two major elements. The first—at issue in the Ukraine scandal—is the use of state power to go after one’s enemies. The other is the ability to restrain government power to reward one’s friends and allies.

A dramatic display of this latter power took place today, Feb. 11, when the U.S. Department of Justice, having articulated in court its view of an appropriate sentence for President Trump’s associate Roger Stone—convicted recently on multiple felony counts—confronted an angry presidential tweet and then meekly reversed course in a second filing.

The action prompted multiple career prosecutors to withdraw from the case.

….

We don’t know exactly what might have gone on within the Justice Department during the hours between when the first Stone memo was filed and when the department decided it had made an egregious error. But it is highly irregular for the department to act as it did today, intervening to overrule career prosecutors to urge leniency for a presidential friend. To act as it did in the immediate wake of a presidential statement decrying the handling of the case and in the face of the withdrawal from the matter of the prosecutors in question creates a heavy presumption of irregularity.

Nor is this the first time that the Justice Department has backtracked on a sentencing recommendation in a high-profile Mueller-related case. In December 2018, nearly two years after former national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI regarding his contacts with Russian officials prior to the Trump inauguration, the special counsel’s office filed a sentencing memo suggesting a downward departure from the zero to six months of prison time recommended by the guidelines—meaning that Flynn would get no custodial sentence at all.

Julia Davis reports Russians Think Triumphant Trump Is More Their Man Than Ever:

Russian state media have welcomed enthusiastically the recent U.S. Senate acquittal of President Donald J. Trump. Having predicted this outcome for his impeachment trial, Russian experts and state-media pundits are anticipating beneficial side effects for the Kremlin as Trump is more Trump—and more Russia’s Trump—than ever.

Dmitry Kiselyov, the host of Russia’s popular Sunday news program Vesti Nedeli, said, “Democrats are openly raging, but while they’re licking their wounds, Trump can now objectively afford to pursue a more positive course of action toward Russia—just as he planned all along while being elected for the first term.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent invitation to Trump to attend Victory Day festivities in Moscow this spring is designed to bring the U.S. president ever deeper into the Kremlin fold. Appearing on Sunday Evening With Vladimir Soloviev, politician Sergey Stankevich asserted, “Donald Trump has to come to Moscow in May, no doubt about it. He is obligated to be here.”

Standard Poodle ‘Siba’ Walks Away With Best In Show @ Westminster:

The Trump Bubble

Over at the conservative Bulwark, there’s a published email in which the email’s author anecdotally describes how some Trump supporters are ignorant of significant daily political events:

I will also point out that the same people who were extremely knowledgeable about what was going on during the Obama administration amazingly have very little knowledge of what’s going on day-to-day in the Trump administration and frankly they tell me they don’t want to know. Out of three people not one watched the East Room performance last Thursday, nor did they read about it or hear even drops from the tirade.

There is definitely a marked regression in knowledge of what’s going on politically during the Trump administration. Out of sight, out of mind.

It was difficult to challenge their points or even have informed discussions with them, because whatever I mentioned, they had no knowledge of it occurring. Very much short on facts. Had all of the repeated Trumpisms, witch hunt, hoax, etc. down pat. But if you try to drill down a little deeper you couldn’t hit home.

The best approach is a focus on Trump, His Inner Circle, Principal Surrogates, and Media Defenders, including officials pushing Trumpism Down to the Local Level.

A Reminder About Opportunity Zones: Bad Policy Flacked Locally

Those following what passes for economic policy in Whitewater know that this website has been rightly critical of the economic opportunity zones that were part of Trump’s tax bill. See About that Trump Tax Bill, More About that Trump Tax Bill, and The Trump Tax Bill: That’s Not Reform.

Jenny Schuetz, commenting on part of Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address, observes that Opportunity Zones aren’t as great as they sound:

President Trump took a victory lap on Opportunity Zones, claiming that money is “pouring into poor neighborhoods” due to tax changes in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Evidence doesn’t back this up, though. Many neighborhoods designated as OZs were already experiencing socioeconomic growth before the program began. And critics have pointed out the program designis prone to cronyism and abuse—not a recipe for helping poor neighborhoods.

Whitewater’s Community Development Authority was much in favor of these zones, however, in a press release from 2018:

“We’re very excited at the quick approval of our two EOZ nominees given by US Treasury Secretary Robert Mnuchin,” said Dave Carlson, Executive Director of the Whitewater Community Development Authority (CDA). Governor Walker had included Whitewater’s two nominees as a part of a broad list of 118 sites statewide which were forwarded to Secretary Mnuchin in late March.

“This has the potential to spark some much needed growth in our community,” said Larry Kachel, Chair of the Whitewater CDA. “The EOZ program will allow certain investment gains to be redirected, with significant tax savings, into economic opportunity funds which will make investments in communities like Whitewater.” Investors will be able to earn permanent tax savings on the original capital gain based on how long they keep it invested in the economic opportunity fund.

This was bad policy in 2018, and remains bad policy now that Trump’s proposing more of it.

(The CDA press release seems to have disappeared from the City of Whitewater’s website, but I have a retrieved a copy from a private online archive, and embedded it below. I’ll not say that the absence of the release from the municipal website is an intentional act, but it is a convenient development for those who’d like to conceal their wrongheaded support of this part of Trump’s tax bill.)

Still, then-CDA chairman, Larry Kachel, who touted this part of the bill, also showcased the Foxconn project at a meeting of his business special interest group, the ‘Greater Whitewater Committee.’ If you thought Foxconn would be a good idea, then you need to re-think your definition of a good idea…

In any event, the name doesn’t match the local organization – no special interest ever made a community greater by flacking trickle-down economics or multi-billion-dollar corporate welfare deals.

Original release below —

Russians react to a huge portrait of President Vladimir Putin

A Russian prankster glued a massive portrait of President Vladimir Putin to the inside of a residential elevator. He then placed a camera in the elevator to record people’s reactions. Some of the reactions were incredulous, others were angry, but all were hilarious.

The Moscow Times is Russia’s leading independent English-language media outlet.

Daily Bread for 2.11.20

Good morning.

Tuesday in Whitewater will be partly sunny with a high of twenty-nine.  Sunrise is 6:56 AM and sunset 5:21 PM, for 10h 24m 51s of daytime.  The moon is a waning gibbous with 93% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the one thousand one hundred ninetieth day.

The Whitewater Schools’ Policy Review Committee meets at 8 AM, and Whitewater’s Public Works Committee meets at 6 PM.

On this day in 1842, one Wisconsin Territorial legislator shoots another during a debate.

Recommended for reading in full —

Melissa del Bosque reports A Group of Agents Rose Through the Ranks to Lead the Border Patrol. They’re Leaving It in Crisis:

The group had overseen or witnessed crises in the past — including lawsuits over excessive use of force and revelations of corruption within the patrol’s own ranks. But the last three years, catalyzed by ever-harsher Trump administration policies, had thrust the insular agency into unprecedented turmoil. The arrival of tens of thousands of asylum-seekers at the border had forced agents into new roles, for which they had little training. A series of high-profile scandals had focused scalding attention on the agency: Children died in its custody. Reporters uncovered a racist, misogynist private Facebook page with some 9,500 current and former Border Patrol members, including, at one point, Provost. Misconduct charges rose and a longtime agent was even prosecuted as a serial killer.

The Border Patrol they’d guided was experiencing not just a crisis of confidence among legislators and the public, but from within.

Some senior agents said they can’t help but blame the current state of the Border Patrol on the Douglas agents for fostering a culture that favored loyalty over competency. “I still believe in our mission. But we need restructuring, we need change,” said one longtime senior agent from Texas, who asked to remain anonymous because he’s not authorized to speak to the media. “It’s a group following each other on their coattails with the same ideas, because everyone thinks the same way. And a lot of people skipping rank based on who they know, not on their experience.”

Robert Tracinski describes The Closing of the Conservative Mind:

In the early days of Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republican party, and of the conservative movement, many of us assumed that it was happening in complete defiance of the movement’s intellectual leadership.

Trump was aggressively anti-intellectual and routinely displayed a contemptuous indifference toward the ideas to which many intellectuals on the right have devoted their lives: small government, free markets, fiscal responsibility, moral character.

Many of them had previously lined up against him, drawing a line in the sand “Against Trump.”

Yet only a few years later, Trump’s takeover of the conservative movement is nearly complete. You could interpret this one of three ways: That nobody ever really listened to the right’s intellectuals; that the intellectuals never really believed their own supposed ideals; or that there was some hidden weakness on the part of conservative intellectuals that made them vulnerable to Trumpism.

How Urban Farming Saved a Dallas Community:

Brain Drain Plagues Key USDA Research Service After Trump Administration Orders Relocation

When the Trump administration relocated the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service to the Kansas City area last year, about two-thirds of its employees quit their jobs rather than move.

Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, called the mass resignations a “wonderful way to streamline the government.”

These departures have stimulated a “brain drain” within an influential federal agency that “directly or indirectly effects” everyone in the U.S, historian Jamie Pietruska says.

The ERS, a nonpartisan federal research agency, provides objective economic data and analysis on farming forecasts, crop and livestock predictions, the environment, food consumption and the consumer price index for food. Their forecasts and reports are “heavily relied on” in the U.S. government, Pietruska says.

A Change of Venue for a Public Forum

One reads that the Whitewater Schools have changed the location of a public forum for the selection of a new district administrator to the library in the high school.  The forum is now scheduled for 2.18.20 @ 6:30 PM (“Residents will have a chance to offer input on the school district’s next leader at 6:30 p.m. in the Whitewater High School library media center, 534 S. Elizabeth St., according to an updated news release shared Friday”).

This website criticized the previous location (the district’s cramped and uninviting Central Office).  See Whitewater Schools: Paltry “Community Input.” (I’ve updated that earlier post to reflect the location change.)

The move to a larger and better venue is the right move.

He Already Has

It is difficult for reasonable and civilized people to understand the persistent of corruption and disorder in a man like Trump. The rational man or woman – guided by intellect and tradition – assumes that someone of Trump’s ilk is only in the grip of an ephemeral disorder, a passing derangement. Surely, they think, Trump will return to reason, to a rational equanimity (even if he should remain disqualifyingly ignorant).

Trump will not return to reason; he’s an aged man who has been disordered – so far as one can tell – for most of his life.

He may be opposed, resisted, and fought, but he will not be reformed through conventional effort.

Catherine Rampell reminds of this – for some do need reminding – in her essay Worried Trump might weaponize the presidency? He already has, many times:

Our vindictive president, now unshackled by his frightened followers in Congress, may well be teed up to punish his perceived political enemies. And we needn’t exercise much imagination to envision how this loaded-gloved counterpuncher might weaponize his executive authority.

He did it in the Ukraine affair, of course, when he tried to use taxpayer funds to extort a foreign leader into smearing a political opponent. Most of his abuses, however, have happened closer to home.

Consider the selectively punitive antitrust actions undertaken by this administration, which is otherwise not exactly known for caring about market concentration.

In the case of AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, for instance, some economists and career civil servants raised legitimate concerns about the merger’s possible effects on competition. But Trump tried to block it for political reasons, because he disliked Time-Warner-owned CNN.

We are years into a continent-wide conflict; it will not end when Trump and his inner circle see to reason, as they never will. This conflict will end when one side prevails and casts the other into a political outer darkness.

As always, the proper focus is Trump, His Inner Circle, Principal Surrogates, and Media Defenders including Trumpism Down to the Local Level.

Daily Bread for 2.10.20

Good morning.

Monday in Whitewater will be partly sunny with a high of thirty-one.  Sunrise is 6:57 AM and sunset 5:20 PM, for 10h 22m 11s of daytime.  The moon is a waning gibbous with 97.9% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the one thousand one hundred eighty-ninth day.

On this day in 1763, the Treaty of Paris cedes formerly French-controlled land, including the Wisconsin region, to England.

Recommended for reading in full —

Patrick Marley and Eric Litke report Most of the Wisconsinites targeted for removal from voter rolls cast ballots in 2016:

Many of the 232,000 Wisconsinites at the heart of a lawsuit over who should be on the state’s voting rolls are reliable voters, with nearly three-quarters of them casting ballots in the 2016 presidential election.

The frequency with which they vote shows why Democrats and Republicans alike are scrambling to find their supporters and get them to update their voter registrations. With Wisconsin a top target in this year’s presidential election, they want to ensure they get their backers to the polls in November.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission in October identified 232,576 registered voters who it believes may have moved. Conservatives have filed a lawsuit to try to force those voters off the rolls.

A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis of data from the commission shows the voters in question are ones who often show up at the polls:

72% of them voted in the 2016 presidential election.

89% of them have voted in at least one election since 2006.

31% voted in all three presidential elections since 2008, 52% voted in at least two of them and 78% voted in at least one of them.

Arthur Delaney reports Trump Administration Quietly Goes After Disability Benefits:

Under the proposed change, the government would look more closely at whether certain disability insurance recipients still qualify as “disabled” after they’ve already been awarded those benefits. While recipients already have to demonstrate their continuing disability every few years, the proposal would ramp up the examinations, potentially running still-eligible beneficiaries out of the program.

The extra reviews will help “maintain appropriate stewardship of the disability program,” the administration said in the proposal, arguing current rules fail to account fully for the possibility of medical improvement.

It’s just one of several unilateral moves the Trump administration has made against social programs that make it easier for people to survive without labor market income. The proposals may save the government a few dollars, but they also send a political message that President Trump is cracking down on the “takers” Republicans have vilified for decades.

Rafael Carranza reports Sacred Native American site in Arizona blasted for border wall construction:

The contractor that is building President Donald Trump’s border wall in southwestern Arizona began blasting this week through a site that the Native American O’odham people consider sacred to make way for newer, taller barriers.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed the contractor started blasting through the site called Monument Hill at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument west of Lukeville “in preparation for new border wall system construction within the Roosevelt Reservation.”

The Roosevelt Reservation is a 60-foot-wide swath of federally owned land along the border in Arizona.

Since construction began in August, crews have been clearing that 60-foot swath – relocating certain plants, including the state’s iconic saguaros, to other parts of the national park.

How Keeth Smart Became the Best Fencer in the World:

Daily Bread for 2.9.20

Good morning.

Sunday in Whitewater will be snowy with a high of thirty-five.  Sunrise is 6:59 AM and sunset 5:18 PM, for 10h 19m 34s of daytime.  The moon is a waning gibbous with 99% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the one thousand one hundred eighty-eighth day.

On this day in 1870, Pres. Grant signs a joint resolution authorizing the Weather Bureau of the United States

Recommended for reading in full —

Michael Gerson writes Trump’s politicization of the National Prayer Breakfast is unholy and immoral:

First, the president again displayed a remarkable ability to corrupt, distort and discredit every institution he touches. The prayer breakfast was intended to foster personal connections across party differences. Trump turned it into a performative platform to express his rage and pride — the negation of a Christian ethic. Democrats have every right and reason to avoid this politicized event next year. And religious people of every background should no longer give credence to this parody of a prayer meeting.

Second, Trump has again shown a talent for exposing the sad moral compromises of his followers, especially his evangelical Christian followers. Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress and Eric Metaxas don’t have it easy after an event such as this one. Not only do they need to defend Trump’s use of a prayer breakfast as a campaign rally. Not only are they required to defend his offensive questioning of religious motivations. They must also somehow justify his discomfort with a central teaching of the Sermon on the Mount and his use of a prayer meeting to attack and defame his enemies. These evangelical Christian leaders will, of course, find some way to bless Trump’s sacrilege. But he makes their job ever harder and their moral surrender ever more obvious.

Third, Trump’s unholy outburst (and the White House event that followed) shows we are reaching a very dangerous moment in our national life. The president is seized by rage and resentment — not heard on some scratchy Watergate tape, but in public, for all to see and hear. He now feels unchecked and uncheckable. And he has a position of tremendous power. This is what happens when a sociopath gets away with something. He or she is not sobered but emboldened. It took mere hours for Republican senators who predicted a wiser, chastened president to eat their words. The senators are, in part, responsible for the abuses of power to come.

Jeff Stein and Erica Werner report Trump’s new budget proposal expected to show how far he has moved away from some 2016 campaign promises:

On immigration, health care, infrastructure and the deficit, the final budget pitch of Trump’s first term will look much different from the campaign platform he offered four years ago.

The border wall that he promised would be paid for by Mexico is instead being financed by billions in U.S. taxpayer dollars, and the administration’s budget request to Congress is expected to seek even more.

The president’s 2015 promise to protect Medicaid from cuts has been repeatedly ignored, as he has sought to slash some $800 billion over a decade from the health program for low-income Americans.

This Turkish Ice Cream Doesn’t Melt:

Daily Bread for 2.8.20

Good morning.

Saturday in Whitewater will be cloudy with a high of thirty-two.  Sunrise is 7:00 AM and sunset 5:17 PM, for 10h 16m 59s of daytime.  The moon is a waxing gibbous with 99% of its visible disk illuminated.

Today is the one thousand one hundred eighty-seventh day.

Whitewater’s annual Polar Plunge for Special Olympics takes place today at the Cravath lakefront, 341 S. Fremont Street (link to map). Check-in and registration begin at 10 AM, with a chili cook-off at 11 AM, and the opening ceremony and plunging beginning at Noon.

Scenes from plunges across Wisconsin —

On this day in 1858, a Wisconsin Congressman starts a fight in the House

On February 8, 1858, Wisconsin Rep. John Potter (considered a backwoods hooligan by Southern aristocrats) leaped into a fight on the House floor. When Potter embarrassed a pro-slavery brawler by pulling off his wig, the gallery shouted that he’d taken a Southern scalp. Potter emerged from the melee covered in blood and marked by slave owners as an enemy.

Recommended for reading in full —

Molly Kinder writes Trump’s State of the Union declared we’re in a “blue-collar boom.” Workers don’t agree:

First, low unemployment numbers are hiding widespread economic precarity. As my colleagues Martha Ross and Nicole Bateman pointed out, 44% of jobs in the U.S. pay so little that workers can barely afford to live. The stories we heard corroborate these statistics.

“The pay is not as high as I thought it would be,” a 23-year-old gas station manager told us. “I tell my husband, ‘I’m working my butt off there and I have to live check to check.’”

Many of the workers we spoke to expressed anxiety about their lack of a financial cushion to weather emergencies. “I don’t have the greatest car in the world,” one 25-year-old grocery worker said. “It is old and it’s probably going to break down on me soon, which would suck because I need it for work. I keep trying to save and I can’t. I’m constantly worried about it.”

Low-wage workers in expensive regions such as the Bay Area described going to great lengths to stay afloat, from living in groups in tight quarters to commuting long distances to working multiple jobs. The lesson? Employment only matters if workers can access quality jobs.

Second, rising wages mean little if workers can’t get enough hours or qualify for benefits. Many grocery and retail workers voiced frustration that their employers were raising hourly pay but making it harder for workers to get enough hours to pay their bills and—importantly—to qualify for health benefits. “In 18 years, I never got a full-time position, never,” one cashier lamented. “I can’t survive with 24 hours [a week].” A grocery manager said that so few of her colleagues get full-time hours, doing so is like winning the lottery: “[That’s] why you’re constantly seeing, ‘We’re hiring!’ But you can’t give me 40 hours.”

….

The wide gap between Trump’s State of the Union address and the reality of workers’ lives is illustrated by far more than compensation and employment figures. The working class today faces historic inequality in both power and prosperity. A more equitable economy that truly delivers for working people requires a rebalancing of that power, and policy changes to address the structural forces that exclude workers from shared prosperity.

The Sun seen by the Inouye Solar Telescope: