5 takeaways from the Democrats’ big night

Washington (CNN)After a year of doubts, recriminations and special election misfires, Democrats finally got the big victories Tuesday they’d so desperately craved in the year since Donald Trump won the presidency.

Republicans will wake up Wednesday in a nightmare: All of a sudden, full control of Congress might be in serious jeopardy. Trump’s low approval ratings look toxic. And it could be much harder to convince incumbents to run — and to recruit candidates into open-seat races — in such a difficult environment.  
Here are five takeaways from Democrats’ big day:

    1. The blue wave

    Democrats won races large and small Tuesday, starting with the New Jersey and Virginia governor’s races. 
    The party won hotly contested mayoral races in Charlotte, North Carolina, and St. Petersburg, Florida. In Maine, voters approved a ballot measure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.  
    In Virginia, Northam didn’t just beat Republican Ed Gillespie in the northern Virginia suburbs — he crushed him. Consider Loudoun County near Washington: Democrats won it by 5 points in the 2013 governor’s race, and 20 points on Tuesday.  
    Democrats were also within striking distance of flipping the 17 seats they needed to take the Virginia House of Delegates — giving the party much more influence on redistricting in 2020.  
    It all gives Democrats a huge psychological boost that could help their fundraising and candidate recruitment. It could also accelerate the pace of Republican retirements, as Republican Bob McDonnell’s win in the 2009 Virginia governor’s race did for Democrats. Already on Tuesday, New Jersey Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo announced his retirement — creating another toss-up seat. There could soon be more. 

    2. Trumpism without Trump didn’t work

    Gillespie and Trump didn’t campaign together. But Gillespie tried just about every trick in Trump’s bag.  
    His television ads portrayed Northam as enabling the MS-13 gang by being soft on immigration enforcement. He picked up on Trump’s culture wars, hitting NFL players for kneeling during the National Anthem and promising to keep Virginia’s Confederate monuments up.  
    It was all an effort to convince Trump voters to turn out for a former lobbyist and George W. Bush aide.  
    It failed.  
    Gillespie did well in rural Virginia. But the Democratic base that slumbered through 2016 turned out in full force and the suburbs shifted dramatically in Northam’s favor. 
    “Virginia sent a strong message that Trump-style division — pitting people against people — that is not the Virginia way. That is not the American way,” Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine said at Northam’s victory party. 
    Trump tried to lay the blame solely at Gillespie’s feet, tweeting, “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for. Don’t forget, Republicans won 4 out of 4 House seats, and with the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!”  
    Now, Republicans have to confront the possibility that they’ll face the same problem Democrats faced during the presidency of Barack Obama: His popularity doesn’t transfer to them.  
    Trump campaigned in Alabama for Sen. Luther Strange — who promptly lost a Republican primary to former judge Roy Moore. He recorded a robocall and tweeted for Gillespie, who was walloped in what both sides expected to be a close race. Trump voters turn out for Trump — but so far, no one else.  

    3. Republicans lost the culture war

    Beyond the governor’s race, Democrats won a decisive victory on the social and cultural issues that have dominated Virginia politics.  
    Democrat Danica Roem became the only openly transgender state lawmaker in America. She beat Bob Marshall, who had advocated for a bill restricting which bathrooms transgender people could use.  
    One of the biggest forces in the Virginia races was Planned Parenthood, which helped Democrats defeat a Republican lieutenant governor nominee, Jill Vogel, who as a state senator had pushed a bill requiring women seeking abortions to undergo vaginal ultrasounds.  
    And in the Virginia attorney general’s race, incumbent Democrat Mark Herring cruised despite Republican John Adams’ attacks on Herring’s decision not to defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban in court.  
    To be sure, Northam was hobbled by Gillespie’s MS-13 ad. He appeared to flip-flop at the last minute and said he opposed sanctuary cities — a decision that appeared to be out of desperation. In other states with less Democratic voters, his stumbles could have led to a loss.  
    But up and down the ticket, the GOP focus on social issues proved costly Tuesday in Virginia.  

      Northam: I hope to win your confidence

    4. Obama and Biden help Democrats

    The Democratic Party lost about 1,000 state legislative seats during Obama’s presidency across the country — eight years in which Democratic strategists howled about the White House’s inattention to the party’s crumbling infrastructure and its down-ballot disasters. 
    Now out of office, Obama and Biden both focused on 2017 races. And it turned out the two made pretty effective Democratic surrogates.  
    Biden-endorsed candidates were on course for a clean sweep. And Obama’s rallies in New Jersey and Virginia, which drew thousands to hear his lectures that the party’s base had gotten “complacent” in non-presidential elections, appear to have energized the minority voters that Northam’s campaign had worried might stay at home. While the northern Virginia results will get the most national attention, Northam ran up his lead throughout Virginia’s entire urban crescent — stretching from the Washington suburbs through Norfolk.  
    Both Obama and Biden are showing an appetite to play surrogate roles in 2018. Biden has already waded into December’s Alabama Senate special election, and has done nothing to tamp down speculation that he might run for president in 2020. They’ll be the most sought-after Democratic surrogates over the next year.  

    5. McAuliffe 2020 starts now

    The happiest person in Virginia might be Gov. Terry McAuliffe.  
    The long-time friend of the Clintons, fundraiser extraordinaire and former Democratic National Committee chairman wasn’t taken particularly seriously as a candidate himself — a principal, rather than a supporting player — when he ran for governor in 2013.  
    Now, McAuliffe seems impossible to ignore.  
    Swaggering onto stage at Northam’s victory party to Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack,” McAuliffe cast the election results as Virginia’s rejection of discrimination. He touted his own administration’s efforts to protect LGBT workers, in a message that sounded 2020-ready.  
    A few weeks from leaving office, McAuliffe has made clear that he hasn’t run out of political ambition. He leaves Virginia as a popular Democrat with a strong economic record and a revitalized Democratic bench set to take office. 

      Perez: Dems’ unity is Trump’s worst nightmare

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/07/politics/5-takeaways-election-virginia-governor-trump/index.html

    5 questions for Tuesday’s elections in Virginia, New Jersey

    Washington (CNN)Can Republicans win tough races by getting close — but not too close — to President Donald Trump, adopting his tactics without actually campaigning with him?

    Can Democrats win swing states by criticizing Trump, but not too much — pledging to work with the President when possible?
    In Virginia’s governor election Tuesday, Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Republican Ed Gillespie will test whether those strategies are enough to drive their bases to the polls and win over suburban moderates in the most important election of 2017.
      The Virginia and New Jersey governor’s races — a year after every presidential election — are always seen as a test of how voters perceive the sitting President. This year, Virginia, in particular, looks like a strong gauge of Trump’s performance — and a proving ground for the strategies both parties hope will work in the 2018 midterm elections.
      Here are five big questions for Tuesday’s elections:

      1. Can Trump’s tactics sell without Trump?

      Trump visited his golf course in Virginia 15 times between Gillespie winning the GOP gubernatorial primary and the general election. But he didn’t once hold an event with Republican candidate in the most important race of 2017.
      Gillespie might not have wanted to campaign with Trump — but he certainly borrowed heavily from Trump’s tactics and signature issues.
      Long known as an advocate for a bigger Republican tent and more inclusive immigration policies, Gillespie has taken an alarmist turn this year. His TV ads have included striking images of MS-13 gangs displaying the words “kill, rape, control,” as well as Gillespie pledging to keep Confederate monuments up, and hitting Democrats for automatically restoring the voting rights of former felons who have completed their sentences.
      Those culture warrior tactics were designed to make sure Trump’s base turned out for Gillespie, who nearly lost the Republican primary to Corey Stewart. But they alienated a lot of Gillespie’s old friends.
      Gillespie spokesman David Abrams refuted those critiques, saying, “Ed is surging in the polls because Republicans are united behind his campaign, and because he is running on substantive policies broadly popular with the people of Virginia.”
      The question is whether Trump voters will buy Gillespie’s authenticity and turn out to vote for him — or if they’ll see Gillespie’s refusal to be seen near Trump as a better reflection of his allegiances and stay home.

      2. Can Obama fix Democrats’ off-year problems?

      Former President Barack Obama oversaw the atrophy of the Democratic Party at the state and local level — a result of the party’s failure to turn out its voters in non-presidential elections that led to losing about 1,000 state legislative seats. Now that he’s out of office, Obama is trying to convince Democratic voters that these races really do matter.
      “Off-year elections, midterm elections — Democrats sometimes, y’all get a little sleepy. You get a little complacent,” Obama said during a rally with Northam in Richmond last month.
      “And so as a consequence, folks wake up and they’re surprised — ‘How come we can’t get things through Congress? How come we can’t get things through the state house?’ ” Obama said. “Because you slept through the election.”
      In particular, Northam’s campaign has been laser focused on turning out black voters. Those black voters make up about 20% of Virginia’s electorate and tend to vote strongly Democratic. It’s why his event with Obama was in Richmond, a city with a sizeable African-American population.
      And make no mistake, Obama himself could be the most important salesman here. If his involvement in Northam’s campaign can boost turnout, Democrats across the 2018 midterm map would see him as a potential game-changer.

      3. Will progressive groups’ ground troops lead to turnout?

      Outside groups are playing a big role in Northam’s campaign — supplying digital advertising reinforcements for a candidate who has only aired TV ads as well as ground troops who have made calls and knocked on doors for weeks.
      Perhaps the leader of those groups is Planned Parenthood, which has a lot on the line — not just in the governor’s race, but for lieutenant governor, where Democrat Justin Fairfax faces Republican Jill Holtzman Vogel. The Republican is known for having sponsored a 2012 bill that would have required women seeking abortions to undergo vaginal ultrasounds — which Planned Parenthood vehemently opposed.
      Other Democratic groups have bickered about Virginia since Northam defeated former Rep. Tom Perriello in the gubernatorial primary. That split was on vivid display last week when Democracy For America announced it wouldn’t back Northam’s “racist” campaign while making calls for other Democratic candidates.
      But a share of the credit for wins in statewide and even state assembly contests would go to Planned Parenthood, which announced in August it would spend $3 million to help Northam.

      4. Will there be a shocker?

      The reason so much focus is on Virginia is that Tuesday’s other big contests all feature heavy favorites. But close elections have a way of sneaking up on people.
      In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive and US ambassador to Germany, is expected to cruise past Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. That’s in large part because of the Chris Christie factor: The outgoing Republican governor’s approval rating is in the teens, making him the least popular governor in America. And while Guadagno has tried to create some distance — hitting Christie after he was photographed on a closed beach during a state government shutdown — she’s still Christie’s No. 2.
      In New York City, mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned alongside Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and is looking to build his status with progressive voters even outside the city.
      If any of these contests tighten up, it’d set off alarms across both parties nationally.

      5. Can Democrats take full control in Washington state?

      One down-ballot race to watch: a state senate contest in Washington.
      If Democrat Manka Dhingra defeats Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund, control of the senate would tip into Democratic hands. Democrats already control the state house and governor’s office — which means a win in that race would give them the “trifecta”: unified control of Washington’s government.
      This is incredibly important. Right now, Republicans have that “trifecta” in 26 states, which gives them broad authority not just over laws and budgets, but the redistricting process every 10 years. Democrats, though, only have such control in six states — California, Oregon, Hawaii, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island. It’s perhaps the most vivid example of the party’s collapse during Obama’s tenure, and an imbalance that reflects Democrats’ broad structural disadvantages.
      Full party control matters. In many states where Republicans are in charge, their lawmakers have passed right-to-work laws and voter ID laws, and handle the once-a-decade redistricting process alone. The more those structural advantages are locked in, the harder it is for Democrats to regain what they’ve lost.

      Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/07/politics/2017-elections-what-to-watch-virginia-new-jersey-new-york/index.html

      Trump will end health care cost-sharing subsidies

      Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump plans to end a key set of Obamacare subsidies that helped lower-income enrollees pay for health care, the White House said Thursday, a dramatic move that raises questions about the law’s future.

      The late-night announcement is part of Trump’s aggressive push to dismantle aspects of his predecessor’s signature health law after several failed attempts by Congress to repeal it earlier this year.
      In a series of tweets Friday morning, Trump called on Democrats to reach out to him to “fix” the law, which he called a “broken mess.”
        “The Democrats ObamaCare is imploding. Massive subsidy payments to their pet insurance companies has stopped. Dems should call me to fix!” he tweeted.
        The move also puts the spotlight back on Congress, where lawmakers in both parties have urged the administration to continue the payments to stabilize the Obamacare markets in the short term.
        While senior congressional Republicans oppose the payments themselves — they sued the Obama administration to stop them and have tried for years to repeal the underlying law altogether — there’s recognition of what ending them suddenly could do to the millions of Americans insured through the Obamacare exchanges.
        Democrats have repeatedly pressed the administration for a longer term commitment that the payments would be made, but Trump has directed his advisers to keep them on a month-to-month basis, in part for negotiating leverage, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions.
        Nearly 6 million enrollees, or 57%, qualify for the cost-sharing payments this year, according to the most recent data from the Department of Health and Human Services. The subsidies are expected to cost the federal government about $7 billion in 2017.
        The uncertainty over the subsidies’ fate was a key reason that many insurers are substantially hiking their rates for 2018 — some by more than 20%. Several major carriers dropped out of the individual market, unwilling to wait and see what Trump and congressional Republicans would do.
        White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the decision was “based on guidance from the Justice Department.”
        “The bailout of insurance companies through these unlawful payments is yet another example of how the previous administration abused taxpayer dollars and skirted the law to prop up a broken system,” Sanders said in a statement.
        Democratic leaders called the decision another instance of Trump sabotaging Obamacare.
        “It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a joint statement. “Make no mistake about it, Trump will try to blame the Affordable Care Act, but this will fall on his back and he will pay the price for it.”
        But GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, defended the President’s decision to CNN’s Chris Cuomo on CNN’s “New Day” Friday morning.
        “These (cost sharing reduction) payments are in fact illegal. The President said he is no longer going to engage in making these payments, so let’s move forward and do what we should have done a long time ago,” he said, later adding, “Obamacare is a mess and we need to replace the whole thing, repeal the whole thing.”
        This was the second major move on Obamacare Thursday. Earlier in the day, Trump signed an executive order charging his administration with developing policies to increase health care competition and choice in order to cut prices. However, it could also destabilize Obamacare by siphoning off younger and healthier Americans from the exchanges.

        What will Congress do?

        Several top Republicans, including House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady and Sen. Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the chamber’s health committee, have called for a short term legislative solution to the issue in order to eliminate uncertainty that has been rattling health insurers for months.
        “Cutting health care subsidies will mean more uninsured in my district. @POTUS promised more access, affordable coverage.,” Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who will be retiring at the end of this term, said in a Twitter post after the news broke Thursday night. “This does opposite.”
        Alexander has been negotiating with his Democratic counterpart on the committee, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, on a deal to fund the subsidies for two years in return for more regulatory flexibility for states for their insurance plans.
        But up until now, those negotiations haven’t led to a deal — and there have been serious questions inside House and Senate leadership as to whether such a proposal could be brought to the floor, given the vociferous opposition from conservative members of the party opposed to any “fix” of Obamacare.
        “Under no circumstance should Congress attempt to expand Obamacare by cutting a check for President Obama’s bailout of insurance companies,” tweeted GOP Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina. “Instead, Congress must fulfill the promise to repeal and replace Obamacare with high-quality, patient-centered health care.”
        December could be the month to watch.
        Democrats are likely to demand funding in any spending package necessary to keep the government open after December 8.
        But Trump’s move throws a new wrench into an eight week period fraught with potential problems, from finalizing the spending bill, to finding a solution for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program Trump also rescinded, all while attempting to accomplish Republicans’ cornerstone legislative effort: tax reform in the same period.
        “Yes, this complicates things,” a GOP congressional aide acknowledged. “There is no question about that.”

        Will costs go up?

        What insurers do now remains to be seen.
        Insurers have already signed contracts committing them to participating in 2018 and setting their rates. They must continuing offering the reduced deductibles and co-pays to eligible enrollees, but they won’t be paid for them. That’s why many asked for such large rate hikes.
        Obamacare enrollees eligible to receive premium subsidies, which are not affected by Trump’s move, will continue to get discounted rates. But those who don’t could see their costs skyrocket again next year.
        The action, however, is likely to spur many lawsuits. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who is part of a coalition defending the subsidies, swiftly announced that group would take action against Trump.

        Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/12/politics/obamacare-subsidies/index.html

        Election 2017: Readers’ guide to Virginia and New Jersey governor’s races, other key contests

        Washington (CNN)A year into Donald Trump’s presidency, elections Tuesday in Virginia, New Jersey and elsewhere will offer the best window yet into how voters view his job performance — and whether Democrats have corrected the problems that plagued them in 2016.

        The contest has largely revolved around Trump, and looks to be the closest major race in a year that is also expected to feature blowouts in other high-profile contests.
        Here’s a breakdown of what to watch on Tuesday:

          The key races on Tuesday’s ballots:

          Virginia governor: Northam and Gillespie square off in the marquee swing-state election of 2017. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has earned high marks on Virginia’s economy — but the race to replace him has instead focused on Trump and cultural issues. The heavily populated northern Virginia suburbs around Washington are key to deciding the race’s outcome.
          New Jersey governor: Outgoing Republican Gov. Chris Christie and his record-low approval ratings hover mightily over the contest to replace him. His Republican lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, has tried to distance herself from Christie. But former Goldman Sachs executive and US Ambassador to Germany Phil Murphy, the Democratic nominee, has led consistently in the polls — and spent tens of millions of his own dollars on the race. A Murphy loss would be a stunning upset.
          New York City mayor: Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned in the final days with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — a sign he sees himself as a liberal champion. He faces Republican Nicole Malliotakis and two third-party candidates who lost the Democratic primary. De Blasio is expected to cruise to reelection.
          Utah’s 3rd Congressional District: Former Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz retired mid-term, giving up the gavel of the House’s oversight committee and opening up this seat in reliably Republican Utah. Provo Mayor John Curtis, the Republican, is well positioned to hold onto the district, which President Donald Trump won by 18 points in 2016, against Democratic candidate Kathie Allen, a doctor.
          Virginia lieutenant governor: Democrat Justin Fairfax, a former federal prosecutor, faces off against Republican state Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel in a race that — somewhat unusually — is decided separately from the top of the ticket. Most states elect governors and lieutenant governors together as part of the same ticket. Still, in Virginia, this race is likely to match whichever party wins the governor’s race.
          Virginia attorney general: Democratic incumbent Mark Herring is best known for refusing to defend Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban against a lawsuit that sought to overturn it. Republican John Adams, the challenger, has accused Herring of promoting progressive causes rather than doing his job.

          When the polls close:

          In Virginia, voting ends at 7 p.m. ET on Tuesday. In New Jersey, it’s 8 p.m. In New York, polls close at 9 p.m. And in Utah, polls close at 8 p.m. MT — which is 10 p.m. ET.

          Five questions for Tuesday night:

          1. Can Trump’s tactics sell without Trump?
          Long known as an advocate of a bigger Republican tent and more inclusive immigration policies, Gillespie has taken a hard Trumpian turn in the Virginia governor’s race.
          His TV ads have included scary images of MS-13 gangs while displaying the words “kill, rape, control,” and Gillespie pledging to keep Confederate monuments up. In them, he also has hit Democrats for automatically restoring the voting rights of former felons who have completed their sentences.
          Those culture warrior tactics were designed to make sure Trump’s base turned out for Gillespie, who nearly lost the Republican primary to former Trump campaign state chairman Corey Stewart. But they alienated a lot of Gillespie’s old friends:
          Gillespie spokesman David Abrams disputed those critiques, saying, “Ed is surging in the polls because Republicans are united behind his campaign, and because he is running on substantive policies broadly popular with the people of Virginia.”
          The question is whether Trump voters will buy Gillespie’s authenticity and turn out to vote for him — particularly since Trump didn’t campaign with Gillespie at all despite spending many weekends at his golf course in Virginia over the summer.
          2. Will minority voters turn out for Northam?
          Former President Barack Obama laid this concern out succinctly when he campaigned for Northam in Richmond last month.
          “Off-year elections, midterm elections — Democrats sometimes, y’all get a little sleepy. You get a little complacent,” Obama said.
          “And so as a consequence, folks wake up and they’re surprised — ‘How come we can’t get things through Congress? How come we can’t get things through the state house?'” Obama said. “Because you slept through the election.”
          Northam’s campaign has been laser-focused on turning out black voters, in particular. Those voters make up about 20% of Virginia’s electorate and tend to vote strongly Democratic.
          But in the race’s final days, Northam changed his position on sanctuary cities to say he opposes them and only voted against a state bill to ban them — a move that inspired Gillespie’s MS-13 ads — because no such cities exist in Virginia. The change in position has risked alienating Latino and immigrant voters, and might have sown doubts about Northam into some progressives’ minds.
          Meanwhile, a pro-Northam ad aired briefly by the Latino Victory Fund stirred controversy that could energize pro-Trump Republican voters. The ad depicted four minority children being chased through neighborhood streets by a white man driving a pick-up truck with a Confederate flag and a Gillespie bumper sticker. The ad, which Gillespie blasted as depicting his supporters as racists, stirred up conservative outrage online.
          3. Will progressive groups’ ground troops pay off?
          Outside groups are playing a big role in Northam’s campaign, supplying digital advertising reinforcements for a candidate who has only aired TV ads as well as ground troops, who have made calls and knocked on doors for weeks.
          Planned Parenthood, a leader of those groups, has a lot on the line in both the governor’s race and lieutenant governor’s race, where Fairfax faces Holtzman Vogel. The Republican is known for having sponsored a 2012 bill that would have required women seeking abortions to undergo vaginal ultrasounds — which Planned Parenthood vehemently opposed.
          Other Democratic groups have bickered about Virginia since Northam defeated former Rep. Tom Perriello in the gubernatorial primary. But a share of the credit for wins in statewide and even state assembly contests would go to Planned Parenthood, which announced in August it would spend $3 million to help Northam.
          4. Can Democrats take full control in Washington state?
          One more down-ballot race to watch: a state senate contest in Washington.
          If Democrat Manka Dhingra defeats Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund, control of the senate would tip into Democratic hands. Democrats already control the state house and governor’s office — which means a win in that race would give them the “trifecta”: unified control of Washington’s government.
          This is incredibly important. Right now, Republicans have that “trifecta” in 26 states, which gives them broad authority not just over laws and budgets, but the redistricting process every 10 years. Democrats, though, have trifectas in only six states — California, Oregon, Hawaii, Delaware, Connecticut and Rhode Island. It’s perhaps the most vivid example of the party’s collapse during Obama’s tenure, and an imbalance that reflects Democrats’ broad structural disadvantages at the state level that entrench Republican dominance there.
          5. Will there be a shocker?
          The reason so much focus is on Virginia is that Tuesday’s other big contests seem like sure things. De Blasio in New York City, Murphy in New Jersey and Curtis in Utah have all appeared to be on course to cruise to victory for months.
          But close elections have a way of sneaking up on people. If any of those three contests suddenly turn tighten up, it would set off alarm bells across the Democratic Party in de Blasio or Murphy’s cases or the GOP if it’s Curtis, prompting the election night narrative to change suddenly and dramatically.

          Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/04/politics/2017-election-readers-guide-virginia-new-jersey-governor/index.html

          Universities deplore McCarthyism as MP demands list of tutors lecturing on Brexit

          Tory whip writes to every vice-chancellor to ask for syllabus and any online material

          Academics are accusing a Tory MP and government whip of McCarthyite behaviour, after he wrote to all universities asking them to declare what they are teaching their students about Brexit and to provide a list of teachers names.

          Chris Heaton-Harris, Conservative MP for Daventry and a staunch Eurosceptic, wrote to vice-chancellors at the start of this month asking for the names of any professors involved in teaching European affairs with particular reference to Brexit. Neatly ignoring the long tradition of academic freedom that universities consider crucial to their success, his letter asks for a copy of each universitys syllabus and any online lectures on Brexit.

          Prof David Green, vice-chancellor of Worcester University, felt a chill down his spine when he read the sinister request: This letter just asking for information appears so innocent but is really so, so dangerous, he says. Here is the first step to the thought police, the political censor and newspeak, naturally justified as the will of the British people, a phrase to be found on Mr Heaton-Harriss website. Green will be replying to the MP but not be providing the information requested.

          Heaton-Harriss letter

          Prof Kevin Featherstone, head of the European Institute at the LSE, is also outraged: The letter reflects a past of a McCarthyite nature. It smacks of asking: are you or have you ever been in favour of remain? There is clearly an implied threat that universities will somehow be challenged for their bias. Featherstone says LSE academics had already feared Brexit censorship after the Electoral Commission made inquiries during last years referendum campaign about academics debates and research, following a complaint by Bernard Jenkin, another Tory MP. Jenkin filed a complaint when the LSE hosted an event at which the secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said there was no upside for the UK in Brexit. Jenkin, a board member of the Vote Leave campaign, also accused the LSEs Centre for Economic Performance of producing partisan research designed to convince the public to stay in the EU. The commission, whose job is to ensure fair campaigning, investigated and took no action against the university.

          A spokesman for the LSE strenuously denies all allegations of political bias. The freedom for academics to study the major issues facing society, reach their own conclusions, and engage in public debate is essential for the health of our universities and the UKs world-leading research base, he says.

          Featherstone says: I understand the LSE received calls from the Electoral Commission asking about speakers and the costs of events on an almost daily basis throughout the campaign period. He argues that both Heaton-Harriss letter and the Electoral Commissions investigation pose a threat to the role of universities as free intellectual spaces where academics can explore and question ideas without political interference. He says both developments risk plunging universities into dangerous new political waters.

          The Electoral Commission says universities have nothing to fear from its inquiries. We produce guidance to help all non-party campaigners understand the rules on campaigning and we can advise universities in cases where they may be affected. These do not prevent campaigning or engagement in public debate, but provide the public with transparency about who is spending what in order to influence their vote.

          Prof David Green, vice-chancellor of Worcester University: Here is the first step to the thought police, the political censor. Photograph: James Watkins

          More than 80% of academics voted to remain, according to a YouGov survey [pdf] commissioned by the University and College Union in January. And within university departments focusing on European affairs, Brexiters are a rarity.

          However, university experts on Brexit insist their personal views do not jaundice their teaching, and students are encouraged to question received assumptions and look at issues from all sides.

          Julie Smith, director of the European Centre in the politics and international studies department at Cambridge University, says she told a lecture full of graduates about Heaton-Harriss letter last week. I told the students what my personal views were and emphasised that they were personal views. I voted to remain, but as an academic, my job is to impart knowledge, encourage debate and develop skills of analytical argument, not to impose doctrine.

          Smith, who is also a Liberal Democrat peer, adds: If it is the case that a politician thinks he should interfere in the content of what universities are teaching and look at syllabi in order to see whether the correct line is being delivered, that is profoundly worrying.

          Prof Piet Eeckhout, academic director of University College Londons European Institute, says it is unsurprising if most academics working on Europe are in favour of the EU. I have been teaching EU law for the last 25 years. The fact that I am sufficiently interested to spend all my days working on it obviously means I think EU law is a good thing.

          Prof Kevin Featherstone, director of the European Institute at the LSE: The letter reflects a past of a McCarthyite nature

          Pro-Brexit academics working in this area are also unhappy with the MPs behaviour. Lee Jones, reader in international politics at Queen Mary University of London, is one of the few openly pro-Brexit academics in his field. During the referendum campaign I said what I wanted and no one tried to shut me up, but I know colleagues elsewhere who have been blanked in the corridors because they voted to leave.

          Yet Jones, too, is outraged by Heaton-Harriss investigation. It is really troubling that an MP thinks it is within his remit to start poking his nose into university teaching, he says. Universities are autonomous and politicians have no right to intimidate academics by scrutinising their courses. I have colleagues who are die-hard remainers. But I know what they teach and it is not propaganda.

          Chris Bickerton, reader in modern European politics at Cambridge University, and a fellow leave voter agrees. He adds: In my institution there is strong support for academic freedom. I applied for promotion after the referendum and never did I worry that my views on Brexit would affect the results or my promotional prospects. Nor did I feel any institutional pressure to think one way or the other in the runup to the vote itself.

          Heaton-Harris did not respond to requests for a comment.

          Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/oct/24/universities-mccarthyism-mp-demands-list-brexit-chris-heaton-harris

          Daily Show’s Trevor Noah thinks it’s finally time to talk about guns in America

          Image: Dennis Van Tine/Sipa USA

          In the wake of a mass shooting that left 59 dead and more than 520 people hurt, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “There’s a time and place for a political debate, but now is a time to unite as a country.” 

          Well, The Daily Show‘s Trevor Noah thinks that’s BS. On Monday night, he called out politicians and members of the media who claimed right now is not the time to talk about gun control. 

          “I feel like people are becoming more accustomed to this kind of news,” he said, noting there have been 20 mass shootings in the two years he’s lived in the United States. 

          After the latest shooting — in which a gunman fired at a country music concert from his Las Vegas hotel room — pundits even turned to hotel security as a possible culprit. Instead of, you know, sane gun laws. 

          “We seem to do everything to avoid talking about guns,” Noah said. 

          The talk show host pointed out that Congress was still considering the Sportsman’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act, which would make it easier to buy silencers and armor-piercing bullets.

          “I can only say I’m sorry,” Noah told the people of Las Vegas, “sorry that we live in a world where people would put a gun before your lives.”

          Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/10/02/trevor-noah-daily-show-las-vegas-shooting/

          Jeff Flake 2

          Jeff Flake is going out with a bang, and Donald Trump is notgoing to like it. 

          The Republican senator from Arizona announced on Tuesday that he’s not running for re-election in 2018. And then he denounced President Donald Trump and everything Trump represents on the Senate floor. 

          “We must never regard as ‘normal’ the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals,” Flake said, according to his prepared speech.

          He continued, “Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as ‘telling it like it is,’ when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified.”

          “And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy.”

          He also laid into Republican politicians, who have enabled Trump by biting their tongues when he goes off the rails. 

          “When we remain silent and fail to act when we know that that silence and inaction is the wrong thing to do — because of political considerations, because we might make enemies, because we might alienate the base, because we might provoke a primary challenge, because ad infinitum, ad nauseum — when we succumb to those considerations in spite of what should be greater considerations and imperatives in defense of the institutions of our liberty, then we dishonor our principles and forsake our obligations.”

          “Despotism loves a vacuum”

          Finally, he warned that abandoning our values would benefit America’s enemies. 

          “Despotism loves a vacuum.  And our allies are now looking elsewhere for leadership. Why are they doing this? None of this is normal. And what do we as United States Senators have to say about it?”

          Reaction was split between those who found Flake brave for standing up to Trump and his own party …

          … to those who noted that Flake still supported much of Trump’s agenda, and faced a tough primary and general election in 2018, which means it’s no guarantee he’d win anyway. 

          Regardless, Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell now have one more Republican enemy in Congress. Sen. Bob Corker announced last month that he also wasn’t running for re-election in 2018, and hasn’t been shy about his disdain for the president. 

          And John McCain — who torpedoed Trump’s health care plan — has also been speaking out against the president. On Tuesday, McCain tweeted his support for his fellow Arizona senator. 

          Donald Trump spent Tuesday morning slamming Corker with childish insults. It’s a pretty good bet he’s about to rage-tweet about Flake very soon. 

          Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/10/24/jeff-flake-anti-trump-speech/

          Trump Officials Dispute the Benefits of Birth Control to Justify Rules

          When the Trump administration elected to stop requiring many employers to offer birth-control coverage in their health plans, it devoted nine of its new rule’s 163 pages to questioning the links between contraception and preventing unplanned pregnancies.

          In the rule released Friday, officials attacked a 2011 report that recommended mandatory birth-control coverage to help women avoid unintended pregnancies. That report, requested by the Department of Health and Human Services, was done by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine — then the Institute of Medicine — an expert group that serves as the nation’s scientific adviser.

          “The rates of, and reasons for, unintended pregnancy are notoriously difficult to measure,” according to the Trump administration’s interim final rule. “In particular, association and causality can be hard to disentangle.”

          Multiple studies have found that access or use of contraception reduced unintended pregnancies. 

          Claims in the report that link increased contraceptive use by unmarried women and teens to decreases in unintended pregnancies “rely on association rather than causation,” according to the rule. The rule references another study that found increased access to contraception decreased teen pregnancies short-term but led to an increase in the long run.

          “We know that safe contraception — and contraception is incredibly safe — leads to a reduction in pregnancies,” said Michele Bratcher Goodwin, director of the Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law. “This has been data that we’ve had for decades.”

          Riskier Behavior

          The rules were released as part of a broader package of protections for religious freedom that the administration announced Friday.

          The government also said imposing a coverage mandate could “affect risky sexual behavior in a negative way” though it didn’t point to any particular studies to support its point. A 2014 study by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found providing no-cost contraception did not lead to riskier sexual behavior.

          The rule asserts that positive health effects associated with birth control “might also be partially offset by an association with negative health effects.” The rule connects the claim of negative health effects to a call by the National Institutes of Health in 2013 for the development of new contraceptives that stated current options can have “many undesirable side effects.” 

          The rule also describes an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality review that found oral contraceptives increased users’ risk of breast cancer and vascular events, making the drugs’ use in preventing ovarian cancer uncertain.

          Federal officials used all of these assertions to determine the government “need not take a position on these empirical questions.”

          “Our review is sufficient to lead us to conclude that significantly more uncertainty and ambiguity exists in the record than the Departments previously acknowledged.”

            Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-06/trump-officials-dispute-birth-control-benefits-to-justify-rules

            Trump to Puerto Rico: Show us the money

            Image: Getty Images

            With Puerto Rico in a worsening humanitarian crisis, President Donald Trump continues to hold the U.S. territory’s debt over its head.

            It is difficult to fathom just how irresponsible and entirely beside the point Puerto Rico’s debt is when it comes to its current situation. Puerto Ricans are Americans, just like the people in parts of Texas and Florida that the government is helping after two other major hurricanes this season. 

            Yet on Friday, Trump doubled down on holding disaster aid hostage to the U.S. territory’s debts, which total about $70 billion..

            “Ultimately, the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort, [which] will end up being the biggest ever, will be funded and organized, and what we will do with the tremendous amount of existing debt already on the island,” Trump said in a speech on Friday.

            The fact that Puerto Rico is an island is, in the eyes of Trump, Puerto Rico’s fault.

            Trump also observed the Puerto Rico is an island and that this geography therefore makes recovery difficult. Trump’s comments have consistently painted Puerto Rico as a foreign place with foreign people, rather than a home to more Americans than about 20 fully-fledged states. 

            The president also seemed to be comfortable putting the shipping industry’s interests first. He was slow to suspend the Jones Act, which mandates that anything shipped to Puerto Rico be on U.S. owned and operated vessels. This makes shipping between the U.S. and Puerto Rico very expensive, which raises the costs of goods for island residents. 

            Trump wasn’t exactly secretive about this, saying on Wednesday: “We have a lot of shippers and a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted.”

            As Americans have begun to fully realize the depth of the devastation in Puerto Rico, the Trump administration has been coming under greater pressure to act. Comparisons have already been made to George W. Bush’s slow response to Hurricane Katrina. 

            Trump, naturally, hasn’t taken that well. His response so far has bounced between criticizing Puerto Rico and blatantly lying about how his response has been perceived in Puerto Rico. 

            Puerto Rico’s governor has tried to set the record straight on that, but Trump supporters are likely only to have heard the president’s claims. The websites of Drudge Report, Breitbart, Infowars, and Fox News barely had a mention of Puerto Rico as of Friday midday.

            Trump is correct in stating that Puerto Rico has a problem with its debt. It’s a problem that has been around for years and has only gotten worse. It’s electric utility company is in a particularly tough spot, having owed $9 billion before the storm hit. 

            The notion, however, that the island’s debt has anything to do with what the government should be doing to help Puerto Ricans in need is the kind of double standard that has added fuel to a growing fire — that Trump is a racist whose true colors are starting to show. 

            His handling of the recent NFL controversy has particularly stood out, most notably when he said that owners were afraid of their players.

            This is classic Trump. Admitting that he and his administration have bungled the response to the Puerto Rico crises would be to show weakness. Instead, Trump is embracing his go to move of whataboutism. What about Puerto Rico’s debt? What about it’s infrastructure? What about the fact that it’s an island? What about the fact that it’s name isn’t even in English? 

            Meanwhile, aid to Puerto Rico is still stuck on docks, unable to get to the people who sorely need it. There’s no “big water” stopping it. Just a pitiful lack of effective disaster relief coordination. 

            That’s not the main issue for Trump, though. He wants Puerto Rico to show him the money. 

            Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/09/29/donald-trump-puerto-rico-show-me-the-money/

            The White House and Equifax Agree: Social Security Numbers Should Go

            The Trump administration is exploring ways to replace the use of Social Security numbers as the main method of assuring people’s identities in the wake of consumer credit agency Equifax Inc.’s massive data breach.

            The administration has called on federal departments and agencies to look into the vulnerabilities of employing the identifier tied to retirement benefits, as well as how to replace the existing system, according to Rob Joyce, special assistant to the president and White House cybersecurity coordinator.

            “I feel very strongly that the Social Security number has outlived its usefulness,” Joyce said Tuesday at a cyber conference in Washington organized by the Washington Post. “Every time we use the Social Security number, you put it at risk.”

            Joyce’s comments came as former Equifax CEO Richard Smith testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the first of four hearings this week on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers from both parties expressed outrage over the size of the breach as well as the company’s response and grilled Smith on the timeline of the incident, including when top executives learned about it.

            Smith said the rising number of hacks involving Social Security numbers have eroded its security value.

            “The concept of a Social Security number in this environment being private and secure — I think it’s time as a country to think beyond that,” Smith said. “What is a better way to identify consumers in our country in a very secure way? I think that way is something different than an SSN, a date of birth and a name.”

            Joyce said officials are looking into “what would be a better system” that utilizes the latest technologies, including a “modern cryptographic identifier,” such as public and private keys.

            Read more: Five Data-Security Ideas Brought Up During the Equifax Hearing

            ‘Flawed System’

            “It’s a flawed system that we can’t roll back that risk after we know we’ve had a compromise,” he said. “I personally know my Social Security number has been compromised at least four times in my lifetime. That’s just untenable.”

            Joseph Lorenzo Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology in Washington, said one possibility could be giving individuals a private key, essentially a long cryptographic number that’s embedded in a “physical token” that then requires users to verify that the number belongs to them. It could work like the chip in a credit card that requires the owner to enter a pin allowing use. He pointed to Estonia where they have deployed such cards that people use to validate their identity.

            “Your pin unlocks your ability to use that big number,” he said. The challenge is how to create the identifiers and how to distribute the keys. “It’s very promising” and “it’s possible to technically design something like this” but it could be expensive to design and disseminate such material to each American, he said. “This is a pretty big endeavor.”

            The administration is also participating in discussions Congress is having about the requirements of protecting personal data and breach notifications for companies.

            Avoiding Balkanization

            “It’s really clear, there needs to be a change, but we’ll have to look at the details of what’s being proposed,” Joyce said. In the response to the Equifax hack, though, he said, “we need to be careful of Balkanizing the regulations. It’s really hard on companies today” facing local, state and federal regulators as well as international rules, he added.

            The U.S. government began issuing Social Security numbers in 1936. Nearly 454 million different numbers have been issued, according to the Social Security Administration. Supplanting such an ingrained apparatus would not happen over night. The original intent was to track U.S. workers’ earning to determine their Social Security benefits. But the rise of computers, government agencies and companies found new uses for the number, which gradually grew into a national identifier.

            Over the decades, the Social Security number became valuable for what could be gained by stealing it, said Bruce Schneier, a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. It was the only number available to identify a person and became the standard used for everything from confirming someone at the doctor’s office to school.

            Akin to Infrastructure

            “They appeared at an age when we didn’t have other numbers,” Schneier said in an interview. “Think of this as part of our aging infrastructure” from roads and bridges to communications. “Sooner or later we as a society need to fix our aging infrastructure.” 

            He pointed to India’s wide-scale rollout of the Aadhaar card, a unique number provided to citizens after collecting their biometric information — fingerprints and an iris scan — along with demographic details, to almost 1.2 billion people. In the U.S., a more secure system could be designed, “but magic math costs money,” he said.

            Making any changes to the current system, including replacing numbers entirely or restricting who can use them, would likely require an act of Congress, according to Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, which advocates for limiting the use of Social Security numbers. 

            Rewriting Laws

            “You’d need to change a lot of existing public law," Rotenberg said. “There would need to be extensive hearings and study about the consequences. It’s a complicated issue." 

            The government’s own record of protecting Social Security numbers has its blemishes. Medicare, the federal health-care program for senior citizens, has long used the numbers on identification cards recipients must carry. After years of criticism by the agency’s inspector general for the risks that creates, new cards with different numbers are currently being rolled out.

            The failure of the Social Security number is that there’s only one for each person, “once it’s compromised one time, you’re done,” Bob Stasio, a fellow at the Truman National Security Project and former chief of operations at the National Security Agency’s Cyber Operations Center.

            Public and private keys — long strings of code — could help validate identities. For instance, the government could issue each person a public key and private key. If people were to open a bank account, for instance, they could provide their public key — instead of a Social Security number — and the bank would send a message that could only be decrypted using their private key. If the private key gets compromised, the government could easily issue another one.

            Saved by Math

            Stasio also cited emerging blockchain technology as another potential tool. It could create a kind of digital DNA fingerprint that’s “mathematically impossible” to duplicate. In place of a Social Security number, each person could receive a blockchain hash — a kind of algorithm unique to an individual — that is stamped on every digital transaction or action.

            That type of technology “could be used as a much more efficient and mathematically sound method of transaction, identification and validation,” Stasio said.

            While lawmakers were unanimous in criticizing Equifax’s response to a breach that compromised information on 145.5 million U.S. consumers, they were divided on how to fix the underlying issue. Democrats on the panel have reintroduced legislation imposing requirements for when companies have to report data breaches, while Oregon Republican Greg Walden noted the company’s human errors, saying “you can’t fix stupid.”

            Smith said the Equifax employee responsible for communicating that the vulnerable software needed to be patched didn’t do so. That failure was compounded when a scan of the company’s systems didn’t find that the vulnerability still existed, the former CEO said.

            Joyce’s comments helped take some of the focus off Equifax’s blunders, analysts at Cowen Inc. said in a note Tuesday.

            The “White House may be indirectly coming to Equifax’s rescue,” they wrote. “This reduces the risk of business-model-busting legislation such as a requirement that consumers opt-in to a credit bureau collecting their data.”

              Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-03/white-house-and-equifax-agree-social-security-numbers-should-go