Commentary, Trump Administration

Editorial takes Richard Burr to task for spreading Trump’s lies about Ukraine

Richard Burr conferring with Democratic Senator Mark Warner of Virginia at a Senate Intelligence Committee meeting (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

In case you missed it, be sure to check out the new lead editorial in the Charlotte Observer/News & Observer twins on Senator Richard Burr’s latest maddening and disingenuous statements about foreign interference in U.S. elections. As the editorial notes, Burr clearly knows the score.

As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee that investigated the issue at great length, Burr knows that Russia was guilty of massive meddling in the 2016 election and that claims by Russia’s lackey (President Donald Trump) that it was actually Ukraine that was doing the meddling are pure baloney.

Unfortunately, as the editorial points out, Burr still went along with other Republican apologists for Trump recently in advancing the debunked claims about Ukraine.

“There’s no difference in the way Russia put their feet, early on, on the scale — being for one candidate and everybody called it meddling — and how the Ukrainian officials did it,” Burr said as he and other Republican senators spoke with reporters around their weekly lunch on Tuesday.

That comment must have startled the Intelligence Committee’s vice chairman, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., since the committee’s investigation found that Russia alone engaged in a systematic effort to help the Trump campaign. Warner tweeted: “There is absolutely no factual basis for this Ukrainian election interference/CrowdStrike nonsense. None. Spreading this discredited conspiracy theory only serves to advance Russia’s ongoing disinformation campaign against the United States.”

Discarding his tin foil hat, Burr later retreated from his comment, telling CNN: “I don’t think anybody interfered in the same way Russia did.” Though, deferring to Trump, he added that Ukraine played a role: “But it’s a legitimate argument that they interfered — that they were active.”

That “legitimate argument” is illegitimate according to Burr’s own committee. Politico reported on Monday that in the fall of 2017 the Senate Intelligence Committee investigated whether Ukraine played any role in the election “and found no evidence that Ukraine waged a top-down interference campaign akin to the Kremlin’s efforts to help Trump win in 2016.”

In other words, Burr is — Surprise!! — talking out of both sides of his mouth.
Of course, if this were Thom Tillis in action, such behavior would be completely expected. In the case, however, of Burr (a veteran GOP lawmaker who has already decided not to run for re-election and who has generally acted as a straight shooter on the election interference issue), the statements are especially frustrating and potentially destructive.
Here’s the conclusion to the editorial:

It’s no surprise that Burr is supportive of Trump. He was the national security adviser to the Trump campaign. But at a time when other Republican senators are giving weight to claims that the nation’s intelligence agencies have found without merit, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman shouldn’t join in.

Trump brought this impeachment inquiry on himself. Let him defend himself. Burr’s role, if he can manage to stay in it, is to defend the United States.

Click here to read the entire editorial.

Commentary, Legislature, News, Trump Administration

Trump administration cracks down on food stamps; new rule expected to deny assistance to 700,000 people

Beware the moments when no one is focusing on Trump administration policy, because it is usually these times when the cruelty-mongers in D.C. unfurl their most aggressively hostile regulations.

Case in point: President Trump on Wednesday unrolled a widely-expected crackdown on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program —colloquially known as “food stamps.” The new rules are expected to deny assistance to an estimated 700,000 low-income Americans.

Here is the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ (CBPP) explanation of the rule:

Those affected — SNAP participants ages 18 through 49 who aren’t raising minor children in their homes — are among the poorest of the poor, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data. Their average income is just 18 percent of the poverty line. Their average monthly SNAP benefits are about $165 per month.

A longstanding, harsh provision of SNAP limits these 18- through 49-year-olds to just three months of benefits, while not employed for at least 20 hours a week, out of every three years. Because of its severe nature, this provision of law also allows states to seek, and USDA to grant, waivers of this three-month cut-off for areas where insufficient jobs are available for these individuals, such as when unemployment is elevated.

From the provision’s enactment in 1996 until now, both Democratic and Republican presidents alike have operated under a common set of criteria in granting waivers from the three-month cut-off. And Democratic and Republican governors alike have sought and secured these waivers. Thirty-six states currently have waivers for parts of their state where unemployment is highest.

Now, the Trump Administration is abandoning this longstanding, bipartisan practice, however, and replacing it with a much more restrictive rule that will increase hunger and destitution. The new rule sharply restricts states’ ability to protect unemployed adults from the harsh time limit. It does so by substantially narrowing the criteria that states have most commonly used to qualify for waivers, thereby greatly shrinking the number of areas that can qualify for relief. As a result, the Trump Administration itself estimates that the rule will cut off basic food aid to nearly 700,000 unemployed or underemployed individuals.

In keeping with their brand, The National Review called the rule “commonsensical” Wednesday, which has the flamboyant quality of being an ugly word and an ugly statement at the same time. It makes sense only if withdrawing aid to the very poor and masking your choice as “the shrewd thing to do” constitutes a party platform.

It makes sense only if you believe that it is an aid to the United States to have more extremely poor people — people disproportionately impacted when the next recession hits.

More from CBPP:

Most of these individuals are ineligible for any other form of government financial assistance because they aren’t elderly, severely disabled, or raising minor children. For many of them, SNAP is the only assistance they can receive to help make ends meet.

What’s more, the final rule is more severe than the proposed rule, which itself was very harsh. States currently can request waivers when they experience rapidly rising unemployment, as typically occurs at the onset of economic downturns based on the Department of Labor’s determination that the state qualifies for extra federal unemployment benefits. But under the final rule, states must rely on historical data that would not reflect the onset of economic downturns until many months later. Moreover, far fewer areas will qualify for waivers during a widespread, national recession. A state with spiking unemployment reaching levels as high as 9 percent would not qualify for a waiver if national unemployment were also high, such as at 8 percent. This will limit a core strength of SNAP — its responsiveness to changes in economic conditions so that individuals who lose their source of income can quickly qualify for temporary food assistance. Instead of mitigating a recession’s harm, the new rule will exacerbate it.

Democrats in North Carolina’s state legislature filed a bill this year that, among its provisions, aimed at repealing the state’s prohibition on the SNAP time-limit waiver, but it did not resonate with the Republican-controlled chambers. The bill was referred to a House rules committee but did not move.

Commentary

Editorial blasts Virginia Foxx for impeachment absenteeism

Rep. Virginia Foxx

In case you missed it, another important political observer — the editorial page of the Greensboro News & Record — has weighed in on Congresswoman Virginia Foxx’s strange behavior regarding the House impeachment proceedings.

As Progressive Pulse readers will recall from our November 21 story, Foxx, a senior member on one of the committees leading the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, has skipped the vast majority of closed-door impeachment depositions. Yesterday, the News & Record assessed Foxx’s actions this way in a powerful editorial:

Maybe those Republicans who didn’t bother to go to the depositions knew the truth behind the loud public indignation: House Democrats weren’t doing anything wrong. Impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. The rules of a courtroom trial don’t apply. Even if they did, the early stages when witnesses are being interviewed to see if impeachment is justified are more like grand jury proceedings — which are closed to the public.

The Democrats were playing by the rules when they chose to question witnesses in the early part of the process in private. They said the closed doors would allow witnesses to speak more frankly. Privacy also means those asking questions are less likely to grandstand. In fact, the rules the Democrats were following had been set by Republicans in 2015, when they controlled the House. Under those rules, it’s fine to do the initial interviewing of witnesses in secret. No sham or Soviet conspiracy is involved. It’s the formal impeachment hearing, like the Senate trial that would follow, that has to be public.

Republicans and diehard Trump supporters were full of sound and fury, railing against those early closed-door hearings. Could it be that they find it easier to try to paint the impeachment proceedings themselves as flawed than it is to defend the president against mounting evidence? Stay tuned.

Commentary

Population control group responds to PW commentary

[Editor’s note: The following post was submitted by Lauren Salmiery, National Field Director for the Population Connection Action Fund in response to an essay published by Policy Watch on Nov. 20 entitled “A 1960s population control organization rebranded in 2002. Now it’s recruiting UNC students.”]

In response to “A 1960’s population control organization rebranded in 2002. Now it’s recruiting UNC students.

Recently, NC Policy Watch published an article regarding the history of Population Connection without requesting a comment from a representative of the organization. We’d like to clarify our progressive values as an organization, which were misconstrued.

First and foremost, at Population Connection and its sister organization, Population Connection Action Fund, which runs the #Fight4HER campaign, we firmly believe in the right of every individual to make their own reproductive decisions, including the right of women to have as many, or as few, children as they desire. We work to ensure that every person, regardless of where in the world they live, has access to the resources they need to make their own health care decisions. We fight every day to lift harmful restrictions on U.S. aid that unjustly curb access to crucial reproductive health services in countries around the world, and we are grateful to have the platform to do so.

We also acknowledge that billions of people around the world are struggling to meet their most basic needs. Around the world:

  • 1 billion people lack access to safe water;
  • 3 billion don’t have basic sanitation;
  • 820 million people don’t get enough food to live a healthy, active life;
  • 15,000 children under age five die each day—more than half of them from preventable and easily treatable diseases

It’s no coincidence that people living in countries experiencing higher rates of population growth, in addition to a myriad of connected systems, including colonialism, income inequality, government corruption, racism, sexism, and misogyny, face the most serious challenges. We know that efforts to guarantee reproductive autonomy and investments in reproductive health programs save and improve lives, and that these investments bring returns to their communities and the world at large.

Of course, it is vitally important to understand that the population movement has a tumultuous history. We have condemned, and will continue to condemn, the troubling history of forced sterilization that touched far too many lives in the United States and around the world. While Population Connection (formerly Zero Population Growth) never advocated for coercive population control policies, we know that we must recognize these past injustices to move forward in our fight to ensure access to reproductive health care for everyone, everywhere.

We fiercely support a wide range of progressive issues, including reproductive justice, environmental justice, LGBTQ+ justice, immigration justice, and racial justice. We condemn the efforts of ecofascists to use population as a veil for their racist, nativist, and xenophobic agenda.

We appreciate the author’s clear dedication to ensuring that people are able to make reproductive choices free from coercion, barriers, and judgement. In an era of near-constant attacks on reproductive rights and freedom in North Carolina, the United States, and around the world, this devotion is all the more imperative. We look forward to continuing the fight for these shared values as we work to lift barriers on access to comprehensive reproductive health care around the world.

Commentary

NY Times columnist: NC court decision is another victory for gerrymandering

In case you missed it, be sure to check out New York Times columnist David Leonhardt’s morning essay in which he rightfully describes yesterday’s cop-out of a state superior court ruling in which a three-judge panel approved the latest GOP-drawn congressional map as another win for gerrymandering.

Here’s Leonhardt:

It’s an unfortunate ruling, because it rewards a political party for dragging its feet on gerrymandering: The more slowly a party responds to court orders, the more elections it can win.

Michael McDonald, an elections expert at the University of Florida, described the ruling as an “open invitation” to gerrymander again in the future. “Hey look! You can use an unconstitutional map for one or two election cycles!” McDonald tweeted. “There is no moral hazard for a legislature who gerrymanders.”

Stephen Wolf of Daily Kos Elections wrote: “Justice delayed is justice denied when it comes to redistricting. Rulings like this one allow legislators to get away with illegal gerrymanders for an election or two simply because litigation takes so long & taxpayers pay the cost.”

Perhaps the clearest problem with the new map is its unnatural splitting of the Fayetteville area, in the south-central part of the state, to protect Republican incumbents, Wolf explained. Under the new map, a tied statewide popular vote would likely leave Republicans with eight of the state’s 13 seats, down from 10 of 13 under the old map.

Leonhardt ends the column on a semi-optimistic note by pointing out that the national fight against gerrymandering continues to build momentum, but his obvious bottom line assessment (and that of many other redistricting experts across the country) is that, having put themselves in a position to strike an important blow for democracy,  Judges Ridgeway, Hinton and Crosswhite blinked and instead issued a dreadful clunker of a ruling that guarantees yet another rigged congressional election in North Carolina next year.

Click here to read Leonhardt’s column.