By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes…

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Another morning and the republican controlled U.S. Senate has brought back zombie Trumpcare.

Sunrise in west central Missouri.

Sure, 32 million people will lose access to affordable health care. What could go wrong?

You all know what to do. To the phones. In the streets.

Luetkemeyer, Wagner want to help Equifax roll consumers

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Immediately after the recent Equifax hack that potentially put close to 150 million Americans at risk for identity theft, I wrote about how the event proved that the bias of Ann Wagner against any regulation of the financial industry, and especially her vendetta against the oversight role of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was contrary to the interests of the everyday Americans she ostensibly serves. Surely, I thought, these folks can be made to realize that enabling disaster in the wake of disaster may be going just a bit too far.

Well no. The concept of wise stewardship always seems to  be too difficult for the Republican brain, as evidenced by this little financial tidbit in the LA Times:

Even as millions of consumers grapple with fallout from the Equifax data breach, Republican lawmakers are quietly backing legislation to deregulate credit agencies and make them even less accountable for wrongdoing.

Bills are pending in Congress to limit class-action damages for violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and to give credit agencies more latitude in profiting from identity theft protection products.

The legislation is part of sweeping efforts by Republican lawmakers to reduce oversight of banks and other financial-services firms, and to cripple or eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has notched a successful track record of holding industry players accountable for unfair and illegal practices.

And who’s the engineer steering this “quiet” anti-citizen effort? Why no one other than Missouri Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-3), a member, along with Rep. Wagner, of the House Financial Services Committee, and Chair of the Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit, which just held hearings on the proposed legislation – possibly inspired by successful , and, for the profitable credit reporting agencies involved, expensive, oversight exercised by the CFBP in the recent past. Luetkemeyer declared that the new legislation would ” streamline regulatory requirements and eliminate inefficiencies” and “better allow financial companies to serve their customers.”

Sadly for Luetkemeyer’s credibilty, the response of the LA Times reporter, David Lazarus, is closer to the truth when he observes that what “the legislation would do is reward credit agencies with greater regulatory elbow room and diminished accountability for screw-ups.” As far as I’m concerned, they’ve got far too much of that elbow room already – as Lazarus notes:

Consumer advocates say the Equifax breach should serve as a wake-up call for Americans that the three leading credit agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — are focused primarily on earning cash from people’s personal information, not keeping such information under lock and key.

“Consumers are not customers of these companies — they’re commodities,” said Chi Chi Wu, a staff attorney with the National Consumer Law Center. “We have no say over what they do with our data.”

There are, of course, Democrats on on the Financial Services Committee and its various subcommittes; Missouri Rep. Lacy Clay (D-1) serves on Luetkemeyer’s subcommittee, for example. But they’re there as representatives of the minority party in a congress which Republicans have publicly determined to run solely in service of Republican druthers, and, given the amounts of cash that the financial industry throws at sympathetic members of these plum committee posts, the Democrats are not likely to be heard if they do stand up. Same reasons hold when considering the inevitable death march of a Democratic bill offered in response to the Equifax farce, the Freedom from Equifax Exploitation Act.

Actually, the proposed Democratic legislation, mild as it is, probably doesn’t go nearly far enough. Michael Kevin Drum who has long noted the essentially abusive nature of our credit reporting system and urged greater regulatory oversight of the credit reporting agencies, observesd last week that:

… The credit reporting agencies have gotten away forever with treating consumers like bothersome children: screwing up their credit records, ruining their lives, making it deliberately difficult and expensive to lock accounts, and making money off the whole thing by offering “insurance” against problems that they themselves cause. Someone in Congress who allegedly cares about ordinary working folks should introduce a bill to regulate the hell out of these folks. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s hard to think of any industry that more richly deserves it.

Well somebody in Congress does care – Democrats mainly – but a fat lot of good it’ll do us. Because financial industry toadies like Luetkemeyer and Wagner are sitting pretty in their well-funded catbird seats and they aim to keep that campaign cash cushion well-padded.

Campaign Finance: at a minimum

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Yesterday at the Missouri Ethics Commission:

C171196 09/19/2017 Raise Up Missouri Laborers International Union of North America Laborers Local No. 110 4532 S. Lindbergh Blvd. Sunset Hills MO 63127 9/18/2017 $25,000.00

C171196 09/19/2017 Raise Up Missouri The Union Labor Life Insurance Company 8403 Colesville Rd. Silver Spring MD 20910 9/18/2017 $25,000.00

[emphasis added]

The committee’s purpose:

Ballot Measures Election Date Subject Support/Oppose
Initiative Petition To Raise State Minimum Wage (Raise Up Missouri) 11/06/2018 Raise State Minimum Wage Support

[emphasis added]

But, but, billionaire sons of billionaires can’t make ends meet these days…

Ann Wagner praises police who “own” the streets

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Thesis:

The St. Louis Police Department doesn’t have a great record for  putting its best foot forward, but, really, these guys needs some competent PR advice – which they need to follow. And Ann Wagner needs a reality check.

Discussion:

A relatively small bunch of stragglers leftover after the day’s demonstrations against the Stockley acquittal went on a petty vandalism spree that, if the descriptions I’ve read are correct, was at a far remove from the serious violence that racked Ferguson. They were met by scads of armed police decked out in full riot regalia and raring to go. A bunch of protestors were arrested. The Guardian reported claims by demonstrators of “aggressive responses from police, including the macing and violent takedowns of compliant demonstrators.”

This mighty victory pumped up the interim police chief,  Lawrence O’Toole, to the point that next day he strutted around crowing about how proud he was that St. Louis was still “safe” and the police had “owned” the night.” His officers evidently shared that opinion since they reportedly celebrated brutally beating down a group protesting police brutality against black people by chanting “whose streets, our streets.” That chant was a step too far, even for some police, as The Guardian reports, “Sgt Heather King, president of the Ethical Order of Police, a group founded by African American officers, said: “That chant goes against the very code of ethics we swore to abide by.”

I’ve read reports on Facebooks from other folks who saw what went down. They seem to think it was harsh, as in excessive. But still, protestors vandalize private property, they get arrested. That’s fine. Throw bricks and “chemicals” at the police, police get mad. That’s life. Vainglorious boasting about how armed police beat the vandals down and gratuitiously hurt them – including folks who weren’t resisting – that’s another thing entirely. Don’t any of these fools realize how hairline delicate the situation is right now? Do they want riots?

I get the impression however, that now that the adrenaline high is fading, O’Toole realizes that he’s got to control the narrative a little better. The police chief is adamant that the only folks arrested were “criminals,” although they managed to haul in a presumably non-criminal Post-Dispatch reporter who was caught in the crush when the police moved in. You’ll also notice in many reports how, when O’Toole talks about his big victory, he’s careful not to mention that the “demonstrators” he put down were no more than a relatively small group who hadn’t heeded the call of protest leaders to desist for the evening. However, O’Toole was quite willing to whine about injuries suffered by his troops – injuries that he does not actually specify, but admits to have been mostly “moderate or minor.”

Wagner enters from the Right wing:

The merest hint of police blood shed, however, was enough to provoke Rep. Ann Wagner (R-2) to paroxysms of praise for police. In her latest email newsletter, she informs us that, “on Saturday, I had the privilege of visiting the brave men and women of law enforcement who risk their lives every day to protect us. Their work this week has been nothing short of exemplary …”. This high praise followed the text of the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis, which she tells us she is offering “in light of the recent unrest in our community.” The Peace Prayer is supposed to embody “the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi’s simplicity and poverty,” two things I’m pretty sure Wagner doesn’t really know much about.

Punchline:

All this hyper-respectable, authority-loving piety is coming from a woman, who, so far as I  have been able to determine, has in no way indicated that she understands that there is any reason why some St. Louisians might legitimately be even a bit upset. Even her fellow Republicans, Senator Roy Blunt and Governor Eric Geitens, showed some sensitivity to the situation as well as a recognition that the issues are not cut-and-dried. Wagner, however, is carefully letting us know that for her, its a black and white situation and she thinks that the answer is, as it always has been, to color it blue.

Update (9/19): Well that didn’t take too long – Greitens’ restraint was too good to be true and now he’s back in prime form according to the Post-Dispatch’s Tony Messenger, playing to the deplorable gallery by poking an angry bee hive with a stick:

… we are following the lead of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who this weekend pinned a video atop his Twitter page of some of our officers in riot gear carrying a hog-tied prisoner through the streets of St. Louis. “Saturday, some criminals broke windows & thought they’d get away. They were wrong. Officers caught ’em, cuffed ’em, and threw ’em in jail,” he wrote.

I’m sure it’ll play well in the boonies and some suburbs, but shouldn’t the Governor be trying to help heal divisions, not make them worse?

Why does the GOP have it in for us?

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What does Senator Roy Bunt and my Representative, Ann Wagner (R-2), have against me? Or should I really be asking what the Republican Party has against the people of the United States (those, that is, who aren’t billionaires)?

I’ve had a chronic illness since 2012. So far Medicare and a supplemental policy have taken care of me. However, the GOP healthcare shenanigans in which Blunt, Wagner, and their partisans indulged themselves these past months could have resulted in my supplemental policy, which pays for a big share of my expenses, being priced out of my reach.

For a while it looked like they had decided to give up and leave me be. Killing several million people with a few pen strokes is harder work than it looks – especially when those folks start calling for the heads of compliant legislators.

But my relief has been short-lived. We all should have learned by now that the folks who pay the bills for today’s GOP will never rest until the peasantry learn to live with the low expectations that characterize their cohorts in other third world countries. And obedient senechals Blunt and Wagner are no doubt already on point, along with the rest of the Missouri pack of GOP running dogs, as we used to call their ilk back in the old days of the New Left and Chairman Mao’s vastly overrated little red book.

How do I know this? There’s a legislative abomination, the Graham-Cassidy-Heller bill, that has just been introduced into the Senate and which could easily pass if the Republican leadership can drum up 51 votes – which is looking more and more likely. Named for Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), this latest iteration of Obamacare Dump & Dupe is really, really bad:

As you can see, I and my fellow preexisting conditions sufferers are not the only ones Republicans like Blunt and Wagner want to work over. Graham-Cassidy-Heller would do a job on hundreds of thousands of Missourians. And nobody is even talking (yet) about the destabilizing effect on the private insurance industry.

Pair this effort to gut Obamacare and drastically peel back healthcare funding by 2027 with the suspicion that Paul Ryan will use Trump’s tax “reform” mantra to further his goal of privatizing and ultimately crippling Medicare, and you’ve got the wherewithal to begin to finance the tax cuts GOP leaders have promised their wealthy patrons. Does anyone believe Blunt, Wagner and the Missouri GOP boyos in the House won’t go along? Even though it’ll leave folks like me out in the dead cold. And I do mean dead.

It seems like Republicans in Congress not only want to pull the healthcare rug out from under us, but kick us in oour collective ribs after we’re down. Were we getting a little too uppity what with our Obamacare and all?

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe they don’t have it in for us. Maybe they just think we’re too dumb to notice how far they’re willing to go to give tax breaks to rich cronies.

All of which means that maybe it’s time to roll out the tumbrils again and start building that electoral guillotine – and, don’t forget, make some noise while you’re doing it: Senate Switchboard number: (202) 224-3121

Addendum: Remember how GOPers howled about how Democrats, who in reality bent over in the proverbial backwards direction to secure GOP input, rammed Obamacare down throats; well, read this and weep for what we’ve become:  Republicans go to ludicrous lengths to pass a ‘healthcare’ bill that deliberately harms blue states; (2)

The Stockley verdict: How we “converse” about race in St. Louis

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Protests are roiling the streets of St. Louis. Again. A second act to the psychodrama that began to play out after Ferguson.

The story in a nutshell for those of you who have been asleep: After a car chase, a white cop named Jason Stockley, shot a black man he believed to have been involved in a drug transaction. This event took place in 2011. Evidence suggested the possibility that a member of our black underclass – individuals whose deaths rarely rate much attention – was shot in unprovoked, cold blood. Stockley was not held accountable until 2016 when he was finally charged with murder; he opted for a bench trial and was acquitted yesterday (9/15). While “all hell” did not break loose, protestors did make their response known with varying degrees of forcefulness during the rest of Friday – and will probably continue to stir of the pot of white St. Louis complacency in the weeks ahead.

Our elected officials have responded pretty well on the whole. Governor Eric Greitens, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill and Republican Senator Roy Blunt have all issued sympathetic statements (see here, here and here) that implicitly acknowledge that there is a reason for the distress so many are feeling after the verdict. They properly urge the protests, the legal legitimacy of which they do not dispute, to remain peaceful. Greitens stops there. Blunt and McCaskill, though, add a little fairy dust to the mix.

Blunt declares that ” if this verdict is met with violence and destruction, it will do nothing but reignite the fear and anger that law enforcement and community leaders have worked tirelessly to address since Ferguson.” McCaskill strikes the same chord, asserting that “The events in Ferguson shook our region to its core and forced us to face some tough realities. But since then, our law enforcement and the families and businesses they serve have begun talking and hearing each other. We can’t let today’s decision send us back to our respective corners.”

Both of these leaders express confidence that Ferguson represented a turning point, and that St. Louisians are in the process of addressing the endemic racism that seems to permeate so many aspects of the local culture. Protestors must be careful, they say in so many words, not to upset this kumbaya applecart.

So why, then, are hundreds of anguished folks parading in the St. Louis streets? Could it have something to do with the fact that they’ve been waiting to see just how much things have really changed and right now, given the same ol’, same ol’ that the Stockley verdict seems to represent, they’re not too impressed?

I’m not second-guessing the verdict. I understand the issue of “reasonable doubt.” Furthermore, I know that I only know what I read in the papers, hence my judgement is less trustworthy than that of the judge who has poured over all the evidence – even a judge who perhaps inadvertently seasoned his decision with a dollop of smug bias against those often unattractive folks who inhabit the underclass, declaring that questionable claims that the victim was armed are viable because, “an urban heroin dealer not in possession of a firearm would be an anomaly.”

But the verdict is still more than a little pungent. And I wonder if that stench doesn’t have lots to do with the fact that all that palaver our leaders think has taken place between law enforcement, business and local officials, all the people who they think matter, hasn’t had much to do with the facts on the ground for black folks in St. Louis.

Remember the Ferguson Commission Report? Remember all the recommendations? Can anyone tell me if two years later the region any closer to implementing even the 47 “signature priority” items? I sincerely don’t know.

An article published in the Huffington Post finds the much-vaunted changes in the corrupt municipal court system, a significant vector of local abuse that was singled out in the Report, to be “minor,” often little more than “whitewashing.” A local citizen is quoted as saying that people are “still wanting to see a conversation” – even though Senators McCaskill and Blunt assure us that that conversation has been ongoing.

The HuffPo article refers to the story of Fred Watson, a young man who was improperly arrested, lost his high paying job as a cybersecurity officer, and the middle class lifestyle he once had due to the expense of fighting the bogus claims leveled against him by Ferguson officialdom. Last week, five years after his arrest, two years after the Ferguson Report, and after a load of bad publicity for Ferguson, all charges against him were finally dropped. The implication is clear that this is still the way justice works for everyday black people in the St. Louis area – and few of them have the resources that Watson expended defending himself.

The evidence that the conversation that our Senators believe we are having is more one-sided than they think is everywhere in the St. Louis region. All one has to do is look around.

Ever since Ferguson and “black lives matter,” for example, numerous trees and postboxes up and down my street in a lily-white second ring suburb have been decorated with big blue bows and occasional signs letting us know that “blue lives matter” and “we support our police.” And off course “blue lives” do matter. But it’s still clear that my neighbors are intent on more than police boosterism; they are staking out their positions in a symbolic war, pointing out the opposition they believe exists between “blue lives” and “black lives.”

I never saw those ribbons until African-Americans had the temerity to proclaim that their black lives needed to be handled as carefully by those folks in blue as those of the white suburbanites now piously wrapping their trees and mailboxes in blue. What do you think it means about a place when the inhabitants are willing to tie a big blue bow around police brutality?

We all “support” our police – we just don’t believe that they have carte blanche when it comes to black people – pun intended. Many of us, including plenty of those folks out protesting I’m willing to bet, think that with the special authority that police enjoy comes the requirement that they be held accountable for its exercise. When that’s not the case, don’t you think maybe there might be some among us who are inspired to take to the streets?

With this in mind – along with the pronouncements of a President who urges police to “rough up” suspects, and a Justice Department that is withdrawing from Obama era efforts to reform police-community relationships – maybe it’s easier to understand why some folks think that the “conversation” won’t ever take place if they don’t become well and truly the loudest voice in the room – or in the streets.

Campaign Finance: no surprise

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The past few days at the Missouri Ethics Commission for the republican legislative campaign committees:

C091068 09/15/2017 HOUSE REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE, INC Charter Communications 12405 Powerscourt Drive St Louis MO 63131 9/13/2017 $16,000.00

[emphasis added]

And:

C071094 09/15/2017 MISSOURI SENATE CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE Anheuser Busch Companies One Busch Place St Louis MO 63118
9/13/2017 $15,000.00

C071094 09/15/2017 MISSOURI SENATE CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE Charter Communications 12405 Powerscourt Drive St Louis MO 63131 9/13/2017 $7,500.00

[emphasis added]

They’ll have all the money the need, and then some.

Previously:

Campaign Finance: feeding the machine (September 13, 2017)

Campaign Finance: feeding the machine

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Yesterday at the Missouri Ethics Commission for the House Republican Campaign Committee (HRCC):

C091068 09/12/2017 HOUSE REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE, INC Express Scripts 1 Express Way St Louis MO 63121 9/11/2017 $10,000.00

C091068 09/12/2017 HOUSE REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE, INC Blue Cross and Blue Shield Of Kansas City PAC For Missouri One Persing Square 2301 Main Street Kansas City MO 64108 9/12/2017 $10,000.00

C091068 09/12/2017 HOUSE REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE, INC Grow Missouri 308 E High Street Suite 301 Jefferson City MO 65101 9/12/2017 $5,500.00

Grow Missouri’s moving billboard [October 2014 file photo].

Ah, for the good old days, when proper PACs had the money to rent blimps.