Posts Tagged ‘Virginia’

Amazon’s Golden Fleecing of Taxpayers — Democrats in Worst Deal Since Iran Nuclear Deal

November 15, 2018

The rich company takes New York politicians for a subsidy ride.

The Wall Street Journal

We rarely agree with socialist Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but she’s right to call billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies for Amazon “extremely concerning.” These handouts to one of the richest companies in the history of the world, with an essentially zero cost of capital, is crony capitalism at its worst.

Amazon staged a year-long competition to find a second headquarters beyond its Seattle home, and politicians bid for it like millionaires at a Picasso auction. Except they were bidding with other people’s money. The two ostensible big winners, announced Tuesday, are Long Island City in the Queens borough of New York City, and Crystal City in Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

They stand to split about $5 billion in Amazon investment, with the promise of 25,000 new jobs each at an average salary of $150,000 a year. Amazon plans to occupy about four million square feet of office space in each location, with the potential to double that if necessary. The kicker is that Amazon has extracted state and local subsidies of more than $2 billion for the privilege.

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Arlington County officials agreed to a cash grant of $550 million for Amazon that could increase with the number of jobs, with another $23 million in infrastructure improvements. New York is even more generous, with starting subsidies of $1.525 billion. As Amazon put it on its website, this works out to $48,000 per job. Apparently bodega owners in Brooklyn are supposed to be happy about subsidizing a third of the salaries of hipster techies.

Amazon will also get a grant of $325 million from the Empire State Development program based on the square footage of buildings it occupies. New York City is kicking in its own subsidies, though its biggest concession was to waive local control over city land—a privilege other businesses don’t get.

The New York site may also benefit from hundreds of millions of dollars in federal subsidies through the “opportunity zone” provision in last year’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The decision hinges on whether the IRS designates the new compound as a separate entity rather than part of the company’s existing structure.

Congress created opportunity zones to reinvigorate neighborhoods that have a hard time attracting private investment. But the danger is that Uncle Sam might subsidize investments that would have been made anyway. Long Island City is a classic example as it’s already been undergoing an investment boom.

It’s hard to blame Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for accepting what politicians give him, though we wonder if he isn’t a tad embarrassed. The man who was able to buy the Washington Post for the equivalent of pocket money hasn’t made more political friends outside of New York and Virginia with this subsidy sweepstakes.

The worst actors here are the politicians who pose as job creators but are essentially job buyers. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo once famously said he’d change his name to Amazon Cuomo if the company located in New York, but he didn’t need to pay such a Queens ransom. Google and other companies have created thousands of jobs in New York without similar subsidies, and Amazon might well have done the same given the city’s intellectual capital.

Mr. Cuomo says the state will make money from Amazon despite the subsidies, but that depends on Amazon’s decisions and long-term success. The Governor also says he had to offer subsidies to compete against states that don’t have an income tax, though that admission underscores the state’s lack of tax competitiveness. Mr. Cuomo taxes New Yorkers at confiscatory levels, giving himself more money to spend. Then he turns around and takes credit for sparing powerful interests from those taxes.

In New York they call this a racket, and with good reason. One of Mr. Cuomo’s closest pals was convicted recently in the “Buffalo Billion” scandal as he and others sought to profit from the Governor’s subsidy scheme to invest $1 billion in the Buffalo area. Amazon’s case is aboveboard, but it still amounts to a company with a market capitalization of nearly $800 billon getting paid to create jobs it would have created somewhere anyway.

Appeared in the November 15, 2018, print edition.


The Amazon deal is no win for New Yorkers


New York’s Amazon Deal Is a Bad Bargain

November 15, 2018

New York will reimburse Amazon $48,000 for every job.

The city has what the company wants, talent. Why pay them $1.5 billion to come?

By The Editorial Board — The New York Times

Throughout its 14-month search for a second headquarters — which has concluded with the dual selection of Long Island City, Queens, and Arlington, Va. — Amazon talked of its need for things like transportation, housing and a business-friendly environment.

But did Amazon really select New York City for its transportation system? The subways are a shambles. The company couldn’t have chosen New York for its affordable housing because, as in Seattle, there isn’t any. As for outdoor recreation, our beaches and parks are jammed, our soccer fields overrun. There’s a lot more green space elsewhere. Cost of living? Hardly a selling point, unless you are seeking to increase your operating expenses. And no, Amazon didn’t choose New York because it has real bagels — although it couldn’t hurt.

Amazon wants to develop a four-million-square-foot campus by the East River because of the talent that resides in New York. Lots of it. According to the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, New York has more than 320,000 tech workers in the labor pool, the most in the nation. (Washington is second.) That talent commands high salaries, great benefits and won’t move to Pittsburgh or Austin or any other of the perfectly nice cities that tried to woo the online giant.

Which raises the question: If New York has what Amazon wants, why is it paying the company so much to make the move? Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who offered to replace his given name with the company’s to land the deal, are doing a victory dance.

“New York can proudly say that we have attracted one of the largest, most competitive economic development investments in U.S. history,” Amazon Cuomo said. They seem to have done so by overpaying.

Landlords and real estate developers can rejoice at the prospect of soaring property values and rents, and restaurateurs, craft brewers and kombucha makers will see new customers among the 25,000 jobholders with an average salary of $150,000 that Amazon promises to hire over 10 years.

But the plan calls for the state to dispense $1.525 billion to the company, including $1.2 billion from its Excelsior program, which will reimburse Amazon $48,000 for every job. Another state agency, Empire State Development, will offer $325 million to the Amazonians tied to real estate projects. As for the city, Amazon can apply for tax credits that could be worth north of $1 billion from programs known as ICAP and REAP that reward companies for job creation generally, and outside Manhattan specifically. (And the campus is in a federal redevelopment area that qualifies for corporate tax breaks, letting the company’s major stockholder, the world’s richest man, keep more of his wealth.)

Oh, and Amazon wants a helipad for its chief executive, Jeff Bezos. No problem.

Cities that lost out to New York offered far more in financial incentives. But the Commonwealth of Virginia is spending a piddling $22,000 per job in the initial phase of development in Arlington, and payments will max out at $750 million if Amazon creates 37,850 jobs. The state is also throwing in $295 million in transportation improvements, including a bridge to nearby Reagan National Airport so Mr. Bezos can remain close to his copter. That’s still less than half of what New Yorkers will be paying out.

The prospect of handing Long Island City over to a company recently valued at $1 trillion seems distorted to some Queens politicians. They sense gentrification by fiat — another neighborhood sacrificed to the tech elite.

Amazon will lease office space in the Citigroup building, the first commercial tower in Long Island City, seen here flanked by newer residential developments.CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times

Amazon will lease office space in the Citigroup building, the first commercial tower in Long Island City, seen here flanked by newer residential developments.CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times

“I welcome the jobs if it means Amazon investment in L.I.C. infrastructure, without us having to pay a ransom for them to be here,” said the neighborhood’s state senator, Michael Gianaris.

That is, rather than the state and the city paying off Amazon, Amazon should be required to invest in the subways, schools and affordable housing. It could also be required to include job guarantees for lower-income residents of Long Island City, not just flimsy promises of job training.

Nothing has been carved in stone yet. The agreement is a memorandum of understanding, not a binding contract. No final deal should be pushed through without public input or approval. The mayor and governor would benefit from soliciting ideas from New Yorkers themselves, both those who live in Long Island City, and the other taxpayers footing the bill for the generous subsidies about to be given to the company.

It’s distressing that a mayor and governor who can’t come together for the sake of the subways or public housing somehow managed to find common ground by doing an end run around the City Council and steamrollering the land-use process.

We won’t know for 10 years whether the promised 25,000 jobs will materialize. We do know that for decades states and cities have paid ransoms in the tens of billions of dollars to attract or “keep” jobs only to find themselves at the losing end of the proposition when companies moved on after the taxpayer freebies ended. During the Great Recession, it became commonplace for the auto industry to abandon one community after another despite lining its pockets with government money. Job promises were left in the dust of bankruptcy. Even in better times, economists have made a convincing case that these job development payout schemes aren’t worth it.

New York City has long played this incentives game to encourage companies to bring jobs here or expand. (The New York Times Company has been a beneficiary.) The mayor argues that the increase in net tax returns of $13.5 billion that Amazon will provide over 25 years is ample return on investment.

The Amazon deal is no win for New Yorkers

As Medicaid expansion kicks in, Virginia moves toward work requirements

November 1, 2018

Virginia officials are moving to limit eligibility for Medicaid via work requirements, even as the state is set Thursday to make more poor Virginians eligible to sign up for the government-funded health insurance program.

The state will file a waiver with the Trump administration by Friday that would require certain people in Medicaid to work or train for work as a condition of staying enrolled in the program, just after opening the program to low-income residents a day earlier without such conditions attached.

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Virginia’s Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed the Medicaid expansion into law after a five-year fight, begun under his predecessor, with the GOP-controlled legislature. Northam’s campaign had largely centered on the promise to expand Medicaid, and the agreement to add work requirements was a compromise to get enough Republicans on board in the state House to make it happen.

Under the planned work requirement, certain Medicaid enrollees would need to work, volunteer, or take classes, and log their hours with the state. People would also have to pay premiums of up to $10 a month, depending on their income. If they were to skip the requirement for three months in a row, they would be knocked out of Medicaid.

Republicans in the state Senate believe the requirement that has come together is a watered-down version of what was promised.

“We don’t consider it to be a work requirement,” said Jeff Ryer, press secretary for Virginia’s Senate GOP caucus. “It has got exemptions you can drive a truck through. … We refer to it as a ‘work suggestion.’”

Republicans in the Senate had been opposed to the Medicaid expansion, but it had some support in the House as long as the work rules were tied in. Parker Slaybaugh, a spokesman for House Speaker Kirk Cox, said he “supports a strong and robust work requirement as was one piece of the conservative reforms which were included in the plan as it passed the General Assembly.”

The work requirement contains exemptions for people with disabilities, caregivers, pregnant women, and people who are medically frail, including people who have an addiction, people with HIV/AIDS, and the homeless.

Similar requirements have been approved in Arkansas, Indiana, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin, and the Trump administration is considering at least seven other state waivers.

But Virginia also adds “hardship exemptions,” such as being hospitalized, the birth or death of a family member, severe weather, or a divorce.

“It is certainly not a shock to us that the administration is not coming up with robust work requirement,” Ryer said of the governor’s office.

The Virginia governor’s office did not immediately respond to a query, but in an interview with the Washington Examiner in February, Northam said that he would prefer a “ carrot approach rather than a stick approach” for the work requirements.

“We want to make sure we help people get back into the workforce but not penalize them,” he said.

Critics have said the work requirements would get in the way of people accessing health insurance coverage, but proponents have said it could be a useful tool that will help people move out of poverty.

It’s not clear whether the Virginia waiver will be able to move forward. Arkansas is being sued for its waiver, which resulted in more than 8,462 people being booted from Medicaid, and the waiver approved in Kentucky was put on hold after a legal challenge.

In addition, the waiver in Virginia may take as long as two years to be approved, meaning that until that time, beginning on Thursday anyone who makes less than $16,745 a year will be permitted to enroll in Medicaid, regardless of work or disability status. About 400,000 Virginians are expected to enroll, many of whom were previously uninsured. The coverage will start Jan. 1, 2019.

Obamacare was originally written to have all states expand Medicaid to low-income people, but a Supreme Court decision made the provision optional.

Outside of the expansion, Medicaid covers pregnant women, people with disabilities, people in nursing homes, and children, a group that members of the Trump administration and conservatives say should remain the focus of the program.

As a result, states are in different places when it comes to Medicaid. Most have expanded, while others haven’t or are considering it. Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah voters will consider expansion through a ballot measure weighed by voters Nov. 6. Other states have not expanded.

The work requirements are one way that state lawmakers are seeking to target Medicaid funds and to reduce spending. The federal government picks up most of the share of expansion, but in 2019 states will pay for 7 percent of it. By 2020, they will spend 10 percent of the expansion.

Virginia is funding its share of expansion through a hospital tax, which is expected to bring in $306 million in revenues.

But Christina Nuckols, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services, said that the state considers Medicaid expansion to be a net savings, of about $355 million from 2019 to 2020, because the state was paying hospitals to care for people who were uninsured, many of whom will now be covered by Medicaid.

Until officials have an answer on the work requirement, Virginians will be able to enroll in the program without being employed and mostly without paying premiums.

To get the word out, state officials are spending $750,000 on TV, radio, and social media, and will spend $250,000 on brochures, flyers, and other paper services, Nuckols said. Officials also are considering posting billboards or ads at gas stations in rural areas and reaching out to parents with children on Medicaid as well as people receiving food assistance.

About 120,000 people may be eligible to move out of the Obamacare exchange market, called, and onto Medicaid, according to a webinar the state held Wednesday. Advocacy groups including the Virginia Healthcare Foundation and the Virginia Poverty Law Center are helping people enroll.

“We are working to ensure that all who are eligible are getting that information and have the opportunity to apply,” Nuckols said.

Fairfax, Virginia: Jewish Community Center vandalized with 19 swastikas

October 7, 2018

Senator Tim Kaine says incident is part of ‘insidious rise in hateful actions and anti-Semitism’ as community center targeted for second time in just over a year


Swastikas found spray-painted on the JCC in Fairfax Virginia on October 6, 2018. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Swastikas found spray-painted on the JCC in Fairfax Virginia on October 6, 2018. (Screen capture/Twitter)

Virginia police opened an investigation on Saturday into an apparent hate crime at a Jewish Community Center in Fairfax where 19 swastikas were found spray-painted onto the building’s outer walls.

Local authorities released photos from security camera footage, which showed a suspect arriving at the scene and defacing the JCC at around 4:30 a.m. early Saturday morning.

Building staff noticed the vandalism when they arrived to open the building at 7:00 a.m., the JCC’s Executive Director David Yaffe told local media.

“As many of us recognize, these acts do not represent the community around the J or the community in Northern Virginia,” JCC leadership said in a statement.

Kevin Baron


BREAKING: Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia — my JCC where my kids went to preschool — spray painted with 19 swastikas overnight. Police say incident captured on security cameras but culprits still unknown. I’m sickened.

“The J as a whole, and particularly through the focused efforts of our Committee for a Just and Caring Community, will continue to participate as a positive force in both the Jewish and wider communities.”

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine referred to the incident as part of a broader “insidious rise in hateful actions and anti-Semitism.”

“We must meet it with fierce condemnation and an over-abundance of love and unity. We cannot allow hate to fester,” he tweeted.

Tim Kaine


This is the Fairfax Jewish Community Center this morning.

An insidious rise in hateful actions and anti-Semitism is happening in Virginia and across the country. We must meet it with fierce condemnation and an over-abundance of love and unity. We cannot allow hate to fester.

The same Fairfax JCC was targeted with anti-Semitic graffiti in April 2017.

“Hitler was right” swastikas and the SS symbol were found spray-painted on the exterior of the JCC building. In addition, “Defend America; No Muslims,” was spray-painted on the door of a nearby church. “Jesus knows no traitors” was written over the church’s Holy Week schedule, and a sign that read “Say NO to anti-Muslim bigotry” was crossed out.

Twenty-year old Dylan Mahone was subsequently arrested for the incident and charged with four counts of felony destruction of property, one count of placing a swastika on religious property with intent to intimidate, two counts of wearing a mask in public to conceal one’s identity, and one count of posting hateful posters on the college’s campus.


Eric Holder, Barack Obama Lead Activities of Progressive Left Faction of the Democratic Party

June 19, 2018

Former President Barack Obama and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder have planned — and are leading — a massive counter-offensive to give the progressive left faction of the Democratic Party control of key state legislative bodies and state supreme courts in time for congressional redistricting after the 2020 census.

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By Bill McCollum | Chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee and former Florida congressman

If they are successful, Democrats could well control the U.S. House of Representatives for the decade of the 20s and have in place a progressive left farm team from which to draw leftist national leaders for many years beyond.

Presently, Republicans control 67 of our nation’s 99 state legislative bodies. This is near an all-time high for Republicans who have been steadily gaining majorities in every election cycle since 2010. It is the result of smart candidate recruitment, messaging better ideas for education and growing jobs and businesses, strong state leadership and a national plan and organization led by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC).

But this could change quickly.

In recent election cycles, Republicans, Democrats and their allies have been spending roughly at parity on state legislative and judicial races across the country. The Obama-Holder led effort is on pace to exponentially outraise and outspend Republicans this November and again in 2020. Holder’s National Democratic Redistricting Committee alone already has raised its goal from $30 million to $40 million in new funds this cycle. Their targets are legislative and judicial races in about a dozen key battleground states including Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Nevada, North Carolina and Florida. Among the groups spawned to help this scheme, Forward Majority announced it would spend $100 million to spend on targeted legislative races in the same key states in the 2018 and 2020 election cycles. The Center for Popular Democracy Action announced it will raise and spend an additional $80 million mobilizing progressives and will target six state legislatures. Additional funding will continue to come from unions, trial lawyers, Planned Parenthood, George Soros, Tom Steyer and others.

At the same time those supporting the Obama-Holder led counter-offensive are working to suppress political donations by corporations and their executives to Republican causes and candidates. The Soros funded Center for Political Accountability’s Hicklin Index is used by progressive left activists to paralyze and silence pro-business interests. The group works closely with the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending (CAPS) which aims “to direct corporate America to change its ways,” promising to “inflict economic damage on offending companies.” CAPS partners with activists and unions to submit proxy resolutions at shareholder meetings, not in hopes of passing a resolution, but rather getting the attention of the C-Suite and silencing a company’s efforts in public discourse and political participation. The fear alone of becoming a CAPS target is reducing contributions to pro-business political organizations and boosting corporate giving to Democratic and “Social Justice” causes working against free enterprise and even the existence of shareholder owned corporations.

Last week Publix, Florida’s leading grocer, suspended making political contributions in the face of store “die-ins” organized by anti-gun activists to protest Publix’s support of a Republican candidate for Governor because of his views in the gun debate. The success of such intimidation will encourage more of the same not just concerning guns, but on any controversial topic arising in campaigns. The issue is corporate free speech. The organizers of the Obama-Holder led counter-offensive know that the more companies and their executives decide to quit making political contributions for fear of possible customer or shareholder disapproval, the less money will be available to Republicans to counter their massive spending plans.

If the Obama-Holder effort is successful in rolling back Republican legislative majorities, there is more to be lost than control of redistricting. States with GOP governors and legislative majorities have demonstrated how to grow jobs, spur innovation and provide children with a better education by reducing taxes and regulatory burdens, enacting litigation reform and right to work laws, restoring solvency to government pension plans, and putting in place school choice, charter schools and school accountability standards. Contrast Republican led states with New York, Connecticut, California and Illinois where progressive left Democrats have driven up taxes, appeased unions and trial lawyers, thrown money at bad schools and lost jobs as businesses relocate elsewhere. Never have the differences between the two parties been greater or easier to see than in the states. The choice is between states governed by those focused on opportunity, economic growth and choice and those using a socialist lens to redistribute wealth and beholden to government unions and trial lawyers.

In the category of “you can’t make this stuff up,” recently four Pennsylvania state House candidates backed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) won Democratic primaries. As reported by the HuffPost, Arielle Cohen, co-chair of Pittsburg DSA stated, “We won on popular demands that were deemed impossible. We won on health care for all; we won on free education.” And she added, “We’re turning the state the right shade of red tonight.”

The Obama-Holder progressive left counter-offensive is real. Unless Republican and business leaders wake up and take action to confront it with a plan, leadership and adequate resources it could succeed and end the America of individual liberty and free enterprise upon which this nation was founded.

Bill McCollum, is the chairman of the Republican State Leadership Committee and former Florida congressman and attorney general.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

Trump tested his power in last night’s primaries — and won

June 13, 2018


Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republicans saw a trend continue in South Carolina, where an incumbent who opposed President Trump lost his primary just one week after an incumbent congresswoman in Alabama, who was critical of the president, was forced into a runoff.

Why this matters: The president is becoming a one-man litmus test for Republicans all over the country, proving the GOP has little room for an agenda or ideas that don’t align with his.

Be smart: This isn’t all that surprising. President Trump has an 87% approval rating with Republicans (the second highest since George W. Bush after 9/11). We’ve seen Republicans across the country shift their loyalty to him and away from the party itself.

South Carolina

The Trump factor: The Republican incumbent in South Carolina’s 1st district, Mark Sanford, has criticized President Trump for his tariffs, his behavior, and he’s called on him to release his tax returns. His lack of loyalty to the president ended his congressional career.

  • The president tweeted his support for Sanford’s challenger Katie Arrington just hours before the polls closed. Sanford lost his primary for re-election just one week after Martha Roby — a Republican representative in Alabama — was forced into a runoff after she was tagged as disloyal to Trump. (Roby criticized him after the “Access Hollywood” tape was released during the 2016 election.)

Governor’s race: Henry McMaster, a Republican candidate running for governor, was the first statewide elected official to endorse Trump in 2016, which went a long way: President Trump weighed in twice for him on Twitter.

  • He didn’t make the 50% threshold, so he’s heading to a runoff on June 26, but expect the president to renew his support then.


Democrats look poised to keep their blue wave washing over Virginia after last night’s primaries. Strong Democratic women candidates were nominated in the state’s four most vulnerable GOP-held districts (2nd, 6th, 7th and 10th) and a controversial conservative candidate was nominated for U.S. Senate.

  • Why it matters: Women have been outperforming in Democratic primaries across the country, and they dominated in last year’s elections, with women winning 11 of the 15 state legislature seats Democrats flipped. Overall, Democrats swept Virginia in the 2017 elections for governor and state legislature.
  • GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock will face Jennifer Wexton in Virginia’s 10th district. The real warning sign here is that Comstock, a two-term incumbent, couldn’t prevent her random Republican challenger from getting nearly 40% of the vote.

Virginia’s GOP Senate primary is already giving Republicans a headache. Controversial candidate Corey Stewart won; he’ll face Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine in November.

  • Just look at what Republicans are saying. The state’s former Republican lieutenant governor said he was “extremely disappointed” in Stewart’s victory. “Every time I think things can’t get worse they do, and there is no end in sight,” he tweeted.
  • “Stewart will bring down the entire ticket,” a national Democratic source told Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Patrick Wilson.
  • The Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman predicts Stewart’s victory will weaken Republicans’ chances in four House races across the state.

The bottom line: The two most powerful forces in this year’s midterm elections so far are women and President Trump.

There will be no Trump collapse

June 6, 2018

I’ve tried everything to avoid thinking about the next election — family travel, yard work, crossword puzzles. But now it’s only five months away, barely longer than the gestation period of a North American beaver, or the Stanley Cup playoffs. November can’t be avoided any longer.

In this climate of political frenzy, anyone who tries to predict the outcome must be either deluded or clairvoyant. Yet we’re close enough, perhaps, to see some key features of the battlefield. For instance:

There will be no Trump collapse.

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From the moment late in 2016 when Hillary Clinton’s formless, themeless, listless campaign handed the White House to Donald Trump (assisted by Comrade Putin), Democrats have been counting on the reckless, heedless, careless novice to return the favor. Rather than melt down, though, President Trump is gaining strength.

After a rocky start, the president has cut himself loose from the highly unpopular Congress to create a clear account of his unusual reign, which he repeats with unflagging discipline. He’s a rulebreaker who gets results, and the enemies of change are conspiring to stop him. This is a polarizing message, indeed. But Trump appears to understand that popularity and unpopularity aren’t necessarily opposites. They can be partners: Emotion runs both ways.

By David Von Drehle
The Washinton Post

Since Trump found his footing and lasered in on this message, his political fortunes have brightened considerably. Last December, the RealClearPolitics rolling average of presidential approval polls showed him underwater by a dangerous 21 percentage points. Nearly 60 percent of Americans disapproved of the president’s performance, while his approval rating sagged into the 30s.

But look what’s happened since. Despite a stalled stock market, and with the Republican agenda dead in the water, Trump’s numbers have popped to the surface. His approval rating has risen from a dismal 37 percent to 44 percent — not bad in this sour age. (At the same point in his presidency, Barack Obama had fallen to 46 percent approval on his way down to 44.)

Meanwhile, the gap between Trump’s approval and disapproval numbers has narrowed significantly, from 21 points to eight. Admittedly, that’s a pretty solid eight-point deficit; the intensity of opposition to Trump is unusually high. But his command of the GOP going into the midterm is complete. According to Gallup polling, Trump enjoys greater Republican loyalty than any president of the post-World War II era other than George W. Bush after 9/11.

Democrats have a mammoth task on their hands.

Trump’s utter domination of the political debate — he programs the news with his Twittering thumbs — has made it easy to forget the rest of the story. From state legislatures to governor’s mansions, from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other, Democrats enter this election from the bottom of a deep, deep hole.

And their Plan A for escaping the hole, a big Blue Wave that will lift Democrats from coast to coast, may already have crested far out at sea. Looking again at the polling averages on RealClearPolitics, we see that Democrats enjoyed a sturdy 13-point advantage over Republicans in December among voters asked which party they favored to run Congress. That edge has ebbed to a mere 3.2 points.

On the other hand, Democrats have been overperforming.

From Virginia to Arizona to Alabama, Democratic voters in the Trump era have turned out in droves for off-year and special elections. Districts that Trump won by double-digits in 2016 have been turned into nail-biters thanks to his intensely energized opposition. And there is no shortage of enthusiastic Democratic flag-bearers: Their primaries are so stocked with fresh-faced newcomers that they might as well be auditions for “The Voice.”

What Democrats don’t have, not yet anyway (and time is running out), is a message. The deep philosophical rifts that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) exploited in his surprisingly strong challenge to Clinton’s coronation two years ago have not healed. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) grip on the reins of the House Democrats is tight but lifeless.

What looked like a winning message last winter — “not Trump” — appears less potent today. The president has set the bar for himself so low that if November comes and he hasn’t been frog-marched from the Oval Office in handcuffs, and hasn’t rendered the Earth a glowing nuclear ember, a sizable number of Americans will judge him a success.


It’s the economy, stupid.

Politics, like comedy, is all about timing, and Trump’s has been exquisite. Years of unprecedented pump-priming by the Federal Reserve have finally produced optimism about a (relative) gusher of economic growth, especially with unemployment rates falling and consumer confidence up. Congressional Republicans have further juiced things with a huge tax cut and massive deficit spending.

Dark clouds appear on the horizon. Rising oil prices. A looming trade war. And always, the wild card named Robert S. Mueller III.

But for now, the president’s political forecast is partly sunny.

US Navy re-establishes Second Fleet amid Russia tensions

May 5, 2018

Amid heightened tensions with Russia, the US Navy announced Friday the re-establishment of the US Second Fleet which will be responsible for Naval forces along the East Coast and in the northern Atlantic Ocean.

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Russian spy ship in Cuba — AP photo

The areas are seen as critical to counter the rising threat of Russia and the new US defense strategy that focuses more on great power rivalry, according to multiple US defense officials.
“Our National Defense Strategy makes clear that we’re back in an era of great power competition as the security environment continues to grow more challenging and complex,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said at a change-of-command ceremony Friday in Norfolk, Virginia.
“That’s why today, we’re standing up Second Fleet to address these changes, particularly in the north Atlantic,” he added.
The Defense Department also announced that the US has offered to host and lead NATO’s newly proposed Joint Force Command for the Atlantic at Norfolk, Virginia.
“NATO is refocusing on the Atlantic in recognition of the great power competition prompted by a resurgent Russia,” Pentagon spokesman Johnny Michael told CNN.
The Trump administration’s new national defense strategy prioritized countering Russia and China and a US Navy official told CNN that, “the return to great power competition demands that we focus on the Atlantic.”
Re-establishing the second fleet “ensures dedicated reinforcement of the region and demonstrates a capable and credible deterrence effect” against adversaries, the official said.
US officials have expressed concerns about Russia’s increasing naval capability, particularly with regard to its submarine fleet, as well as the Russian’s navy increased presence in the Atlantic.
“They have launched a new submarine that I can safely say is closing the gap on some of our technologies,” Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer told Congress last month. “But, we are hard at work, also, to make sure that gap does not close and that the rate of the gap does not increase.”
NATO and US officials have said that Russian submarine activity is at its highest levels since the Cold War. Officials are concerned that Russian submarines could pose a threat to US attempts to reinforce Europe by sea should a conflict take place between NATO and Russia.
Russia has also recently sent a spy ship up the east coast of the US and Russian Vladimir President Vladimir Putin has announced that Russia is seeking to develop an underwater nuclear armed drone..
A US Navy official told CNN that the fleet will eventually involve 250 personnel and be led by a three-star admiral.
Read the rest — Includes video:
See also: Reuters

Trump turns again on immigration, offers a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million “Dreamers” — Critics holler “No to Amnesty!”

January 26, 2018

U.S. Jobless Claims Plunge to Lowest Weekly Tally Since 1973

January 18, 2018


By Katia Dmitrieva

 Updated on 

U.S. filings for unemployment benefits plummeted to the lowest level in almost 45 years in a sign the job market will tighten further in 2018, Labor Department figures showed Thursday.


  • Jobless claims decreased by 41k to 220k (est. 249k); lowest level since Feb. 1973, biggest drop since April 2009
  • Continuing claims rose by 76k to 1.952m in week ended Jan. 6 (data reported with one-week lag)
  • Four-week average of initial claims, a less-volatile measure than the weekly figure, fell to 244,500 from the prior week’s 250,750

Key Takeaways

The drop in claims shows that companies are increasingly holding on to their employees amid a shortage of skilled labor. Businesses are struggling to find workers to fill positions, particularly in manufacturing and construction, as cited in some anecdotes for the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book released Wednesday.

The figures suggest the unemployment rate of 4.1 percent, already the lowest since 2000, could be poised to decline further. The latest week for claims includes the 12th of the month, which is the reference period for the Labor Department’s monthly employment surveys.

Caveats for the latest numbers include the fact that the week was sandwiched between two periods containing holidays, when data tend to be more volatile. In addition, more states than usual had estimated figures.

Other Details

  • Prior week’s reading was unrevised at 261,000
  • Unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits rose to 1.4 percent from 1.3 percent in previous week
  • Claims were estimated for Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Puerto Rico, Virginia, Wyoming
  • New York’s unadjusted claims fell by 26,190 to 23,171; California’s estimated, unadjusted claims rose by 11,994 to 59,284

— With assistance by Chris Middleton, and Vince Golle