Utilities in Cairo Illinois: The Price of History

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Cairo Illinois, at the tip of the state where it flows into Kentucky, is where the Ohio and the Mississippi flow into each other, where two great river systems crashing their way through America join the east and the Midwest on the way to the Gulf. It a slow, languid area, more deep south than Midwest, a strange humid little pocket in a state dominated by farm concerns and the bulk of Chicago.

Cairo (pronounced Kay-Row) is far from Chicago, a northern Great Lakes city born of industry. Cairo is, and always has been, a river town, a transit point. It’s proximity to great shipping areas should make it wealthy, or at least well off. Or at the very least, alive. But Cairo isn’t. It is grasping and almost dead, with over 100 years of racial violence, mismanagement, and neglect having brought it low. It’s few thousand remaining residents are battered by greed, oversight, and disinterest.

And, because this is America, race. It has been tortured by the violence of our endemic, perhaps inherent, racism. And it remains that way. Race, and the long tendrils of history, have choked the life out of Cairo, leaving it a broken city, filled with paranoia and injustice. One symptom of that is incredibly high utility prices. This seems minor, or at least explicable, but understanding why is key to the whole thing.

One symptom of that is incredibly high utility prices. This seems minor, or at least explicable, but understanding why is key to the whole thing.

If you want to understand this, you have to read this incredible series in The Southern Illinoisian by Molly Parker and Issac Smith. A 7-part series published this week titled “Why Are Electric Rates in Cairo So High?”, it seems like a simple question, or like a weird little quirky thing. But it isn’t. It is a complex and terrible story, and Parker and Smith truly dig into it, in some of the finest journalism I’ve read in a long time. It shows just how much history and modernity have conspired to make life in Cairo increasingly difficult.

You should really read it, but it comes down to simple math: the poorest people in the state are being charged the most for electricity.

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Today in the Annals Of Possibly Too-Low Standards

TPM...

Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told the Post that Trump takes the intelligence briefings very seriously.

“A president who I think came into the office thinking he would focus on domestic issues — ‘make America great again’ — has learned that you inherit the world and its problems when you’re president of the United States,” Coats told the Post.

“One time he came in and said, ‘All right, what’s the bad news this morning?’ ” he continued. “You can see the weight of the burden on the shoulders of the president.”

The “one time he vaguely asked about things!” standard is not, traditionally, presidential.

With Emoluments Clause, Trump Places “Brand” Above Constitution

 

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“Follow the money.” “It’s literally right there. It isn’t even trying to hide.”

 

The least surprising story of the week is also maybe the most enraging…

In January, Donald Trump’s lawyer said that the Trump Organization would donate any profits earned at Trump hotels from a foreign government to the US Treasury. The move was supposedly an attempt to stay on the right side of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which prohibits US government officials from taking gifts or benefiting from foreign governments. Ethics experts noted that the pledge, issued by attorney Sheri Dillon, did not truly address this violation of the Constitution. Trump needed to divest his ownership of the hotels, they contended. And now new documents released by congressional Democrats show that Trump is not taking even his insufficient effort seriously.

How does the Trump Organization determine which foreign funds ought to be donated? Not too assiduously, it appears. The House Oversight Committee several weeks ago asked the Trump Organization for information on this process. In response, the company sent the committee a nine-page pamphlet that instructs staff at its properties on how to handle this matter. The pamphlet indicates that the Trump Organization is not enthusiastic about gathering this information and doesn’t want its guests bothered by any efforts to comply with the Emoluments Clause.

The pamphlet notes that the hotels should not calculate the profit from foreign patronage but rather estimate it. After all, it says, calculating the actual profit would take a lot of effort: “To attempt to individually track and distinctly attribute certain business-related costs as specifically identifiable to a particular customer group is not practical, nor would it even be possible without an inordinate amount of time, resources and specialists.”

When it comes to identifying foreign revenues, the pamphlet tells Trump hotel staff not to try too hard, for that could annoy the customers: “To fully and completely identify all patronage at our Properties by customer type is impractical in the service industry and putting forth a policy that requires all guests to identify themselves would impede upon personal privacy and diminish the guest experience of our brand.” So, the pamphlet points out, the Trump Organization will not try to identify customers who do not inform the hotel that they are representing a foreign government.

(All from Mother Jones, which, as always, is on it)

This is, first of all, a textbook case of how Trump has always worked. Make a big show and then nothing coming of it, whether it is the huge birth certificate announcement or a solemn pledge to uphold the Constitution. Because in his oily reptilian brain Trump knows that the announcement gets the headline, but the follow-through never does.

It’s clever, too: “estimating profits” is perfect. They will “donate” a certain amount of hotel profits that they estimate come from foreign sources, which means, as MJ points out, a foreign government could spend millions of dollars at a hotel that is just breaking even, and none of that would be reported. And it goes without saying that “Trump Possibly Donating Only Percentage of Estimated Profits From Hotel Business” isn’t going to be front-page news.

But you don’t even have to get into the weeds of this scheme to see why it is breathtaking and maddening. They are literally saying that following the Constitution would be too hard, and that it wouldn’t be good for their business. To which one could say, well, shithead, you didn’t have to run for President, but that would be belaboring the obvious. He clearly ran for President partly as a way to make more money. He’s exactly the greedy and terrible person he always was. This isn’t a surprise.

This is exactly how corruption works. Not the minutia, or the actual taking of money; we’re all familiar with how greedy people try to enrich themselves. But how systems and countries become corrupted and rotted. This is how it happens.

I’m not being naive here. America has always been a greedy land, a capitalistic engine that destroys everything in its path. Politicians have always taken from the till, when they haven’t been outright controlling the till. But this is something different.

This isn’t just theft. It is a subversion of the Constitution itself, and it is done flagrantly and openly. That they are sort of dancing around it by being cute isn’t an attempt at subtlety; it is making the crassness behind the moneygrab even more blatant. They are saying, openly: what are you going to do about it?

That’s true corruption. It’s exposing the weakness in a system, which assumes decency but is also ruthlessly partisan, for you own advantage. It’s daring anyone to stop you and knowing that they won’t. It both assumes, and promotes, a moral decay.  Because what this says, clearly, is that the institutions, the rules, the very documents to which we pledge allegiance, don’t matter if you are powerful.

We’ve always known that power corrupts, and all that, but in ths history of the American Presidency it has generally been to get more power. People around the President have been greedy and venal, but even Nixon wasn’t bagging cash, for the most part. At least, that wasn’t his sole or even primary goal. It was “just” to crush the Democrats so he could run the world the way he goddamn saw fit.

That’s why this is different. It’s cheap and it is dirty. It’s grubbing and low and vile. This corruption is entirely about money. It reduces the Presidency to a casino, a back-alley game of craps, a bunch of sweaty mooks in a garage office selling phony insurance to widows. Jack Abramoff and and Boss Tweed broke the law to get money. Trump is breaking the Constitution, entirely for money, and no one is stopping him.

Think about it: they literally said that protecting their “brand” was more important than scrupulously following the Constitution. Their brand! I can’t think of a better encapsulation of our idiot moment, one that let a remarkably stupid and inhumanely crass and greedy reality show idiot lie his dumbfuck way to the White House. He won on his “brand”, and his brand is a guy who relentless promotes his brand. It’s looping nonsense, a post-postmodern commerical for commercials.

And no Republican is stopping this. That’s corruption in its truest sense. Putrefaction doesn’t happen because of death; death just allows the bacteria that was always inside to work its rotting ways. Death means you can’t fight off worms any longer. Death is merely the precipitating factor to corporeal corruption.

That was Trump. But we were already on our way. We are a nation obsessed with brands and disinterested in facts. We’re too big and unruly, and have become too partisan. Our system has allowed for the tyranny of the minority (and the seating of Neal Gorsuch is the starkest example of that). Trump corrupted us by being the final death, but we were on our way.

McMasters, Comey, and the Trump Endgame

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The fake king at the end of days

There are two ways that the Trump Presidency could end.

OK, that’s not true. There are many, many ways the Trump Presidency could end, including relatively normally. But that seems impossible, because we’ve elected a spoiled, ignorant, dauphin to become the most powerful person in the world. We’ve elected someone who is, without a doubt, in the bottom 10% of people in this country who should be President. You pull nearly anyone off the street, and the wouldn’t be as implusive, reckless, and vainglorious. They wouldn’t be as poor a manager or judge of people, and they wouldn’t let their ego overtake every affair. I’m not saying most people would be good Presidents (I’d be terrible), but few would be this bad.

And because of that, there are right now two paths that stand out among many, both with terrible repercussions.

The more straightforward one is that with the firing of Comey and the purported memo we’re pretty clearly in an Obstruction of Justice phase. Even Republicans are beginning to come around. Vulnerable ones in Illinois, like Adam Kinzinger, are calling for independent prosecutors, and others are just hiding. They feel the worm turning. Paul Ryan hasn’t come up for air in days, as he basically wants to avoid the parts of his job that don’t involve starving people.

The main counterargument, as Ross Douthat, of all people, points out, is that Trump probably is too stupid to even know he was obstructing justice. He was just asking Comey to do him a solid, lean on him a little bit, etc. No biggie. (Douthat thinks this is true, but says it proves Trump’s manifest unfitness for office).

Now, it is true that obstruction of justice is hard to prove, and it is true that there are enough emotional Trump supporters that the GOP might be scared of offending. They might duck behind the incredibly cynical “oh, so now you like Comey” ploy, as if (not actual!) hypocrisy by Democrats is an absolution for actual crimes. There will be a lot of wrangling as Republicans deal with the full scope of their moral failure, their irrational hatred for Hillary Clinton, their insane partisanship, and most of all, placing their desire to throw millions off health care and cut taxes for the rich over the needs of the Republic.

Will they be able to own up to it? If so, expect a lot of talk of their courage and bravery (mostly self-praise), and the nauseating spectacle of their “rising above partisanship”. A Trump impeachement will unleash all the howling anger that is already shaking this country, and they shouldn’t get praise for stopping, too late, a beast they helped create. But we’ll deal with that when we get to it if, hopefully, we do.

There is a worse scenario, here, and that involves H.R. McMaster, who has long been one of the most respected people in America, and certainly in the military, but who has been tainted and corrupted by proximity to Trump, as is inevitable.  Fred Kaplan captures the sadness of McMaster standing up for Trump, in a statement that is mostly a lie, at best an evasion, and in a way, aiding and abetting our deranged king. There is a part in Kaplan that truly stands out.

At the same time, he is still an active-duty officer, duty-bound to obey all legal orders from his commander in chief and perhaps inclined to regard him with respect. Will he remain conscious of the tension between his obligations and his character, asserting the latter whenever opportunities arise? Or will the former subsume all else?

That’s very true. McMaster is active duty, and sworn to civilian primacy. That’s the founding genius of our nation. But what happens if Trump, facing impeachement and disgrace, orders the military to do something terrible and drastic? What if he tries to bind it to him, instead of the country. In August, I argued that such behavior was the primary danger of electing Donald Trump.

Unlike in Turkey, the armed forces here take pride in the fact that they don’t need to guarantee democracy through domestic force; indeed, the fact that they don’t is why our democracy works as well as it does. But if an order is illegal, and insanely so, what then? Do they refuse the order and go against the basis of their existence? Do they do something illegal, which is also a betrayal of their values, because then it means that the military isn’t loyal to the US, but just its temporary and titular head? What happens? Which betrayal is worse? And at what point do they enact the ultimate betrayal in the name of the country: that is, a legitimate overthrowing of civilian power?…

The crisis can come because Donald Trump is a fascist, and think he can and should rule like one. He has no respect for the rule of law, and believes that everything is his toy, and should be used for his greater glory. He feels that civilian control of the military means that they should be loyal to him. That’s not what we are about. The result of this collision is impossible to know. But if he is elected, you can be sure it is coming, and it will be unlike any crisis we’ve faced since the Civil War.

McMaster obviously isn’t in charge of the military, but he is key to this. How long do they stay loyal? Are there mass resignations? Or do they actually betray one duty to uphold another? This is the most terrifying endgame for Trump, and it is far from outside the realm of possibility. It’s what we might be facing. It’s the question that will get hot as the summer starts to boil and the temper of our President reaches rageful and spiteful tantrumic heights: what will the military do?

That we are even asking that is reason why every politician who supported Trump should be disgraced, forever.

Spicer and Trump: A One-Act Play About Taping James Comey

REPORTER: Moving on to the news of the week, did president Trump record his conversations with former FBI director Comey?
SPICER: I assume you’re referring to the tweet. And I’ve talked to the president—the president has nothing further to add.
REPORTER: Why did he say that? Why did he tweet that? What should we interpret from that?
SPICER: As I mentioned, the president has nothing further to add.
REPORTER: Are there recording devices in the Oval Office or the residence?
SPICER: As I said for the third time, there is nothing further to add on that.
REPORTER: Does he think it is appropriate to threaten someone like Mr. Comey not to speak?
SPICER: I don’t think that’s a threat. He simply stated a fact, the tweet speaks for itself. I’m moving on.
It is good to know that Spicer talked to the President (who, remember, is Donald Trump) before meeting with reporters. I am sure that was a good conversation.
SPICER walks into the Oval Office, sees no one is in it except for Mike Pence, grinning broadly, and walks into the annex, where POTUS TRUMP is watching 11 TVs. MNUCHIN is in the corner. 
SPICER: Hey boss, just thought I’d ask real quick before today’s press briefing about the Comey thing.
POTUS TRUMP: Tell them that what Don Lemon said was stupid. Tell them it was disgusting and also that a lot of people say my relationship with Xi is very very good. I think he really likes me, and so why are we talking about currency manipulation? I stopped it, ok?
MNUCHIN: You sure did!
SPICER: Yes, of course, we’ll make sure to get that all out. I can’t wait for Lemon to hear it!
(everyone gives each other thumbs-up for 45 seconds)
SPICER: OK, but, they are probably going to ask if there actually are, you know tapes?
POTUS TRUMP: Who’s talking about tapes? All I said was that there might be tapes, in quotes, and the quotes are very important but the Fake News is always like ‘oh, Trump said tapes’, but they never talk about the quotes, and they never mention Trump’s quotes.
SPICER: OK, so, there aren’t tapes then?
POTUS TRUMP: Who knows? I just said he better hope there aren’t, because if there are, he wouldn’t want to talk, because that wouldn’t be nice. It would be really nasty.
SPICER: So, it obviously wasn’t a threat. It’s just a fact that he should hope no one tapes him.
POTUS TRUMP: Of course it wasn’t a threat. He might say stuff, because he’s very disloyal, you know, and I am never the one who brought up loyalty, and now I hear, oh Tump, he wants loyalty, but I only want people who are loyal enough to fire people who aren’t. Tell them that. You look taller today. Did you see what Rosie said?
SPICER: About Comey?
POTUS TRUMP: No.
(11 minutes of silence)
Spicer: So, nothing furth–
POTUS TRUMP: That commercial didn’t have me in it!
SPICER (exits)

Sociopaths Celebrate Human Immiseration: The Healthcare Repeal in Three Images

We did it, boys! 

What I can’t get over is how happy they are with themselves. With their cheering and backslapping, the popping open of Bud Lights, and the sense of a job well done. These are people who are thrilled with today’s work of rushing through a terrible bill that will take healthcare away from tens of millions of people, leading to more sickness, bankruptcy, and death. They honestly could not be more pleased.

Part of it, of course, is because their ideology makes them want to hurt everyone who isn’t rich so the wealthy can become even more so, even if it is, for them, just a rounding error. Putting a cool couple of million in the pockets of billionaires is worth destroying the lives of poor, regardless of race.

But of course, the main reason they are so happy, is because they think this sticks it to Obama, their literal bete noire. They want to tear him down, destroy his legacy, and trample the progress that he represented (not to mention, for ideological reasons, the progress he actually achieved). He was an aberration to their sense of what the country should be (run by, and to the benefit of, white men). They want to make him a distasteful footnote.

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We did it, Paul. Me and you. Linked together forever. 

And that’s why Trump is so important. He’s a useful idiot, to be sure, one whose mental sickness is perfectly aligned with the GOP. He hates Obama, because Obama is the opposite of Trump in every single way. Obama is the living example of merit, of intelligence, of class and dignity. He is the best of us, and Trump is the worst. He’s a man who earned nothing his coddled life. The GOP might find him obnoxious, but more than being someone who will help them save the rich, he’s a living rebuke to Obama.

That’s why this quote is so telling.

“I don’t know if you remember what [then-Vice President Joe] Biden whispered in the President’s ear back when he was signing [the Affordable Care Act],” Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX) asked reporters, referring to Biden’s “this is a big f-cking deal” hot mic moment.

“This is a bigger deal than that,” Flores said before Thursday’s vote.

Now, obviously, in a real sense there is no way today’s vote is a bigger deal. Already, their bill is mooted. The Senate is going to write their own, and then they are going to parlay and compromise and the House lunatics will cry traitor and Ted Cruz will grandstand and Lindsay Graham will say some thing, and maybe there will be a bill that can pass both houses, but mabe not. In a real sense, for the GOP, this isn’t something to celebrate. They’ve barely started, despite what our idiot President claims when he says “It’s dead. It’s essentially dead.”

But look at that closer. Joe Biden said something was a big fucking deal when we came closer to having full coverage than ever before, when we expanded health care. Biden said it was a big fucking deal because we came closer to the day when people could live without fear that a bit of bad luck, a sickness, or an accident at work, an open pothole, someone’s foot slipping off their brake and ramming into you because you happened to be at that intersection at that one second instead of any of the other seconds of your life, could ruin that life. Could send someone spiraling into bankruptcy and a lifetime of pain. Biden, bless him, was excited to help people get away from that. He was excited because the richest country in the world was trying to use that wealth to help each other, to unite in a common bond.

Flores thinks it is a much bigger fucking deal to get rid of that. That’s what gets him excited.

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God damn them

Look at this picture. Look at these monsters. Trump is excited because he has a “win”, regardless of what that means, and in his tiny self-obsessed mind thinks he stuck it to Obama. He thinks this means history will remember him above Obama, as a real victor. He doesn’t comprehend what he is doing to people, because people don’t exist.  This gloating, preening, self-satisfied manchild gave the sea of mayonnaise he’s facing exactly what they want. A chance to destroy the common good and the bonds that unite us as a self-governing nation.

Paul Ryan is so smugly happy about this. He’s oozing joy, with his insincere sincerity about being able to do this with Donald Trump. Louis Gohmert can barely believe his good fortune to be here at this moment. The rest of them just as excited. They’re craning their neck to hoot and holler in unison, hoping that Trump sees just how happy they are to be there with them. How happy they are to please him.

They are so eager to give him a win. To celebrate unearned wealth and undeserved fortune, and the luck they have to be born who they are in this country, to have a chance to rise up and serve the rich, and to trample on the bones of the unlucky. This image is the perfect symbol of why our country–vast and unruly and diverse, a nation that pins its hopes on luck and fears that the chasm is opening up underneath us–is doomed. The pettiest can pass something almost nobody wants. Complacency about progress is foolhardy. It can be smashed underfoot by the trampling hatred of the minority.

Obamacare might not be dead, but GOP decency had its final burial today. They made clear that they are content being the fetchservant of plutocracy, and are eager to make the rest of us suffer and die. Anyone who thinks differently isn’t looking at the same pictures.

High Risk Pools: Not Solving a Self-Created Problem

 

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High-risk pools are never good

 

I am far from an expert on (or even super knowledgeable about) health care, so I’m not exactly speaking ex cathedra here, but this to me seems like the perfect example of idiotic and deeply cruel Republican non-governance.

WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders planned to hold a showdown vote Thursday on their bill to repeal and replace large portions of the Affordable Care Act after adding $8 billion to the measure to help cover insurance costs for people with pre-existing conditions…

Democrats and health care groups tried to slow that momentum. The liberal health advocacy group Families USA said another $8 billion would do little to improve the “high-risk pools” that could be set up by states to provide coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions who could not find affordable insurance in the open market.

The American Medical Association and 10 organizations representing patients, including the American Heart Association and the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society, reiterated their opposition to the House Republican bill on Wednesday, as did the retirees’ lobby AARP…

Mr. Upton and Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said they believed that the money in the bill would be adequate. “It’s our understanding that the $8 billion over the five years will more than cover those that might be impacted and, as a consequence, keeps our pledge for those that, in fact, would be otherwise denied because of pre-existing illnesses,” Mr. Upton said at the White House.

So, essentially, millions of Americans are counting on the math skills of Sean Spicer.

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