Taxing the wealthy is popular. Democrats have figured that out

Donald Trump pledged to raise taxes on the rich during his 2016 campaign; then he turned around after winning and signed a $1.5 trillion tax cut into law that mostly benefitted the nation’s wealthiest. That GOP tax law remains deeply unpopular to this day, with just 30 percent of Americans supporting it, while 48 percent oppose it, according to a Civiqs survey released this week.

What is popular is the concept of raising taxes on America’s wealthiest individuals. A recent Politico survey found that 76 percent of voters think the rich should pay more. In addition, a New York Times poll showed 62 percent support for the idea that “the government pursue policies to reduce the wealth gap.” As Democratic hopefuls begin to view taxing the rich as both good policy and good politics, they are increasingly seizing on the issue.

“This is about politicians catching up to where Americans have been,” Leslie McCall, a political scientist at the CUNY Graduate Center, told the Times.

For Democrats, the issue also has the benefit of being viewed through a moral lens by their base. “They’re not paying their fair share,” Democratic voter Fred Wood, a retired teacher from Pennsylvania, told the Times. “It’s just not right when folks cannot afford health care.”

But support for plans to increase taxes on the rich does vary according to the details. A proposal from 2020 candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren for a 2 percent tax on wealth over $50 million draws 61 percent support overall, according to the Times poll. Even 51 percent of Republicans favored that plan, as did 57 percent of independents and 75 percent of Democrats.

The more straightforward plan from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of raising the marginal tax rate on people making more than $10 million to 70 percent still garnered majority support, 51 percent, but wasn’t quite as popular as Warren’s “wealth tax,” the details of which are still murky at this point. Democratic voters still like the AOC plan just as much at 75 percent, but a bare majority of independents support it, while just 31 percent of Republicans do. 

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Supreme Court issues unanimous ruling prohibiting excessive fines by state, local governments

In her second day back at the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg authored and announced a unanimous ruling Wednesday limiting civil asset forfeiture by prohibiting state and local governments from using excessive fines to raise revenues. NPR writes:

The court’s opinion came in the case of Tyson Timbs, whose $42,000 Land Rover was seized by the state of Indiana after he was arrested for selling a small amount of heroin to undercover cops for $400.

A lower court in Indiana initially ruled against the state, determining that the fine far outweighed the crime, especially after Timbs paid other fines and underwent a year of house detention. That decision was overturned by the state’s high court, which asserted the Constitution’s prohibition of excessive fines didn’t apply to the states. The Supreme Court ultimately disagreed, with Ginsburg writing that seizing the Land Rover was “grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Timbs’s offense.” Ginsburg called the ban on excessive fines a “constant shield” against fines being misused to punish enemies or improperly raise revenues. 

Ginsburg’s authoritative return to the court came after she underwent lung cancer surgery late last year. 

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Case of Mississippi prosecutor who routinely kicked black people off juries heads to Supreme Court

Mississippi state prosecutor Doug Evans worked for more than thirteen years to send Curtis Flowers to jail. After the 1996 murders of four people in Winona, Mississippi, Flowers was tried by Evans a whopping six times until Evans finally got a conviction that stuck in 2010. Flowers, a black man, was an employee at the furniture store where the murders took place. He had no criminal record, and there was no physical evidence tying him to the crime. No witnesses placed him at the scene. So it’s a wonder where Evans’ evidence came from. One thing that is known, however, is that as part of his trial strategy, Evans made sure that black prospective jurors were excluded as much as possible. And now the Supreme Court will consider whether or not Evans’ use of several peremptory challenges to exclude the potential jurors represents a violation of the Constitution.

As Adam Liptak writes in the New York Times, peremptory challenges do not require a reason. They are discretionary and aren’t to be second-guessed. However, Batson v. Kentucky, a case decided by the Supreme Court in 1986, ruled that racial discrimination during jury selection is an exception to this. Lawyers who are accused of it must provide an explanation for their peremptory challenges that is nondiscriminatory. 

Upon first glance, it seems that Evans will face an uphill battle in proving that he was not actively and intentionally excluding blacks from the potential juror pool. In the first two trials against Flowers, he struck all ten potential black jurors (there were five for each trial). The first trial resulted in a white jury that produced a conviction and death sentence for Flowers. But the state’s Supreme Court overturned that conviction on the grounds of “numerous instances of prosecutorial misconduct” that were apparently unrelated to jury selection.

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Reports that the ‘Russia investigation is over’ could mean anything … almost literally anything

Though it was easy to dismiss rumors earlier this week that Robert Mueller was about turn over a report to new Attorney General William Barr, those rumors just keep coming. And they’re looking increasingly un-rumor-like. CNN is now reporting that Barr is preparing to speak to Congress as early as Feb. 25, at which time he will announce an end to the Russia investigation.

On the one hand, this seems impossible. Not only does the special counsel’s office have half a hundred threads still unresolved, but the office is actually before the Supreme Court right now to force testimony by that mystery foreign company. Michael Flynn has not been sentenced. Roger Stone’s case is barely underway. Nothing has come of the information on the Moscow Project, no indictments have resulted from the sweetheart deal given Flynn … this simply can’t be the end. An announcement that the Russia investigation “is over” clearly makes no sense. Because it’s not over. So what could this possibly mean?

The Intermedio: Barr reports that Mueller has issued an interim report? 

A number of rumors have suggested that the special counsel’s office was going to produce an “interim report,” perhaps one dealing with just the collusion aspect. But there are several problems with that idea. First, neither special counsels or special investigators have produced such reports in the past. Yes, they’ve turned over reports to the Justice Department and then spent literally years nailing down all the details and turning off the lights, but they’ve never turned in a report, then gone on to do something else significant. Based on past experience, if it’s over, it’s over. And Mueller has demonstrated a strong dedication to following department rules and guidelines.

The Semisonic*: The investigation ends because Barr shuts it down?

That this action is happening one week after William Barr settled in at the DOJ cannot be coincidence. One possibility is that, while Matthew Whitaker wrote public articles on how to shut down the Mueller investigation, it took someone with the gravitas of Barr to pull the switch. It could be over … because Barr says it’s over.

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‘Morally bankrupt system’: House Democrats tour Florida prison camp for migrant children

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A group of House Democrats who visited an unlicensed prison camp for migrant children in Homestead, Florida, described meeting kids who have been jailed there for as long as nine months. “I did not see criminals, I did not see gang members,” said Florida Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who led the delegation with Congressional Hispanic Caucus chair Joaquin Castro of Texas. She was overwhelmed. “I saw kids who have hope … that this country will welcome them.”

Nearly 1,600 children are currently jailed at the privately run facility, which advocates say is operating without a license because it’s supposedly a “temporary” facility. The former prison camp for kids in Tornillo, Texas, opened last June and was supposed to last just one month. Its operations stretched out for months until this year, and it shut down mired in allegations that administration officials lied to Congress about background checks for prison camp employees.

Officials have now tried to paint an orderly picture at Comprehensive Health Services-operated Homestead, saying kids have talent shows and movie nights during the weekends. But other advocates who have visited described meeting children who burst into tears describing how they’re not allowed to hug one another. A prison camp for kids is still a prison camp for kids. “As a mother it was very difficult to watch,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “It has a prison-like feel.”

While officials say that all the children at Homestead are unaccompanied minors, or kids who came to the U.S. alone, some actually came with a relative and were then torn from them. “If they came with an uncle, an aunt, an older brother or sister, they’re not considered separated,” said Rep. Sylvia Garcia of Texas. “We spoke with a number of kids and they all said they said they came with someone. But they were separated, so it’s still happening.” Family separation remains a crisis.

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Paul Ryan’s treachery—abetting sabotage of the investigation into Trump as a potential Russian asset

In May of 2017, an obscure transcript surfaced quoting a rather revelatory conversation that took place between several GOP lawmakers in June 2016. Then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told then-Speaker Paul Ryan and others, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” referring to California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and the soon-to-be Republican nominee for president. As the others laughed, Ryan shut down the conversation quickly, saying, “No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

That summer 2016 chat came on the heels of news reports that Russian government hackers had penetrated the DNC. But the Washington Post’s initial report of the interaction came nearly a year later, the same month that former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe now says top congressional leaders were briefed about the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Trump.  

When Today’s Savannah Guthrie asked McCabe Tuesday if any of those leaders took issue with the FBI trying to determine whether Trump was a Russian agent, McCabe bluntly responded, “No one objected, not on legal grounds, not on constitutional grounds, and not based on the facts.”

That means Speaker Ryan, along with his Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the two GOP Intelligence Committee chairs, Rep. Devin Nunes of California and Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, knew the FBI not only suspected Trump of being a Russian agent, but also had enough actionable intelligence to open an investigation into the matter. 

In the meantime, Ryan’s office was fielding questions from reporters about what exactly he had meant a year earlier when he instructed his top lieutenants to keep it in the family, saying, “NO LEAKS” (as it reads in the transcript). In a statement, Ryan spokesperson Brendan Buck tried to pass off the exchange as a joke. “This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor,” he said. “What’s more, the speaker and leadership team have repeatedly spoken out against Russia’s interference in our election, and the House continues to investigate that activity.”

Ryan, however, would go on to support chairman Nunes along with Trump’s entire House hatchet team—Reps. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and others—in every harebrained scheme they concocted to dismantle that critical FBI probe. Whenever Nunes found a new reason to obtain classified documents related to the probe, Ryan was there for him. 

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CNN needs to cut ties with its newly hired GOP operative—and now

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Every news organization makes mistakes. Journalism is an imperfect craft and is sometimes practiced at a breakneck pace. The question is: What do news outlets do when confronted with overwhelming evidence that they messed up? That’s the challenge CNN now faces in the wake of its extraordinary and inexplicable decision to hire a career GOP operative with absolutely no journalism experience as its new political director.

Owning up to mistakes is even tougher when management makes them, and these are mistakes that clearly played out over a weeks-long hiring process. News organizations don’t hire highly paid political directors on a whim. The current controversy was sparked when Sarah Isgur was tapped by CNN to help oversee the network’s unfolding campaign coverage. A hardcore partisan, Isgur has spent her career flacking for Republicans such as Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney, and Carly Fiorina. Until last year, Isgur worked as a spokesperson for then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice.

If CNN wants to hire conservatives like Isgur to go on camera and regurgitate Trump White House talking points, that’s the network’s prerogative. But to hire someone with Isgur’s journalism-free resume to work behind the scenes and oversee campaign coverage is utterly baffling.

“Her Twitter includes fact-free invectives against liberals and repeatedly rails against the ‘abortion industry,’” the Daily Beast noted.

To maintain its reputation as an independent source of political news, CNN needs to cut ties with Isgur and admit that her hiring was a mistake. Otherwise, it’s going to be difficult for Democrats to trust CNN this campaign season. And here’s a suddenly relevant question: Should the Democratic National Committee rethink the idea of CNN hosting upcoming debates for Democratic candidates?

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Robert Mueller may issue something very soon, but it won’t be a ‘final report’

That idea that “Robert Mueller is going to file a report any day now” has been a news staple since shortly after Mueller was appointed special counsel in 2017. Compared to other special counsel investigations, the look into Donald Trump’s “foreign relations” has still been relatively brief, but pundits have been appearing in the press and media on a regular basis to predict Mueller wrapping things up with such regularity, and similarity, that it wouldn’t take a super artificial intelligence fake news machine to crank out the weekly allotment of Real Soon Now stories.

The truth is that Mueller hasn’t provided, doesn’t provide, and isn’t about to provide the media with guidelines as to when he’s going to hand off that “final report” on what he learned, why some got indicted, why others skated clear, and why still others (or an other) earned an “unindicted co-conspirator” label. In fact, the date on which that report gets handed over to new Attorney General William Barr is still likely to be some time away. As in months away. Because there are a lot of things still to be cleared up. Mostly collusion, collusion, and collusion.

The raid on Roger Stone’s home and offices was conducted not as a simple arrest, but as a clear exercise in gathering evidence. Pair that with the news that Stone was indicted at least in part because his lies were revealed in data found in Russian sources, and it seems like there’s still a good deal of work to be done in cleaning up everything around the actions of Stone and his associates, most of which seem to have been in dissemination of stolen information.
There have been no indictments, outside of Russia, on issues directly related to assisting Russia’s social media effort. That includes no one from the Trump campaign or Cambridge Analytica, and not Republican strategist Aaron Nevins, who worked directly with the Russians to identify and distribute the most valuable of their stolen information. And that includes no charges directly aimed at Paul Manafort ferrying Trump polling data to a Russian agent. 
There are still no charges resulting from the actions on which Michael Flynn cooperated with the FBI: the Trump campaign’s outreach to Russia, including discussions of both relaxing sanctions and finding a favorable outcome in Ukraine. Those two topics appeared again and again in conversations from Trump Tower to the Seychelles, and no one has yet received a single slap on the wrist for this “quid” partner to the Russian hacking and Moscow Project “pro quo.”

There are still no indictments related to the work Cambridge Analytica did in providing Russia with the benefits of its analysis engine. Still no one but Marina Butina charged in relation to the Russia-NRA pipeline and the mystery $30 million that was shelled out for the election. The list of people who could still be facing indictment—including Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Jefferson Sessions, Erik Prince, Aaron Nevins, Brad Parscale, Alexander Nix, Felix Sater, and, Justice Department rules or not, Donald Trump—is longer than the list of those outside of Russia who have been charged so far. And even inside Russia, Mueller may not be done.

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Asylum-seeker says officer taunted parents with ‘It’s Mother’s Day’ before taking their children

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“G.A.” should have spent his seventh birthday surrounded by his excited friends, but instead he spent it in U.S. custody, a young victim of the Trump administration’s barbaric “zero tolerance” policy. His mom Victoria was in a separate facility thousands of miles away. “She spent the day crying and thinking that her little boy was somewhere turning seven, all by himself,” a court filing states. They would not be reunited for another two and a half months. The asylum-seeker is now one of the families seeking millions in damages.

Victoria recounts a traumatic journey from the moment she and her son were detained at the southern border in California last May, saying that border officers would only allow her and other detained mothers to see their children at night. Then one day an officer took them away completely. “Don’t cry today, today is a happy day,” he taunted. “It’s Mother’s Day.” Victoria witnessed one mom having her child physically ripped from her arms. Then G.A. was taken “without any words of comfort and without the slightest show of compassion.”

Victoria would then spend weeks without any information about G.A., until she was allowed to talk to him on the phone in late June. The moment he heard her voice, the filing states, he began to cry. “The social worker said that G.A. was not eating and would not get out of bed. He spent all his time crying.” A second call a week later went no better. They would not be reunited for another month, in Texas. They were eventually released after Victoria passed her initial asylum interview, but not before spending months more in a family jail.

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Bernie Sanders rides announcement and online surge to Daily Kos Straw Poll victory

Results time!

2/18
2/5
1/22
1/8

Bernie Sanders

KAMALA HARRIS

ELIZABETH WARREN

JOE BIDEN

Amy Klobuchar

BETO O’ROURKE

SHERROD BROWN

Cory Booker

Jay Inslee

UNSURE

OTHER

(SAMPLE SIZE)

44 13 12 11
15 27% 27 14
10 17 18 22
8 11 13 14
6 6
4 5 8 15
3 7 6 n/a
2 3 2 3
1
4 6 6 9
2 4 5 9
n=56K n=42.2K n=28K n=35.5K

This edition of the Daily Kos Straw Poll was fortuitously timed with Bernie Sanders’ presidential announcement, providing a surge of interest and excitement internet-wide—including a strong effort by supporters to drive people to the poll. 

If you think there’s anything untoward about that, there’s not! The Straw Poll measures the intensity of online support, and there’s nothing stopping supporters of other campaigns from doing the same. You can certainly see the surge of new voters in the sample size—with the poll hitting 50,000 participants for the first time ever. And in two weeks, we should be able to enable the ability to vote via mobile device, which could usher in the era of 100K-respondent straw polls. 

And we’d be excited at 10,000 in the 2016 cycle …

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