OOPS–The Dark Money Folks Learn Conservatives Hate Dark Money Too!

For the most part, the only people who favour allowing the wealthy to buy elections are … the wealthy. And, of course, the politicians who sell their souls downriver for those billionaire’s dollars. Our friend Annie has an eye-opening post on the topic that I think you will find quite interesting … and anger-inducing as well. Thank you, Annie!

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Image by Aidan Bartos @bartos; found via unsplash.com

“Unfortunately, we’ve found that [inhibiting billionaires from buying elections] is a winning message, for both the general public and also conservatives. It was most persuasive, convincing, riled them up the most.”

The speaker is Kyle McKenzie, research director for Stand Together, a nonprofit advocacy group run by the right-wing oil billionaire Charles Koch. McKenzie was presenting survey findings at a meeting held on January 8—two days after it became clear the Democrats had gained control of the Senate.

Other meeting participants included long-time tax opponent Grover Norquist and two prominent Republican staff members: Caleb Hays is general counsel to Republicans on the House Administration Committee; Steve Donaldson is a policy adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McKenzie’s findings were not what these folks hoped to hear.

Jane Mayer, a long-time staff writer for The New Yorker, somehow acquired this remarkable tape…

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For Decades ALEC Has Kept Workers’ Wages Stagnant While They Inserted A Leader Like Trump

Gronda is baaaaack! Want to know how the current occupant of the Oval Office is getting by with murder? The answer is in this post. Thank you, Gronda!

Gronda Morin

Syndicated cartoon: Negative campaign ads; secret donors; dark money | Columnists | tulsaworld.com

It’s my contention that the current Trumpian GOP political candidates have become so addicted to the easy monies provided by GOP dark money conservative ALEC type donors to where they fear the money spigot being turned off  more than any backlash from even their own voters.

My question is, Why isn’t there more recent media coverage to out these “dark money (Alec/ Federalist Society) rich donors who have been using their power to pull the strings of President Trump, the Supreme Court and to cut off the legs of legislators who don’t kowtow to their demands?

Try this experiment. Whenever President Trump acts in a way that seems politically clueless, ponder as to how his actions benefit conservative GOP ALEC type corporate leaders and then, you’ll figure out what’s really happening.

Note: This blog is based on a previously published post on 12/29/2018.

As per the EPI Economic Policy Institute…

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Profiting From A Crisis

Thus far, eight states (California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon and Vermont) have banned single-use plastic bags in the U.S.  Fourteen others, including Florida, have moved in the opposite direction, adopting laws to tie the hands of local officials.  In January, New Jersey attempted to pass a law banning single-use plastics, but the bill failed.  Why?  Why aren’t all 50 states on-board with this legislation?  Take a look at what plastic bags and bottles are doing …bags-1bags-2

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bags-4And the answer to the question why all 50 states aren’t doing their part is simple … the GOP motto is: profit over all else.  Profit is more important in this nation than people, than wildlife, than the environment … in fact, today’s profit is more important than life on earth tomorrow for far too many of our so-called ‘leaders’.  I could expound at some length about this concept, but for today I have a single focus:  those damn plastic bags that they shove down our throats at the grocery store.

Even though only eight states thus far have banned plastic bags, it’s a start, it’s progress.  Environmental groups like the Sierra Club have raised public awareness and many of us now bring our own reusable canvas bags to the grocery and use reusable mesh bags for produce.  Even with that, the stores have been very slow in finding packaging alternatives, so we still end up with unwanted plastic in our rubbish.  Single use plastics account for around 20% of solid rubbish in the U.S., and only about 10% of that is recycled, so 90% ends up in landfills, rivers and ultimately the ocean.

Never let it be said that big industries, focused solely on profit, miss an opportunity to increase their profit, even at the cost of earth’s future.  Enter the coronavirus.  By March 18th, the plastic industry in the U.S. had kicked into high gear.  The trade group Plastics Industry Association requested that the US Department of Health endorse the idea that “single-use plastic products are the most sanitary choice when it comes to many applications.”  A conservative nonprofit called the Independent Women’s Forum started running ads pressuring Washington state, New York, and California to reverse their bag bans. IWF’s ad’s claim: “Researchers say COVID-19 can survive on reusable tote bags for nine days. However, some state legislators are enforcing draconian bans on plastic bags, which might contribute to the spread of the virus and other harmful microorganisms.” 

Many of the groups that have picked up these claims, including the Manhattan Institute and Competitive Enterprise Institute, receive support from the Kochs, the infamous family of moguls who made their fortune in the petrochemical industry.  Now are you starting to smell a rat?  The plastic industry’s tactics seem to be working: Maine’s plastic bag ban was supposed to go into effect on April 22, but it’s been postponed till January 2021. New Hampshire’s governor Christopher Sununu, who has misrepresented climate science, has gone further to use the state of emergency to temporarily ban reusable bags. Republicans in Washington state, New York, and New Jersey have been waging campaigns to reverse or delay the blue states’ bans because of coronavirus.

On Sunday, when I had access to daughter Chris’ car and could go to a grocery store a bit farther afield than the Kroger that is only a half-mile from my home (my van is not reliable and I go no further in it than I could walk home), I went to the Meijer store, a midwestern chain, hoping to find some of those rare items such as toilet paper and Clorox wipes that had been impossible to find at Kroger.  A sign on the door warned that re-usable bags were prohibited, but I entered anyway, figuring to argue the point when I got to the check out.  But a young manager stopped me almost before my posterior had cleared the automatic doors and informed me that I could not bring “those bags” into the store.  I rarely give away pieces of my mind, as I have so few left, but he got a rather large piece.  Enraged, I accused him of personally killing every fish in the ocean and also told him that the lives of his own grandchildren (he was only about 25) were on his shoulders, as he was ensuring they would die from lack of water to drink and air to breathe.  I then indignantly stormed out and returned to my own Kroger, hoping against all hope that they had not implemented a similar rule.  They hadn’t, but I was informed I would have to bag my own groceries, for they wouldn’t touch my bags.

Now, there are two things to argue here.  First of all, my bags are a few million times less likely to have any form of germ, let alone a corona-bug, on them than that can of peas you see in aisle #12, or even the tomatoes you picked up in produce.  My bags were wiped down with disinfecting wipes after their last use, and have resided in my locked van ever since.  They are sterile!  Every item in the store is germier than my bags!

The other thing, and the whole point of this post, is that the coronavirus pandemic is a short-term problem.  Yes, a very serious problem at this time, but nonetheless one with a limited lifespan.  Destruction of the environment is an ongoing problem that is shortening the hope for the continuation of life … any life … on earth every single day.  Just because we have a serious problem with this pandemic does not mean we can ignore all the other problems in the world!  The coronavirus has resulted in thousands of deaths and may even rise into the millions.  I’m not making light of that, but there are 7.8 billion human inhabitants on this planet, and exponentially more other life forms that rely on us turning around the damage that has been done over the past 150-200 years.  Plastics in all forms are part of that destruction, and single use plastic bottles and bags are one of the biggest culprits.

The re-usable bags aren’t the problem, but rather the excuse that is being used as the plastic industry seeks to profit from this human crisis.  Once again, We the People are being lied to and tricked, and I for one am damned sick and tired of it.  And for the record, I will never shop at Meijer again, nor any other store that attempts to force me to use their plastic bags!  Excuse me … I need to breathe now.

While We Were Watching The Circus …

clown trumpWhile we keep watching the circus playing out before our eyes, the clown with the funny hair and weird makeup who keeps tweeting mindless inanities, things are happening in our government.  Things that will have an effect on our health, our freedom of press, our very lives.

We may wake up some morning and find that any number of things have changed overnight.  For instance, we might wake up and find that our national parks and wildlife refuges no longer exist as such, for they have been sold to ExxonMobile for drilling rights, or dispersed to various coal companies for mining rights.  Or we might waken to the news that an entire Indian nation has been forced to leave their land for lack of water.nat'l park shutteredWhy, you ask?  In late December, amid the government shutdown, the U.S. Department of Interior, currently under the direction of Acting Secretary David Bernhardt, proposed changes that would make it harder for the public and media to obtain records of agency dealings.  According to The Guardian (you don’t find these things in U.S. news)

“Among other wide-ranging revisions to its Foia [Freedom of Information Act] regulations, the interior department’s proposal would enable the agency to reject Foia requests that it considers “unreasonably burdensome” or too large, and it would allow the agency to impose limits on the amount of records it processes for individual requesters each month.

The department oversees hundreds of millions of acres of public land, including national parks, as well as the country’s endangered species programs. Under the Trump administration, the department has embarked on an aggressive agenda of opening these lands to oil and gas drilling and mining while rolling back a wide variety of environmental regulations.

Records uncovered using the Freedom of Information Act in recent months have revealed the department’s close ties with energy industry groups as well as several apparent ethics violations among top political officials.

Daniel Jorjani, one of interior’s top lawyers and a former employee of the Koch-brother-backed conservative group Freedom Partners, signed off on the proposed revisions, which are facing harsh criticism from civil society groups that rely on Foia to track the department’s actions.

The changes are part of a broader drive to limit public access to interior department records. In October, the Guardian reported on a leaked interior department guidance that directed US Fish and Wildlife Service employees around the country to take a less transparent approach when responding to Foia requests about the agency’s endangered species programs.”

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Ryan Zinke

The proposal was made by Ryan Zinke before his contentious departure, and the announcement was made on Friday, December 28th, in the midst of the chaos of the government shutdown and the circus acts that accompanied it.  The public was invited to comment until January 28th (three days ago) with no extension.  Local, regional, and national organizations including the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), the Wilderness Society, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club are among those who submitted comments, as well as organizations representing the media, including the Society for Environmental Journalists and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

As part of the change, requests would be transferred to Deputy Solicitor General Daniel Jorjani, a former advisor to the mega-donor conservative Koch brothers. Interior career staff previously oversaw the requests, while Jorjani is a political appointee.

FOIA requests would also need to be much more detailed according to the new rules, and among other caveats, Interior “will not honor a request that requires an unreasonably burdensome search.”  And of course it is incumbent on the Department of Interior’s Jorjani to determine what constitutes an “unreasonably burdensome search”.  The proposal comes amid a large uptick in FOIA requests as journalists, climate advocates, and others work to gain information about the Trump administration’s large-scale environmental rollbacks and efforts targeting public lands.

Last week, the Interior Department announced that it would extend the comment period by only one day, from January 28 to January 29, after more than 150 organizations requested an extension. The department said the 24-hour extension was to “ensure interested parties have the full 30 days to submit their responses.” Without a second extension, the comment period ended at midnight on Wednesday.

And in related news … The Wilderness Society reported yesterday that in Wyoming, 140 parcels, totaling 150,000 acres were posted for sale.  Meanwhile, in Utah, 156 parcels, totaling 217, 475 acres were posted. These actions, also, had been announced during the shutdown, but the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had only a week to review comments from the public.  The entire process brings into question, how much consideration the BLM gave to the comments submitted.  That is our land, folks … public land.

Funny, but I remember some point during Trump’s campaign that he said he would “drain the swamp” and make government more ‘transparent’.  Apparently the words ‘swamp’ and ‘transparency’ have been re-written under the alternative dictionary of Trump & Co.

What could possibly go wrong if this proposal is finalized, as I expect it will be?  Let’s think about what the Interior Department does.  It is responsible for the management and conservation of most federal lands and natural resources, and the administration of programs relating to Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, territorial affairs, and insular areas of the United States.

With both actions and speech, Trump has shown time and again that any respect he has for the public lands, for the protection of wildlife, and for the Native American tribes takes a backseat to profit for the oil, gas and coal industries.  His massive de-regulations on the fossil fuel industry, his promotion of pipelines such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access, and his lack of concern over clean air & water, marine life, wildlife, and human health make it essential that we have transparency in the departments (Interior, EPA and Agriculture) that manage these functions.  And now, that is being taken away.  And we hardly noticed, for we were focused on the circus.circus.jpg

Dear Republicans, Your Dark Money Days Are About To Hit A Roadblock

In 2010, with the Citizens United decision that removed limits on how much money corporations could contribute to political campaigns, we saw the beginning of an era whereby wealthy corporations are pretty much able to buy elections. The ruling was the beginning of the end of election integrity. But this week, a small step was taken that may be a start toward returning a bit of integrity to the U.S. elections, and our friend Gronda has written an excellent, informative piece explaining it. Thank you, Gronda, for keeping us informed!

Gronda Morin

Image result for photos of americans for prosperity

Could the Republican Party be in receipt for even more negative news? Yes, as many donors of dark monies, (monies they can donate for political purposes anonymously), will have the cloak of anonymity taken away. Again, the courts have stepped in to rule that many of these donors will have to reveal their names to the public, even before the November 2018 elections.

Here is the rest of the story… 

On September 18, 2018, Paul Blumenthal of HuffPost penned the following report, “Dark Money Groups Will Have To Disclose Their Donors In Time For The Midterms” (“A court order invalidating a rule that kept some election spending secret is going into effect.”)

Excerpts:

“There may be a whole lot less dark money in federal elections after the Supreme Court allowed a lower court decision to go into effect on Tuesday invalidating a key regulation that created a loophole for…

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From Bad To Worse …

The first news I saw this morning was that Tillerson had been fired, which anybody with half a brain predicted months ago.  Now, Tillerson was highly unqualified for the job of Secretary of State, as I wrote in May 2017.  However, in defense of Mr. Tillerson, he was trying to learn his job, was trying, I think, to do the right thing.  Or perhaps I am only in his corner because he had the nerve to call Donald Trump a moron last October.

At any rate, Tillerson is out and in his place comes Mike Pompeo, who until today was the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  Now, I know that hearing me say what I’m about to say is getting old and you’re tired of hearing it, but hey … I’m not the one who keeps finding these people.  Mike Pompeo is highly unqualified to be in the position of Secretary of State.  Surprised, aren’t you?  Let’s take a brief look at ol’ Mikey …

He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from West Point in 1986, and with a JD from Harvard Law School in 1994.  And what has he done since then?  He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2011 until Trump tapped him for the CIA position almost immediately after the 2016 election.  His political views make him a perfect fit for the Trump ‘team’, for he leans far to the right and is or was a member of the “Tea Party” movement.  Let’s take a closer look … you may want to make sure you have an antacid close by …

On climate change and protecting the environment:

“There are scientists who think lots of different things about climate change. There’s some who think we’re warming, there’s some who think we’re cooling, there’s some who think that the last 16 years have shown a pretty stable climate environment.”  (Seriously?  It seems that I recall reading that 97% of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.)

“Federal policy should be about the American family, not worshipping a radical environmental agenda.”  (Just how long do you think the American family will continue to exist if we don’t protect our home, the planet Earth, Mr. P?)

He also opposes the regulation of Greenhouse gas emissions by the United States, and supports eliminating the United States federal register of greenhouse gas emissions.  Are you beginning to understand why Trump picked him?

He has called for the permanent elimination of wind power production tax credits, calling them an “enormous government handout”.

Pompeo is a member of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the conservative political advocacy group funded by the Koch brothers.  Their agenda, naturally, is to place as many far-right candidates in key Congressional positions as possible.  To that tune, during the 2014 election season, the Koch brothers, David and Charles, contributed nearly a half-million dollars to Pompeo’s campaign.  He signed the AFP’s “No Climate Tax” pledge …No climate tax pledgeAnd the AFP isn’t his only connection to the infamous Kochs.  In 1998, Pompeo co-founded Thayer Aerospace and Private Security, funded in part by investments by the Koch brothers.

He opposes same-sex marriage, opposes workplace protection for the LGBT community, which has earned him a zero rating with the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).  But I know you’ll be happy to hear that he has an “A” rating with the National Rifle Association (NRA)!

Toward the latter part of his short tenure, Tillerson seemed to be stepping up to the plate, and only yesterday condemned Russia for the chemical attack against a former Russian spy in the UK – a stance that the Trump White House refused to take, and one that was likely the straw that broke the camel’s back for Tillerson’s tenure in the State Department.  Tillerson was not an ideal Secretary of State, but it is the opinion of this writer that Pompeo will be worse.  Trump has made a shambles of our relations with allies across the pond, and Pompeo is likely to support Trump blindly, causing even more rifts.  Pompeo has absolutely zero foreign policy experience, and has rigid, uncompromising views on human rights.  This is not what we need, especially as Trump heads to his first meeting with Kim Jong-un of North Korea.

Pompeo will have to be confirmed by the Senate, of course, but as we have seen in the past 14 months, that is a rubber stamp, as the republicans in the Senate continue to lick Trump’s boots.

Wisconsin Backtracks on Climate Change

Last month the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources updated its website.  Among the changes are the removal of all language implying that said humans and greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change. The DNR now says the subject is a matter of scientific debate.

“… as it has done throughout the centuries, the earth is going through a change. The reasons for this change at this particular time in the earth’s long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Department of Natural Resources.”

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For entire article, click here.

According to Wisconsin DNR spokesman Jim Dick, [The] updated page reflects our position on this topic that we have communicated for years, that our agency regularly must respond to a variety of environmental and human stressors from drought, flooding, wind events to changing demographics. As you know the causes and effects of any changes in climate are still being debated and research on the matter is being done in academic circles outside DNR.” While some scientists have painted doubt for the reason why the planet is warming, the vast majority of climate scientists agree that burning of fossil fuels has increased global greenhouses gases in the atmosphere and has caused warming.

A 2014 United Nations report that surveyed the latest science of climate change found “human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history.” How is that considered “being debated”? Ah, but we must remember, we have now entered the post-truth era where truth is whatever the people in power want it to be, and facts no longer matter.

Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker has been critical of President Obama’s climate initiatives, and he has a track record of actively undermining pro-environment programs and policies while supporting the fossil fuel industry.  Walker also has close ties to Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who made a fortune in fossil fuels and who for years poured money into groups that cast doubt on the science of climate change. In his 2015 budget, he cut funding for renewable energy research, as well as municipal recycling programs.  He did, however, budget a quarter of a million dollars for a study into the health effects of wind turbines.  The study attempts to connect inaudible sound waves from wind turbines to insomnia, anxiety, and other disorders. Wisconsin’s Public Service Commission attempted to impose a surcharge on monthly bills that homeowners would have to pay if they purchase their own solar panels!

In 2011, Governor Walker appointed Cathy Stepp to head the state DNR.  Stepp was an outspoken critic of the DNR.  As the Wisconsin State Journal noted, “Putting Cathy Stepp in charge of the DNR is like putting Lindsay Lohan in charge of a rehab center.”

I am confident that the reason the Wisconsin DNR made the change to their outlook now, rather than several years ago, has much to do with the incoming president who has repeatedly referred to climate change as a “hoax perpetuated by the Chinese”.  My concern is that more states, particularly those whose economies rely on coal or oil, will follow suit, given that the new administration seems set to follow a course of reversing past gains in environmental issues. The reality of climate change has been scientifically verified many times over, and those who would deny the reality do so either out of ignorance or greed.  For a state government agency, with the blessing of the governor of that state, to do so is dangerous and unacceptable.  Fully 70% of the U.S. population believe that carbon emissions are a danger to our environment and support such measures as the Clean Air Act.  However, Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is a known climate change denier and he and Trump have plans to shut down Nasa’s Earth science division, calling it “politicized science”.  Climate change is NOT a ‘matter of scientific debate’, but a very real, very dangerous phenomenon for the planet that sustains human life.  I hope that other states will do the right thing, rather than following in the footsteps of Wisconsin!

The Drumpf/Pence Ticket … ho hum

Current Indiana governor Michael (Mike) Richard Pence is now officially Donald Trump’s running mate.

Statistics:

  • Pence was U.S. Representative from 2001 – 2013; he also served as Chairman of the House Republican Conference from 2009 to 2011.
  • He earned a B.A. in History from Hanover College in 1981 and a J.D. from the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in 1986.

Political Positions:

  • Immigration – In June 2006, Pence unveiled a plan he describes as “no amnesty immigration reform”, consisting of increased border security, followed by strict enforcement of laws against hiring illegal aliens, and a guest worker program. This guest worker program requires potential participants to apply from their home country  (where their lives are in danger every day) to government-approved job placement agencies that match workers with employers who cannot find Americans for the job. Pence has repeatedly attempted, unsuccessfully, to ban Syrian refugees from settling in Indiana.
  • Foreign Policy – he supported the Iraqi War; he opposes closing Guantanamo Bay; he supports Israel’s right to use preemptive strikes against Iran and deadly force in Gaza.
  • LGBT rights – opposes rights for the LGBT community; supports anti-LGBT legislation; opposes homosexuals in military; opposes same-sex marriages and civil unions. In 2015, Pence signed a highly controversial “religious freedom” bill into law.
  • Other – he has compared ACA (aka Obamacare) to 9/11 terrorist attacks

Speculation is that in selecting Pence, Trump is attempting to appease other republican leaders, such as Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, as well as to trying to reassure social conservatives who are uncomfortable with certain elements in Trump’s rhetoric and behaviour.  Additionally, there is the matter of demographics – Trump is not polling well in the industrial Midwest.  And last, but by no means least, Pence has strong ties to the billionaire Koch brothers who are not fans of Trump and have, thus far, withheld their financial support from his campaign.

penceUntil today, Pence was running for re-election for governor of Indiana, though he will drop out of that race now that he is officially Trump’s running mate.  His re-election bid has been by no means smooth sailing, given the controversy over his signing of the “religious freedom” bill last year.  He was facing Democrat John Gregg, whom he narrowly defeated four years ago, and the odds were that he would not come out on top.  There are multiple Facebook pages titled “Pence Must Go”, or some form thereof, and all indications are that he is not popular in his home state, so it is questionable how much assistance he can bring to the Trump campaign on that score.  I am told by friends that one can see yard signs sporting the slogan “Pence Must Go” throughout the state.  He had been given until noon on 15 July (today) to decide whether to drop out of the race, and now the Republican state committee will have 30 days to select a replacement.

In addition to his unreasonable stances on immigration and LGBT rights, Pence has received significant campaign donations from none other than the tobacco industry, presumably in exchange for his efforts on their behalf.  In 2001 he wrote:  “Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill. In fact, 2 out of every three smokers does not die from a smoking related illness and 9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer.”  And not only does he discredit decades of research by the CDC, but also by environmental scientists.  “Here’s the deal.  Environmentalists claim that certain ‘greenhouse gases’ like carbon dioxide are mucking up the atmosphere and causing the earth to gradually warm. Despite the fact that CO2 is a naturally occurring phenomenon in nature, the greenpeace folks want to blame it all on coal and certain (evil) coal burning power plants …”  He goes on to refer to climate change as a “chicken little” movement with no other intent than to raise taxes.  Such arrogance, claiming to know more than scientists, doctors and researchers … he and Trump will make quite a duo.

trump-penceSo, what does it all mean?  Less than you might think. Studies show that historically, the choice of running mate has very little effect on the outcome of an election (see Politico article). Temperamentally, Pence is more of a smooth talker, less given to bombastic rants and theatrical babblings than da trumpeter, which explains why some GOP leaders may like him, hoping that he will tone down the message to be acceptable to the average Joe.  However, his message is very similar in many ways to da trumpeter.  Trump’s selection as running mate is a motion of appeasement, but ultimately Pence will likely end up a puppet on the string of da trumpeter, and it really changes nothing. While the GOP may be appeased, I doubt the same can be said of the voters he is hoping to sway.

Those who fear the radicalism and bigotry that is encountered in Trump’s message, will still be fearful.  For make no mistake, Trump is still the ringleader of this circus and Pence will be his right-hand clown, nothing more.  His choice of running mate, in my opinion at least, was somewhat anticlimactic.  Ho-hum.