• Editor’s Note: Following are some excerpts from an extensive article published in New York Magazine. A link to the full article is provided following the article.
    The unfolding of the Russia scandal has been like walking into a dark cavern. Every step reveals that the cave runs deeper than we thought, and after each one, as we wonder how far it goes, our imaginations are circumscribed by the steps we have already taken. The cavern might go just a little farther, we presume, but probably not much farther. But what if that’s wrong? What if we’re still standing closer to the mouth of the cave than the end? What is missing from our imagination is the unlikely but possible outcome on the other end: that this is all much worse than we suspect.Suppose we are currently making the same mistake we made at the outset of this drama — suppose the dark crevices of the Russia scandal run not just a little deeper but a lot deeper. If that’s true, we are in the midst of a scandal unprecedented in American history, a subversion of the integrity of the presidency.
    It would be dangerous not to consider the possibility that the summit is less a negotiation between two heads of state than a meeting between a Russian-intelligence asset and his handler.
    • How do you even think about the small but real chance that the president of the United States has been influenced or compromised by a hostile foreign power for decades?
    • The combination of [Trump’s] penchant for compromising behavior, a willingness to work closely with criminals, and a desire to protect aspects of his privacy makes him the ideal blackmail target.
    • It is not difficult to imagine that Russia quickly had something on Trump, from either exploits during his 1987 visit or any subsequent embarrassing behavior KGB assets might have uncovered. But the other leverage Russia enjoyed over Trump for at least 15 years is indisputable — in fact, his family has admitted to it multiple times. After a series of financial reversals and his brazen abuse of bankruptcy laws, Trump found it impossible to borrow from American banks and grew heavily reliant on unconventional sources of capital. Russian cash proved his salvation. From 2003 to 2017, people from the former USSR made 86 all-cash purchases — a red flag of potential money laundering — of Trump properties, totaling $109 million.  “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia,” boasted Eric Trump in 2014.
    • This much was clear in March 2016: The person [Paul Manafort] who managed the campaign of a pro-Russian candidate in Ukraine was now also managing the campaign of a pro-Russian candidate in the United States. And Trump’s campaign certainly looked like the same play Putin had run many times before…
    • Contrary to Trump’s recent efforts to depict his relationship with Manafort as distant and short-lived, the two continued to speak regularly even after the inauguration. We know this because U.S. investigators had convinced a FISA judge to wiretap Manafort’s phone.
    • One way to make sense of his behavior is the possibility that Manafort is keeping his mouth shut because he’s afraid of being killed. That speculation might sound hyperbolic, but there is plenty of evidence to support it.  Russia murders people routinely, at home and abroad. In the nine months after Trump’s election, nine Russian officials were murdered or died mysteriously.
    • Now that he’s in office, Trump’s ties to Russia have attracted close scrutiny, and he has found his room to maneuver with Putin sharply constrained by his party. In early 2017, Congress passed sanctions to retaliate against Russia’s election attack. Trump lobbied to weaken them, and when they passed by vetoproof supermajorities, he was reportedly “apoplectic” and took four days to agree to sign the bill even knowing he couldn’t block it. After their passage, Trump has failed to enforce the sanctions as directed.
    • In a Republican meeting a month before Trump clinched the 2016 nomination, the recording of which later leaked, House Speaker Paul Ryan mused about how Russia “hacked the DNC … and, like, delivered it to who?” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy replied, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: [Dana]Rohrabacher [R-Representative] and Trump.” When others laughed, he added, “Swear to God.”
    • Trump barely puts much effort into predicting a clean bill of health anymore. He acts like a man with a great deal to hide: declining to testify, dangling pardons to keep witnesses from incriminating him, publicly chastising his attorney general for not quashing the whole investigation, and endorsing Russia’s preposterous claims that it had nothing to do with the election at all.
    • Like many of the suspicious facts surrounding Trump’s relations with Russia, it was possible to construct a semi-innocent defense. Maybe he just likes to brag about what he knows. Maybe he’s just too doddering to remember what’s a secret. And as often happens, these unwieldy explanations gained general acceptance. It seemed just too crazy to consider the alternative: It was all exactly what it appeared to be.
    The full article can be read HERE, where the following “collusion chart” can be seen in more detail.
  • GUNS IN AMERICA

    The following data is designed to provide a summary of exactly what we’re dealing with in America.  Though the list is lengthy, it tells a story.

    from: 

    What are the statistics on gun violence so far in 2018?

    7,036 – the number of gun violence incidents this year through Saturday, Feb. 17
    1,939 – the number of deaths this year
    3,353 – the number of injuries
    71 – the number of children (ages 0-11) killed or injured
    379 – the number of teens (ages 12-17) killed or injured
    32 – mass shootings
    41 – officer involved incidents in which an officer was shot or killed
    312 – officer involved incident in which a subject or suspect was shot or killed
    285 – home invasions involving guns
    194 – incidents with a defensive use of a gun
    229 – unintentional shootings

    A Guide to Mass Shootings in America

    There have been at least 97 in the past 35 years – and most of the killers got their guns legally.

    from:   

    It is perhaps too easy to forget how many times this has happened.

    The weapons: Of the 143 guns possessed by the killers, more than three quarters were obtained legally. The arsenal included dozens of assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns with high-capacity magazines.

    The perpetrators: More than half of the cases involved school or workplace shootings (12 and 20, respectively); the other 30 cases took place in locations including shopping malls, restaurants, and religious and government buildings. Forty-four of the killers were white males. Only one was a woman. The average age of the killers was 35, though the youngest among them was a mere 11 years old. A majority were mentally troubled-and many displayed signs of mental health problems before setting out to kill. (Note that mass shootings represent only a sliver of America’s overall gun violence.)

    THIS DATA REPRESENTS A SUMMARY.  TO VIEW THE FULL DATA SPREADSHEET,  CLICK HERE.

  • What’s in the immigration bills the Senate is debating?

    from:
    The Senate is currently debating a number of immigration bills ahead of the March 5th deadline to do something about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. That’s the Obama-era initiative, which was later cancelled by President Trump. The program provided legal protections for “Dreamers,” who are immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Mr. Trump ended DACA in September and gave Congress until March 5th to replace it.
    For a DACA replacement to pass in the Senate, it will need 60 votes, meaning that any legislation will require substantial bipartisan support. It would also need to win over a majority of the more conservative House before it arrives on the president’s desk. And Mr. Trump, a noted immigration hawk, has intimated that he will only sign a bill that includes provisions most Democrats abhor, such as funding for a wall along the southern border.
    Here are some of the bills the Senate is debating this week, and why it’ll be difficult for any of them to pass.
    The Secure and Succeed Act: This act is backed by Republican immigration hawks in the Senate, like Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. It adheres closely to the White House’s immigration framework, which was released by the administration ahead of last month’s State of the Union address.  In broad strokes, the bill would provide a path to citizenship for 1.8 million DACA recipients, $25 billion in border security and wall funding, limits on family-based migration, and would eliminate the diversity visa lottery.  The bill’s backers say it’s the only legislation on the table that has a chance of becoming law and is a workable compromise because it protects nearly two million immigrants while also giving immigration hawks the security funding they want.  The bill doesn’t have enough Democratic support.
    McCain-Coons bill:  This bill has been introduced by the bipartisan team of Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. A companion bill in the House has 54 co-sponsors, with an even number of Republicans and Democrats. The bill would provide eventual citizenship for Dreamers. It would also provide money for a study on border security needs. But it neither includes any border wall funding, nor does it seek to curb future immigration by ending the extended family-based migration program, which the White House calls “chain migration.” It also does not end the diversity visa lottery program Mr. Trump dislikes. The measure would provide more resources for immigration courts, which are dealing with severe backlogs. The White House is unlikely to support it.
    Graham-Durbin bill:  The bipartisan proposal was negotiated by Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and reached in January. It would appropriate $2.7 billion in border security improvements, eliminate the diversity lottery program and would target the chain migration system. It would also provide a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers” and would define eligibility criteria, including that recipients must have entered the U.S. by June 15, 2012. According to a spokesman for Graham, the plan would include $1.6 billion for a “border wall/barriers/fencing.”
    The White House rejects this plan.
    DREAM Act:  Most recently introduced by Graham, Durbin, and Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, the latest version of the DREAM Act would essentially codify the protections former President Barack Obama created for young immigrants. It would also provide a path to citizenship for those young immigrants.   However, it doesn’t have wall funding White House wants: The president has tweeted that any DACA deal that doesn’t include border wall funding is a “total waste of time.” Aside from the White House, conservatives in Congress are also likely to oppose a solution that lacks funding for other border security measures, or any additional restrictions on future immigration.
  • What’s hidden in the Senate Spending Bill

     

    from: 
     

    Tucked into the Senate budget bill are a host of provisions that help a broad array of industries and sectors, including energy, health care and education, through increased spending and tax credits.

    The Senate deal would raise strict spending caps on domestic and military spending in this fiscal year and the next by about $300 billion. It would also lift the federal debt limit until March 2019 and provide nearly $90 billion in disaster relief to deal with last year’s fires and hurricanes.

    It also includes a series of unexpected spending increases, including restoring some provisions that were jettisoned from last year’s $1.5 trillion tax package. And the bill includes an extension of 48 different tax credits that expired at the end of 2016, including several incentives meant to help particular sectors like mining and horse racing.

    Budget Deficits Are Projected to Balloon Under the Bipartisan Spending Deal

    The two-year budget agreement passed by Congress early Friday is projected to contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to federal deficits.

    The deal increases spending for bipartisan priorities.

    Republicans have pushed for a boost in military spending, while Democrats have long argued for similar increases for domestic programs. The deal includes more spending for both for the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years.

     

    The deal primarily affects discretionary spending, which makes up about one-third of the federal budget and does not include entitlements like Social Security and Medicare.

    But it will contribute to rising deficits and debt …

    According to a preliminary analysis of the deal, federal deficits are projected surpass $1 trillion by 2019, a level not seen since the recession and its aftermath.

     

    Deficits will grow even more if the policies in the deal are extended beyond 2019. Lawmakers have also promised that individual tax cuts passed in December that are set to expire after 10 years will be extended, which would put even more pressure on the federal debt.

     

    … and will break through spending caps for military and domestic programs.

    The caps, which Congress set for itself in 2011, will be surpassed by about $300 billion over two years, significantly more than in the past.

     

    The deal includes:

    *$90 billion in disaster relief

    *$20 billion for infrastructure projects

    *$6 billion to combat the opioid crisis

    *$5.8 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant program

    *$2 billion for National Institutes of Health (NIH) research

    It will also: 

     

    *Increase the debt limit through March 1, 2019

    *Authorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for

    * an additional four years (on top of a recent six-year extension)

    *Extend 48 different tax credits for one year

    *Reauthorize Community Health Centers for two years

    *Makes structural changes to Medicare

    *Repeal an independent medical advisory board established under the Affordable Care Act to control Medicare spending

    *Create a new committee on pension solvency

     

    What’s Next in the Fight to Protect Dreamers

    From: 

     

    On September 5, 2017, Donald Trump eliminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. This Obama-era program has offered a lifeline to hundreds of thousands of Dreamers who have grown up in the U.S. They are Americans, plain and simple, and now they’re being held hostage by Donald Trump and Stephen Miller as leverage for the White House’s nativist immigration demands. Donald Trump has rejected multiple bipartisan agreements that would have provided relief for Dreamers and also met the Department of Homeland Security’s requests on security. Instead, Trump is pushing for a proposal that would provide $25 billion for his border wall, ramp up deportations, and drastically limit family reunification.

    The fight for Dreamers isn’t over, but the path forward is highly uncertain.

    Get ready for a possible defensive fight over the Dream Act. Up next in the Senate? Standalone immigration bills, which are a risky proposition in this Congress. Conservative Republicans are pouncing on the opportunity to work on immigration and have proposed several nativist bills, demanding that they receive a vote. It appears that Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are allowing Republicans to pursue an immigration bill that is separate from government spending bills. This all but ensures that the final package will be an extreme, enforcement-heavy proposal that immigrant rights organizations will oppose.

    This means that instead of getting a narrow, reasonable DACA fix, we could find ourselves trying to stop an anti-immigrant bill from getting through Congress. It’s still too early to tell, but this is likelier at this point than the Dream Act we all want.

    What about the McCain-Coons proposal? The McCain-Coons proposal is helpful in that it actually seeks to address the DACA crisis, and highlights just how extreme the alternative proposals are, but it is unlikely to move in this Republican-controlled Congress. Despite what you might be hearing, the negotiations in Congress have stalled. In fact, negotiations have steadily deteriorated since the bipartisan deal reached by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) back in December. Most of the current proposals go beyond the DACA fix we need and add anti-immigrant provisions more consistent with the White House’s framework. Those conservative proposals would empower ICE and other immigration officials to more quickly remove and jail immigrants, effectively requiring that Dreamers sacrifice the safety of their parents. It is too high a price to pay.

     

    What You Can Do To Help Dreamers…  (click here to read more)

     

  • Tax Overhaul Bears Gifts for Conservatives, Including Rights for ‘Unborn’

    From

    Tucked away in the Republican tax plan are several provisions that have little to do with overhauling the tax code and more to do with ensuring conservative lawmakers vote for the legislation.

    The 400-plus-page bill released Thursday includes changes that would codify the rights of “unborn children,” allow tax-exempt religious organizations to engage in political activities and impose hurdles for immigrants seeking to claim refundable tax credits.

    President Trump has long sought to appeal to religious and social conservatives, many of whom were initially wary of the candidacy of a thrice-married Manhattan billionaire who had openly boasted of his sexual conquests and displayed little interest in church or the Christian faith.  Read more …