Thursday, February 28, 2019

Michael Jackson was a creep

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Governor Newsom: Pee or get off the pot on high-speed rail

Figure 4 - High-Speed Rail Project Divided into Multiple Segments
From the East Bay Times:

Nonpartisan state analysts have a message for Gov. Gavin Newsom and the legislature: Make up your mind when it comes to bullet trains. In a report released Tuesday, the Legislative Analyst Office cautioned against any continued waffling about whether the state should complete its high-speed rail vision of 220-mph trains whisking passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than three hours — a vision voters approved in 2008 under Prop 1A.

Speaking of Proposition 1A, the governor's transportation budget includes $445 million this year to service the bonds authorized by state voters in 2008.

More from the East Bay Times:

The legislature should take the turnover of the new administration to re-evaluate the project, the report said. If it remains committed to seeing the full route from San Francisco to Los Angeles, it should work to address the estimated $55 billion to $58 billion funding gap the project faces. If not, the legislature will want to consider how to modify the project, the report said, by scrapping it altogether or otherwise reducing its scope.

One way Governor Newsom could deal with the issue: call for it to be put back on the ballot for voters to decide with a measure that included a realistic funding plan. This is necessary not only to decide the crucial money issue but because the project that is now being implemented is not what the voters authorized on 2008.

From the Legislative Analyst's report:

The HSRA estimates that the amount of funding available to support the project will fall substantially short of the level needed to complete Phase I of the project. Specifically, as mentioned previously, the 2018 business plan estimates the cost of completing construction of Phase I at $77.3 billion. However, as shown in Figure 7, HSRA also estimates that under current law it will have access to between $19.1 billion and $22.4 billion through 2030, leaving a funding gap of between $54.9 billion and $58.2 billion. 

Under HSRA’s assumptions, this funding gap could be somewhat smaller—between $49.1 billion and $56.8 billion—if HSRA is able to borrow against its current allocation of 25 percent of cap‑and‑trade revenues through 2050. However, this would require the Legislature to take certain actions, such as extending the cap‑and‑trade program through 2050 and guaranteeing HSRA access to at least a certain amount of funding annually from cap‑and‑trade or other sources to repay investors. (The cap‑and‑trade program is currently authorized through 2030.) 

We also note that the funding gap would be about $900 million larger if the federal government ultimately terminates the FY10 grant, as discussed above. At this time, HSRA has not specifically identified how the above funding shortfall would be met. Thus, there is significant risk that the state would have to cover the large majority of any funding gap—likely from the General Fund. As we indicated in our review of the June 2018 business plan, it is crucial for the high‑speed rail project to have a complete and viable funding plan in order for the project to proceed.

President Trump wants the federal money back, including the $900 million mentioned above. 

All of this would go away if Governor Newsom quits flip-flopping and dumps the poorly-conceived and ruinously expensive project---or punts on the issue and gets it back on the ballot for voters to decide. Doing that would kill the project when voters realized how much it really was going to cost the state.

Often the claim is only implied and sometimes it's made explicit---that the high-speed rail project has been delayed by litigation. That's simply not true. 

To get a judge to delay a project until a lawsuit is ruled on requires an injunction, and you can't get an injunction under CEQA unless the judge thinks your suit is likely to succeed when he/she makes a ruling.

The High-Speed Rail Authority doesn't have to hire and pay for lawyers when it's sued, since the California Attorney General represents state agencies in court, like the City Attorney represents the City of San Francisco when its agencies are sued:

The [state]Attorney General advises the California High Speed Rail Authority concerning environmental law requirements for construction of the high-speed rail system...In this long running and complex litigation, the Attorney General has successfully defended the Authority’s programmatic report. The matter currently is ongoing in the state Court of Appeal where it involves the additional question of whether the federal government has preempted any state court environmental remedy (page 38).

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Mark Meadows: Birther

Mark Meadows (Repug, North Carolina) claimed during the hearing yesterday that he isn't a racist. Daily Kos quotes him during his 2011 campaign:

It’s interesting, that when the more we find out, the more we realize how wrong the direction we are going. And so what we are going to do is take back our country. 2012 is the time we are going to send Mr. Obama home to Kenya or wherever it is. We’re gonna do it.

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What really happened at the hearing

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 27: (L-R) Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) listen as Michael Cohen, former attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump, testifies before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill February 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. Last year Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine for tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, unlawful excessive campaign contributions and lying to Congress as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Daily Kos on the significance of yesterday's hearing: 

...When the hearing came back from the break, its whole tenor had shifted. There were two good reasons for this: The imbalance in the number of Democrats and Republicans on the committee allowed a series of Democrats to question Cohen without five-minute interruptions for yet another recitation of the same Republican talking points; and the Democrats who talked in that afternoon session brought heat. 

It wasn’t that previous Democrats had not done well. It was that Plaskett[Democrat Stacey Plaskett (U.S. Virgin Islands)] and those who followed her performed with excellence.

Next came Ro Khanna, and Jimmy Gomez, and Ayanna Pressley, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib. And every one of them drove another nail in not just Trump’s coffin, but the coffin of the whole Republican scheme.

The afternoon began with Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna (California). Returning to the checks that Trump used to reimburse the money given to Daniels, Khanna carefully, but quickly, pushed Cohen to connect the “Executive 1” of court documents from the SDNY to Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg.

Then he made it clear that Donald Trump Jr. was the “Executive 2” mentioned in those documents. And on that base, Khanna built a point that could be far more critical to the future of hearings, investigations, and potential impeachment than anyone seemed to note in the moment.

Forget campaign violations. The actions that Trump, Trump Jr., Cohen, and Weisselberg took that day were a “criminal conspiracy of financial fraud.” Trump’s intentions may be required to prove that he committed felony campaign finance violations. They are not required to show that he committed “garden variety fraud.”

When Democratic Rep. Jimmy Gomez (California) came up to bat, he moved to Trump’s taxes. Though Cohen had earlier asserted that he didn’t know the details of Trump’s taxes, he had hinted that he knew something about Trump’s motivations in hiding them. Gomez seized on this, getting Cohen to testify that Trump told him that he wouldn’t release his taxes because, if experts looked at them, “he could end up in an audit.”

As with some of the information extracted by Khanna, this mostly seemed to avoid the attention of media that followed the hearing with a pre-scripted “partisan divide” storyline, but what Cohen said in that moment should have come with a thundercrack. Throughout the campaign, Trump claimed that he couldn’t release his taxes because “they were under audit.”

But what Cohen stated under questioning from Gomez was that Trump was worried that if anyone saw the details of his taxes, he would be under audit. That’s a huge difference. It both catches Trump in a repeated lie to the nation, and also provides a perfect reason for looking at Trump’s taxes now, Russia or no Russia.

Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York) was next. She followed up on statements Cohen made earlier in the day about National Enquirer owner David Pecker moving to “catch and kill” other stories for Trump, including some not related to women he had slept with.

Ocasio-Cortez got the names required to conduct a follow-up hearing on this issue, then moved on to another item from earlier in the day: how Trump had manipulated his net worth by alternately inflating or deflating the value of assets to suit his needs.

Ocasio-Cortez made it clear that in doing so, Trump had stolen public funds for development projects, evaded paying proper taxes, and defrauded banks. She did all this in about three minutes flat, while simultaneously capturing a list of names necessary to follow up on those issues.

Then it was the turn of Democrat Rep. Ayanna Pressley (Massachusetts), and time for a pivot to another area where Trump is completely vulnerable. Pressley moved to questioning Cohen about his knowledge of the Trump Foundation and how Trump had set up straw purchases to misuse supposedly charitable funds.

This area, under investigation by the SDNY and already the subject of charges from the state of New York, had been mostly ignored earlier in the day. Pressley came back to it here, moving through the issues and, as others had done, connecting the names and the documents that would be of value in furthering an investigation.

Khanna, Gomez, Ocasio-Cortez, and Pressley alone laid the groundwork on which Democrats can legitimately demand Trump’s taxes, insist on appearances by Trump Jr. and Trump CFO Weisselberg, and review Trump’s use of public funds, his manipulation of taxes, his falsification of asset values related to his inheritance, and his attempts to obtain bank loans using false information.

They did this, bang, bang, bang, with barely a moment’s wasted time. It was a performance that should have had any Republican paying attention shaking in his faux ostrich-skin cowboy boots.

Finally, Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib (Michigan) took the floor. At first it seemed that Tlaib wasn’t following the same playbook as the others. Rather than moving immediately to questioning Cohen, she opened with the kind of self-referential story that too often wastes the tiny amount of time representatives have to pose questions in a hearing. But then it became clear that Tlaib’s role wasn’t to extract a final thought from Cohen, but to upend the whole Republican approach to the hearing.

Earlier in the day, Republican Mark Meadows responded to Cohen’s accusations that Trump was a racist by pulling in a single former Trump Organization employee who happened to be black. The move left Cohen embarrassed. It left Tlaib nearly glowing with righteous anger.

She slapped down Meadows’ use of a black woman “as a prop,” and when Meadows rose in a blubbering high dudgeon to demand she take it back, Tlaib read it again. If the moment seemed close to derailing the hearing, it was because it was supposed to derail the hearing.

Rashida Tlaib made it clear to Meadows, and to every Republican watching, that the kind of tactic that worked when the people in the room were all white men was no longer going to fly. And Meadows’ attempts to invoke his relationship with committee Chair Elijah Cummings and “nieces and nephews of color” only left him looking more ridiculous and stranded in a position that was suddenly, just like that, no longer tenable...

Allen Weisselberg is going to be called before the committee. Donald Trump Jr. is going to be called before the committee. Donald Trump’s taxes, financial statements, and loan applications are going to be subpoenaed.

Just about every deal the Trump Organization has made in the last two decades is going to be reviewed. And to see how those hearings are going to go, it only requires looking at the last half-hour of the hearing on Wednesday.

Plaskett took office in 2015, so she’s not exactly a freshman. Khanna and Gomez came in in 2017. But Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, and Tlaib all just took their seats in January. And the no-nonsense attitude, incisive questioning, and sheer competence displayed by this whole class of newer faces in the House should terrify Republicans.

By the time the day ended, it was clear that the newcomers and relative newcomers had taken the time to review the morning’s statements, pick out points of interest, divide their attack from different directions, and coordinate their actions. They weren’t six Democrats each seeking a moment in the spotlight. They were a team.

Later: see also How Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Won the Cohen Hearing.

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