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Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby: I wrote in a Republican instead of voting for Roy Moore

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 19:01

Most Senate Republicans are reluctant to criticize Moore too loudly lest populists punish them for it in their next primary. As an Alabamian Shelby has more skin in the game than any of them, and not only did he not vote for the guy, he’s perfectly happy to discuss that fact on national television. I don’t follow Alabama politics so I don’t know if there’s history between him and Moore, but either way it takes some stones to anti-endorse your party’s candidate from your own state in a TV appearance you didn’t need to make two days out from the election knowing you’ll have to serve with him if he wins. He must really dislike Moore.

But if there’s any Republican in the Senate who has little to fear from getting cross-wise with Trump and his base, it’s Shelby. He’s 83, has been in Congress for nearly 40 years and the Senate for 30, and won reelection just last year with well over 60 percent of the vote. In all probability he’s in his last term, and even if he isn’t, who’s going to remember his opposition to Moore in 2022? Sure, Moore will, but if he’s anything like the disaster in the Senate that his critics expect, and if in fact businesses in Alabama start decamping to neighboring states in protest of his victory, it won’t be Shelby who needs to worry about a backlash back home.

I don’t mean to dismiss his vote of no confidence just because it won’t cost him, though. Clearly rubber-stamping Moore the way Trump and the entirety of the Alabama GOP have done was the easier course for Shelby. He refused to take it and he refused to hide it, presumably on principle. Good for him.

For your consideration, a trio of conservative writers addressing the “just hold the seat and worry about Moore afterward” expedience argument. First, Caleb Howe on Trump deciding to cut a robocall for Moore:

The problem is that you can’t claim something to be out of necessity or expediency if, in practice, you frame it as a great and tremendous thing you fully support. “Vote for Moore so we can replace him with a better Republican later” is not the same thing as “this is a wonderful great guy America needs and you should vote for him plus also that lady lied.”

But that is where Trump is putting the GOP. It’s an affirmative support. A declaration of Moore as suitable and one of us. It’s not a candidacy endorsement, in other words. It’s a Moore endorsement. There will be no expulsion should he win. There can’t be. He’s Trump’s chosen.

Remember, Steve Bannon told a crowd in Alabama last week that Moore has more integrity in his little finger than Mitt Romney has in his whole body. Moore isn’t being sold by major players as the lesser of two evils, or at least not anymore. He’s being sold as worthy on his own merits. Peter Wehner picks up on that idea:

Assume you were a person of the left and an atheist, and you decided to create a couple of people in a laboratory to discredit the Republican Party and white evangelical Christianity. You could hardly choose two more perfect men than Donald Trump and Roy Moore…

I hoped the Trump era would be seen as an aberration and made less ugly by those who might have influence over the president. That hasn’t happened. Rather than Republicans and people of faith checking his most unappealing sides, the president is dragging down virtually everyone within his orbit.

Spinning for the president is now a more or less 24/7 job for major conservative media and grassroots right-wingers, especially if they’re evangelical, oddly. One of the pitches last year to Never Trumpers, including from Trump himself, was that he’d be a different character once in office. “I will be so presidential,” he said during the primaries, “you will be so bored.” No one is bored. He’s not different, the GOP is different. (Or, if you prefer, the GOP was always like this but has been liberated by Trump to be truer to itself.) This is why Moore’s candidacy is evoking so many “last straw” responses from Trump skeptics like Wehner. The presidency is momentously important and Hillary was a garbage candidate, which made an argument from expedience in favor of the GOP nominee easier to digest last year. Tuesday’s election is about a three-year term for one of 100 Senate seats, and one which the GOP will almost certainly win in 2020 regardless of what happens this week. Choosing Moore over Mo Brooks or Luther Strange in the primary when the stakes were that low wasn’t “expedience,” it was a preference for Moore-style populism on the merits. This is what the party is.

Finally, Kevin Williamson takes on the expediency argument’s bottom line: If candidate quality doesn’t matter so long as it leads to big policy victories, where are the big policy victories?

My friend (and boss) Rich Lowry recently argued that the Trump administration has proved so far surprisingly successful from the point of view of conventional Republican priorities — there’s more to the Trump record, he said, than Neil Gorsuch. And that’s true enough: Scott Pruitt at the EPA has done useful and important things, as has Betsy DeVos at Education. But that’s a side of hash browns, not an omelet. Health care remains unreformed, the tax bill is an incoherent mess, the border remains unsecured, there has been no significant reform of economic policy, and we have in fact moved in the direction opposite from fiscal sanity, etc. President Trump announced that the U.S. embassy in Israel would be moved to Jerusalem . . . and then immediately signed a waiver, as he predecessors had, adding an Augustinian “but not yet” to the end of his declaration. That was a classic Trump move: The Trump administration is a show about nothing.

That’s not a bargain at any price. But at the price of one’s honor? The Republican party took the lead in seeing off both American slavery and worldwide Communism under the leadership of men including Abraham Lincoln, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan. The most today’s Republican party can say for itself is: “You can’t prove our guy was a serial molester of adolescent girls! That’s up to the people of Alabama to decide.”

My prediction is that Moore wins by seven. This is what the party is. Exit question: Why has Moore disappeared from the campaign trail this weekend? Reporters may want to ask him uncomfortable questions but he doesn’t have to answer. Is his team so worried about him saying something spontaneously to wound himself that they’re limiting appearances to minimize the risk? He’s scheduled to be back out there tomorrow night at a rally with Bannon, where, presumably, the guest will do most of the talking.

The post Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby: I wrote in a Republican instead of voting for Roy Moore appeared first on Hot Air.

NFL week 14 open thread

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 17:31

Jazz: The mediocrity continued for me again last week with yet another 4-3 showing. That puts me at 51-40 on the season and still three games behind Ed with only three weeks to go. It may be time for something drastic. If there was any significantly better news coming out of last weekend it was a shocking victory by the Jets who played like they needed to in the previous three games against weaker opponents. Sadly, it’s too late for a playoff berth but there’s always pride to play for, right? (*cough*)

Ed: We’ve finally gotten to the point where I am almost assured of a winning season. Almost, that is, because counting this week we’ll be making 28 picks, and I’m 17 over .500 at 54-37. Can I snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Oh, let’s hope not …

Jazz: The Jets are visiting the Broncos (4:05, CBS) and if you’d asked for a prediction at the beginning of the season I’d have predicted New York would just stay home. But as bad as the Jets have been, Denver has been worse and New York is somehow a slim favorite going in. They’ve put up 65 points over the past two games while the Broncos have been averaging less than 20 even at home. I’ll take the Jets again this week 23-17. The Steelers welcome a tough divisional rival in the Ravens for the late game tonight (8:30 pm, NBC) and Baltimore has their eyes on a wildcard slot. Taking down the big dog in their division would be an impactful statement that they’ve earned that right. Pittsburgh and Big Ben have an excellent record against Baltimore at home and they’re in good shape, but I think Baltimore wants it more. In a serious upset, I’ll pick the Ravens in a tough match 27-24. The Vikings travel to meet another tough team in the Panthers (1:00 pm, CBS) and they’re a slim favorite coming off a shocking win against Atlanta and riding an eight-game streak. It won’t be easy and it won’t be high scoring, but the Vikings get it done again and lock up the NFC North, 20-13.

Ed: The Jets have played over their heads this season, while Denver has been a huge disappointment. They’ve scored 40 points in the last three games, and it looks as though the whole team has checked out several weeks early. I usually jinx the Jets when I pick them, but I’ll go with them again this week anyway, 24-13. The Steelers are riding a big winning streak but are missing Ryan Shazier, possibly permanently, after a career-threatening injury last week. They’ll also be missing JuJu Shuster-Smith for a suspension, but you know that the Steelers will be looking to win one for #50 in prime time at home. Pittsburgh and Baltimore have top-flight defenses, but the Steelers are far more powerful on offense. Steelers over Ravens 27-17. Speaking of defense, Minnesota’s looked amazing last week against the Falcons, and their offense is looking unbeatable too. Vikings over the Panthers, 28-16.

Jazz: Here’s four more. Perhaps we can find some exciting, contested matches to call.

  • Lions at Buccaneers (1:00 pm, CBS) – Detroit comes in as a one point favorite but Matthew Stafford banged up his throwing hand this week to the point where he either won’t play or will be questionable in his effectiveness. That opens the door for an otherwise lackluster Tampa Bay team. I’ll go with the Bucs in a close one, 23-20.
  • Packers at Browns (1:00 pm, CBS) – The big problem with Cleveland (okay… one of the big problems) is that they’ve been coughing up the ball like cats cough up hairballs. If they do that again when Green Bay shows up it won’t end well. But the Packers are one of the Browns’ best chances to put together a good showing without their star QB. I think they’re overdue. I’ll take the Browns in an upset, 16-14.
  • Eagles at Rams (4:25 pm, FOX) – This has to be the game of the week. The 9-3 Rams face the 10-2 Eagles and they both would like a first week bye in the playoffs. The Eagles can almost lock that up with a win while the Rams will still have some work to do. I can’t see the Eagles dropping two in a row at this point and I’ll take Philadelphia in a shootout, 33-30.
  • Patriots at Dolphins (Monday 8:30 pm, ESPN) – I would dearly love to see the Dolphins give the Pats a black eye on Monday night but it’s just not in the cards, even at home. New England is back on their usual, annoying track and will win this one as well, 27-13.

Ed:

  • Lions at Buccaneers (1:00 pm, CBS) – The Bucs are another team that has underperformed, but they have had flashes of competence this year, too. Their problem is their 31st-ranked defense, although they only give up 24 points a game. The Lions, however, haven’t beaten a quality team this year except for the Vikings in week 4. With Stafford’s hand banged up, it’s tough to see them prevailing in a road game. Tampa Bay 27-24.
  • Packers at Browns (1:00 pm, CBS) – Cleveland just announced that 1-27 head coach Hue Jackson will return in 2018. Is this the game that finally puts the Browns in the win column this year? They’re at home playing against backup Brett Hundley and … naah. Packers 27-20 over the Browns.
  • Eagles at Rams (4:25 pm, FOX) – Before last week, I thought the Eagles were well-nigh unbeatable. The Rams and the Eagles score exactly the same number of average points per game (30.1), and LA only gives up a point more per game on defense. I’ll go with home-field advantage and take the Rams in a tougher defensive battle, 23-19.
  • Patriots at Dolphins (Monday 8:30 pm, ESPN) – Oh, come on. I don’t care if the Dolphins are playing at home; they only score 19 points a game. In the first 13 weeks, Miami has only scored 29 or more points in a game once, against the Jets in week 7. The Pats average 29 points a game on offense. As much as I’d love to see New England drop behind in the playoff home field race, Pats win this one easily, 33-17.

The post NFL week 14 open thread appeared first on Hot Air.

As the world holds its breath: Sunday reflection

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 16:46

This morning’s Gospel reading is Mark 1:1–8:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

My memories of Christmases as a child are probably similar to many of yours. The anticipation becomes almost excruciating, and all of my young life seemed more and more centered on the waiting. School dwindled down, and our teachers likely grew ever more frustrated with our attention spans dwindling down even faster. All of our conversations with friends and family revolved around Christmas — the wish lists, the family plans, the two weeks off from school that our teachers may have appreciated even more than we did. We developed tunnel vision on that singular moment when we would wake up and rush out to see the gifts we had been given.

And, funny enough, my experience of Christmas has not really changed all that much over the years, even if its focus has. As a father and now a grandfather, I still get more and more excited and more and more focused on Christmas Day as it approaches (after grumbling about it until Thanksgiving), but now in anticipation of spending time with my family. The singular moment for me is when my granddaughters start opening up their gifts under the tree, although that comes later in the day as they have Christmas at home first with Mommy and Daddy. Christmas is still a season of anticipation, of watching for the gifts, except that I’m just more interested in seeing their delight. And I suspect that’s also very similar to your experiences, too.

Some of this is caused by crass commercialism, of course, but perhaps even that has a purpose. Advent is a season of anticipation, of waiting, and of preparation. The arc of salvation history, in which the whole world waited for deliverance from its sinfulness, hung upon the moment of Christ’s birth. The Lord had promised us salvation through His word, and His word would come to us in the flesh to guide us back to God’s mercy. The entire world — past, present, and future — hung upon this moment.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote about this anticipation in a famous homily that reflected the power of Mary’s “fiat” to the Annunciation:

Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race. …

See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.

The whole world waited for its Savior, even through the despair of those times — perhaps especially so in that despair. Consider our first reading from Isaiah, a prophet whose ministry took place just before the fall of both Israel and Judah. Both had abandoned their trust in the Lord in favor of alliances and idolatry, choosing worldly power over the mission of salvation which had been entrusted to them. The northern kingdom of Israel would fall to the Assyrians shortly afterward, never to arise again; Judah would fall a little over a century later in three waves of exile and spend 70 years in captivity.

Yet even before the fall, Isaiah proclaims that Jerusalem would be redeemed and her guilt expiated. The arm of the Lord would transform the world, Isaiah promises:

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the LORD double for all her sins. …

Here comes with power the Lord GOD, who rules by his strong arm; here is his reward with him, his recompense before him. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.

Mark writes of John the Baptist’s preaching as another form of anticipation. He tells those being baptized to cleanse their sins that he himself is not the sign, but the sign of the sign. The time had come to repent, for “one mightier than I is coming after me,” John warns his pilgrims. The message was the same as Isaiah’s: “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!”

This is our challenge at Advent — to remember both the preparation and the anticipation. We have waited ever since the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ for His return and the completion of the arc of salvation. Just as with the Israelites in Isaiah’s time and in the time of John the Baptist, we can lose sight of salvation and despair at the length of anticipation. Peter warns about that in his second epistle:

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. …

Therefore, beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace.

Advent’s anticipation forms us in patience and in preparation. It is not for us to know the hour or the day. We are called to prepare the way of the Lord in our own hearts and to serve as examples of His peace for others. In that way, we can build a highway in the wasteland of a fallen world for the Lord, bringing many others into His path. We are called to feel the anticipation, but not to be overwhelmed by it. We put our trust in the Lord and yearn for His return, but we know that we shall see Him at the end. That is our faith, and that is our life.

May we all experience the joy and focus of that anticipation in this Advent season.

The front-page image is from the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. From my own collection.

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  For previous Green Room entries, click here.

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The Democrats may finally be about to dump most of their superdelegates

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 16:01

It’s far too soon for anyone to get their hopes up, but the autopsy of the Democrats’ 2016 election disaster just may lead to one badly needed improvement. Politico reports that a commission tasked with cleaning up the process has unanimously endorsed a proposal to remove a majority (though not all) of the so-called superdelegates from the primary circus. While both parties engage in this infuriating tradition, the elite party elders who are allowed to cast votes for the eventual nominee while not representing a single primary or caucus voter are a particularly odious problem for the party of the donkey. That may be about to undergo some serious reform.

A commission set up to help reform the Democratic presidential nominating process has voted to restrict the number of superdelegates as part of a slew of changes.

The Democratic Party’s Unity Reform Commission is recommending cutting the number of superdelegates by about 400, equal to a 60 percent reduction. Many of the remaining superdelegates would see their vote tied to the results in their state.

The commission is also suggesting that absentee voting be required as an option for presidential caucus participants. It is calling for automatic voter registration and same-day voter registration. And it wants to mandate public reporting of raw vote totals from caucus states.

How big of a problem are the superdelegates for the Democrats? I took a look at some of the numbers back during the 2016 primary and the figures don’t lie. In the hotly contested state of New Hampshire, each of Hillary Clinton’s superdelegates completely negated the votes of ten thousand Granite State primary voters. Sanders had scored a clear and convincing victory, but wound up walking away with what was basically a tie in the only count which mattered… the number of delegates secured.

There were a total of 151,584 votes cast for Bernie Sanders, giving him 15 delegates. That means that 10,105 people had to drag themselves out in the snow for each delegate he received. Why should voters have any faith in a system where one person appointed by the party leadership can cancel out the votes of more than ten thousand people who chose the other candidate?

Under this plan, 40% of the superdelegates would remain, but most of them would be lashed to the outcome of the vote in their state. It’s not an ideal solution since it drives a proportional process more in the direction of winner-takes-all in some cases, but it eliminates much of what they saw in New Hampshire last time.

So… problem solved, right? Not really. This is just a recommendation from the committee. It still has to make it through the DNC rules and bylaws committee and then, assuming it somehow survives, get through a vote of the full DNC. And you won’t be shocked to learn that a significant majority of the people on the DNC wind up being superdelegates every cycle, so you’re asking them to abandon their own perks and privileges in the interest of giving the voters a fair shake. How do you suppose that will work out?

One last side note about the proposed revisions. The Democrats are pushing for even more registration changes, including motor-voter and same-day signups. This should be yet another reminder of the difference between primaries and actual elections, as well as the complications we run into by conflating the two. General elections are open to all eligible citizens and need to hold to the constitutional rules of the road. Primaries are actually run by what amount to private clubs who can set their own rules, not all that different from the local Moose Lodge electing a new Grand Poobah. If we wanted real reform, we’d separate the primary registration process out into its own system, and that could apply to states with open primaries as well.

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The FBI is now investigating the NY Governor’s office

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 14:31

Governor Cuomo? The gentlemen don’t have an appointment but said you’d want to see them...”

Over a year ago I wrote about the discovery of a curious aspect of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s staffing situation. Nearly half (roughly 40%) of the people working directly for Cuomo were paid by other government departments rather than falling under the payroll umbrella of the executive branch. While not technically illegal in the view of most legal analysts at the time, it was yet another indicator of a general lack of transparency in the state capitol. But as it turned out, that practice continued after it was exposed and crossed over into some other investigations which were already underway. And now the FBI is involved. (America Rising and the Albany Times-Union)

“The FBI is investigating the Cuomo administration’s practice of hiring employees to work in the governor’s office, while actually paying them through various state agencies and public authorities, the Times Union has learned. The practice of hiring pricey political appointees to work for the Executive Chamber – but paying them through other entities – has allowed Cuomo and prior governors to increase the size of their staffs while escaping criticism for inflating the Executive Chamber budget.”

America Rising notes that 2017 saw more developments on this front. The Times-Union reported back in May that Cuomo’s office had been hiring Obama and Clinton Aides and paying their salaries out of other government funding pools.

As we discussed last year, one of Cuomo’s closest aides, senior policy advisor Steven L. Aiello (whose father was indicted in a federal investigation last year and is going to trial in January) was actually paid by the Division of Military and Naval Affairs. One of Cuomo’s speechwriters, Tom Topousis, was collecting a $125K salary which was paid by the Office of Children and Family Services. There was a lengthy list beyond those two and questions were raised about why those other offices were taking the hit from their own budgets just so Cuomo could expand his staff without the costs showing up in the executive branch budget.

The strange thing, as I mentioned above, is that this practice has been going on for decades, with governors of both parties engaging in it. And it’s not technically illegal. In fact, departments trade off workers on a regular basis for more legitimate, albeit short-term reasons. (When our region was hit with catastrophic flooding in 2011 I recall stories of accountants and attorneys filling sandbags for days on end.) So why is the FBI interested? It may come back to the upcoming trial of the father of aforementioned policy adviser Steven Aiello.

“The Cuomo hiring practice is also a sidebar to the January corruption trial of former top Cuomo aide Joe Percoco and three others. The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office alleges that Percoco accepted bribes from Syracuse developer Steven F. Aiello, a co-defendant in the upcoming trial. One of the government favors done in exchange for bribes, according to prosecutors, was Percoco facilitating a $5,000 raise for Aiello’s son in a new job in Cuomo’s office in 2015.”

So if Cuomo’s aide is proven to have been taking bribes from Aiello and the “generous donor’s” son conveniently got a raise and a transfer to work for the Governor while being paid by a different department, does that implicate the Governor? Tough to say. During the period when Preet Bharara was conducting multiple investigations into the Governor’s office (until he was fired by President Trump) the local press was wondering if anyone under indictment was going to flip on the Governor. We’re still not seeing any indication of that, but the upcoming investigation and ongoing trials are certainly going to make for some interesting reading while Andrew Cuomo prepares to run for another term as Governor and a potential shot at the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

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Sunday morning talking heads

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 13:01

It’s been a busy 10 days for Nikki Haley. First she warned China that North Korea would be “utterly destroyed” if they didn’t do more to get Kim to stand down, then she found herself in the middle of a weird debate over whether the U.S. should send its team to the upcoming Winter Olympics. She topped it off on Friday in a Security Council meeting by defending Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and reminding the UN that it’s “one of the world’s foremost centers of hostility towards Israel” for good measure. She’s the lead guest this morning on “Face the Nation,” “State of the Union,” and “Fox News Sunday” to address all three topics.

Beyond that it’s the usual nattering about tax reform from senators various and sundry. Bernie Sanders and Tim Scott are the star guests on “Meet the Press” while Dick Durbin and Susan Collins sit down with “Face the Nation.” And yes, there’s Pervnado coverage too. GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock and Dem Rep. Debbie Dingell, both of whom have spoken up about sexual harassment on Capitol Hill recently, will appear on “Fox News Sunday” to discuss the subject.

Here’s Haley on Friday making the case for recognizing Jerusalem, and for Israel. The full line-up is at the AP.

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Those Obama era methane regulations? Nevermind

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 01:31

It’s a subject which has been dragging on in the courts for several years now, but it may finally be coming to a close. While the Obama administration was in charge of the Department of the Interior there was a move to impose new methane regulations on any drilling taking place on federal lands. This led to a number of lawsuits from groups such as the American Petroleum Institute which kept bringing up inconvenient facts such as how the government was violating their own rules for introducing new regulations and that the science behind the government’s claims was mostly bunk.

This week, however, things changed once again. With a new announcement from the Bureau of Land Management (which falls under the Interior Department), as Emily Litella might say… never mind. (Reuters)

The Trump administration will delay an Obama-era rule limiting emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands, it said on Thursday, a move slammed by environmentalists.

The Bureau of Land Management, an office of the Department of Interior, will officially suspend the rule on Friday to “avoid imposing likely considerable and immediate compliance costs on operators for requirements that may be rescinded or significantly revised in the near future,” it said in a document to be published on Friday.

Implementation will be delayed one year until Jan. 17, 2019.

Energy companies say the rule, finalized at the end of the Obama administration, could cost them tens of thousands of dollars per well, and some driller groups had sued the previous administration.

The two key phrases here to watch are, “delayed by one year” and, more to the point, “requirements that may be rescinded or significantly revised in the near future.” In other words, at some point between now and January of 2019 that new rule is almost certainly going away or being changed to match scientific reality. (My money is on the latter.)

As we’ve discussed here in the past. the government’s own scientists have shot down the complaint that those methane regulations were supposedly addressing. That’s precisely what drove the current lawsuit against the government over this matter. The mandatory reductions were going to cost a fortune and would not significantly impact the perceived problem.

Yes, there is methane in the atmosphere, but it’s of two distinct types which we are readily able to identify. Thermogenic methane is the sort which winds up being released from industrial activity such as natural gas drilling. Biogenic methane comes from decomposing vegetation and, yes… cows farting and belching. (Well, other animals as well, but we have a lot of cows.) Since the mid-nineties, thermogenic methane levels have been dropping because the industry doesn’t like to see their profits literally going up in flames. They took the steps required to capture the valuable gas at the source without government intervention. Meanwhile, biogenic methane levels have been on the rise.

If these new rules were enacted it wouldn’t do much, if anything, to reduce methane levels from drilling. If they want to go after methane emissions, they’ll need to start going around and putting corks in the cows’ butts. Perhaps they can talk to the folks in California who are already doing that. Okay… they’re not literally putting corks in animal orifices, but they are regulating the beef and dairy industry in terms of bovine methane emissions.

California is taking its fight against global warming to the farm. The nation’s leading agricultural state is now targeting greenhouse gases produced by dairy cows and other livestock.

Despite strong opposition from farmers, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation in September that for the first time regulates heat-trapping gases from livestock operations and landfills.

Cattle and other farm animals are major sources of methane, a greenhouse gas many times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas. Methane is released when they belch, pass gas and make manure.

See? You really can’t make this stuff up. They’re regulating cow flatulence. California is truly a wonder to behold.

Just for the record, I’ve been doing my part. I’m eating the cows as quickly as I can.

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Civil rights leaders refuse to attend Mississippi museum opening

Sun, 12/10/2017 - 00:01

Saturday morning President Trump traveled to Jackson, Mississippi to attend the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and to recognize the 200th anniversary of when Mississippi became the 20th state on Sunday. Unfortunately, the mere act of extending an invitation to the president brought swift criticism and the temper tantrums began on the left.

Senior civil rights activist John Lewis, who also refused to attend Trump’s inauguration, was the most vocal about sitting this one out. For a man who was beaten within an inch of his life back in the day for protesting in the streets, he now prefers to create division instead of promoting unity. Following along was the national president of the NAACP, Derrick Johnson, and the mayor of Jackson, Chokwe Lumumba. Johnson, a native of Mississippi, went so far as to voice a statement that shows a complete lack of self-awareness in his actions. According to this from ABC News:

“We will never cede the stage to an individual who will fight against us,” Johnson said. “We will not allow the history of those who sacrificed to be tarnished for political expediency.”

That is exactly what Mr. Johnson did, though. Johnson ceded the stage by not showing up and allowing President Trump to be the one in the spotlight. Trump was simply performing a very basic and common task for a president, showing up for the opening of an important museum for American history. The Republican Governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant, extended the invitation to Trump. Mr. Johnson was the one showing a penchant for political expediency. Let’s not pretend that it isn’t standard political hackery to label Republicans as racist.

Do you know who was in attendance, though? Mrs. Myrlie Evers, the widow of Medgar Evans, a true legend in Mississippi. She was in the audience as Trump delivered his remarks and received a standing ovation as Trump acknowledged her presence. She spoke later at the public ceremony outside the museum. It was noted that she didn’t say the president’s name and that’s ok. She handled the situation with dignity. “Regardless of race, creed or color, we are all Americans. … If Mississippi can rise to the occasion, then the rest of the country should be able to do the same thing.” 

President Trump delivered a short address and was well received by the audience. I think he hit just the right tone for the occasion: (ABC News)

Trump said Medgar Evers “knew it was long past time for his nation to fulfill its founding promise to treat every citizen as an equal child of God.” Evers, Trump said, now rests in Arlington National Cemetery “beside men and women of all races, backgrounds and walks of life who’ve served and sacrificed for our country. Their headstones do not mark the color of their skin but immortalize the courage of their deeds.”

It’s a shame that Trump had to tailor his appearance to include a smaller invitation-only audience because of the commotion. This is to be expected in Trump’s America.

This is the statement released by Lewis and Rep. Bennie Thompson:

 After careful consideration and conversations with church leaders, elected officials, civil rights activists, and many citizens of our congressional districts, we have decided not to attend or participate in the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

President Trump’s attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum. The struggles represented in this museum exemplify the truth of what really happened in Mississippi. President Trump’s disparaging comments about women, the disabled, immigrants, and National Football League players disrespect the efforts of Fannie Lou Hamer, Aaron Henry, Medgar Evers, Robert Clark, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and countless others who have given their all for Mississippi to be a better place.

After President Trump departs, we encourage all Mississippians and Americans to visit this historic civil rights museum.

Is this the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with whom Lewis marched? It is hard to believe that in the year 2017 this kind of political theatre overrules showing up. If you don’t show up, nothing changes, as Lewis well knows.

I was born in Biloxi and this is particularly disheartening for me on a personal level. The progress that has been made in my lifetime in the deep South is undeniable. Any occasion to celebrate that must be seized. I think it is Mrs. Evers that is walking the walk today.

Karen Townsend is a guest author at Hot Air. You can read her other work at her Pondering Penguin blog. A longtime political blogger and activist, she enjoys writing about life and culture, too.

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Chicago Judge gives woman charged in Facebook Live hate crime a shocking sentence

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 22:31

The first of four adults charged in January with the hate crime of a white special needs 18-year-old has been freed on probation in what many people are likely to believe is a rather light sentence compared to the crime. Ed initially wrote about this story when it broke.

Brittany Covington narrated a Facebook Live video showing the special needs teen being tortured and humiliated in the Chicago apartment she shared with her sister Tanishia, who is still behind bars in this matter along with co-defendants Tesfaye Cooper and Jordan Hill.

In the video, racial slurs were shouted at the mentally impaired teen. His clothes and hair were cut. He was even forced to drink water from a toilet. His captors also appeared to accuse him of being a supporter of Donald Trump. The teen looked absolutely terrified in the video as he was held for as long as 48 hours.

The two men and women who held him hostage and streamed their horrific treatment of him on Facebook Live clearly aren’t the brightest of criminals as they intentionally broadcast their crimes in what appeared to be an attempt to further humiliate the man. They even said they wanted the video to go viral. A small portion of the videos is below.

(function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) return; js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = 'https://connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&version=v2.11'; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));

NO BAIL FOR FACEBOOK LIVE TORTURE SUSPECTS: At one point, the teens, who are black, told the victim, who is white, to say he loves black people. The suspects also made a string of profane statements about President-elect Donald Trump. At one point a suspect is heard telling the victim to, "Say f*** Trump b****. F*** Trump. Say f*** Trump." http://abc7.ws/2i07HXj

Posted by ABC 7 Chicago on Friday, January 6, 2017

You would think a crime of this magnitude that shocked people from across the country, including then President Obama, would be worthy of a serious criminal penalty. You would also be wrong.

The four have been held without bond at the Cook County Jail since January. Now, Brittany Covington is home for the holidays after getting four years probation. She also is barred from using social media for four years and forbidden from having contact with Cooper and Hill.

From The Chicago Tribune:

Calling the incident “horrific,” Cook County Circuit Judge William Hooks banned Covington from social media over the four years, prohibited her from contact with two of her co-defendants and ordered her to do 200 hours of community service.

Hooks told Covington he could have imposed a prison sentence but added, “I’m not sure if I did that you’d be coming out any better.”

Hooks said he hoped the strict terms of probation would put Covington on a more productive life path, but he warned she would face prison time if she violated any of the restrictions.

“Do not mess this up,” Hooks told Covington, who stood quietly in a blue jail uniform with her hands clasped behind her back.

The 19-year-old also pleaded guilty to aggravated battery and intimidation charges. As part of a plea deal, prosecutors dropped additional charges, including kidnapping.

Compare her punishment to that of her victim whose grandmother said, “This is going to affect him for probably the rest of his life.” This man is likely going to have to carry around baggage from this kidnapping and assault while Brittany Covington is out of jail in less than a year.

Chicago has quite the reputation for crime and by giving such a light sentence in this matter, it’s easy to see why that reputation is earned. Time will tell if Brittany Covington’s co-defendants get a similar deal.

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Another congressional victim comes forward – this time with a $200,000 settlement

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 21:01

It just won’t stop. The latest congressional harassment case to hit the news involves Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) and a former staff member of a congressional commission. The twist in this story is that the woman wasn’t a congressional staffer but congressional employee. She was a member of the Helsinki Commission – a congressional commission that promotes international human rights. Oh, the irony

Winsome Packer, a Republican Hill staffer until 2006 when Democrats took over Congress, was born in Jamaica. She knew Hastings through a mutual friend and Hastings encouraged her to apply to the Helsinki Commission. Hastings was the chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Packer got the job and was stationed in Vienna. Her job required her to travel with Hastings to other countries. She alleges that he asked to stay at her apartment or visit her hotel room, frequently hugged her and once asked inappropriate questions about her underwear.

From Roll Call:

Packer sued under a federal statute that allows individuals to seek damages against federal officials for violations of civil rights. But Hastings was dropped from the lawsuit in 2012, after he argued that the law didn’t apply to a member of Congress. The suit continued against the commission.

The House Ethics Committee closed its investigation in December 2014. It interviewed eight witnesses and concluded that the most serious allegations against Hastings were “not supported by evidence” although he “did admit to certain conduct that was less than professional.”

Packer was awarded $220,000 in 2014. Hastings maintains the innocence of sexual harassment. He claims he was never told of the settlement. Her settlement wasn’t included in the payments released by the Office of Compliance, interestingly enough. So far, of that list, a complaint of Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) is listed as the highest award at $84,000.

What other large amounts have been paid with taxpayer money in secret? We don’t know because the process is still secret. Why haven’t House Republicans shut down the funding?

Hastings has a sketchy history. He was a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern Florida District from 1979 to 1989 when he was impeached for bribery and perjury.

Who will be next?

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Frank Luntz Alabama focus group: Why we’re sticking with Roy Moore

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 19:31

The full spectrum of Moore defenses is covered here in a brisk seven and a half minutes. Some panelists think he’s a great man, others think he’s a miserable candidate but the lesser of two evils. Some (well, all) think his accusers are paid liars but at least one is pretty chill about the possibility that they aren’t. Actual quote: “Forty years ago in Alabama, there’s a lot of mamas and daddies that’d be thrilled that their 14-year-old was getting hit on by a district attorney.” That’ll make a fine epigraph for the 2017 chapter in American history textbooks.

There’s a reference to George Soros and his scheming too, which is in keeping with Moore’s own talking points. A few days ago he cast aside the warning to judge not lest ye be judged and told American Family Radio of Soros, “No matter how much money he’s got, he’s still going to the same place that people who don’t recognize God and morality and accept his salvation are going. And that’s not a good place.” Occasional pronouncements on who is and isn’t destined for hellfire will be a fun bonus of Senator Moore’s congressional tenure.

Instead of giving you a poll to try to gauge the state of the race, let me point you to this mind-boggling analysis by Mark Blumenthal of SurveyMonkey demonstrating vividly, with hard numbers, just how unpredictable this election is. Based purely on Alabamians who say they’re certain to vote or probably will, Doug Jones leads by a whopping nine points, 54/45. A shocking Democratic blowout! But wait. If you count only those who say they’re certain to vote, Jones’s lead shrinks to six. If instead you weight expected turnout according to how often people have actually voted in the past few elections (or how often they claim to have voted, rather), his lead shrinks to three.

But Blumenthal’s not done. He remembered that Trump did much better in Alabama last fall than the state’s polls had predicted, turning an expected 11-point margin of victory into a 28-point blowout. A lot more Republicans showed up on Election Day than pollsters were expecting. What if the Moore/Jones polls are underweighting Republicans by the same proportion that Trump/Clinton polls did? In that case, SurveyMonkey finds a dead heat among those who say they’re certain to vote or probably will, 49/49. When they weight according to how often people have actually voted in elections, Moore’s lead soars to eight points. And when they include only those people who say they voted in the last midterm in 2014, he reaches double-digits — a 53/43 landslide over Jones.

In other words, there are plausible reasons to expect anything from a 10-point Moore win to a nine-point Jones win. How often do you see an election where the range of realistic outcomes spans 19 points?

Evan McMullin’s Super PAC is going on the air in Alabama with a $500,000 ad buy making the moral case against Moore. But … why?

This has been a key mistake of anti-Moore forces. It reminds me of the HRC campaign vs. Trump. Everyone knows this stuff about Moore. If your goal is to beat him, and not just make yourself feel good, you have to pivot to something different. https://t.co/2fXKNX5Atd

— Sean T at RCP (@SeanTrende) December 9, 2017

Absolutely. All of the scandal stuff is already priced in. Jones is vastly outspending Moore and has been running his own “predator” attack ads about him for weeks. McMullin’s ads achieve nothing except putting him on record, to the tune of half a million dollars, that he thinks Moore’s a bad guy. He’d be better off running ads warning Alabamians of a corporate boycott of the state if Moore is elected, as the new senator’s anti-gay rhetoric is bound to piss off the very gay-friendly business class. There’d be a major backfire risk to ads like that since some voters would resent the attempt by outsiders to coerce Alabamians into voting a certain way under economic threat, but others would take a hard bottom-line view of it and its potential effect on jobs and either stay home or vote Jones. One way or another, a series of ads like that would affect the race. Telling voters that Moore “makes Republicans and us Christians look bad” is just more noise at this point.

Here’s the clip. The panelists’ main concern about Moore’s accusers, that they waited 40 years to speak up about him, is valid. The timing is obviously exceedingly convenient for Democrats. But both Leigh Corfman and the Washington Post say that the paper went looking for her and found her, not vice versa. It may have taken an election with national implications and a paper with national reach and resources to generate the motive and the means to go digging into Moore’s past. In any case, if Corfman had spoken up 30 years ago and Moore’s opponents had revisited her accusations this year, the spin would be that it’s old news, she was just some nut/slut trying to smear a good Christian man at the bidding of her Satanic liberal masters, etc, and that we need to move on. If instead she had spoken up immediately about Moore when she was 14, odds are fair that no one would have believed her — she’s just a dumb kid, probably with a crush on nice Mr. Moore and letting her imagination run away with her. Or possibly she would have gotten a lecture about mamas and daddies being thrilled to see their little girl get some attention from a district attorney. There was no moment when she could have accused a public figure like Moore and been taken very seriously. There always would have been some easily contrived nefarious motive about ruining his career that could have been concocted to defend him.

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Your next “renewable” energy source is basically black sludge

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 18:01

What do you think of when you hear the term “renewable energy” source? Probably wind, solar or perhaps geothermal, right? How about something called “black liquor?” No, we’re not talking about Sambuca (though that can be tasty in small doses). This is a stinking and rather toxic waste product of the paper milling process. And many paper mills, including some in Maryland, burn it as fuel. The real icing on the cake is that they earn big government subsidies for doing so since this sludge qualifies under state law as a renewable resource. Today’s story features the Luke Mill, located on the Potomac River in Maryland. (Baltimore Sun)

Even as other factories in this stretch of Western Maryland have closed down, this mill has managed to survive.

That’s in part because the 10-story-high boiler deep inside the mill burns a sludge known as black liquor.

The substance, a mix of caustic chemicals and wood waste left over from the papermaking process, was once pollution, a byproduct that fouled the rocky banks of the Potomac.

Now, Maryland calls it green energy.

This isn’t actually a “new” form of energy. Paper mills have been burning it since the 30s and there have been complaints about the burning of black liquor for years now. The Washington Post featured a number of paper mills engaging in this type of scheme back in 2013, finding them in various spots around the nation. And they’re all using the corrosive substance as a way to either get around or even profit from government mandates requiring the use of renewable energy.

Thanks to a wrinkle in the definition of renewable, the lion’s share of the money used to meet those standards is flowing to paper companies that burn “black liquor,” a byproduct of the wood-pulping process. Paper mills have been using black liquor to generate most of their power needs since the 1930s.

Environmentalists are up in arms over what they see as a perversion of the intent of the law. Instead of encouraging new clean technology, they say, it is rewarding an old practice that emits as much carbon dioxide as burning coal.

One activist back then described black liquor as, “the pink slime of energy.” The chief complaint from environmental proponents is that the black liquor emits as much or even more carbon dioxide than coal when it’s burned. But is that all that’s being given off? Residents near the mills as well as workers have described a stench which, “reeked with the rotten-egg, cooked-cabbage scent” of the waste products. I’m no scientist (though I’m available to play on TV), but as far as I know, carbon dioxide doesn’t actually smell like anything. If your nose is picking up those scents, there’s something else cooking up in the mix. Even the WaPo analysis mentioned that in addition to the carbon dioxide, the black liquor contained toxins that are harmful to people and the environment.

It’s not just the pollution angle that has people angry. This scheme is allowing the paper mills to not only comply with, but exceed government mandates for using renewable energy. This means that they’re not only saving money on fuel and earning subsidies, but they can sell renewable energy credits to other industries (such as fossil fuel plants) who can’t meet their government quotas. This is the same sort of scheme that goes on with the RINs (renewable identification numbers) in the ethanol game.

At any rate, next time somebody wants to talk to you about all the progress we’re making on renewable energy, ask them how much of it is coming from black liquor in their state. It’s yet another example of government mandate programs running off the rails and being wide open to fraud and abuse.

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Who wants to be kingmaker in Minnesota — Dayton or Schumer?

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 16:31

Chuck Schumer to the rescue? When confronted with the necessity of naming an interim senator to replace the resigning-at-some-time-in-the-future Al Franken, Governor Mark Dayton indicated that he’d pick his longtime aide and lieutenant governor, Tina Smith, as a caretaker to get through 2018’s special election. Smith reportedly had no political ambitions for electoral office, and her appointment would allow the DFL to hold an open primary for the 2018 nomination to fill the final two years of Franken’s term.

Now, suddenly, Smith does have political ambitions — and pressure from Chuck Schumer to avoid an open primary might be the cause:

A Democratic operative who’s been privy to Smith’s thinking told the Star Tribune that if Dayton picks her, she has not ruled out running for Franken’s seat in a special election in 2018 — and, if she wins, running again for a full six-year term in 2020.

For U.S. Senate Democrats in particular, Dayton’s appointment could provide the party an important head start in holding on to Franken’s seat with a 2018 national Senate map that favors Republicans.

Dayton has had a couple conversations with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, according to a source close to the governor. A Senate appointee who pivots immediately to the special election would get the advantage of media attention and access to national Democratic donors.

That’s certainly true, but that’s not the reason Schumer would be leaning on Dayton to play kingmaker. Senate Democrats face a nightmare scenario already in 2018, defending 25 seats against just eight for Republicans. Minnesota was not on their list of potential battlegrounds even with Amy Klobuchar running for another term next year. Klobuchar is expected to win easily with or without national Democrats pitching in to help. That allowed the DSCC to shift funds elsewhere — or at least it did until Senate Democrats pushed Franken out of the Senate.

The last thing they need now is to have to spend a ton of money in Minnesota, especially since their fundraising hasn’t exactly been blowing Republicans away. The DNC won’t be any help at all, with barely 10% of the RNC’s current cash-on-hand and an inexplicable inability to raise funds in the Trump-dominated political environment. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which would take on the major load of national intervention in Minnesota, has done better; at the end of the third quarter, they had slightly more cash on hand ($15.8 million) and less debt ($8 million) than their Republican counterparts in the NRSC ($14.8 million and $10.7 million, respectively). However, the DSCC will have to split those funds across many more races that the NRSC, and they may be pouring away their advantage already in Alabama’s special election on Tuesday to elect Doug Jones, where the NRSC has pointedly refused to spend a dime on Roy Moore. And even if Jones wins, the DSCC will have to spend a lot of money in an attempt to keep him in that seat next November, too.

Small wonder, then, that Schumer has decided to become the power behind the drone and force Dayton to settle matters up front. An open primary will eat up DFL fundraising on which the DSCC would heavily rely for the general election, and a non-incumbent invites Republicans to recruit some heavyweights in an attempt to wrest back the seat that Norm Coleman once held. Coleman’s already made it clear that he’s not interested, but the last Republican to win statewide office has suddenly expressed interest in the future of that seat:

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he’s considering running for Sen. Al Franken’s U.S. Senate seat.

The Republican governor and onetime presidential candidate insisted Friday that he’s still “politically retired.” But Pawlenty would be a prized recruit in 2018 for Republicans hoping to capitalize on Franken’s resignation amid a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations.

Just how prized? Given the landscape here in Minnesota, the state GOP might start referring to him as Obi-Wan:

Pawlenty, 57, is the dream candidate for the GOP, particularly after former Sen. Norm Coleman, who lost his seat to Franken by a few hundred votes in 2008, said Thursday that he won’t run. Pawlenty currently serves as CEO of the Financial Services Roundtable, a Washington lobbying group, and is considered a good bet to raise a lot of money quickly. There was no word from him Thursday.

“Everybody in Minnesota on the Republican side is extremely eager to hear from Tim Pawlenty,” said Josh Holmes, a Republican strategist and former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and who is from Minnesota. “He would be a spectacular candidate if he would consider it.”

If the former governor takes a pass, Republicans might consider recruiting his wife. Mary Pawlenty served as a state court judge for thirteen years, stepping down in her husband’s second term as governor. She then served briefly as the director of a children’s health non-profit before focusing on a private-sector career as a mediator. There has long been chatter about recruiting Judge Pawlenty for electoral office — and given the circumstances of Franken’s departure, this might be a propitious time to launch that effort. That would give Republicans a high-profile female candidate combined with the former governor’s organizing and fundraising capabilities.

Either Pawlenty would force Democrats to spend heavily in a state where their biggest fundraiser — Al Franken — has been sidelined. That combined with an open primary that eats up contributions desperately needed for the general election would be the nightmare scenario for Senate Democrats. That’s why Schumer is pushing Dayton to protect the DFL flank, even if it means angering the progressive activists in the state who want a primary fight. The biggest question might be why Dayton couldn’t figure this out for himself, but Minnesotans already know the answer to that.

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Did Al Franken wreck the #MeToo movement or save it?

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 15:01

Yesterday, Ed Morrissey looked at the somewhat unsettling comments made by Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski in the wake of Al Franken’s resignation. A number of critics were put off by her characterization of Franken’s original accuser as a Playboy model who goes on Hannity and voted for Trump. Rightly so. If we suspect that an allegation is false and there’s credible reason to believe so, then we can definitely begin fishing around for the possible motives of the person making the claim. But with that picture hanging around out there, I think you’d have to deliver a lot more ammunition against her than the fact that she might be a Republican and posed in a racy magazine. (And since when did slut shaming become okay on the left?)

But that’s really not the issue we should be addressing in terms of that high strung conversation on the Morning Joe set. It distracts from the larger subject which Mika seemed to be trying to broach and it’s one I’ve been warning about since the first Harvey Weinstein stories came out. Brzezinski described the current climate as one where, “now we have a machine gun” and it’s being leveled at men all over the place This not only applies to those who seem to be fairly obviously guilty of sexual assault (if not flat-out rape), but also sexual harassment and perhaps not even that. I believe the phrase “boorish behavior” even escaped the lips of a few women discussing Franken’s situation.

Before going any further I wanted to link to the two video clips of this discussion in case you missed it. The first MSNBC clip is pretty long, but if you skip ahead to the ten-minute mark you can catch the three or four minute exchange we’re talking about.

The second one is quite short, but even more volatile, covering on the final three minutes of the show. You’ll note that Scarborough is essentially boxed out of the conversation while the three women on the set blast away at each other.

Allow me to get to the meat of the question as to what precisely Al Franken’s resignation has done to the #MeToo movement. Mika asks if we’re “the judge, the jury and the police” and one of her guests says yes, we are. (“We” meaning women.) Mika goes on to say that we’re at a pivotal moment, but also a very dangerous time. Delving further into her comments, she’s clearly attempting to draw some lines which I knew were going to come into dispute as this train rolled forward. But it took a Democratic poster boy for liberal causes getting caught in the spider’s web for this conversation to begin in earnest on the left.

Yes, I know that Joe Scarborough pointed out that this isn’t a case of Brzezinski being selectively outraged because she supposedly criticized the Democrats for not bringing down Bill Clinton back in the nineties. Fair enough. I can’t find any record of that because she was working at CBS affiliate WFSB-TV/WFSB-DT in Hartford, Connecticut at the time, but I’m willing to take their word for it. The point is that she’s not the only one who seems to have, shall we say, more of an interest in due process and not going too far in the Court of Public Opinion now that Al Franken is the one stepping down.

Here’s a question that Ed asked on this subject yesterday:

While Franken has been accused of being a boorish pig at the least, the accusations didn’t involve his work as a Senator, and only one of those alleged incidents took place during his time as a Senator. How much should that count in reversing the will of Minnesota voters in electing Franken to office? And shouldn’t the Senate have taken the time to step through those accusations first before Franken’s colleagues suddenly demanded the bum’s rush?

This is a theme which has been growing in volume over the past few days. Kathleen Parker, in a WaPo column somewhat mockingly titled, Al Franken, Martyr, sketches out a story along the same lines. She continually compares the sins Franken is alleged to have committed to the accusations against Roy Moore. Assuming both are true, she characterizes Franken’s butt grabbing, “clownish prank” on camera and aggressive kissing as, objectionable, but they were nowhere near as repugnant as Moore’s actions. Parker goes on to describe Franken’s acts as, “on a par with yanking ponytails.” She also concludes that Franken falling on his sword was more of a political neccessity for his party than a fair hearing of the facts.

Columnist Ruth Marcus:poses the question, was Al Franken’s punishment fair? In that piece she is not the first to state that, “much of the alleged behavior took place before he joined the Senate, which doesn’t make it acceptable but does make it different.” Really? I don’t see how that line of argument isn’t offensive to every woman dealing with such situations. Marcus also states that, “some of the Senate-era behavior is offensive but less serious; a hand on the butt during a photo op is different from a tongue down the throat.”

Now we’re getting to the heart of it and the choice that all of the millions of jurors in the Court of Public Opinion must be ready to answer. Rape and sexual assault involving unwanted, blatantly sexual physical contact are non-starters. Prove your case to the public’s satisfaction and the perpetrator must go. But the lines around sexual harassment, including some less obviously sexual physical contact, are more blurry. Putting your hand on someone’s clothed backside is clearly boorish and merits a slap in the face. But a conviction at trial? Maybe. It depends on the circumstances.

And what of the non-physical harassment? We’re hearing a number of these accusations including the sin of repeatedly “asking somebody out.” Some workplaces try (often without success) to forbid that and with good reason, given the need to protect the company from lawsuits. But when does asking someone on a date out of sincere attraction and hopes for a relationship cross the line into harassment suitable for criminal or professional punishment? Let me come clean for a moment on that one. Those who know my wife and I personally can all tell you how we met. We were both volunteering several times a week at a local Humane Society animal shelter. I suppose, in the 2017 context, that makes us co-workers of some sort. I fell head-over-heels for her at first sight and quickly asked her out. She turned me down. I went on over the next couple of months to ask her out literally a dozen times. She kept turning me down, but was always not only polite, but frequently humorous about it. (Unbeknownst to me, she had a boyfriend she was currently in the process of breaking up with and wasn’t going to accept a date until they were fully disentangled.) On the 13th or 14th attempt she said yes. I often joke to friends that she only agreed so I would finally shut up. We were married less than two years later and that was more than 20 years ago.

So, was I sexually harassing her? By current definitions I apparently was. But she never thought so and I certainly didn’t. The point is, there is a big difference between assault, harassment and boorish behavior. That sense of nuance (if I’m forced to use the word) has been largely missing in the #MeToo conversation, where a hang ’em all from the same tree mentality seems to rule the day, the collateral damage being a price we’ll just have to pay. Now the conversation is shifting and a bit more discretion in our use of Mika’s “machine gun” is being discussed. But I’m fairly sure that wasn’t going to happen on the left with any concerns over the rights of Roy Moore or anyone else being accused of various activities which they deny. It took a beloved (to the Far Left) figure like Franken to force that uncomfortable pause in the conversation. So rather than destroying the momentum of #MeToo, Al Franken may have bolstered its credibility, albeit at a cost to himself.

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Baltimore’s “generous” court system releases a murderer, now back in jail

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 13:31

While this story takes place in Baltimore, it could just as well be unfolding anywhere in the United States. A few years ago there was a deal cut in Charm City through the office of Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby. Between 2012 and 2015 more than 170 inmates convicted of violent crimes were released early because previous sentencing guidelines and court procedures were considered too “unfair” for modern sensibilities. Among those set free was one Wendell Beard, who had been serving a life sentence for the murder of real estate broker Beryl Friedrick back in the seventies.

And why not, right? Beard is in his sixties now. How much trouble could he be? Well, he hasn’t exactly put his time to the best use over his first two years of freedom. While a public defender managed to get him off, he’s been charged with multiple counts of assault and burglary. But those were apparently small potatoes for Beard, who has now been brought in with some big league criminal activity. (Baltimore Sun)

A convicted Baltimore murderer who in 2015 struck a deal with prosecutors to be released from prison after more than 35 years behind bars is now back in jail, his latest shot at freedom on the line.

Wendell Beard, 62, is one of more than 170 violent Maryland inmates released from prison since a controversial court ruling threw old jury trials into question in 2012. He was arrested Wednesday after police said they pulled over his vehicle in Reservoir Hill based on a tip and recovered two handguns and six spray bottles of hospital-grade fentanyl, a powerful and dangerous opioid.

Police said they also recovered various other weapons, handcuffs and a black face mask.

Beard, who is prohibited from possessing firearms as a convicted felon, has been charged with an “array” of gun, drug and other weapons violations, police said.

How much more of a hint do we need? In his vehicle, they found “various” weapons, handcuffs, a black face mask and a huge supply of fentanyl.

After the 2012 ruling about the validity of the sentences for many of these convicts, prosecutors apparently felt they would be unable to defeat Beard’s appeal for release. Too much time had passed, nobody could locate living family members of the victim, evidence was lost and witnesses were either missing or deceased. So they cut a deal allowing the convicted killer back out on the streets where it seems he promptly went back to his old ways, despite being eligible for Social Security at this point.

Should the prosecutor’s office have known better? Beard’s history didn’t leave much to the imagination, and the murder of Beryl Friedrick was far from his first or only offense. Check out some of his more detailed background. (Emphasis added)

He was arrested three dozen times before his 18th birthday, and was labeled a juvenile “plague” on the city by a former police commissioner. He earned a reputation as an “escape artist” by breaking out of custody at least four times, and was convicted of manslaughter at the age of 17 before being put away for life for murder at 24.

This is the resume of a career gangster who was lost to civil society by being absorbed into the gangs at a very early age. Tragic for a child, but the result was an obvious danger to the community. He had killed at least one person before he even turned 18, a feat that was only one of the dozens of crimes that we know of.

But this isn’t just a story about Wendell Beard, Marilyn Mosby or the City of Baltimore. It’s a reminder that our one-size-fits-all court systems are frequently incapable of handling gang violence problems. Mandatory minimums (as well as maximums in some cases) are problematic to begin with. You don’t want to sweep up minor offenders who may still stand a chance at rehabilitation with the worst of the worst. But at the same time, judges need the ability to evaluate each suspect on their own merits and act accordingly. It doesn’t matter how long Beard had already served. He was a lost cause and the District Attorney’s office seemed to know it. But flaws in our legal system allowed him to wind up back out on the streets and similar stories take place all too often around the nation.

Who could have predicted that Wendell Beard would immediately begin accumulating illegal weapons and drugs upon his release? Probably pretty much anyone who looked at his rap sheet. And if he hadn’t been pulled over on that gun charge, who knows what the next step would have been? We need to do better, and sometimes that may involve sentencing guidelines which will be condemned as “unfair” by activists. Further, judges need more flexibility in these situations, and the ones who consistently use that level of discretion to endanger the public with excessive leniency need to be removed. This is a conversation each state should be having right now.

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Disney in talks to buy Fox, glorious Marvel reunion on the horizon

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 01:41

Disney has been in talks to buy most of the assets of 21st Century Fox. The deal, if it happens, would have an impact on all sorts of things from your current TV channel lineup to next year’s ticket prices, some of which may not be great. But one undeniably good thing that would come out of the deal is this: Marvel would get all of its mutants back. It would also, presumably, get the rights to the ill-fated Fantastic Four. From AV Club:

What was mere speculation a few weeks ago is rapidly becoming a likelihood: 20th Century Fox is planning to sell off the majority of its assets to Disney. The approximately $68 billion worth of media properties are being negotiated as we speak, with a deal expected to be announced as early as Wednesday.

According to the report, Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige is excited to get his hands on the X-Men universe, meaning all the rest of the Marvel mutants and superheroes currently in Fox’s stable. That includes “Deadpool 2, New Mutants, Dark Phoenix, Gambit, X-Force and the James Franco-starrer Multiple Man all on the assembly line,” as Deadline notes, with a telltale hole where any reference to the Fantastic Four would go. Still, there’s at least one person who’s ready for some crossover between that last team and the Avengers:

https://twitter.com/ChrisEvans/status/938433170915168262

Chris Evans played the Human Torch in the first two Fantastic Four films before he became Captain America in the Marvel films. In any case, I’m personally hoping this deal happens, even if there are some negative side-effects. The Fox X-Men movies have worn me out at this point. They seemed to have wrapped their run with Logan anyway (at least with the current stars). Now would be a good time to see a new take on the material.

But I’ll admit I’m most excited about the possibility of finally getting a really good Fantastic Four film. The first couple films were too campy. The 2015 version actually tried to get away from that tone by going in the opposite direction, but it seemed to lose its way and concluded with a DC-like abundance of bad CGI (and bad wigs). The Fantastic Four was always my favorite comic when I was little so I’d love to see Marvel finally get its hands back on this property. If anyone can make these characters work in a film, it’s Marvel. At Nerdist, there’s even some speculation this may be why Marvel is holding out on talking about phase 4 of their film schedule:

This may explain why Marvel has been so quiet about its Phase 4 plans. We’d be willing to bet that Feige has two plans on the board: one that incorporates the FF and the X-Men, and one that would stick to the established MCU heroes. If everything falls into place and the Disney/Fox deal crosses any regulatory hurdles, it would still be a year or more before the studios could officially merge.

The Disney/Fox deal isn’t done yet but it may be getting close. Variety reports today that teams of bankers are helping to work through the negotiations:

Disney is working with a group that includes JP Morgan and Guggenheim Partners. Both entities have long relationships with Disney.

Fox has Goldman Sachs and Centerview Partners crunching its numbers. Centerview is said to be focused on financial details related to the Fox assets that would not be part of the Disney acquisition. Goldman Sachs and Centerview previously advised Fox on its unsolicited $80 billion bid in 2014 for Time Warner, among other deals.

It is possible that a  deal could be struck before Christmas, according to a source close to the matter.

Whether the ink dries next week or Christmas Day, this deal would mean a bunch of future Marvel movies in which nearly all of their major characters could appear in the same series of connected films. That’s a project that has been going extremely well for Marvel over the past 10 years and very poorly for almost everyone else who has tried it. But as someone who grew up reading these comics, this is something I’ve wanted to see for 40 years. I’m getting old, people, so let’s make this happen.

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Bros 2, LA City Council 0

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 01:01

A treat to cleanse the palate after a long week in case you haven’t seen it elsewhere. The bros here are fake (“Chad Kroeger” is the lead singer of Nickelback) but the Council — and the issue — are very real. LA is in fact headed towards increasing penalties on “party houses” in the Hollywood Hills because local residents are tired of the entertainment industry using buildings that are supposed to be homes as de facto nightclubs, producing traffic, noise, drunkenness, and assorted other nuisances. The city’s all set to rein them in by boosting fines.

But what about the bros? No one ever thinks of the bros. Shut down those house parties and they’ll be back to worrying about whether they’ll fit in, whether they’ll find love, whether they’ll be able to bench two plates.

The bit at the very end about surfers and body-boarders being “star-crossed” got me.

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Lauren Sivan: Roger Ailes had me sit on his lap

Sat, 12/09/2017 - 00:21

Remember reporter Lauren Sivan? She’s the Harvey Weinstein accuser who found herself trapped in the empty kitchen of his New York restaurant and was then forced to watch him masturbate into a potted plant. Today the Hollywood Reporter published a piece in which several of Weinstein’s accusers talk about coming forward to tell their stories. In her piece, Sivan notes that Weinstein wasn’t the only incident of sexual harassment she experienced in the business. She claims former Fox News executive Roger Ailes once told her to sit on his lap so he could feel her diaphragm:

My first job out of college was at Fox News. I thought it was normal, to feel like you had to be attractive to men to get ahead. Before I went on-air in a local market, I was a producer for eight years. I’d see it all from the production side: Female talent would show up for work and boss Roger Ailes would call down to the control room and say her skirt was too long, she’s not wearing high heels, tell her to change: “I don’t want to see flats ever again.” I would think, “It’s television — there’s an aesthetic to worry about.”

What’s not normal is when Roger made you, as on-air talent, twirl for him, to see how you look from behind. He’d be lying on his office couch, feet up. I remember he had me sit on his lap. He didn’t think I was projecting my voice properly and wanted to feel my diaphragm. I knew this was not OK. But all the women there who wanted a career walked this fine line with Roger.

That’s worlds apart from Weinstein is accused of doing but it really is amazing he could get away with something so blatant for so long. Ailes resigned in July of 2016 after former host Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against him. He died in May of this year.

Other actresses who wrote about their decisions to make accusations against Harvey Weinstein include Mira Sorvino and Natasha Henstridge. Sorvino writes:

I have been an advocate for women and girl victims as UNODC goodwill ambassador against human trafficking since 2009, but it’s so much harder to come forward and be your own voice of, “Hey, I’ve been haunted for 20 years by what you did to me.” And I got away without being raped, not like so many of the other people we’ve found out about recently. But I’ve been afraid of him ever since. Every time I saw him at any public event, I plastered on this false smile, just trying to get past it, like everything is normal…

Once I decided to tell my story in print, so that other women and girls would not be victimized by Harvey Weinstein, I felt an enormous peace wash over me — that I had the courage to tell the truth about a beast, and in doing so ended his dominion of intimidation that had lasted over two decades.

Actress Natasha Henstridge said she struggled with labeling herself a victim:

I don’t like being a victim, or the idea of people thinking of me as weak. But to be a victim doesn’t mean you’re weak, it means that somebody did something bad to you. I had to come to grips with that. I spent three and a half weeks after the stories came out teetering constantly. It was like PTSD.

Meanwhile, Rose McGowan continues to scorch the earth in her #RoseArmy campaign against Weinstein. Today McGowan tweeted that Meryl Streep was a “lie” and also went after her former co-star Alyssa Milano for sympathizing with Weinstein’s estranged wife. “Alyssa, maybe you and Georgina can call up Camille Cosby,” McGowan said on Twitter, referring to the wife of accused rapist Bill Cosby.

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Video: The shooting of Daniel Shaver

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 23:41

The headline should be “The murder of Daniel Shaver” but the cop who pulled the trigger was acquitted of that charge yesterday. I’m not even going to preview the clip for you. Just turn up the sound and watch. Radley Balko, who’s spent years tracking cases of police brutality, calls it the worst police shooting he’s ever seen.

Is it reckless to shoot a sobbing, obviously terrified man who’s made every effort to comply with your instructions, right down to which leg should be placed over the other while he’s lying face-down on the ground? Is that a man who’s likely to have a gun tucked away and is waiting for the perfect moment to pull it knowing that there’s an officer with an AR-15 trained on his skull 15 feet away? Shaver does make a “false move” by reaching behind his back a second time while he’s crawling towards the cops (a detective believes he was trying to pull up his shorts as they began to slide down) but he was scared out of his wits and not thinking clearly. He seems to have reached for them absent-mindedly.

It’s often said in defense of the police in these situations that when the pressure is this intense, we can’t expect perfectly rational reactions moment by moment. Well, the pressure was more intense for Shaver since he was the one with a gun pointed at him. If you’re the cop, in control of the interaction and with superior firepower, why make the assumption that Shaver’s going for a gun as he reaches back when everything he’s done to that point contradicts an intent to kill? His companion had just surrendered peacefully too. The police had been told that there might be a gun inside his room but they had every reason to believe Shaver himself was unarmed based on his behavior to that point.

We don’t need to overthink it, though. Simple question: Why didn’t they just have him lie face down, with his hands stretched all the way out in front of him, and cuff him? That would have taken 20 seconds. If he had made a false move as the officer approached him, then they’d have a credible argument for shooting him. But Shaver obviously would have done anything they told him to avoid being shot and yet they dragged this out for five minutes, making it needlessly complicated until he was shot anyway.

The cop, Philip Brailsford, was fired around two months after this happened in January 2016 for “violations of departmental policy, including unsatisfactory performance.” Whether that’s because his superiors watched this body-cam tape, barfed, and moved quickly to boot him before it became public or whether he was guilty of *other* misconduct is unclear. Fun fact about him: At some point he had carved “You’re f***ed” into the dust case of the rifle he used to shoot Shaver. Make of that what you will. It’s also worth noting that the voice you hear barking commands at Shaver isn’t Brailsford’s voice. That’s Sgt. Charles Langley, who maintains an intensity level of 15 on a scale of one to 10 throughout the interaction even though Shaver continues to follow every instruction. If you’re searching for reasons to feel sympathy for Brailsford, you could point to the fact that his own sergeant seemed almost to be looking for excuses to waste Shaver as possibly contributing to Brailsford’s own itchy trigger finger.

Langley’s off the force too now, by the way. He retired and left the country.

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Divorce, EU style: UK Brexit bill could hit £40 billion — or more

Fri, 12/08/2017 - 23:01

Theresa May got what she wanted in the short term, but it will cost her and the UK plenty over the long haul. The British prime minister and her negotiating partner, EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, announced that a framework for Brexit has been forged. The initial deal will allow for the next phase of negotiations, but May will still have some explaining to do back home over the cost of the deal, and perhaps that the UK will still find itself stuck with EU oversight anyway:

WATCH: Britain and EU clinch key #Brexit deal https://t.co/UXptabEHTI via @ReutersTV pic.twitter.com/J5qZNNoWA3

— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) December 8, 2017

Theresa May has heralded an agreement with the European commission to move the Brexit negotiations on to trade discussions as “hard won” and “in the interests of all” after days of intense bargaining at home and abroad.

The British prime minister and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced the deal at a press conference early on Friday after May and David Davis, the UK’s Brexit secretary, travelled to Brussels for last-minute talks.

Juncker said “sufficient progress” had been made in the first phase of negotiations to allow movement to the next phase, while May said that the agreement ensured there would be “no hard border” in Ireland.

We’ll get back to the hard-border issue in a moment, but the first question will be how much the UK will have to pay to get out of the EU. The range of estimates at the moment for the divorce bill are running between £35-40 billion ($47-54 billion), which may not seem like much in terms of American federal spending. Their annual national budget is £809 billion, with latest annual deficit spending projection set at £40 billion. That’s no small chunk of change, but it’s also lower than many projected after the passage of the referendum.

And it could get worse, or it might even get a little better, although these estimates appear to be on the sunny side. These figures came from the British side of negotiations, which clearly has reason to minimize the financial impact of Brexit; the EU has refused to provide estimates. The agreement requires the UK to indemnify the EU for its share of the EU’s budget over the next few years, as well as pension funding for EU employees and a credit agency within the EU itself. If those costs remain at the British estimates, May will probably get credit for a win. Boris Johnson had previously said that the EU could “go whistle” if they demanded a huge settlement, but offered his endorsement on these terms:

Boris Johnson, who had previously said the EU could “go whistle” if it wanted a large divorce bill said yesterday he had only been referred to bills “in the region of £80 billion or £100 billion”.

“The financial offer we are making is very good but it is nowhere near the sums that I was first invited to comment on,” he said.

The financial agreement, along with deals on the Northern Ireland border and citizens’ rights, means Theresa May is likely to be given the green light to move onto trade and transition talks a European Council summit in Brussels next week.

What about other Brexit advocates? Let’s just say that the reaction has been mixed. Nigel Farage, the former UKIP leader and a leading voice for Brexit, lashed out at the agreement:

This is not a deal, it's a capitulation. UK Government has put too much on the table for absolutely nothing guaranteed in return. pic.twitter.com/19fxXn41E0

— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) December 8, 2017

The Northern Ireland border might end up proving Farage’s point. The Republic of Ireland refused to go along with any Brexit plan that introduced a “hard border” with Northern Ireland, a position that the EU enforced during the negotiations. That creates a potential problem with trade and business traffic, as the UK’s Brexit plan intends to enforce its separate sovereignty across the board.

May’s first plan was to have Northern Ireland operate independently from the rest of the UK when it came to border and trade issues, which made some sense. However, the DUP — which is currently providing her parliamentary coalition enough seats to govern — completely balked at that plan, insisting that Northern Ireland get the same treatment as the rest of the UK. Instead, May had to agree to conditions which look very much like a back door to EU control over British trade and customs policies:

  • full alignment with the single market and customs union on the island of Ireland even if that means the entire UK adhering;
  • EU rights, entitlements and benefits for all citizens born in Northern Ireland guaranteed, because everyone born there is entitled to Irish citizenship;
  • complete compliance with EU equality and human rights frameworks;
  • all underpinned by the “1998 Agreement” which the DUP opposed, as did Michael Gove and other senior Tories and indeed which caused Arlene Foster to leave the Ulster Unionist Party and join the DUP; and
  • the icing on the cake for the Irish is the reference to single market and customs union rules applying to future – ie more expansive – north-south co-operation.

Note this phrase: even if it means the entire UK adhering. If the EU still controls British customs and trade policies, what’s the point of spending £40 billion on Brexit? Presumably, May will use the next phase of negotiations to work out a more palatable solution with Juncker and the Republic of Ireland, but neither has much incentive to make May’s job any easier. One has to imagine that Scottish independence advocates will take a very hard look at the eventual outcome and imagine how it can also be applied to their ambitions.

May’s political future has already been clouded by her poor decision to hold a snap election this year, which backfired spectacularly and forced her to rely on DUP to hold onto office. She desperately needs a friendly deal on Brexit. The question will be whether British voters feel as desperate as May does.

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