Monday, February 29, 2016

Grassroots Dems Standing Up Against The Oligarchs Who Have Purchased DC


Wall Street already owns one political party outright and since 1993 has made powerful inroads into the Democratic Party through the corrupt conservatives at the DLC, the New Dems and Blue Dogs. Now, with the possiible nomination of Hillary Clinton, the banksters are inches away from owning both parties outright. Many of her incredibly low-info Democratic supporters would be aghast if they had any idea what they were doing by backing this horribly compromised candidate.

And there are Clinton-conservatives vying against progressives everywhere in the country. It's heartening to see people willing to stand up-- often against insurmountable odds-- against Wall Street and its army of corrupt candidates. Yesterday I was heartened to see that the first two major newspapers in Ohio to endorse in the state's Senate race, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Akron Beacon Journal, came in for PG Sittenfeld, rather than for the corpse the Democratic Establishment is running, a near guarantee that Rob Portman will be reelected. The Plain Dealer endorsement got right to the point: "Ohio Democrats should nominate PG Sittenfeld to challenge the re-election of Republican Sen. Rob Portman because Ohio needs to debate its future, not rehash its past. Sittenfeld, 31, is a member of Cincinnati's City Council. He's smart, eloquent and aims to help Ohioans left behind by an economy skewered against many. Sittenfeld also is in tune with the national revulsion against handgun violence-- and against officeholders who's prized National Rifle Association endorsements more than constituents' lives. Sittenfeld's dynamism would give Portman a real race, the kind Ohio voters deserve." Chuck Schumer is probably screaming at his p.r. department! The Beacon Journal was equally enthusiastic:
Ted Strickland fails to see the opportunity in joining a series of debates as he campaigns for the U.S. Senate. The former Ohio governor and U.S. House member doesn’t want to give his opponent, P.G. Sittenfeld, a vehicle for drawing attention. Strickland has taken that safe stand even though he is running far ahead in the polls and his troubled Ohio Democratic Party could use an elevated profile.

It is a virtual lock, debates or no debates, that Strickland will prevail in the Democratic primary and face U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, the Republican incumbent, in the fall. That said, Sittenfeld has proved the stronger candidate in this race, in the positions he has taken and the future he sees for the party in the state. We recommend the election of P.G. Sittenfeld on March 15.

Sittenfeld has tried to make much of Strickland shifting his position on gun regulations. Once proud of his A rating from the National Rifle Association, Strickland now favors more comprehensive background checks and other restrictions. What distinguishes Sittenfeld is his greater awareness and grasp of how the gun question fits into the larger picture of race relations, policing and urban life.

This isn’t to diminish the contribution of Ted Strickland. He was a much better governor than his critics contend. He put forward a most promising school funding formula (albeit not fully funded). He set in motion efforts to mold a more coherent system of higher education. His successor takes credit for plugging a huge budget hole. Actually, the state budget was balanced under Strickland, as required by law. In a punishing recession, he made tough choices.

On many issues, Strickland and Sittenfeld agree. Yet, if anything, both would have benefited from debates, Strickland getting sharper for the general election run. Debates would have helped the Democratic Party in revealing that it has more vitality than many Ohioans realize. P.G. Sittenfeld is a significant part of that new energy, bolstered by substance and ambition, in the best sense. He has been the better candidate in this primary campaign.
Wall Street's top Senate lieutenant, Chuck Schumer, has been working to crush Sittenfeld, the same way he has done everything in his power to sabotage the campaigns of Alan Grayson (FL), Joe Sestak (PA), and Donna Edwards (MD) in favor of weaker, conservative establishment shills.

Over the weekend, the California Democratic Party had its state convention in San Jose. Schumer got his candidate, Kamala Harris, endorsed, primarily because the alternative, Blue Dog Loretta Sanchez is far worse than the moderate Harris. In House races, however, the establishment had some trouble, particularly in the newly blue seat, CA-25, that encompasses Santa Clarita, Simi Valley and the Antelope Valley. Local Democrats had selected progressive Agua Dulce councilman Lou Vince when suddenly the DCCC decided to name their own candidate, some guy from Orange County with no connection to the district. Every local Democratic Club endorsed Lou-- several unanimously-- and he won 82% of the pre-endorsement vote. This weekend the DCCC fought ugly to overturn the endorsement, bribing delegates, threatening others but in the end, despite the sleazy tactics of Zoe Lofgren, DCCC California henchman. At one point one of her operatives threatened to destroy Lou, a police officer and ex-marine who doesn't scare easily, with a smear campaign if he didn't drop out. After the dust settled and the ballots counted Lou won the official party endorsement with 76% of the vote against the DCCC guy, a sore loser who went up to Lou after his resounding win and told him he has all the money it will take to bury him in mailers. If the Democrats don't win CA-25 in November, the responsibility will lie with Zoe Lofgren, Steve Israel, Nancy Pelosi and Ben Ray Luján. More news from the convention:

After the vote Lou called me with some good news-- aside from his win: he had officially endorsed Bernie for president, which makes sense since he's been campaigning on the same issues as Bernie all year. So... now you can contribute to Lou's campaign on the same page where you contribute to Bernie and to the other congressional candidates who have endorsed Bernie... just follow the thermometer:
Goal Thermometer

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Military Industrial Complex Threatening A Coup If Herr Trumpf Wins?


A couple days ago we looked briefly at Herr Trumpf's threat to chuck the constitutional prohibition on churches and religions openly endorsing candidates. Will we see a big TV spectacular on Inauguration Day featuring a bonfire with slimy little Eric Trumpf burning copies of the Constitution while Ivanka, dressed as Tzeitel, does a scintillating dance to the Kushner family anthem? Not likely, but God only knows what U.S. military officers will be thinking if that unlikely day ever comes to pass-- the Trumpf inauguration, not the Ivanka dance.

Watch the Bill Maher interview Friday (above) with former NSA and CIA head Michael Hayden. This is beyond shocking. Who knew the Wall Street Journal watches Maher! Damian Paletta reported Saturday evening on the extraordinary Hayden statement about how the military "would likely refuse to follow certain orders."

“I would be incredibly concerned if a President Trump governed in a way that was consistent with the language that Candidate Trump expressed during the campaign,” Gen. Hayden said during an interview will Bill Maher on Friday.

Mr. Trump, the frontrunner in the GOP primary, has vowed to use torture techniques against suspected terrorists if he wins the White House, going beyond waterboarding and doing things he described as a “hell of a lot worse.”

He has also suggested he would order U.S. forces to kill the family members of terrorists, a charge that some have alleged would be in violation of the Geneva Convention.

Gen. Hayden, who had been an adviser to the presidential campaign of Jeb Bush, said the military would be required to refuse to obey these orders if Mr. Trump handed them down from the White House.

“You are required not to follow an unlawful order,” Gen. Hayden said. Some of Mr. Trump’s proposals “would be in violation of all the international laws of armed conflict.”
Hayden is a retired 4-star Air Force general, a former director of the NSA for both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and, later, Bush's and (for one day) Obama's CIA director. Hayden is now a principle at a bastion of spooky neocon shadow government, The Chertoff Group. He may look like a friendly old clown on the Real Time clip... but he's not. This is a very dangerous guy and represents very dangerous people and institutions. A showdown between these people and a crackpot President Trumpf could only end very badly for the American people and for our country.

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Things Are Going Badly For Ted Cruz... And The GOP In General... But More For Cruz


A new national poll of registered Republicans released this morning by CNN showed only one candidate of those still standing losing support since January, when so many other candidates suspended their campaigns and went home-- Cruz:
Herr Trumpf 49% (+8)
Rubio 16% (+8)
Cruz 15% (-4)
Dr. Ben 10% (+4)
Kasich 6% (+5)
And there was worse news for Cruz in the poll. Trumpf's re-branding seems to be working, as only 14% of registered Republicans picked Cruz for "most honest and trustworthy," behind Trumpf at 35% and Dr. Ben at 22%. Stand up comedian Marco Rubio scored 13%. But then there was a question asking how likely voters would be to back each candidate in the general election. 48% of registered Republicans said they would either "probably not" (13%) or "definitely not" (35%) support Herr Trumpf. Rubio elicited 29% in those two categories and Cruz was at 31% of registered Republicans who are inclined to not support him against Bernie or Hillary in November.

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, once rejected by the Senate for a George W. Bush judicial appointment because of his ties to the KKK, is now a hard right senator from Alabama himself, and one of the most extreme racists in Congress. It came as no surprise to anyone yesterday when he announced he had finally formally endorsed Herr Trumpf for president, just as David Duke and several other Klan and white supremacist leaders had. (Herr, whose father was once arrested at a KKK rally in Queens and who had an anti-racist song written about him by Woody Guthrie, refused to disavow his KKK support and was delighted that he landed a senator, even a senator as out-of-the-mainstream as Sessions, before Ted Cruz did. On the far right fringe, there was ecstasy over the endorsement.
2016 GOP presidential frontrunner billionaire Donald Trump will pick up the most significant endorsement any presidential candidate in the GOP can get here on Sunday: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL).

Sessions, the intellectual leader of the future of the conservative movement, has provided the brainpower behind the populist nationalist revolt against political elites that’s been emerging since at least 2013... Sessions' backing Trump is a significant blow to both Rubio and Cruz, as now the powerful Alabamian will be putting his entire operation all in behind Trump.

...[All Trumpf's other] endorsements pale in comparison to Sessions’ backing of Trump, as the Alabamian senator is universally respected-- and feared-- inside the beltway in Washington. Sessions is known for his tough views on immigration and trade and has repeatedly aimed to push the Republican Party in a more populist, nationalist direction. Sessions has helped frame the movement’s views on both issues-- and more, like courts and judicial nominations, law and order and police matters, and on budgetary issues and the fiscal well-being of America-- while maintaining a formidable political and policy operation that his allies view as invaluable and his enemies dread.
Even apart from the screaming match he had with Chris Wallace on Fox News (see the hilarious video up top), it hasn't been a good weekend for Cruz... although Democrats must have been kvelling when he went on TV to accuse Herr Trumpf of being in business with the Mafia-- not, he reminded his fans, that that would keep him from supporting Herr when he wins the nomination... of course. He told Jake Tapper, on CNN's State of the Union that if Trumpf wins the nomination Hillary will "probably" beat him, in part because of Herr's $100,000 contribution to the Clinton Foundation. Cruz: "Listen, if Donald becomes president, who the heck knows what he would do? Even Donald doesn't know what he would do. And I think the challenges facing this country are too grave to roll the dice and risk losing the Supreme Court for a generation, risk yet more economic stagnation and risk on foreign policy allowing radical Islamic terrorism to continue to rise and threaten America."

On This Week, Cruz rolled out the Mafia stories about Trumpf's long associations with Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno, head of the Genovese crime family, and Paul Castellano, head of New York's Gambino family, both of whom were also intimately tied to Staten Island Republican Congressman Michael "Mikey Suits" Grimm, currently in prison on a number of fraud convictions.

Cruz sent out a really unflattering 1990 portrait of Trumpf in Vanity Fair by Marie Brenner. Cruz focused on repulsive statements by Trumpf like, talking about his divorce settlement with Ivana and the sympathy she was getting in the tabloids, "When a man leaves a woman, especially when it was perceived that he has left for a piece of ass-- a good one!-- there are 50 percent of the population who will love the woman who was left." What he ignored were things that Democrats wouldn't, like sleazy McCarthyite Roy Cohn having been Trumpf's lawyer, ally and political mentor. Trump once told a reporter that "If you need someone to get vicious toward an opponent, you get Roy. People will drop a suit just by getting a letter with Roy’s name at the bottom." He represented Trumpf in his countersuit against the government when they caught him systematically discriminating against blacks in his residential buildings. Cohn was the man who brought Trumpf into the Mafia circles Cruz was hissing about on TV yesterday. Before he was disbarred for unethical practices, Cohn was the attorney for Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, an eventual Trumpf business associate.

Meanwhile, on another end of the GOP, poor Miss McConnell, sensing he'll be going back to minority leader in January, is telling vulnerable Republican senators to take out TV ads against Trumpf during the general election.
While still hopeful that Mr. Rubio might prevail, Mr. McConnell has begun preparing senators for the prospect of a Trump nomination, assuring them that, if it threatened to harm them in the general election, they could run negative ads about Mr. Trump to create space between him and Republican senators seeking re-election. Mr. McConnell has raised the possibility of treating Mr. Trump’s loss as a given and describing a Republican Senate to voters as a necessary check on a President Hillary Clinton... McConnell has said, “We’ll drop him like a hot rock,” according to his colleagues.
John McCain didn't need any advise from McConnell about going after Trumpf. Sources close to his campaign say he is relishing the idea of attacking Trumpf and rendering him unelectable in Arizona, although a powerful ad from Ann Kirkpatrick, the extremely flawed conservative Democrat running against McCain, would have you believe that McCain is just another McCain lap dog now. Do remember though, that Trumpf is not without heavy duty allies in Arizona Republican politics and he could certainly do some rendering of his own if he chose to. And he is known to be a vindictive fellow. Other Senate Republicans most in jeopardy of losing their seats with Trumpf on top of the ticket are Ron Johnson (WI), Mark Kirk (IL), Kelly Ayotte (NH), Rob Portman (OH), Pat Toomey (PA), Richard Burr (NC) plus GOP candidates Joe Heck (NV) and whomever the Republicans wind up with in Florida and Colorado. If things go really bad for them, Chuck Grassley (IA), Roy Blunt (MO) and John Boozman (AR) could also be looking at trouble. If all of those races go badly for the GOP, it means the 2018 midterms are unlikely to win the Senate back for the Republicans. Luckily for the Republican, Chuck Schumer-- in other words, Wall Street-- has taken effective control of the DSCC and is working to insert candidates who cannot win in Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania, while ceding North Carolina, Iowa and Arkansas to the Republicans. The NRSC is going to soon understand how lucky the NRCC was all these years with Rahm Emanuel, Chris Van Hollen and Steve Israel at the helm of the DCCC. By the way, you can help elect a more progressive U.S. Senate here and thwart both McConnell and Schumer:
Goal Thermometer

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Junk Bonds Are in Worse Shape than Before Lehman Collapsed


Percentage of S&P junk bonds and leveraged loans considered "distressed" (click to enlarge)

by Gaius Publius

We know that there will be another economic "big one" like the crisis of 2008. All of the pieces are in place — Wall Street greed and literal pathology, the even greater size of too-big-to-fail institutions, a literal get-out-of-jail free card that almost blesses continued financial fraud, and the like. We just don't know when it will occur, or what will trigger it. Last time it was triggered by the collapse of the bubble-sized home mortgage market. The time before that, it was the bubble-sized tech stock valuations. Where's the bubble now, or the inverse bubble, the market hole that may be forming somewhere?

Many people are looking at collapsing oil prices and soaring supplies, which is causing the collapse of over-leveraged carbon companies of all types (coal, oil and methane), as a potential cause of the next crash. Others say that the collapsing price of oil is "contained" — unique and isolated — and is not contaminating other markets.

The following piece by Wolf Richter argues the opposite point — that the collapse in the carbon market is not contained at all, and that collapse is in danger of spreading via the increasing price of junk bonds. Is this a precursor to the next "big one"? See what you think.

Wolf Richter (my emphasis throughout):
Now It’s Even Worse Than it Was When Lehman Collapsed, But It’s “Contained”

“Distress” in Bonds Spirals into Financial Crisis Conditions

The pile of toxic corporate bonds in the US, euphemistically called “distressed” debt, ballooned 15% in the single month of February to $327.8 billion, up 265% from a year ago, according to S&P Capital IQ. The number of S&P rated US companies with distressed debt rose 9% in February to 353, up 128% from a year ago.

The last time the pile of distressed debt had soared to this level was in November 2008, and the last time the number of distressed issuers had shot up to these levels was in October 2008; Lehman had declared bankruptcy in September.

These “distressed” junk bonds sport yields that are at least 10 percentage points above US Treasury yields, according to S&P Capital IQ’s Distressed Debt Monitor. 
Note the definition in the final paragraph above. Bonds are considered "distressed" if they have to offer 10 points or more greater yield than U.S. Treasuries in order to attract buyers. Obviously, any company whose financing depends largely on these bonds is at risk of bankruptcy.

As a chart, the above data looks like this. Take a minute to study it.

The Y-axis is both number of issuers (bar graph) and billions of dollars issued (line graph). Click to enlarge.

Richter adds this about the S&P "distress ratio" for junk bonds and leveraged loans (see chart at the top):
The ratio hit the highest level since July 2009, when it was coming down from the Financial Crisis. But this is the spine-chilling part: Back in September 2008, before the Lehman bankruptcy had fully registered in the ratio, but when the Financial Crisis was already gaining a good amount of momentum, and when stocks were crashing left and right and prudent people were wearing hardhats while out on the sidewalk, the distress ratio was “only” 28.9[.]
Richter quotes the report he cites as saying that a rising ratio is “typically a precursor to more defaults.” If he's right, we could be headed into the same soup we took years getting out of. And this time, it will be a political soup as well, since the country, both left and right, is in zero mood for another massive government bailout.

Not Confined to Oil and Gas

Nor is the damage in these markets confined to the carbon sector. Richter again:
And it’s not just the oil-and-gas and the minerals-and-mining sectors that are getting crushed. Of the 607 distressed bond issues in the ratio, 172, or 28%, are oil-and-gas related and 80 bond issues, or 13%, are minerals-and-mining related. The remaining 59% are spread across other the spectrum.

“Spillover effect,” is what S&P Capital IQ calls this. It has contaminated “the speculative-grade spectrum as a whole.”
The article has more along these lines, including a list of sectors affected, how many billions of dollars in debt are distressed in those sectors, and the main companies affected in each sector. It's quite eye-opening.

Will Commodity Prices Cause the Next Collapse?

I've been personally watching all of this with interest. There is a bubble in commodities — especially those things that the very very wealthy are interested in (for example, Manhattan real estate and high-end art) — but really, in commodities in general. There's also a major crack in the commodities bubble connected to carbon products (coal, oil and methane). I've wondered before if collapsing oil prices would spark a collapse in other commodities (stocks, for example) via the highly leveraged, and therefore highly vulnerable, nature of many fracking companies in the U.S.

It's possible we'll get an answer soon ... or not. Still, this is worth watching. If you're interested, Richter's website,, is worth checking on a regular basis.


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BREAKING: Alan Grayson Feels The Bern


Yesterday, on top of the NY Times front page story eviscerating Hillary's spectacularly failed neocon foreign policy agenda in Libya, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard went on Meet the Press and publicly resigned as a vice Chair of the DNC so that she could work for Bernie. (Another congresswoman, who has not endorsed either presidential candidate yet, told me Tulsi-- who isn't nearly as progressive as Bernie (she's graded an "F" by ProgressivePunch)-- made the move because "she’s just fed up with the Hillary-Debbie Wasserman Schultz Axis of Evil at the DNC." Wow! She certainly stepped all over the Clinton Machine's talking point for the day-- that Hillary had finished off Bernie in South Carolina, which is what they had all their media and social media lackies chanting starting well before sunrise. Tulsi, a kind of Fox News Democrat, was the fourth Member of Congress to endorse Bernie.

This morning a fifth Member of Congress joined Team Bernie, this one a man who shares a nearly identical progressive vision of governance and public service with Bernie, Orlando Congressman Alan Grayson. Policy wise, Grayson has been allied with Bernie since long before being elected to Congress. Both are all about fearlessly taking on the special interests to make life better for ordinary working families and for peace. Grayson has also been an admirer of Clinton's. When the GOP decided to establish their transparently political Benghazi Committee, there was no one in Congress who fought it harder than Grayson, even going so far as to ask Pelosi to appoint him-- and only him-- as the sole Democrat on the committee so he could make the hyper-partisan Republican inquisitors pay dearly for their shenanigans. (Ironically, his Establishment-backed Senate opponent now, Patrick Murphy, was one of only 7 right-wing Democrats to conspire with the GOP in getting the committee going in their anti-Hillary witch hunt.)

This morning Grayson explained to his supporters that he feels the Bern.
I hereby endorse Bernie Sanders to be our Democratic nominee for President of the United States. I will vote for him as a Super-delegate at the Democratic National Convention. And I enthusiastically join, shoulder to shoulder, his political revolution.

Perhaps inspired by the Bernie Sanders message of "Not me. Us," for the past several days, I have appealed to Democrats across the nation to tell me for whom I should vote, as a Super-delegate at the Democratic National Convention. The response has been absolutely overwhelming. Almost 400,000 Democrats voted at More than the number who voted in the South Carolina primary. More than the number who voted in the New Hampshire primary and the Nevada caucus combined.

The results: Sanders 86%, Clinton 14%. More than just a landslide. An earthquake.

...Bernie Sanders and I share a goal of building a grassroots movement of people who want to take back our country from the billionaires and the multinational corporations. We want to make elections into about something different: Not the lesser of two evils, but the greater good.

When you make a contribution to our campaign, our revolution, you are demonstrating that our democracy is no longer for sale to the highest bidder. But Bernie and I cannot accomplish this on our own. We need your help. We need to declare our Declaration of Independence from the baneful power of Big Money, by coming together one and all.

Alan: "I’ve devoted my political life to bringing the virtues of justice, equality, and peace to as many people as possible, and Bernie’s presidential campaign has drawn millions of people into a movement that’s grounded in those same shared ideals. Bernie has defied The Establishment and monied classes who control our rigged political system. That’s why millions of people see that the only way to break this oligarchy is to put Bernie Sanders in the White House. He can bring about the revolutionary change that will reverse income inequality, provide healthcare for all, open the door to debt-free college and protect our environment."

Blue America added Grayson to our Bernie Congress ActBlue page and we hope you will consider contributing to both candidates, Bernie for president, Alan for U.S. Senate. And for those who have been asking why we didn't add Tulsi Gabbard to the page... well, let me address that. The premise of the page is two-fold: everyone on it has endorsed Bernie and everyone on it is running on Bernie's issues. I'm thrilled that Tulsi has endorsed Bernie-- God bless her-- but her congressional voting record is nothing like Bernie's or Grayson's. ProgressivePunch rates her an "F," not a "C" or a "D," an "F." If she's embracing a progressive vision beyond just endorsing Bernie, we will be delighted to add her to the page. But right now, she's not someone we'll be raising money for, in the same way we're not raising money for conservative corporate Democrat Shawn O'Connor, an opportunist who was running on a Republican-lite platform of cutting Social Security before he embraced Bernie's campaign (or at least Bernie's generous grassroots New Hampshire contributors). No one like O'Connor will ever be on any Blue America pages no matter who he endorses. We'll let you know more about Tulsi as the campaign unfolds. Hating Debbie Wasserman Schultz is admirable and good... but not good enough.
Goal Thermometer

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Did The Iranian Reformers Win-- Or Did The Conservatives Have A Version Of Wasserman Schultz With A Finger On The Scales?


All the early reports out of Iran showed supporters of reformist Hassan Rouhani winning every district on Friday-- there are 30-- in Tehran, the capital and biggest city. Western media immediately jumped to the conclusion that the conservatives (the Pinciplists) had been vanquished. Even Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, who is the Principlists leader in Parliament (Majlis) and whose daughter is married to a son of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, lost his seat. Currently the party holds 165 seats (56.8%) to the Reformists, who are led by Stanford-educated Mohammad Reza Aref, 52 seats (17.9%).

Having driven from one end of Iran-- literally-- twice, I was immediately aware that Tehran isn't necessarily a harbinger for the rest of the country any more than results in New York City are for the U.S. A bloc of 30 seats from Tehran is important-- but what about the other 260 seats in Parliament-- not to mention the Assembly of Experts, which has 88 members and will appoint the next Supreme Leader. The BBC reported on Sunday that "early results gave former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate conservative, and Mr Rouhani the most votes for the assembly, which is composed of mostly elder and senior clerics."

Full results of the 290 seat Parliament will not be declared until tomorrow but preliminary results from 239 districts as of now do not show a national rout of the hard-liners, but rather a very neck-and-neck race. Principalists have taken 64 seats (22.06%), Reformists 83 seats (28.62%) and Independents 55 seats (18.96%).

Yesterday the NY Times, covering the race from Tehran, reported that state television was reporting big wins for hard-liners outside Tehran. The hard-liners are a mirror image of the American Republican Party-- backward, superstitious hate-filled, frightened and reactive-- and they both agree that the nuclear treaty should not be allowed to stand. In Tehran, at least, they were overwhelmingly rejected, historically rejected. The map at the bottom shows the Reformists winning in blue areas and the Principlists in the yellow areas. We'll keep updating this page as more information filters in today.

This morning Reuters reported that "Rouhani and his allies won big gains in elections that could deepen Iran's engagement with the world after his government ended years of sanctions by agreeing to curb its nuclear program. The outcome in the results for Tehran on Monday was a blow to the conservative Islamic establishment, although it retains decisive power due to Iran's unwieldy dual system of clerical and republican rule. Most of the lawmakers who did not make it to the new parliament strongly opposed the nuclear deal, including Mehdi Koochakzadeh, who called Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif "a traitor", and Roohollah Hosseinian, who threatened to bury the negotiators under cement for agreeing to concessions to world powers."

Is was as though Ted Cruz and Jeff Sessions had just lost their Senate seats and the whole Georgia delegation was ousted in the House.
"This election can be a turning point in the history of the Islamic Republic," said an editorial in reformist newspaper Mardom-Salari, whose managing editor, Mostafa Kavakebian, won a parliamentary seat in Tehran.

"The biggest achievement of this election is the return of reformists to the ruling system ... so they won't be called seditionists or infiltrators anymore," he said, referring to hardliners who accused reformists of links to the West.

Rouhani and allied centrists and reformers won 15 out of the 16 Tehran seats in the 88-member Assembly of Experts, which is tasked with choosing the country's next supreme leader, final election results for Tehran showed.

Two prominent conservatives, including the speaker of the powerful clerical body, were among those ousted in the capital... Beyond the capital, their gains were more limited, with conservatives keeping hold of many seats in both bodies.

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Sunday, February 28, 2016

Keeping Score On Which Democrats Have Been Naughty And Which Have Been Nice


The Republicans gave their base a little smooch Friday by passing Bob Wittman's H.R, 2406, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreation Enhancement (SHARE) Act. The first thing I noticed about the bill is that it passed 242-161 with all but 4 Republicans backing it and all the Democrats except 12, mostly Blue Dogs and New Dems, voting NO. Sometimes the easiest way to figure out the toxicity of a bill is to see who the co-sponsors were. In this case there were 37, primarily far right kooks like Tom Emmer, the Minnesota crackpot who took over Bachmann's seat when a scandal forced her to resign, Jody Hice (GA), Scott DesJalais, the Tennessee doctor who was drugging his female patients and raping them and some especially heinous NRA-Democrats: Gene Green (TX), Ron Kind (WI) Tim Walz (MN) and Collin Peterson (MN). President Obama had already warned he would veto it, but this kind of a bill is catnip for right-wing Democrats. In his explanation of why he opposed it, L.A.-area progressive Democrat Ted Lieu got into what was wrong with the bill.
On its surface, the SHARE Act expands access to federally-controlled lands for hunting, fishing, and recreation shooting. In actuality, though, the bill is an unnecessary and destructive attack on protections for animals and the environment.

For example, it blocks President Obama’s efforts to restrict the illegal trafficking of ivory; allows hunters to acquire permits to import polar bear trophies; reissues a Fish and Wildlife Service decision to delist the gray wolf; and, prevents the regulation of toxic substances, such as lead, present in hunting equipment.

Additionally concerning is that the House blocked the adoption of amendments that would have protected the Arctic Refuge and certain ocean national parks.

I am deeply disappointed by the SHARE Act’s passage. We are fortunate to live in a nation with policies that allow for the preservation of unique species and pristine wilderness areas, like Yosemite National Park and the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Instead of tearing down our nation’s bedrock environmental protections, we must strengthen them so that these sites and species can be enjoyed for future generations.
These were the Democrats who crossed the aisle to vote with the GOP and their NRA allies... the same reprehensible crew that almost always does:
Brad Ashford (Blue Dog-NE)
Sanford Bishop (Blue Dog-GA)
Cheri Bustos (Blue Dog-IL)
Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA)
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)
Gwen Graham (Blue Dog-FL)
Ron Kind (New Dem-WI)
Rick Nolan (MN)
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)
Kurt Schrader (Blue Dog-OR)
Filemon Vela (Blue Dog-TX)
Tim Walz (MN)
Most people seeing a list like this would immediately ask, "Did you forget Patrick Murphy (Nww Dem-FL). He rarely misses a primo chance to skip across the aisle and vote with the Republicans. But instead he didn't bother to show up for work yesterday. Like Rubio, whose seat he;'s campaigning for, he doesn't feel voting is all that important anyway. There were a whole slew of important amendments that Democrats were trying to tack onto the bill to make it less toxic, like banning people from firing ranges who are prohibited from owning a gun (i.e., dangerous criminals). Since Murphy got into a tough primary battle with Alan Grayson, he's been skipping tough roll calls, though usually ones that force him to chose between his Wall Street financiers and ordinary Florida families, roll calls where he's spent 3 years backing Wall Street and screwng her constituents. That's dangerous in a statewide primary... so Murphy just hides out when those votes get called.

Grayson noticed too, of course. "Patrick has a hard job to do," he said "and it’s one he promised not to shirk. Instead he went shopping for campaign photo-ops today. Avoiding difficult votes on tough issues has become his specialty, especially when his campaign donors are watching. While the rest of us did our job today, Murphy was copying Marco Rubio’s MIA work habits. Florida deserves better than that in its next Senator." We agree. If you do too... please tap the thermometer:
Goal Thermometer

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The Values-Free Schumercrat Candidates Oppose Obama On Guantánamo


This is probably a bad year for a candidate to be counting on establishment endorsers. But the DC Democratic establishment hasn't figured that out yet. The wretched pro-Wall Street Schumercrats the establishment is running against progressives are all bragging about endorsements they've gotten from pathetic figures who are despised by the Americans who have heard of them. A candidate telling someone they have the endorsement of someone like a Harry Reid or Chuck Schumer (or on the other side of the aisle, Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan) is a net loser and possibly, all things being equal, toxic.

Schumer's crappy candidates are proving themselves as gutless as anyone has to be to be in bed with Schumer to begin with. The cowardly Schumercrats are all refusing to back President Obama's efforts to close the Guantánamo gulag before he leaves office. Worst of all are Pennsylvania's Katie McGinty (Schumer's silliest candidate of 2016), Tammy Duckworth (IL), who has always backed the policy but now that the heat is on refuses to comment, New Hampshire's Maggie Hassan and Ohio's Ted Strickland, both Democratic establishment favorites in key Senate races, who are refusing to support the plan, saying it doesn't do enough to keep their constituents safe.

Patrick Murphy, the overall worst Democrat running for the Senate in 2016 is studiously avoiding the topic but he generally sides with Republicans on controversial bills and opposes Obama and most House Democrats. He supported the Keystone XL pipeline; voted to condemn Obama for the exchange of American prisoner Bowe Bergdahl for five Taliban leaders held at Guantánamo; voted for a resolution seeking to rein in Obama's use of executive orders on issues like health care and immigration; consistently votes to gut financial sector consumer protections while collecting ungodly sums from Wall Street banksters; voted with the GOP to create the anti-Hillary witch-hunt Benghazi Committee; and supported a resolution seeking an investigation on whether the IRS targeted conservative groups.

Alan Grayson (D-FL) and Joe Sestak (D-PA) are both loudly supporting Obama's bid to shut down the Guantánamo gulag but Reid and Schumer are both in overdrive to sabotage both their campaigns, even calling big donors and telling them to cut the two Obama allies off from funds. The two anti-democratic party bosses are having a terrible time propping up weak candidates like Strickland, Murphy and, especially McGinty, who is widely viewed as a joke with no backing outside of the most corrupt elements of the establishment.
Katie McGinty joined the Democratic Party's primary race in Pennsylvania for U.S. Senate with the support of influential recruiters, and her fortunes in the wide-open race may ultimately be about more than her ability or her future as a candidate.

It could be a test of whether the Democratic Party's top-level donors, fundraisers, elected officials and like-minded groups can propel a candidate into the good graces of the rank-and-file.

...McGinty's chief rival in the four-way race for the Democratic nomination is Joe Sestak, whose icy relationship with some party leaders is shaping this race-- just as it shaped the 2010 race he lost by 2 percentage points to Republican Pat Toomey.

"I've never seen that lineup against one candidate in a primary not based on issue positions," said David Landau, chairman of the Delaware County Democratic Party. "I've certainly never seen anything like this based on personality and not issues."

The primary election is April 26. The fall campaign in Pennsylvania promises to be expensive and closely watched, and Republicans say Democrats cannot retake control of the U.S. Senate without beating Toomey, a potentially formidable candidate who is seeking a second term in November.

Sestak's loss to Toomey is viewed through various lenses: He deserves another chance after barely losing to Toomey during a historic year for Republicans. His feuding with party elders during the 2010 campaign-- including defeating the late Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary-- was a strong enough signal that he is not a team player. ["Team player" means fellating Chuck Schumer.]

As early as 2013, Sestak, 64, a former Navy vice admiral and two-term congressman, said he was seriously considering running again and Landau and other Sestak supporters around Pennsylvania note that he has spent the intervening years as a regular on the local party event circuit around Pennsylvania, attending hundreds of fundraisers, county dinners and other gatherings.

But doubts about Sestak propelled a search for an alternative by party leaders in Washington. After a few prospective candidates said "no," McGinty, 52, said "yes" and got into the race in August, 15 months after the long-time state and federal government official finished fourth in the 2014 gubernatorial primary.

The problem for the party's heavy hitters is that their one-sided involvement hasn't necessarily gone well for them in top-tier races in recent Pennsylvania history.

Sestak beat Specter, largely thanks to Democratic primary voters who had opposed the Republican-turned-Democrat for decades and weren't about to change.

...The list of McGinty supporters is a virtual who's who of power players in Pennsylvania Democratic Party politics, plus an assortment of U.S. senators and the Washington, D.C.-based Emily's List.

In theory, endorsements can plug candidates into fundraising networks and networks of volunteers who will hand out leaflets, knock on doors and staff phone banks. But in interviews, Rendell and other McGinty supporters tended to downplay the significance of McGinty's super-structure of support, or what a McGinty loss would say about its influence.

"We're in a different time and I would say in the past that (high-powered endorsements) would be a guarantee (of victory)," said Nancy Mills, a McGinty supporter who is the Allegheny County Democratic Party chairwoman. "I think that now people are so well informed and they do their own research and don't necessarily depend on an endorsement."

Sestak, meanwhile, embraces his differences with party leaders, while acknowledging the downside of going against party leaders who can discourage help from major campaign donors. For her part, McGinty has doubled Sestak's fundraising since she entered the race, but she remains behind in available cash and polling.

Rendell, McGinty's campaign chairman, acknowledged that endorsements are not fate-- "If they were determinative, then Donald Trump wouldn't exist," Rendell said-- and said it still remains to be seen whether McGinty and her backers can raise the millions necessary to air weeks of TV ads.

"If the answer is 'yes,'" Rendell said, "then she's in business."
Which, of course, is what politics is all about to self-serving corporate whores like Rendell. A creature of the establishment like Rendell could care less about the jaw-dropping, unqualified nature of McGinty, especially compared to Joe Sestak and Braddock Mayor John Fetterman.

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Herr Trumpf-- Vicar Of Christmas Trees, Scourge of The U.S. Constitution


When I woke up and switched on the TV this morning, the first thing I heard was the bratty voice of an newly empowered Marco Rubio cracking school yard jokes. "Donald Trump likes to sue people; he should sue whoever did that to his face." And there was something about a spray tan. But don't get distracted by the canned jokes about Herr-Force One that Rubio's comedy writer is giving him. Truth: Trumpf is an authoritarian and a fascist. He may seem like a harmless bag of wind and a buffoon but his ability to tap into a vein of Hate Talk Radio's ginned up tight-wing victimhood is a real danger to this country. Colin Taylor, writing for OccupyDemocrats over the weekend showed how effortlessly Herr Trump manipulates "the poorly educated." Trump's support base is more accurately described as "Life's Losers," the infuriated people-- enabled by opportunistic Republican strategists and Hate Talk Radio hosts shilling for ad dollars-- who modernity has left behind and who have no compunction about collapsing the entire system. You think Bernie is for revolution? Herr Trumpf's followers are ready for the reactionary backlash before the revolution even comes.

The video above shows exactly how he bonds with the imbecile: "We're going to say Merry Christmas now on Christmas." And the audience erupts. Encouraged by the reaction, he goes off: "We're going to start going to department stores and stores and you're going to see big beautiful signs that's gonna say 'Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday and we;re gonna have a big, big, big lotta fun. And we're gonna get rid of that. We're gonna get rid of that. That's one of the first things I wanna do."

Get rid of what? The Constitution? The separation of church and state? Taylor: "Overshadowed by the superficial media circus focused on Chris Christie’s endorsement of Trump at today’s rally in Fort Worth, Texas, the media missed an extremely alarming part of Donald Trump’s aimless and convoluted monologue. He took his pandering to evangelicals and religious extremists across the country to a new height by proposing to end the law that bans the participation of churches in American politics and to establish “the strongest Christian lobby” (as if the Republican Party isn’t one already), once again demonstrating a flagrant disregard for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It cements his campaign as a political movement tailored only to white Christians, callously disregarding all the millions of Americans who don’t fit into that demographic and wish to live their lives free of the moral judgement and puritanical rules of the religious extremists who now dominate the Republican Party."
At the rally, Trump brought out Pastor Robert Jeffers, who endorsed Trump and lauded his “pro-life” credibility (despite his long history of being pro-choice prior to this election). Jeffers, who happens to believe that the Pope is the “anti-Christ,” complained to Trump about the inability of churches to endorse candidates without losing their tax exemptions-- which Trump immediately said that he would change, implying that they would be allowed into politics while keeping their tax exempt status. Tax-exempt churches make a jaw-dropping $82 billion dollars a year, which is often used by hypocritical pastors to finance lavish lifestyles for themselves. Allowing churches into politics without losing their tax exemption would simply be pouring even more dark money into politics-- not to mention an outrageous violation of the Constitution, which would almost certainly be an impeachable offense.

It is extremely alarming how much power that Christian religious extremists have in this country. They are relentlessly pushing a puritanical agenda that the Taliban would find acceptable down the throats of the rest of secular America-- defiling the values of religious pluralism and secular governance that the Founding Fathers they claim to love so dearly laid down as the foundation of our nation.

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There Are 14 House Democrats And 3 Senate Dems Who The GOP Counts On To Vote With Them Against The Environment


A dozen Republicans have better environmental voting records than corporate whore Collin Peterson

The League of Conservation Voters has released it's national environmental scorecard for the first session of the 114th Congress. As they explain, it is meant to provide voters with "objective, factual information about the most important environmental legislation considered and the corresponding voting records of all members of the first session of the 114th Congress [and] represents the consensus of experts from about 20 respected environmental and conservation organizations who selected the key votes on which members of Congress should be scored. LCV scores votes on the most important issues of the year, including energy, climate change, public health, public lands and wildlife conservation, and spending for environmental programs. The votes included in this Scorecard presented members of Congress with a real choice and help distinguish which legislators are working for environmental protection."

In general, Democrats were found to be working toward protecting the environment and battle climate change and the Republicans were found to be corporate tools disregarding some of the most crucial issues facing mankind. No surprises there. But how about the Democrats working hand-in-hand with the Republicans to sabotage environmental issues, attacking clean air and water protections, for example? House Members were graded on 35 roll call votes this session. 14 Democrats, primarily Blue Dogs and Wall Street-owned New Dems, proved themselves to be enemies of the planet, nearly as bad as Republicans. The worst House Democrats:-- from bad to worse:
Terri Sewell (New Dem-AL)- 71%
Gwen Graham (Blue Dog-FL)- 69%
Ted Deutch (FL)- 66%
Zoe Lofgren (CA)- 66%
Ann Kirkpatrick (New Dem-AZ)- 63%
Gene Green (TX)- 63%
Ruben Hinojosa (TX)- 60%
Kyrsten Sinema (Blue Dog-AZ)- 60%
Kurt Schrader (Blue Dog-OR)- 57%
Sanford Bishop (Blue Dog-GA)- 54%
Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA)- 43%
Brad Ashford (Blue Dog-NE)- 31%
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)- 20%
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)- 14%
43 House Members, all of them Democrats, had perfect scores (100%)-- real champions of the environmental movement:
Jared Huffman (D-CA)
Jerry McNerney (CA)
Nancy Pelosi (CA)
Mike Honda (CA)
Ann Ashoo (CA)
Julia Brownley (CA)
Adam Schiff (CA)
Brad Sherman (CA)
Linda Sánchez (CA)
Lucille Royball-Allard (CA)
Mark Takano (CA)
Janice Hahn (CA)
Alan Lowenthal (CA)
Diana DeGette (CO)
Elizabeth Esty (CT)
Alan Grayson (FL)
Lois Frankel (FL)
Hank Johnson (GA)
Tulsi Gabbard (HI)
Jan Schakowsky (IL)
Chellie Pingree (ME)
Donna Edwards (MD)
Chris Van Hollen (MD)
Jim McGovern (MA)
Joe Kennedy (MA)
Katherine Clark (MA)
Keith Ellison (MN)
Frank Pallone (NJ)
Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ)
Nydia Velázquez (NY)
Hakeem Jeffries (NY)
Yvette Clarke (NY)
Jerry Nadler (NY)
Jose Serrano (NY)
Nita Lowey (NY)
Paul Tonko (NY)
David Price (NC)
Chaka Fattah (PA)
Brendon Boyle (PA)
Jim Langevin (RI)
Steve Cohen (TN)
Bobby Scott (VA)
Jim McDermott (WA)
In The Senate, all the members were graded on 25 roll call votes. There were only 3 anti-environmental Senate Dems, all across-the-board conservatives: Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND) and Joe Manchin (WV).

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New Jersey Political Bosses-- Very Bipartisan: Norcross Is The Glue That Binds Christie And Trumpf


During Christie's term, Democratic boss George Norcross has become more powerful than ever

So far this weekend, crackpot right-wing governor Paul LePage (R-ME) and crackpot ex-Governor Jan Brewer (AZ) endorsed Herr Trumpf in the wake of Chris Christie joining Team Trumpf. Herr was also endorsed by French Nazi Jean-Marie Le Pen. But the big story is still the bully bromance between Herr and Christie and how a combination of pure opportunism and Christie's psychotic hatred for Rubio drove the train.

Pro-Publica star investigative journalist Alec MacGillis, writing for the New Republic took Chris Christie apart two years before he infuriated the Republican establishment by endorsing Herr Trumpf for president. It's worth revisiting today because, where the Republican establishment hasn't had much coherent to say beyond catty remarks about Christie's penchant for overeating and blowing up like a balloon, MacGillis started off by pointing out that the once popular governor "has been so singularly successful at constructing his own mythology-- as a reformer, a crusader, a bipartisan problem-solver--that people have never really seen him clearly" as the criminally minded corrupt stinking pile of garbage he has always been. His investigation leads him to conclude what many sensed all along, namely that "the problem with Christie isn’t merely that he is a bully. It’s that his political career is built on a rotten foundation. Christie owes his rise to some of the most toxic forces in his state-- powerful bosses who ensure that his vow to clean up New Jersey will never come to pass. He has allowed them to escape scrutiny, rewarded them for their support, and punished their enemies. All along, even as it looked like Christie was attacking the machine, he was really just mastering it."

Christie's big claim to fame-- being appointed a U.S. Attorney by Bush was a simple business transaction. Christie raised $350,000 for Bush's campaign, enough for Christie to qualify as a Bush "Pioneer" and contributed nearly 30 grand of his own money to GOP candidates and bought himself an appointment despite having no experience whatsoever in criminal law. Christie won the approval of New Jersey's senior senator, Robert Torricelli, a criminal himself looking for an ally for the scandal cases under investigation by the U.S. Attorney's office. Soon after taking over, Christie got rid of the chief investigator, Michael Guadagno, which is credited for keeping Torricelli, a Democrat, out of prison.
To say that corruption was a problem in the Garden State was an epic understatement—its political system might as well have been expressly designed to facilitate public fraud. The state’s official history is one of legendary self-dealers: Enoch “Nucky” Johnson built and ruled Prohibition-era Atlantic City from the ninth floor of the Ritz-Carlton. The midcentury mayor of Jersey City, Frank Hague, earned a salary of $8,500 a year and yet left office with a fortune of $2 million. His signature accoutrement, according to Jersey lore, was a desk with an outward-facing drawer in which visitors would deposit their bribes. As one mayor of Newark memorably put it, “There’s no money in being a congressman, but you can make a million bucks as mayor.”

In most of the United States, the big political machines have been broken, or reduced to wheezing versions of their former selves. In New Jersey, though, they’ve endured like nowhere else. The state has retained its excessively local distribution of power-- 566 municipalities, 21 counties, and innumerable commissions and authorities, all of them generous repositories of contracts and jobs. The place still has bona fide bosses-- perhaps not as colorful as the old ones, but about as powerful. The bosses drum up campaign cash from people and firms seeking public jobs and contracts, and direct it to candidates, who take care of the bosses and the contributors-- a self-perpetuating cycle as reliable as photosynthesis.

...Fighting public fraud, [Christie] announced, would be his office’s top priority after terrorism. “Corrupt politicians will steal your trust, your taxes, and your hope,” he told a New Jersey crowd in 2007. The problem was not, he noted, “an insufficient number of targets.”

Soon after Christie took office, Essex County’s Republican executive, Jim Treffinger, was out walking his dog when seven police cruisers surrounded him. Treffinger knew he was under investigation for awarding no-show jobs to friends and extorting campaign donations in exchange for contracts. He had repeatedly offered to surrender to authorities when the time came. Instead, his wife and daughter watched from the house as he was thrown up against a car and frisked, an image that appeared in the next day’s Star-Ledger, which had been tipped off to the arrest.

At first, Christie said the arrest had been left to the marshals. But later, he cast Treffinger’s treatment in moral terms. Corrupt officials, he said, shouldn’t be coddled-- they were “worse than the street criminal because the street criminal never pretends to be anything but what he or she is.” (Local lawyers wondered whether the public shaming might be linked to Treffinger’s observation, caught on a wiretap, that Christie was a “fat fuck” who “wouldn’t know a law book from a cookbook.”) “The perception was that the U.S. attorney was sending a message,” one lawyer told me.

The next seven years unfolded like a never-ending perp walk, as Christie racked up more than 130 convictions and guilty pleas for elected and appointed officials. He had a knack for extracting the maximum p.r. from every arrest or indictment. “The office leaked like a sieve,” one Democratic operative recalls. “I had reporters calling me at four in morning and saying, [so and so] is going to get pinched.”

Democrats howled that Christie was on a partisan witch-hunt, since he targeted so many more Ds than Rs. But it was hard to take such accusations very seriously. After all, New Jersey’s power structure was dominated by Democrats, and Christie was uncovering undeniable cases of abuse. One state senator pleaded guilty for accepting a low-show job at a medical school in exchange for state grants, another to accepting a $25,000 “success fee” for helping a mining company obtain permit approvals. Longtime Newark Mayor Sharpe James got 27 months on charges stemming from the sale of steeply discounted city properties to an ex-girlfriend. (James’s successor, Cory Booker, is the first mayor of Newark not to be indicted since 1962.)

Besides, to accuse Christie of protecting Republicans over Democrats was missing the point. True, his office had knocked out a swath of New Jersey’s biggest Democratic power brokers and weakened their organizations in crucial parts of the state. But that meant the bosses left standing had only grown stronger.

In 2002, an insurance firm in Mt. Laurel received an unexpected e-mail from a man named George Norcross. Congratulations, Norcross told the firm: It had won a big contract for the Delaware River Port Authority, which oversees four bridges in the Philadelphia area. The e-mail was unexpected because the firm hadn’t bid for the job. But there was no need for thanks. The company was simply expected to send Norcross’s insurance company $410,000 over the next few years, as a “finder’s fee.”

This is how things work in the world of George Norcross III. Officially, he is the supremely wealthy chairman of Conner Strong & Buckelew, one of the largest insurance firms in the nation; the chairman of Cooper University Hospital in Camden; and, as of last year, the majority owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Unofficially, he is the most powerful man in New Jersey never to have held elected office. Close observers of state politics have estimated that more than 50 elected officials in South Jersey owe their positions to Norcross (including his brother, a state senator [Donald Norcrosss, more recently one of the more conservative Democratic members of the U.S. House]). Much of the money he raises for candidates comes from people and companies eager to secure government work or development deals, as documented over the years by his local paper, the Courier-Post, among others. Norcross’s own firm holds sway over New Jersey’s large municipal insurance market. (He declined to comment for this article.) “George is probably the smartest politician we have now in the state of New Jersey,” says former Republican State Senator John Bennett. “He knows where the power is and goes to the power. Whether that power is a Republican or Democrat.” ...Norcross is silver-haired and impeccably dressed and runs his operation out of well-appointed boardrooms. He is only foul-mouthed in private.

On numerous occasions, Norcross’s operation has come under legal scrutiny-- from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), state investigators, and the FBI. The cases are labyrinthine, but they all involve some dubious overlap of his many public and private interests. One case in particular threatened to get real traction. In the early 2000s, several New Jersey attorneys general investigated whether he had pressured a Palmyra councilman to fire a city solicitor, Ted Rosenberg, who wasn’t cooperating with the machine. Wiretaps offered a rare glimpse of a man completely convinced of his power. “[Rosenberg] is history and he is done, and anything I can do to crush his ass, I wanna do cause I think he’s just a, just an evil fuck,” Norcross said. In another conversation, referring to then-top Jersey Democrats, he declared, “I’m not going to tell you this to insult you, but in the end, the McGreeveys, the Corzines, they’re all going to be with me. Not because they like me, but because they have no choice.” While discussing plans to remove a rival, he exclaimed: “Make him a fucking judge, and get rid of him!”

In February 2003, Norcross met Christie for a steak dinner at Panico’s in New Brunswick. It was, to put it mildly, highly unorthodox for a U.S. attorney to sit down with a political boss who was the subject of state and SEC attention. But Christie brushed off the criticisms. “I’m very careful with who I would go out with,” he said. “If I’m looking at somebody, I’d try to stay away from them.”

That, to the skeptics, was just the issue. His corruption squad was scrutinizing dozens of lower-profile figures, all the way down to an Asbury Park councilman charged for getting his driveway paved for free. Why wasn’t he looking at Norcross? And didn’t he realize that he might have to in future? Sure enough, the following year the state attorney general referred the Palmyra case to Christie’s office.

Two years later, Christie issued a scathing six-page letter announcing that he would not bring any charges against Norcross. It was a remarkable document. Not only did Christie openly declare a controversial figure to be home free, but he accused the state prosecutors of bungling the case so badly that they may have been shielding Norcross. “The allegation of some bad motive on the part of the state prosecutors is very unusual,” says Andrew Lourie, a former chief of the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice.

High-ranking legal sources in the state view the letter as the ultimate Machiavellian maneuver. They agree that there may not have been a strong case to bring against Norcross in the Palmyra case after so much time had lapsed. But by publicly accusing his state counterparts of protecting Norcross, Christie was inoculating himself against accusations of favoritism. One of the former attorneys general who’d handled the case, John Farmer, who went on to become senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission and is now dean of Rutgers Law School, told me: “The statements and insinuations contained in that letter were, as I said at the time, utter nonsense. The passage of time has only magnified their essential absurdity.”

Norcross may have been the most formidable player to escape Christie’s net, but he wasn’t the only one. Another was Brian Stack, a state legislator and Union City mayor who exemplifies a Jersey tradition Christie had long railed against: holding paid elected office at both the state and local levels. Stack maintains his constituents’ loyalty with acts of largesse such as doling out 15,000 free turkeys at Thanksgiving. He is rewarded with Soviet-style vote totals. (His slate won 92 percent in 2010.) In 2007, Christie conducted a massive investigation into legislative earmarks. It found that Stack had secured $200,000 in state grants that benefited a day-care center run by his then-wife. Charges were brought against other legislators for directing money to entities in which they held a personal interest, but not Stack.

There was also Joe DiVincenzo Jr., lumbering and gregarious, the protégé of legendary Newark community leader Steve Adubato Sr. In 2002, “Joe D.” ran to replace Treffinger as executive of Essex County, the largest source of Democratic votes in the state. Rumors raged that he, too, was under investigation, for conflicts between his freeholder duties and his job (one of four he held at the time) at a produce company with a county contract. Then, right in the heat of the primary, Christie released a statement denying that Joe D. was under investigation. “It was totally unprecedented. I’ve never seen that done by a sitting U.S. attorney,” said DiVincenzo’s opponent, now-Assemblyman Tom Giblin. “Trying to get a letter out of the U.S. attorney’s office is usually like pulling a wisdom tooth.” After Joe D. took office, he invited Christie to give county workers a symposium on ethics.

Finally, there was Glenn Paulsen of Burlington County, who had become the most powerful Republican power broker in the state in part because of his symbiotic détente with Norcross. Norcross got a lot of business for his insurance firm in Burlington County, while Paulsen’s law firm got plenty of municipal work in Norcross territory. In 2006, Christie’s office secured a guilty plea from a Republican operative, Robert Stears, for hugely overbilling several million dollars of lobbying work for the Burlington County Bridge Commission. According to one person with knowledge of the matter, it seemed likely that more revelations would follow and that an investigation of the commission’s spending could draw in Paulsen, and perhaps even Norcross. Stears, according to Christie’s announcement, was cooperating with an “ongoing criminal investigation.” In court, he explained that he had been “sucked into a corrupt group of people” and that he had been directed how much to bill the commission and how much to donate to the county Republican Party, which had been led by Paulsen. “Everyone was waiting for the second shoe to drop,” David Von Savage, the former GOP chairman in Cape May County, told me. It never did. “Chris essentially dumped that investigation-- he absolutely dumped it,” says one lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. “As a favor to these guys, he tanked the investigation completely.”

By taking down some of the state’s bosses while leaving others off-limits, Christie had effectively turned the supposedly apolitical role of prosecutor into that of kingmaker. It was a brilliant strategy. New Jersey offered such a target-rich environment that Christie was able to get credit for taking down a slew of crooked officials and build alliances with some of the most powerful bosses in the state at the same time. Christie’s allies insist that he wasn’t playing favorites. “I can’t imagine Christie would suggest in any way, ‘I want you to lay off of this guy or go after this guy.’ It’s inconceivable to me,” says Ed Stier, a former federal and state prosecutor. Still, by the end of his tenure, Christie began showing up to administer the swearing-in ceremonies of town officials who were replacing the ones he’d pursued. No one could recall a prosecutor doing so, says one longtime Jersey hand: “It was like he was giving them his blessing.”

...[R]ight from the outset, Christie was working as closely with the machine as any recent governor. Well before his election, the Democratic bosses had met at the U.S. Open in Queens to divvy up the leadership spoils. Sheila Oliver, who worked under Joe D. in Essex County, would become the speaker of the Assembly. Sweeney would get the Senate presidency. Sweeney was a union man-- an ironworker-- but he was a Norcross man first and foremost. When it came time for the vote on Christie’s proposal to cut public-employee pensions and health benefits, Sweeney delivered the numbers. It was a coup for Christie-- national pundits hailed him as a politician more interested in getting results than scoring partisan points.

In hindsight, what is notable is how openly Christie embraced the bosses. He sent massive resources in their direction; when they came under fire, he vouched for them. In early 2011, it emerged that Stack’s wife, now estranged, had been allowed to use city SUVs for personal use and fill up for free at the city’s natural gas pumps. Christie defended him: “I have no reason to question Brian Stack’s integrity.” (Stack returned the compliment, calling Christie “the greatest governor the state has ever had.”) On paper, Union City embodies the kind of waste that Christie has vowed to eliminate-- it paid its police chief a handsome $248,000 in 2011 and provides health benefits to part-time elected officials. And yet it has been showered with cash from Trenton-- about $12 million per year in discretionary “transitional aid.”

Christie’s bond with DiVincenzo was just as overt. Corzine’s attorney general had led an investigation into voter fraud by election workers in Essex County, after reams of absentee ballots were filled out to benefit Joe D.-approved candidates. Following Christie’s election, the case was quickly wrapped up with a handful of light sentences for low-level workers. During his term, Essex County has been deluged with millions for big capital projects. The relationship has thrived despite 2012 revelations by the Star-Ledger that Joe D., who makes $153,000 per year on top of a $68,000 pension for the same job (via a legal loophole), has claimed an astonishing list of reimbursements from his campaign funds for personal expenses, such as a trip to Puerto Rico and more than 100 meals over the course of three months. In 2011, Christie observed that Joe D. had been with him “right from day one.”

As for George Norcross, he is more powerful than ever. “It’s not just South Jersey anymore. Now it’s way beyond that,” says the longtime Jersey hand. Christie consented to Norcross’s pick to lead the patronage goldmine that is the Delaware River Port Authority.* The following year, the authority gave a $6 million grant to a cancer center at Norcross’s Cooper University Hospital. Next, Christie pushed through a controversial measure that granted Norcross his desired merger between Rutgers-Camden and nearby Rowan University.2 The result was a well-funded university that will further expand the Norcross empire—boosting beleaguered Camden, yes, but also putting even more jobs, money, and development projects at his disposal. (A former Navy SEAL attending Rutgers-Camden challenged the merger at a town-hall meeting. As he was escorted out by police, Christie hollered after him: “After you graduate from law school, you conduct yourself like that in a courtroom, your rear end is going to be thrown in jail, idiot!”)

...In early 2013, as Christie’s reelection neared, the operation kicked into overdrive. Christie was fixated on securing Democratic endorsements to bolster his image as a Republican with crossover appeal. It didn’t matter that he was expected to waltz back into office—people needed to get on the list. The administration’s intergovernmental-affairs staff, who knew which mayor or county official had gotten which grant, was moved almost wholesale to the campaign. Christie himself made repeated calls to mere county-level officers: clerks, sheriffs, registers of deeds.

For those who got behind the governor, there were incentives. To give but one example: The close-knit Orthodox community in Lakewood had endorsed Corzine in 2009. In March, a coalition of the town’s rabbis and businessmen announced it would be backing Christie this time around. Two months later, the state granted $10.6 million in building funds to an Orthodox rabbinical school in Lakewood, one of the largest expenditures for any private college in the state. (The yeshiva was not exactly cash-strapped: A copy of its application I obtained noted that its endowment “far exceeded” the $1.84 million it was expected to contribute to the project.)

As Election Day neared, you could be forgiven for mistaking Christie for a Democrat. State Republicans were frozen out; candidates were told not to include his name or picture on their literature. “We didn’t get the support,” says George Wagoner, a losing Assembly candidate. Meanwhile, the weight of the Democratic machine swung behind the Republican governor. More than 50 Democratic elected officials endorsed Christie, including Brian Stack (who was hit with a $68,725 fine in July for failing to properly disclose campaign spending) and Joe D. (who also has a large fine looming). In photos and media appearances, Christie kept showing up smiling alongside Sweeney and other prominent Democrats. Norcross didn’t formally endorse Christie, but he made his approval clear. At one event, Norcross said he’d recently seen a man in a “Chris Christie: too big to fail” t-shirt. He told Christie: “You’re not too big to fail-- you’re too good and too important to fail us.”

Meanwhile, Barbara Buono, the state senator who had volunteered to challenge Christie when more prominent Democrats, such as Cory Booker, declined, was unable to raise anywhere near enough money for a credible campaign. Numerous Democratic donors refused to give above the $300 threshold where their names would be disclosed, fearing Christie’s retribution. “I’d say to people, ‘What is going on?’” Buono recalls. “This is an election, not a military junta.” She attended one campaign rally in a North Jersey church, at which Sheila Oliver, once a reliable ally of the bosses, railed against unnamed powerful people who were supporting Christie only because he had a “dossier” on them. A month before the election, a picture surfaced on Twitter of Christie and Norcross, arm in arm at a Cowboys-Eagles game in Philadelphia. “I didn’t think [Norcross] would embrace me,” says Buono. “But I didn’t think he’d work directly against me.” In the end, Christie won by 22 points and Republicans gained not a single seat in the state Senate.

And now we come to the national uproar over the mother of all traffic jams in Fort Lee. Christie has denied any knowledge of the ruse. But it has become increasingly hard to credit his ignorance, given how deeply involved he had been in his team’s political outreach to local officials, not to mention that the names of many of his closest aides were surfacing in communications about the closures. Among national Republicans, even some of Christie’s most vocal backers have started to waver. One Republican strategist told me: “No one’s rushing out there to defend him, because they don’t know where this could go next.”

The Democratic bosses, though, are standing by their man. Norcross declared that, instead of obsessing over the bridge, national Democrats should be “pretty concerned about circumstances involving the implementation of Obamacare right now.” Joe D. struck a blasé tone: “Every place I go, people say, ‘What do I care? Why are we talking about it?’ ” And Brian Stack blasted the claim that Christie had threatened to withhold Sandy aid from Hoboken as “far-fetched.” “My relationship with the governor and his staff and this administration has been one of the best,” Stack said-- as if that wasn’t part of the problem.

What Bridgegate has laid bare is the skill and audacity with which Christie constructed his public image. “It’s almost like people were in a trance,” Buono told me. Christie may have been misunderstood for so long because his transactionalism diverted from the standard New Jersey model. He wasn’t out to line his own pockets, or build a business empire. He wasn’t even seeking to advance a partisan agenda. And yet it was transactionalism all the same. Christie used a corrupt system to expand his own power and burnish his own image, and he did it so artfully that he nearly came within striking distance of the White House. When he got cozy with Democratic bosses, people only saw a man willing to work across the aisle. When he bullied his opponents, they only saw a truth-teller. It was one of the most effective optical illusions in American politics-- until it wasn’t.
Good thing Christie has all those friends inside the corrupt Democratic establishment and the criminal machines that are so intent on making sure Hillary can count on New Jersey to keep Bernie at bay. After all, after Christie's endorsement of Trump, his ties inside the GOP establishment are... very frayed. Yesterday the New York Times heavy-duty reporting trio of Alexander Burns, Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin explained the fumbling efforts of the GOP establishment to stop Herr Trumpf. On Feb. 19 Rove was insisting to GOP fatcats that a Trumpf nomination "would be catastrophic, dooming the party in November" and that it is not inevitable and can be stopped. The next day Maine's Paul Le Pen "erupted in frustration over the state of the 2016 race, saying Mr. Trump’s nomination would deeply wound the Republican Party. Mr. LePage urged the governors to draft an open letter 'to the people,' disavowing Mr. Trump and his divisive brand of politics. [A week later he endorsed Trump.]
Efforts to unite warring candidates behind one failed spectacularly: An overture from Senator Marco Rubio to Mr. Christie angered and insulted the governor. An unsubtle appeal from Mitt Romney to John Kasich, about the party’s need to consolidate behind one rival to Mr. Trump, fell on deaf ears. At least two campaigns have drafted plans to overtake Mr. Trump in a brokered convention, and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has laid out a plan that would have lawmakers break with Mr. Trump explicitly in a general election.

Despite all the forces arrayed against Mr. Trump, the interviews show, the party has been gripped by a nearly incapacitating leadership vacuum and a paralytic sense of indecision and despair, as he has won smashing victories in South Carolina and Nevada. Donors have dreaded the consequences of clashing with Mr. Trump directly. Elected officials have balked at attacking him out of concern that they might unintentionally fuel his populist revolt. And Republicans have lacked someone from outside the presidential race who could help set the terms of debate from afar.

The endorsement by Mr. Christie, a not unblemished but still highly regarded figure within the party’s elite-- he is a former chairman of the Republican Governors Association-- landed Friday with crippling force. It was by far the most important defection to Mr. Trump’s insurgency: Mr. Christie may give cover to other Republicans tempted to join Mr. Trump rather than trying to beat him. Not just the Stop Trump forces seemed in peril, but also the traditional party establishment itself.

Should Mr. Trump clinch the presidential nomination, it would represent a rout of historic proportions for the institutional Republican Party, and could set off an internal rift unseen in either party for a half-century, since white Southerners abandoned the Democratic Party en masse during the civil rights movement.

...While still hopeful that Mr. Rubio might prevail, Mr. McConnell has begun preparing senators for the prospect of a Trump nomination, assuring them that, if it threatened to harm them in the general election, they could run negative ads about Mr. Trump to create space between him and Republican senators seeking re-election. Mr. McConnell has raised the possibility of treating Mr. Trump’s loss as a given and describing a Republican Senate to voters as a necessary check on a President Hillary Clinton, according to senators at the lunches.

He has reminded colleagues of his own 1996 re-election campaign, when he won comfortably amid President Bill Clinton’s easy re-election. Of Mr. Trump, Mr. McConnell has said, “We’ll drop him like a hot rock,” according to his colleagues.
Oddly-- hypocritically-- Republicans can't bring guns into the July convention, but I'm hearing more and more about people looking into nitroglycerine. This year there's a better way to strike at The Machine than at a GOP convention. Help Alex Law defeat Norcross' corrupt little brother Donald in South Jersey. You can do it here.

UPDATE: More Christie Baggage

The defunct Christie campaign's Finance Chair, Meg Whitman called Christie's endorsement of Herr Trumpf "an astonishing display of political opportunism." Her full statement:
Chris Christie's endorsement of Donald Trump is an astonishing display of political opportunism. Donald Trump is unfit to be President. He is a dishonest demagogue who plays to our worst fears. Trump would take America on a dangerous journey. Christie knows all that and indicated as much many times publicly. The Governor is mistaken if he believes he can now count on my support, and I call on Christie's donors and supporters to reject the Governor and Donald Trump outright. I believe they will. For some of us, principle and country still matter.

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