Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Last Call For Trumped At The Pump

After 8 years of dealing with President Obama and an America that was going away from oil, OPEC suddenly has Trump and now knows it can leverage oil production to start turning the screws on US consumers.

OPEC clinched a deal to curtail oil supply, confounding skeptics as the need to clear a record global crude glut -- and prove the group’s credibility -- brought about its first cuts in eight years. 
OPEC will reduce production by 1.2 million barrels a day to 32.5 million a day, two delegates said Wednesday during a ministerial meeting in Vienna, asking not to be identified as the decision isn’t yet public. Benchmark Brent crude rose 8 percent to $50.07 a barrel in London at 1:37 p.m. local time. 
After weeks of often tense negotiations, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ three biggest producers -- Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran -- resolved differences over sharing the burden of cuts. Notably, it appears the Saudis accepted that Iran, as a special case, can raise production to about 3.9 million barrels a day. The agreement is also likely to include an additional reduction of about 600,000 barrels a day by non-OPEC countries. 
“This should be a wake-up call for skeptics who have argued the death of OPEC,” said Amrita Sen, chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd. “The group wants to push inventories down.” 
The deal promises to revive the tattered finances of countries from Venezuela to Libya and restore flagging confidence in the producer bloc that controls 40 percent of the world’s oil. But the consequences will reverberate far beyond OPEC, giving a boost to U.S. shale drillers crippled by a two-year price rout and oil giants such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc, which have cut spending to the bone to weather the prolonged downturn.

So the countries Trump has repeatedly criticized during his campaign like Iran, Venezuela and Libya stand to benefit the most from a new, more muscular OPEC.  Like it or not, the global energy trade war that Trump all but promised is on, and rising oil and gas prices are just the first step.

Trump will of course look to retaliate by wrecking the environment to put new drilling and fracking everywhere in the US in order to try to boost production instead of beating OPEC at their own game as Obama has and lowering demand through alternative energy. He played hardball.

Trump on the other hand just helped his Saudi buddies make billions off of US consumers, and then there's the biggest non-OPEC economic winner when the price of oil goes up: Russia.  It's almost like there's a pattern here, guys.

So we'll have an oil price war AND global warming accelerating.  Won't that be fun?

Oversight Is Over And Out

House GOP Oversight Committee chair Rep. Jason Chaffetz, robbed of spending four years of persecution of Hillary Clinton by a Trump win, has no plans whatsoever to even lift a finger to look at The Donald's actual conflicts of interest and open boasts of kleptocracy.

Back in October, Representative Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight Committee, had big plans for 2017. After leading the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, he positioned himself to be President Clinton’s greatest foe in Congress, bragging to the Washington Post that he would spend the next four years probing her alleged misdeeds. 
“It’s a target-rich environment,” Chaffetz said. “Even before we get to Day One, we’ve got two years’ worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain’t good.” 
Even after the election, Chaffetz said he had a “duty and obligation” to continue investigating the former secretary of State. However, he claimed his committee would investigate President-elect Trump with equal fervor. “I am optimistic that a Trump administration would actually be cooperative,” Chaffetz said. “The Obama administration has given us the stiff arm every single step of the way. I think a new administration would actually work with us to quickly get to the truth, learn what we need to learn and then fix it.” 
It’s unclear why Chaffetz thinks the candidate who refused Chaffetz’s call to release his tax returns will be more responsive as president, but so far the Utah congressman isn’t even asking for a response.

Amid staggering evidence of Trump’s conflicts of interest — from letting the manager of his blind trust sit in on meetings with foreign dignitaries to allowing his D.C. hotel to court foreign diplomats — Chaffetz has ignored calls to launch an investigation into the president-elect.

And he will continue to ignore them, and he will be rewarded with easy reelection in a Utah district that he won by 46 points just three weeks ago, and he will remain House Oversight Committee chair.

And nobody will care.  Anyone who thought for a moment that Chaffetz was ever going to investigate Trump is nearly as much of a problem with our political system as Chaffetz himself is.  The next four years will be brutal, blood-soaked payback against the Obama coalition in an effrot to make sure Democrats never hold power again.

Jason Chaffetz won't even begin to interfere with that.

America's Coming Labor Pains

Politico is reporting that Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Lou Barletta is up for Labor Secretary, and judging from his record he'll be no friend of America's workers.

According to a transition pool report, Barletta said that he and President-elect Donald Trump “talked about the secretary of labor.” When asked whether he was interested in the position, Barletta said, “I’m going to consider what we talked about.”

Barletta is a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee and would likely roll back key Obama administration regulations. In September, he backed a proposal to delay the Labor Department’s final overtime rule by six months, calling it ‘“ill-considered." (A Texas judge issued a preliminary injunction against the rule last week.)

In addition, Barletta opposed the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule, which requires broker-dealers to consider only their clients’ best interest when providing retirement advice. In April, Barletta voted to block the rule under the Congressional Review Act. (The measure did not pass.)

Barletta is vocal on immigration issues. He was a signatory to an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case challenging President Barack Obama’s 2014 executive actions extending deferred action to undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and expanded deferred action for undocumented children. Barletta also supported legislation passed by the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that penalized so-called sanctuary cities that did not comply with federal law enforcement.

“Sanctuary cities provide refuge for illegal immigrants, drain local resources, and contribute to an increase in crime,” he said in a statement. “ This bill says that sanctuary cities can no longer operate with impunity and holds them accountable for their own actions and the behavior of the illegal immigrants they are sheltering.”

Ragerdless of who's in charge of the department, I'd expect whoever it is to rail against immigrants, Obamacare, and the minimum wage.  Barletta, coming from coal country in the Keystone State, seems like the perfect front man for Trump's coming deregulatory push that will almost certainly reverse worker protections under the Obama administration.

Barletta entered politics in 1999, when he became Mayor of Hazelton, Pennsylvania. He held the office until 2010. Barletta, who was born there, became nationally known as one of the toughest politicians on illegal immigration, a reputation that must have impressed Trump. He even vowed to make the city “one of the toughest places in the United States” for illegal immigrants.

In 2006, Barletta and the Hazelton City Council made it illegal for all illegal immigrants in the city to rent homes or work there. As the the Washington Post notes, the act also made English the city’s official language and banned employees from translating documents without authorization.

“I see illegal immigrants picking up and leaving — some Mexican restaurants say business is off 75 percent,” Barletta told the Post in 2006. “The message is out there.”

In July 2007, a Federal District court Judge struck down the ordinance, ruling that it interfered with federal laws on immigration and the due process of employers.

“Whatever frustrations officials of the City of Hazleton may feel about the current state of immigration enforcement, the nature of the political system in the United States prohibits the city from enacting ordinances that disrupt a carefully drawn federal statutory scheme,” Judge James M. Munley wrote in his ruling, reports the New York Times.

“I will not sit back because the federal government has refused to do its job,” Baretta vowed after the ruling. However, the ruling was upheld in 2010 by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

So yeah, a loud and virulent critic of "illegals" will almost certainly be offered the job of Labor Secretary.  His job will almost certainly be to justify measures to "clean up" the workforce.  Whether or not Trump and Barletta decide to take aim at employers who make billions every year by knowingly hiring undocumented workers and not paying taxes on them, well I wouldn't hold your breath on that.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Last Call For Healing The Rift

Donald Trump's "I Won, Now Suck It Libtards!" victory tour will start on Thursday right here in Cincy.

Donald Trump is planning to launch his nationwide victory tour in Cincinnati on Thursday, according to the Republican's official website.

The president-elect and Vice President elect Mike Pence are scheduled to be at U.S. Bank Arena at 7 p.m. Tickets are free and limited to two per person. Doors open at 4 p.m.

Trump's victory in Ohio on Nov. 8 helped send him to the White House. Hamilton County went for Hillary Clinton, but Trump overall won Southwest Ohio and every county county bordering Hamilton in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

Trump has said he loves Cincinnati, because Bond Hill is where he made one of the first deals of his real estate career.

The fact Trump is holding a victory rally in one of the few counties he lost in Ohio is the real message here.  You're surrounded, blue voters.  And now, you are the Enemy.

You will be dealt with accordingly in the Trump regime.

A Tale Of Abortive Efforts

With the incoming Trump administration and full control of Congress, the GOP is going to be spending 2017 collecting heads.  While Obamacare is likely to be the first trophy, Planned Parenthood is also on top of the endangered species list, and there's precisely zero that Democrats can do to save either.

Congressional Republicans are aiming to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood early next year, according to GOP sources on and off the Hill, as social conservatives press for a milestone win under Donald Trump's presidency after years of thwarted attempts to defund the health care group. 
Although the Senate passed a budget bill in late 2015 that eliminated federal money for Planned Parenthood and also repealed Obamacare, President Barack Obama vetoed the measure in early January. But with Trump in the White House next year, conservatives say it's just a matter of time before a defunding bill becomes law.

“The entire movement is poised for a victory,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, an advocacy group that opposes abortion. “We have every assurance [from congressional leaders] that it’s going to happen. Nobody is saying ‘whether,’ the question is ‘when.’” 
If successful, this latest push would be the single biggest victory for anti-abortion groups in years, and likely the first step in a broader agenda aimed at sharply curtailing abortion procedures. Federal law already bars Planned Parenthood from using taxpayer funds for abortions; the group uses the money for family planning and other health services. But anti-abortion groups insist the funding facilitates abortion by freeing up other funds for abortion services. 
After Planned Parenthood, advocates are expected to take aim at banning abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy and making the Hyde amendment — which bans the use of federal money for abortions — permanent. But even with Republicans in control of all the levers of government, those goals face much longer odds. At the same time, they're going to be marshaling forces to help ensure the confirmation of a conservative Supreme Court justice to replace Antonin Scalia, who died in February. 
More immediately, Republicans and their allies are considering a procedure early next year that would neuter Democratic resistance before it's even begun. Anti-abortion advocacy groups are lobbying Republicans to make the defunding provision part of an Obamacare repeal and pass the whole thing using a fast-track budget procedure that would block any Democratic filibuster. Using that so-called budget reconciliation procedure would mean Republicans could have the package on Trump's desk within weeks of his inauguration.

So yeah, once the ball gets rolling on this, it's going to be difficult, if not impossible, to stop.  Voters effectively handed the keys over to America's drunk asshole of an uncle, and he's going to do everything he can to wreck the place again and again and again.

Remember how Texas cutting off the state's Planned Parenthood condemned the state to the worst infant mortality rate in the developed world and will be forcing women to pay to bury or cremate fetal tissue from a miscarriage or abortion procedure starting next month?

Expect that nationally.  The war on women is just about over, guys.

Women lost.

The Price Is Wrong For Obamacare

Donald Trump has apparently decided on Georgia GOP Rep. Tom Price as head of the Department of Health and Human Services, and as Vox health reporter Sarah Kliff points out, that signals Trump is deadly serious about eliminating Obamacare completely.

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services Secretary, already has a plan for how to abolish Obamacare. 
The Washington Post reported late Monday that Trump intends to announce Price, who currently serves as House Budget Chair, to lead the federal agency overseeing Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act. 
Price will arrive with at HHS with a clear blueprint for what comes next: he is the author of the Empowering Patients First Act, one of the most thorough and detailed proposals to repeal and replace Obamacare. He’s the HHS Secretary you’d pick if you were dead serious about dismantling the law
It would replace the law with a plan that does more to benefit the young, healthy, and rich — and disadvantages the sick, old, and poor. Price’s plan provides significantly less help to those with pre-existing conditions than other Republican proposals, particularly the replacement plan offered by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). 
The biggest cut to the poor in Price’s plan is the full repeal of the Medicaid expansion, a program that currently covers millions of low-income Americans, which Price replaces with, well, nothing
Most Republican replacement plans are still white papers rather than actual legislative language. This means they leave out a lot of key details — who, for example, would qualify for a high-risk pool or how big tax credits would be. But Price’s plan is detailed. It is 242-pages long and lays bare exactly how he would repeal Obamacare — a program Trump is now putting him in charge of.

So yes, this is pretty much the worst-case scenario for Obamacare.  Price's plan would kick more than 20 million people off Medicaid and drastically reduce subsidies for the individual market.  It would skyrocket the number of uninsured overnight.  And regardless of the expected early GOP legislative response to Obamacare, putting its nastiest foe in charge of the plan all but guarantees de facto repeal.

In other words if you have health coverage through the Affordable Care Act, kiss it goodbye.

It's what you voted for, after all. And don't you dare say that you weren't warned.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Last Call For Straight Out Of The Comics

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said on Monday it had contained a cyber attack, which disrupted its ticketing systems and forced it to offer free service to some customers during the Thanksgiving weekend. 
The agency, known widely as Muni, said it was the victim of a ransomware attack on Friday that affected internal computer systems including email, but had no impact on safe operation of transit services. 
The agency disabled fare gates from Friday to Sunday “as a precaution to minimize possible impacts to our customers,” Muni spokesman Paul Rose said in an email on Monday. 
Muni said on its website that “the situation is now contained and we have prioritized restoring our systems to be fully operational. 
It was the latest high-profile intrusion with ransomware, a pernicious type of computer virus that scrambles data on infected machines, sometimes making it impossible for organizations to deliver critical services. 
Attacks have increased sharply over the past year, with criminals targeting hospitals, police departments and other providers of critical services in the United States and Europe. Criminals typically charge a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars or more to provide digital keys that restore systems to normal. 
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation spokesman Prentice Danner said the agency was “in contact with Muni officials,” though he declined to say if the FBI had launched a formal investigation.

Ransomware is certainly nothing new, but taking down a major city's public transit system is the kind of thing information security experts have been warning us about for years.  Expect a lot more of this in the future, and soon.

In fact, if I were a budding Mr. Robot type, there's a certain 45th President of the US who has commercial and corporate interests all over the world that are exactly the kind of high-profile targets I'd be very, very, very interested in.

Just saying.

Let's Make A Deal, Or Something

Yet another indication over the weekend that Trump's Twitter tirade on the Wisconsin audit/recount is part of a larger plan as Trump transition team members spread out over the Sunday shows to imply that by supporting such an audit, Hillary Clinton will face consequences.

Donald Trump's incoming chief of staff suggests Hillary Clinton is backing away from a deal worked out between the two presidential campaigns on how the loser would concede to the winner.

Reince Priebus tells "Fox News Sunday" that Clinton's team "cut a deal" with Trump's team specifying that once The Associated Press called the race in favor of one candidate, the other would call within 15 minutes to concede.

Priebus says that's just what happened election night.

But now he's questioning whether Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias is backing down from that deal by announcing Clinton will participate in a recount in Wisconsin and may do the same in Michigan and Pennsylvania. The push is being led by the Green Party's Jill Stein.

AP's director of media relations, Lauren Easton, says AP "calls races when it is clear that one candidate has prevailed over the other. We have no knowledge of what the candidates do with that information until there is a public claim of victory or a concession."

Clinton "broke a deal", which by itself doesn't mean much more than posturing.  But combined with other Trump camp people on the Sunday shows, it demonstrates a pattern.  Take Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway on CNN's State of the Union talking about Trump's plans to prosecute Hillary Clinton in the future:

CONWAY: And so he said he wouldn’t rule it out. He said it’s just not his focus right now. I think he’s being quite magnanimous and at the same time he’s not undercutting at all the authority and the autonomy of the Department of Justice, of the FBI, of the House Committees, who knows where the evidence may lead if, in fact, it were — if the investigation were re-opened somewhere.

But this is the president-elect’s position right now and I would say he has been incredibly gracious and magnanimous to Secretary Clinton at a time when for whatever reason her folks are saying they will join in a recount to try to somehow undo the 70 plus electoral votes that he beat her by. I mean this — you know, I was asked on CNN and elsewhere, goodness a thousand times, will Donald Trump accept the election results? And now you’ve got the Democrats and Jill Stein saying they do not accept the election results. She congratulated him and conceded to him on election night. I was right there. And the idea that we are going to drag this out now where the president-elect has been incredibly magnanimous to the Clintons and to the Obamas is incredible.

If Priebus was delivering a message with a poison pen, Conway is delivering hers with a cinder block through the front window, and we're at the point where Trump's people are delivering naked threats against Clinton: drop the recount or else.

All evidence so far indicates Trump holds grudges for years, and that he expects to settle up every one of those grudges as President.  Nixon's infamous "enemies list" has nothing on Trump's coming incarnation.

E.T. Phone Loan

I've said in the past that phone metadata used by corporations was always a much larger day-to-day issue than the government using it (although to be fair, that was before Trump gets a hold of the NSA in January.)  But even if you don't know what the government is doing with your cell phone location and calling data, consumer credit ratings agencies will be happily buying that metadata from mobile carriers and using it to make credit decisions about you.

Financial institutions, overcoming some initial trepidation about privacy, are increasingly gauging consumers’ creditworthiness by using phone-company data on mobile calling patterns and locations.

The practice is tantalizing for lenders because it could help them reach some of the 2 billion people who don’t have bank accounts. On the other hand, some of the phone data could open up the risk of being used to discriminate against potential borrowers.

Phone carriers and banks have gained confidence in using mobile data for lending after seeing startups show preliminary success with the method in the past few years. Selling such data could become a more than $1 billion-a-year business for U.S. phone companies over the next decade, according to Crone Consulting LLC.

Fair Isaac Corp., whose FICO scores are the world’s most-used credit ratings, partnered up last month with startups Lenddo and EFL Global Ltd. to use mobile-phone information to help facilitate loans for small businesses and individuals in India and Russia. Last week, startup Juvo announced it’s working with Liberty Global Plc’s Cable & Wireless Communications to help with credit scoring using cellphone data in 15 Caribbean markets.

And Equifax Inc., the credit-score company, has started using utility and telecommunications data in Latin America over the past two years. The number of calls and text messages a potential borrower in Latin America receives can help predict a consumer’s credit risk, said Robin Moriarty, chief marketing officer at Equifax Latin America.

“It turns out, the more economically active you are, the more people want to call you,” Moriarty said. “That level of activity, that level of usage is what’s really most predictive.”

Did you catch that?  This is being used in Latin America and India so far, but what about the US?

In most cases, consumers must grant permission for their telecommunications records to be accessed as part of their risk assessment. One reason it’s taken the credit-risk industry some time to work out agreements with phone carriers or their representatives is because of negotiations over how to best protect client privacy.

Companies are also concerned about making sure they don’t make themselves susceptible to claims of bias. By checking phone records to see if a credit applicant associates with people with a poor track record of repaying loans, for example, lenders risk practicing discrimination on people living in disadvantaged neighborhoods. In addition, to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act in the U.S., a data provider must have a process in place for investigating and resolving consumer disputes in a timely manner -- something that telecommunications carriers abroad may not offer.

Several large phone companies contacted by Bloomberg declined to comment about whether they share data with financial institutions, and few of the startups or financial companies were willing to disclose their telecommunications partners.

So nobody's on record as doing this in the US yet.   Who wants to bet that this isn't already being shared with credit agencies in America yet?  How about with the incoming administration?

Yeah, if somehow your cell phone company isn't selling this information already to credit agencies, they will once Trump gets a hold of the FCC.  Oh, and who thinks this data won't be used to discriminate against people of color in 2017?

Count on it.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Last Call For Hair Shirts And Hatefests

So it turns out that the only person more preeningly narcissistic in the world of Village columnists than Maureen Dowd is Maureen Dowd's asshole Republican brother Kevin, who apparently gets to write a column this week telling liberals to go screw themselves because the good guys won.

Mr. Trump received over 62 million votes, not all of them cast by homophobes, Islamaphobes, racists, sexists, misogynists or any other “ists.” I would caution Trump deniers that all of the crying and whining is not good preparation for the coming storm. The liberal media, both print and electronic, has lost all credibility. I am reasonably sure that none of the mainstream print media had stories prepared for a Trump victory. I watched the networks and cable stations in their midnight meltdown — embodied by Rachel Maddow explaining to viewers that they were not having a “terrible, terrible dream” and that they had not died and “gone to hell.”

The media’s criticism of Trump’s high-level picks as “not diverse enough” or “too white and male” — a day before he named two women and offered a cabinet position to an African-American — magnified this fact.

Here is a final word to my Democratic friends. The election is over. There will not be a do-over. So let me bid farewell to Al Sharpton, Ben Rhodes and the Clintons. Note to Cher, Barbra, Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham: Your plane is waiting. And to Jon Stewart, who talked about moving to another planet: Your spaceship is waiting. To Bruce Springsteen, Jay Z, Beyoncé and Katy Perry, thanks for the free concerts. And finally, to all the foreign countries that contributed to the Clinton Foundation, there will not be a payoff or a rebate.

As Eddie Murphy so eloquently stated in the movie “48 Hrs.”: “There’s a new sheriff in town.” And he is going to be here for 1,461 days. Merry Christmas.

I guarantee you Kevin here will be making bank off of Trump's tax cuts in the next few years while he eagerly anticipates the coming storm missing people like him.  The vast majority of the 62 million people who voted for Trump will be swept away, along with the rest of us.

The Trumpian's New Clothes

MSNBC weekend host and Daily Beast writer Joy-Ann Reid warns us that in under three weeks, our media has already normalized Trump's openly unconstitutional kleptocracy as the way America has always been.

With Donald Trump about to ascend to the White House, the media risk being tamed by their devotion to access and the belligerencies of the notoriously vengeful resident of Trump Tower and his right-wing wrecking crew of a team. We face a singular test, both as a profession and as a country: will we allow ourselves to see what we see, or will we mentally drape the naked emperor in our midst?

Trump is beset by clear and alarming conflicts between his international business concerns and the national interest. In just the two weeks since the voters delivered him a narrow Electoral College victory, he has openly met with his Indian business partners; put his daughter on the phone with foreign leaders; dangled an unavailable ambassadorship to his UK political doppelganger Nigel Farage and simultaneously pushed Farage to help kill a wind farm project that would mar his Scottish golf course view. His leased D.C. hotel inside the old Post Office has become a prime destination for those seeking a way to curry favor with the incoming president by sliding their credit cards and at checkout time.

Real questions are being raised about possible violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, and there’s more to come. Trump is battling Washington D.C. over taxes owed by the hotel, which he leases from the same federal government he will soon lead. The LPGA will in months host a golf tournament on a course branded with the president’s name. Trump remains the subject of numerous lawsuits, ongoing questions about his self-dealing “charity,” and an alleged IRS audit (he will soon appoint the head of the agency). He only recently (and allegedly) divested himself of a substantial investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline that he will soon have a hand in resolving through his command of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. And there are lingering questions as to whether he sexually harassed or assaulted women, and perhaps more to the point: how many.

And these are just a handful of the personal and legal quagmires he faces.

Add to that the alarming consensus of experts regarding extensive Russian interference in the U.S. election through the pumping of fake news and propaganda into the country’s digital bloodstream, and the unprecedented intervention of the FBI within two weeks of the voting, and serious questions of basic legitimacy shroud the incoming president, who lost the popular vote by more than 2 million votes and counting.

And despite Jill Stein’s self-promotional foray into machine-rigging conspiracy theories, which happen to distract from real questions about voter disenfranchisement and suppression, Trump is likely to survive the three-state recount challenges. The Electoral College is unlikely to take the advice of legal scholars who have called on them to choose the person who got millions more votes to be the president.

Trump will, barring circumstances that are at this stage unforeseeable, be sworn in as the country’s 45th president on January 20.

The worst case scenario for the next four years is daunting: a country sinking into kleptocracy, with its natural resources, parks and lands carved up and sold off by Trump and his billionaire cabinet to the highest bidder with fat tax credits to boot; Medicare and other beloved social safety net programs dismantled along with Obamacare and its protections for 20 million people; a Justice Department sowing fear rather than confidence in communities of color; terrified immigrants and Muslims relying on Democratic mayors as their only shield; and an international community left horrified by an America that seems to have lost both its soul and its mind.

If that’s what’s coming, beware of the fictions that are sure to come with it; little lies that salve your discontent, but that obscure the realities that become more and more unpopular to speak of.

And of course, the worst case is actually far more awful and something I expect almost as a matter of foregone conclusion at this point: a brutal "regime change" quagmire war with Iran, an EU pushed to the point of financial and social collapse as right-wing nationalism shatters the continent and Turkey completes the transition to dictatorship, and a Russia ascendant with military might across the former Soviet republics, China rampant in the Pacific, Brazil, Japan, and Australia in a lost decade and America leaderless and rudderless.  And that's before we get to Israel and ISIS and Syria.

Strap in kids.  The next four years are most likely the beginning of the most turbulent era in international politics in decades.

Sunday Long Read: The Darkness In Flyover Country

Our Sunday Long Read this week is Sarah Kendzior's interview with Who What Why's Jeff Schechtman on the coming authoritarian kleptocracy of Trump, from a writer who has covered Central Asia for years and has witnessed such regimes being formed first hand.  Kendzior is the US correspondent for a number of foreign papers, and writing from this perspective she is sounding a very loud alarm that the US press is already deeply compromised and should be considered at this point to be nothing more than Trump's propaganda outlet, and that if experience and history is any teacher, America's descent into a dark version of itself will happen extremely quickly.

Jeff Schechtman: As you look out at what drove us to what we’ve been dealing with since Election Day, one of the things I know you’ve written about and talked about is the fact that the predicate for this has been with us for a long time. This isn’t something that just happened in the past year or the past year and a half during the campaign; that events that brought us to where we are today have been brewing for a long time. Talk about that.

Sarah Kendzior: Yes, that’s true in multiple respects. In terms of Trump and his popular support, I do live out in St. Louis in Missouri and the recession never ended here. People are extremely frustrated with their economic situation and it’s been very difficult for people to hold onto middle class jobs and so that kind of popular economic discontent that both Trump and Sanders, and eventually Clinton heavily emphasized is important. It’s not the only thing. Obviously, Trump has run a very racist and bigoted campaign; sort of white nationalist campaign reminiscent of dictators. I should note that I do live in Missouri, so I have this perspective but I also have a Ph.D. in anthropology where I studied dictatorships, particularly post-Soviet dictatorships like Uzbekistan, so I’m an expert in that field as well. Many of the things that Trump did throughout his campaign reminded me very much of the dictators that I’ve studied in terms of his demagoguery, his use of spectacle, manipulation of the media and his manipulation of the masses. 
Those who voted for him, I think have signed on for something that they don’t really want. I don’t think he’s going to fulfill his promises to them in order to improve their economic livelihood or keep them safer. I, in fact, think the opposite is going to happen. That’s true because he has frankly stated so, including long before the election. For example, in February 2014, Trump went on Fox News to talk about Russia – which we should return to this because it’s very interesting that a reality TV show host would be on TV talking about Russian foreign policy in 2014 – but another thing he said during then, the interview was that in order for America to go back to where it was, to go back to being great, we need total economic collapse and we need riots. He explicitly called for this. 
His chief advisor and advisor throughout his campaign, Steve Bannon, who is an extreme white supremacist who runs Breitbart Media, which is a conspiratorial, right wing site, has also said similar things. He described himself as a Leninist who wants to destroy the state but I wouldn’t really describe him as a Leninist as much as an accelerationist, which is also what I would describe Trump. So there’s so many factors going into this and it’s a little bit head spinning but I’ve been tracking it all year. I became very worried throughout the year that Trump would indeed win; I know the polls said he wouldn’t but I noticed both the genuine popular support that I saw among people here in the center of the country but also a lot of manipulative tactics that remind me very much of how dictators take power, so I think it’s important to take a full look at everything that happened and really investigate because what we will deal with in the future is very dire and I think we should try our best to stop it.

Jeff Schechtman: Talk a little bit about what you would hear from people in your part of the country, in the center of the country with regard to expectations; what they think is going to happen to the extent whether they voted for Trump simply because they wanted to shake things up or because they really did have expectations that somehow it was going to make their lives better?

Sarah Kendzior: Well, I went through a lot of Trump rallies and a lot of tea party Trump meetings in Missouri and also in Illinois throughout the year. I didn’t go as a journalist, I went as a member of the crowd and people would talk to me pretty openly because they thought I was a fellow Trump supporter. One thing that needs to be clear is that this is not a monolithic group of people. There are some people who really are very bigoted, who are anti-immigrant, who are racist; all of that is there. There are others that are just very desperate. They feel like their needs have not been addressed by the Democratic Party, by Obama and often by the GOP as well. I think that this is completely accurate. 
Since 2008, it’s been a struggle to live out here and to make ends meet. I think that we’re at a point where people feel so desperate and so enraged that they are willing to listen to anybody who is very actively stating that he’s concerned for their welfare, that he’s going to return their lives back to when it was good, especially that they would have steady jobs and work again and the feeling of safety and inclusion in American life. That feeling is very understandable. Donald Trump is not going to do that. He doesn’t actually understand or care about people in this part of the country. He’s had his whole life as a billionaire of major influence and political influence to care about what happens to people out here and all he’s done is shake people down. He’s done that all over the place; everywhere from Atlantic City to Gary Indiana. He’s about to shake down the entire country in a very kleptocratic way. I think by privatizing resources, by not bringing jobs, by making people feel more desperate – and that kind of desperation can lead to ethnic violence and can lead to hate crimes, especially when you’re being prompted towards those hate crimes explicitly by the administration. 
The hiring of Steve Bannon and others, he’s saying that this is sanctioned behavior now; that it’s okay for the president to be backed by the Ku Klux Klan, that you can get away with treating non-white people in a completely derogatory, cruel and often barbaric fashion. His promises, we should expect him to carry them out. A lot of people were doubtful that he would do things like make a registration list of Muslims or do mass deportation because these are the kinds of tactics that happened in dictatorships. These are the kind of things that don’t happen in the United States. We have had atrocities in the United States, but we usually prefer to not talk about them or brag about them so openly. He’s openly saying he’s going to do this, he’s said it throughout the entire campaign and he’s now making these plans. 
So we’re in for a very ugly situation where I think we’re going to be economically bottomed out. I think everyone is going to suffer, whether you voted for Trump or you didn’t. He might try to placate people in the beginning by throwing them some jobs, maybe through infrastructure projects but it seems clear from his team that the goal – as you’ve seen in other countries all around the world, is to try to make as much money for himself and his friends as he can by using and abusing executive powers to strip down national resources and carry out the kind of acts of corruption that he has, many of which we don’t know about because he won’t release his tax returns. So we should be prepared for economic volatility in a very extreme way. We should also be prepared for sanctioned violence and for policies that frankly disregard the Constitution and the rights of American citizens.

Jeff Schechtman: When many of these promises aren’t kept, when the lives of people in that part of the country don’t improve, are we going to see scapegoating that goes on in your view?

Sarah Kendzior: Yes, absolutely. That’s something I’m very concerned about. I think right now, people who voted for Trump are obviously happy he won. Some are just regular people who are glad their candidate managed to beat Hillary Clinton, but others – we’ve seen an enormous spike in hate crimes. I think one of the largest in the history of the country since they started tracking this: in the week after the election. Everything; from swastikas being painted in places to “make America white again” to people being beaten and bullied, to children being taunted in classrooms to threats to Muslims and Jews, it’s just very disconcerting. There doesn’t seem to be much reaction in our government to stop it. Leaders are not speaking out very strongly about it with a few exceptions, and I think it’s very interesting that one of those exceptions is Harry Reid, who’s leaving the government. He spoke out in the strongest way. 
So you kind of have to wonder why aren’t Obama and other leaders being more forceful when there’s a real state of threat from the president-elect in this team to average American citizens and that this threat is being carried out in a populous way and will eventually be carried out with the law itself; with executive power itself. I think as he does not fulfill his promises and jobs do not return here and if resources are denied and the people suffering increases, he will encourage them as he has throughout his campaign, to look for scapegoats. Those scapegoats will be Muslims, Mexicans and anyone else who he wants to blame this problem on. 
The media has really played this down. They played this down throughout the entire campaign, including major incidents such as two weeks before the election, a group of Trump fans were arrested by the FBI for building a weapon of mass destruction to blow up an apartment building that housed Somalis in Kansas. That to me is a pretty major story. Imagine if that was the other way around and bunch of Muslim Somalis had plotted to blow up a building of white Kansans. It would be everywhere, but I don’t even know if you’ve heard about it, I don’t know if your listeners have heard about it, but you can look it up. Kansas City Star covered it pretty extensively. So there’s something going on in that a lot of this seems to be sanctioned by the media, sanctioned by the government and it’s extremely reminiscent of dictators, both past and present and I think it’s an urgent crisis. 
I think it’s something that the government and the people, people who believe in American values; that we should be free, that we should be safe, that we should honor each other as citizens and respect each other’s rights as citizens. Anyone who cares about that should be very concerned right now and be contacting their representatives and speaking out and trying to amass as much mobilization against this kind of sanctioned brutality, if possible.
Again, Kendzior is an expert on the kind of kleptocratic dictatorships that preceded Trump. Just as the Gilded Age in the 20's led to the Great Depression of the 30's, I think that's where we're headed now, only in a much more compressed time scale.  Her view of America is that we need to mobilize now to try to head off the worst of Trump's impulses before they become the new normal.

I don't think we will.  Not in time to stop what's coming.  And when Trump fails to produce, the hammer is going to come down upon the most vulnerable of us, and people are going to die, and violence is going to be constant if not widespread, and then, history teaches us, the crackdown really begins.

As bad as 2016 is, we're all going to be wishing for it to come back before too long.

Also, pay attention to Kendzior as a voice in the weeks and months ahead.  Here she is on AM Joy this morning talking about the Grifter-in-Chief.

She makes a lot of sense.

And A Castro Of Thousands

If you're wondering how President-elect Trump would handle his first major foreign policy test with the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro over the weekend, well, it went pretty much as everyone expected.

Donald Trump condemned the late Cuban leader Fidel Castro on an otherwise quiet Saturday for the president-elect.

"The world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades," Trump said in a statement issued hours after Castro's death. "Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights."

Trump, who has pledged to roll back the Obama administration's diplomatic opening to Cuba, said the nation remains "a totalitarian island," but he hopes that Castro's passing will mark "a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve."

Noting support of anti-Castro Cuban Americans during the recent presidential election, Trump pledged to fight for a "free Cuba" during his administration.

"Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty," Trump said in his statement.

Earlier in the morning, Trump marked the news with brief tweet: "Fidel Castro is dead!"

Sure hope he doesn't fall for any Twitter hoaxes about people dying.  Might lead to an international incident or six.

Compare that to actual President Obama's statement:

At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. We know that this moment fills Cubans - in Cuba and in the United States - with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.

For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements. During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends - bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity. This engagement includes the contributions of Cuban Americans, who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba.

Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro's family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future. As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.

Republicans like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz have already called the measured statement "pathetic" but hey, we'll just have the Tweeter-in-Chief to scream out our impulses going forward.  Won't that be fun?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Trump Cards, Con't

Local Islamic leaders are asking for increased police protection after at least three California mosques received a letter that threatens Muslims and praises President-Elect Donald Trump.

Over the past several days, Islamic centers in Long Beach, Claremont and San Jose all received the same photocopy of a handwritten letter addressed to “the Children of Satan.” The letter calls Muslims “vile,” “filthy” and “evil.” It then states that Trump – who, during his campaign, proposed making Muslims register and blocking people of faith from entering the country – is going to “cleanse America.”

“He’s going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews,” the letter reads. “You Muslims would be wise to pack your bags and get out of Dodge.”

The letter is signed “Americans for a Better Way.”

It’s the latest in a series of incidents targeting Muslims and other minority groups since the Nov. 8 election.

Just another reminder for the "Hey let's secede cause we're California!" folks: by the time all the votes are counted in the Golden State, Trump will have ended up with more than four million votes. That's about the entire population of Oklahoma or the entire number of voters that turned out in Virginia.  In fact, those voters would have been enough to win any other Clinton state in the country by themselves, including New York.

So there are plenty of Trumpsters in California.  At no point should anyone think that the state "seceding" will solve problems like the above, so let's knock that "Calexit" talk off, shall we?

Making The Class Nerd Crawl

As Republicans come crawling back to join the Trump Grift Express, they should keep in mind that above all, Donald Trump is a vengeful bully who never forgives a slight, real or perceived, without extracting sufficient payback from whoever he thinks wronged him.

Fox News is reporting that Donald Trump’s transition team wants Mitt Romney to publicly apologize for railing against the president-elect during the campaign. 
A transition official told Fox’s Ed Henry that some in Trump’s inner circle want the former Massachusetts governor to apologize in order to be seriously considered for the secretary of State.

Trump is reportedly considering whether to pick Romney or former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani for the coveted cabinet position.

Giuliani is the preferred choice of Trump’s loyalists and grassroots supporters, while Romney is a favorite of establishment conservatives.

Considering Mike Huckabee was on FOX earlier this week bashing Romney, I wouldn't hold your breath.

“It’s not about that I don’t care for Mitt personally, but I’m still very unhappy that Mitt did everything he could to derail Donald Trump,” said Trump supporter Mike Huckabee in a Fox interview on Wednesday.

“There’s only one way that I think Mitt Romney could even be considered for a post like that and that is he goes to a microphone in a very public place and repudiates everything he said in that famous Salt Lake City speech, and everything he said after that,” Huckabee said, referring to a famous anti-Trump speech Romney gave in March.

The goal isn't to give Romney the job, the goal is to see how much Romney will debase himself, just like the rest of the "Never Trump" GOP has in praising their new king, and frankly if Romney does apologize, the entire world will know that he caved to Trump and that he has no real authority in the administration anyway, so that would make him a wildly ineffective diplomat.  Trump knows this. In fact, I fully expect Romney to be served up on a platter and loudly rejected no matter what his decision is, as Trump will make it clear that the time for returning to the fold has passed.

But it'll be funny bonus to Trump to make Romney dance and sing before yanking the rug out from under him and giving more power to people loyal to him, like Laura Ingraham.

The popular conservative radio talk show host is willing to accept the position of White House press secretary in Donald Trump’s administration, but she wants a bigger title, a role in policymaking and a seat at the decision-making table with the president, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

It’s not yet clear how Ingraham, a regular on Fox News who boosted Trump's anti-establishment candidacy throughout the campaign, would mesh with the rival power centers that currently define Trump’s inner circle. On one pole is Breitbart publisher and senior adviser Steve Bannon, who represents the rejection of the Republican establishment, and on the other is the outgoing RNC chairman and incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus, who represents the continued influence of the Washington insiders on Trump, and a connection to House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The KlepTrumpcracy continues. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Last Call For Prav-duh

Whether r not you believe our good Russian friends had anything to do with the election itself, it's pretty obvious at this point that they used fake news sites and viral internet psy-ops to swing the election towards Trump.

The flood of “fake news” this election season got support from a sophisticated Russian propaganda campaign that created and spread misleading articles online with the goal of punishing Democrat Hillary Clinton, helping Republican Donald Trump and undermining faith in American democracy, say independent researchers who tracked the operation.

Russia’s increasingly sophisticated propaganda machinery — including thousands of botnets, teams of paid human “trolls,” and networks of websites and social-media accounts — echoed and amplified right-wing sites across the Internet as they portrayed Clinton as a criminal hiding potentially fatal health problems and preparing to hand control of the nation to a shadowy cabal of global financiers. The effort also sought to heighten the appearance of international tensions and promote fear of looming hostilities with nuclear-armed Russia.

Two teams of independent researchers found that the Russians exploited American-made technology platforms to attack U.S. democracy at a particularly vulnerable moment, as an insurgent candidate harnessed a wide range of grievances to claim the White House. The sophistication of the Russian tactics may complicate efforts by Facebook and Google to crack down on “fake news,” as they have vowed to do after widespread complaints about the problem.

There is no way to know whether the Russian campaign proved decisive in electing Trump, but researchers portray it as part of a broadly effective strategy of sowing distrust in U.S. democracy and its leaders. The tactics included penetrating the computers of election officials in several states and releasing troves of hacked emails that embarrassed Clinton in the final months of her campaign.

“They want to essentially erode faith in the U.S. government or U.S. government interests,” said Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute who along with two other researchers has tracked Russian propaganda since 2014. “This was their standard mode during the Cold War. The problem is that this was hard to do before social media.”

Gotta admire old school Russian intel operations meeting social media America, and the collision gave us a frightfully misinformed and terrified undecided subset of the voting populace that decided to vote for Trump at the last minute, enough to give him the win in the Rust Belt states he needed, and let's not forget that the now strangely silent WikiLeaks was the main outlet for the Russian propaganda machine, one that has amazingly nothing to say about our president-elect or his cabinet selections.

The Russian campaign during this election season, researchers from both groups say, worked by harnessing the online world’s fascination with “buzzy” content that is surprising and emotionally potent, and tracks with popular conspiracy theories about how secret forces dictate world events.

Some of these stories originated with RT and Sputnik, state-funded Russian information services that mimic the style and tone of independent news organizations yet sometimes include false and misleading stories in their reports, the researchers say. On other occasions, RT, Sputnik and other Russian sites used social-media accounts to amplify misleading stories already circulating online, causing news algorithms to identify them as “trending” topics that sometimes prompted coverage from mainstream American news organizations.

The speed and coordination of these efforts allowed Russian-backed phony news to outcompete traditional news organizations for audience. Some of the first and most alarming tweets after Clinton fell ill at a Sept. 11 memorial event in New York, for example, came from Russian botnets and trolls, researchers found. (She was treated for pneumonia and returned to the campaign trail a few days later.)

This followed a spate of other misleading stories in August about Clinton’s supposedly troubled health. The Daily Beast debunked a particularly widely read piece in an article that reached 1,700 Facebook accounts and was read online more than 30,000 times. But the PropOrNot researchers found that the version supported by Russian propaganda reached 90,000 Facebook accounts and was read more than 8 million times. The researchers said the true Daily Beast story was like “shouting into a hurricane” of false stories supported by the Russians.

This propaganda machinery also helped push the phony story that an anti-Trump protester was paid thousands of dollars to participate in demonstrations, an allegation initially made by a self-described satirist and later repeated publicly by the Trump campaign. Researchers from both groups traced a variety of other false stories — fake reports of a coup launched at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and stories about how the United States was going to conduct a military attack and blame it on Russia — to Russian propaganda efforts.

But hey, at least we didn't elect the con artist.

The Zombie-Eyed Granny Starvers Are Here

The biggest Washington DC fight of 2017 may not actually have anything to do with Trump at all, but with Paul Ryan and double crusade to end Obamacare and Medicare as we know it.  It's something that even the Democrats might be able to turn to their advantage in 2018.

For nearly six years, Speaker Paul D. Ryan has championed the new approach, denounced by Democrats as “voucherizing” Medicare. Representative Tom Price of Georgia, the House Budget Committee chairman and a leading candidate to be Mr. Trump’s secretary of health and human services, has also embraced the idea, known as premium support.

And Democrats are relishing the fight and preparing to defend the program, which was created in 1965 as part of Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. They believe that if Mr. Trump chooses to do battle over Medicare, he would squander political capital, as President George W. Bush did with an effort to add private investment accounts to Social Security after his re-election in 2004.

Democrats will “stand firmly and unified” against Mr. Ryan if he tries to “shatter the sacred guarantee that has protected generations of seniors,” said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader.

Republicans have pressed for premium support since Mr. Ryan first included it in a budget blueprint in 2011. As he envisions it, Medicare beneficiaries would buy health insurance from one of a number of competing plans. The traditional fee-for-service Medicare program would compete directly with plans offered by private insurers like Humana, UnitedHealth Group and Blue Cross Blue Shield.

The federal government would contribute the same basic amount toward coverage of each beneficiary in a region. Those who choose more costly options would generally have to pay higher premiums; those who choose plans that cost less than the federal contribution could receive rebates or extra benefits.

Supporters say this approach could save money by stimulating greater price competition among insurers, who would offer plans with lower premiums to attract customers.

Democrats say that premium support would privatize Medicare, replacing the current government guarantee with skimpy vouchers — “coupon care for seniors.” The fear is that the healthiest seniors would choose private insurance, lured by offers of free health club memberships and other wellness programs, leaving traditional Medicare with sicker, more expensive patients and higher premiums.

“Beneficiaries would have to pay much more to stay in traditional fee-for-service Medicare,” said John K. Gorman, a former Medicare official who is now a consultant to many insurers. “Regular Medicare would become the province of affluent beneficiaries who can buy their way out of” private plans.

If all this sounds familiar, that's because Republicans literally want to apply the Obamacare model to Medicare coverage, after spending six years sabotaging that same model for Medicaid recipients and the individual coverage markets.  But as Democrats found out the hard way in 2010, if seniors even think you're messing with Medicare, they will end you at the ballot box.

Republicans say their proposal would apply to future beneficiaries, not to those in or near retirement. But the mere possibility of big changes is causing trepidation among some older Americans.

“I am terrified of vouchers,” said Kim Ebb, 92, who lives in a retirement community in Bethesda, Md., and has diabetes, atrial fibrillation and irritable bowel syndrome. “You get a fixed amount of money to draw on for your expenses. Then you are on your own.”

Charles R. Drapeau, 64, of East Waterboro, Me., said he was rattled by the Republican plans.

“I’m scared to death,” said Mr. Drapeau, who has multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, and takes a drug that costs more than $10,000 a month. “We don’t know exactly how it will work, but just the fact that they are talking about messing with Medicare, it’s frightening to me.”

These of course are the same folks I'm betting voted for Trump earlier this month.  Now that they're finding out what giving total control of the government to the GOP actually means, I'm betting the buyer's remorse factor in 2018 will be sky-high...high enough that even the inept Democratic party can find a way to win some seats back.

Because right now the deck is stacked against the Dems in the next mid-term about as much as it possibly can be.  We'll see.

General Disarray And Major Problems

The Trump administration's continuing cartoon cavalcade of crap continues as Dana Priest at the New Yorker gets Trump national security adviser Gen. Michael Flynn in the harsh spotlight, and it turns out that hey, there are reasons why the guy's nickname is "Mad Dog".

Flynn broke rules he thought were stupid. He once told me about a period he spent assigned to a C.I.A. station in Iraq, when he would sometimes sneak out of the compound without the “insane” required approval from C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley, Virginia. He had technicians secretly install an Internet connection in his Pentagon office, even though it was forbidden. There was also the time he gave classified information to NATO allies without approval, an incident which prompted an investigation, and a warning from superiors. During his stint as Mullen’s intelligence chief, Flynn would often write “This is bullshit!” in the margins of classified papers he was obliged to pass on to his boss, someone who saw these papers told me.

The greatest accomplishment of Flynn’s military career was revolutionizing the way that the clandestine arm of the military, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), undertook the killing and capture of suspected terrorists and insurgents in war zones. Stanley McChrystal, Flynn’s mentor, had tapped him for the job. They were both part of the self-described “Irish mafia” of officers at the Fort Bragg Army base, in North Carolina. In Afghanistan and Iraq, Flynn ordered JSOC commandos to collect and catalogue data from interrogations, captured electronic equipment, pocket trash—anything that could yield useful information. By analyzing these disparate scraps of intelligence, they were able to discover that Al Qaeda was not a hierarchical group after all but a dynamic network of cells and relationships. As I learned while doing research for my book “Top Secret America,” Flynn and McChrystal dramatically increased the pace of jsoc attacks on enemy hideouts by devising a system in which commandos on missions transferred promising data—cell-phone numbers, meeting locations—to analysts, who could then quickly point them to additional targets to hit. Multiple raids a night became common.

McChrystal, who was appointed to run jsoc in 2003, brought Flynn in as his intelligence chief to help him shake up the organization. Flynn was one of the few high-ranking officers who disdained the Army’s culture of conformity. But McChrystal also knew he had to protect Flynn from that same culture. He “boxed him in,” someone who had worked with both men told me last week, by encouraging Flynn to keep his outbursts in check and surrounding him with subordinates who would challenge the unsubstantiated theories he tended to indulge.

In mid-2007, Flynn returned home with three years of JSOC secrets in his head. He had witnessed close-quarters combat and killings. He had helped load the bodies of dead and wounded Seal Team 6 and Delta Force warriors into evacuation helicopters. Like his comrades, he had spent twenty hours a day, seven days a week, focused on killing the enemy. Sometimes women and children were killed, too. He wouldn’t even take a break to attend his son’s wedding, a moment of personal sacrifice he mentions often when reflecting on those days.

In 2012, Flynn became director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, in charge of all military attachĂ©s and defense-intelligence collection around the world. He ran into serious trouble almost immediately. I’ve spoken with some two dozen former colleagues who were close to Flynn then, members of the D.I.A. and the military, and some who worked with him in civilian roles. They all like Flynn personally. But they described how he lurched from one priority to another and had trouble building a loyal team. “He made a lot of changes,” one close observer of Flynn’s time at the D.I.A. told me. “Not in a strategic way—A to Z—but back and forth.”

Flynn also began to seek the Washington spotlight. But, without loyal junior officers at his side to vet his facts, he found even more trouble. His subordinates started a list of what they called “Flynn facts,” things he would say that weren’t true, like when he asserted that three-quarters of all new cell phones were bought by Africans or, later, that Iran had killed more Americans than Al Qaeda. In private, his staff tried to dissuade him from repeating these lines.

Flynn’s temper also flared. He berated people in front of colleagues. Soon, according to former associates, a parallel power structure developed within the D.I.A. to fence him in, and to keep the nearly seventeen-thousand-person agency working. “He created massive antibodies in the building,” the former colleague said.

Flynn had been on the job just eighteen months when James Clapper told him he had to go. Clapper said that he could stay for another nine months, until his successor was vetted and confirmed, according to two people familiar with their conversation. Flynn was livid.

And now this "unconventional operator" is the expert President Trump will turn to when it comes to dealing with ISIS, Syria, Russia, Turkey, and a whole host of national security issues.  If you were hoping for a cooler head to keep Trump in check with realpolitik, well, he picked the Delta Force version of Dr. Strangelove.

A new war isn't just a possibility under Trump, it'll be nearly guaranteed.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Last Call For Blinded By The Light

Revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night...

Emerging victorious from a campaign in which he called climate change a hoax, promised to reinvigorate coal mining and vowed to overturn major international agreements and domestic regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, President-elect Donald Trump’s next target in his political denial of human-driven global warming might be NASA’s $2-billion annual budget for Earth science.

Trump himself has been relatively mum about his plans for NASA. But in an op–ed published weeks before the election, two Trump space policy advisors—the former congressman Robert Walker and the economist Peter Navarro—wrote that the agency is too focused on “politically correct environmental monitoring” of climate change. Under a Trump administration, they wrote, NASA would prioritize “deep-space activities rather than Earth-centric work that is better handled by other agencies,” such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

“Budgets would have to be realigned to handle that transfer,” Walker tells Scientific American. “We would also anticipate that any new [Earth science] programs would be funded by those agencies.” With a budget about a quarter of NASA’s, NOAA spends the bulk of its funds on weather forecasting and environmental monitoring. It contracts with NASA to use the space agency’s Earth-observing satellites, and relies on NASA’s help in building and launching satellites of its own. The NSF has a budget roughly three times smaller than NASA’s, and has essentially no involvement in building, launching or operating satellites. In recent years Republican lawmakers have sought budget cuts to climate change–related Earth science programs at all three agencies.

Now set to hold majorities in both the House and Senate, Republicans appear likely to support forthcoming Trump administration proposals to pare back NASA’s Earth science budget, which grew by some 50 percent under the Obama administration. That boost, which gave Earth science the lion’s share of NASA’s science funding, has sustained a growing fleet of satellites that collect data demonstrating climate change’s reality: rising surface temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions, retreating glaciers and ice sheets, and shifting patterns of rainfall and vegetation growth, to name a few.

“Earth science’s preferred growth under Obama—the fact that it has grown over all of NASA’s other science—has created a big political target on its back and validated, in a sense, Republican interpretations of its partisan nature,” says Casey Dreier, director of space policy for The Planetary Society. “And this is taking place in a new political dynamic of strong, near-universal condemnation and skepticism of climate change by the Republican Party, without a Democratic president and key members of Congress that used to push back. That’s a bad double whammy for Earth science.”

If we pretend that we can't see climate change happening, then it's not happening, right?

We Don't Need No Education, Con't

If there were ever a president who would turn American public schools into for-profit "charter school" mills bilking taxpayers for billions, it would be the man behind Trump University's $25 million settlement for fraud. Now imagine the criteria for kind of person he'd select as his Education Secretary, and at the top of your list would be former Michigan GOP party chair and "charter school" advocate Betsy DeVos.

On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to use federal funds to encourage states to make school choice available to all poor students, including through vouchers that allow families to take public funding to private schools.

That’s exactly what DeVos has zealously worked to make happen on a state-by-state basis for decades. In 2000, she helped get a ballot measure before Michigan voters that would have enshrined a right to vouchers in the state’s Constitution. After the measure failed, she and her husband formed a political action committee to support pro-voucher candidates nationally. Less than a decade later, the group counted a 121-60 win-loss record.

One recipient of its support: former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who created the voucher program that Trump’s vice president-elect, Mike Pence, later expanded. Indeed, DeVos’s vision puts her more in line with Pence, who has supported private school vouchers for both low- and middle-income families, than with Trump, whose plan extends only to poor families.

Ahh, but it gets worse.  It always does with Trump.

DeVos and her husband played a role in getting Michigan’s charter school law passed in 1993, and ever since have worked to protect charters from additional regulation. When Michigan lawmakers this year were considering a measure that would have added oversight for charter schools in Detroit, members of the DeVos family poured $1.45 million into legislators’ campaign coffers — an average of $25,000 a day for seven weeks. Oversight was not included in the final legislation.

The DeVos influence is one reason that Michigan’s charter sector is among the least regulated in the country. Roughly 80 percent of charters in Michigan are run by private companies, far more than in any other state. And state authorities have done little up to now to ensure that charter schools are effectively serving students, eliciting concern from current federal authorities.

“There are a lot of schools that are doing poorly and charter authorizers do not seem to be taking the necessary actions to either improve performance or close those underperforming charters,” current U.S. Secretary of Education John King told Chalkbeat about Michigan last month.

So if you wanted to bring the Trump University model to America's public schools, you'd pick this woman to lead the way.

Needless to say, guess who Trump wants for the job?

President-elect Donald Trump on Wednesday said he intends to appoint West Michigan GOP mega donor and philanthropist Betsy DeVos to be his education secretary, putting an ardent supporter of school choice in charge of the nation’s education policy.

DeVos, 58, is seen as a national leader in the school choice movement, which she has called an attempt to “empower” parents to find good schools for their children, whether they be traditional public schools in other neighborhoods, charter schools, virtual schools or private institutions.

“Betsy DeVos is a brilliant and passionate education advocate,” Trump said Wednesday in a statement. “Under her leadership, we will reform the U.S. education system and break the bureaucracy that is holding our children back so that we can deliver world-class education and school choice to all families.”

And keep in mind DeVos has precisely zero experience as an educator whatsoever.  But she has a lot of money, and she's good at the whole charter school scam.  And yes, I've had my differences with Arne Duncan over the years, but he never, ever wanted to do to America's public schools what DeVos wants to do: raze them to the ground and turn them over to corporate America.

Betsy's husband is Dick DeVos, and if you're not familiar with him, you're familiar with the company he's the heir to: Amway.  Dick and Betsy were instrumental in using Amway's billions to elect Rick Snyder (after Dick lost his bid for governor ten years ago) and in helping Snyder dismantle Michigan's labor unions.

THE DEVOSES sit alongside the Kochs, the Bradleys, and the Coorses as founding families of the modern conservative movement. Since 1970, DeVos family members have invested at least $200 million in a host of right-wing causes—think tanks, media outlets, political committees, evangelical outfits, and a string of advocacy groups. They have helped fund nearly every prominent Republican running for national office and underwritten a laundry list of conservative campaigns on issues ranging from charter schools and vouchers to anti-gay-marriage and anti-tax ballot measures. "There's not a Republican president or presidential candidate in the last 50 years who hasn't known the DeVoses," says Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party.

Nowhere has the family made its presence felt as it has in Michigan, where it has given more than $44 million to the state party, GOP legislative committees, and Republican candidates since 1997. "It's been a generational commitment," Anuzis notes. "I can't start to even think of who would've filled the void without the DeVoses there."

The family fortune flows from 87-year-old Richard DeVos Sr. The son of poor Dutch immigrants, he cofounded the multilevel-marketing giant Amway with Jay Van Andel, a high school pal, in 1959. Five decades later, the company now sells $11 billion a year worth of cosmetics, vitamin supplements, kitchenware, air fresheners, and other household products. Amway has earned DeVos Sr. at least $6 billion; in 1991, he expanded his empire by buying the NBA's Orlando Magic. The Koch brothers can usually expect Richard and his wife, Helen, to attend their biannual donor meetings. He is a lifelong Christian conservative and crusader for free markets and small government, values he passed down to his four children.

Today, his eldest son, Dick, is the face of the DeVos political dynasty. Like his father, Dick sees organized labor as an enemy of freedom and union leaders as violent thugs who have "an almost pathological obsession with power." But while DeVos Sr. simply inveighed against unions, Dick took the fight to them directly, orchestrating a major defeat for the unions in the cradle of the modern labor movement. 

And if you think Dick and Besty DeVos are bad...well, you should meet Betsy's younger brother.

So now Betsy DeVos, and in turn her husband Dick DeVos, are now soon to be in charge of America's education system. Hope you don't have any school-age kids coming though public education anytime soon.

Make America Grift Again.

Not Getting Along At All This Thanksgiving

Charles M. Blow writes the definitive rage against the dying of the light as the Trump era draws near, and as his employer, the NY Times, meets with the President-elect to try to get back into his good graces.  If the Grey Lady did somehow manage to bow and scrape enough to please Der Orangefuhrer, this column pretty much set that bridge aflame, and rightfully so.

After a campaign of bashing The Times relentlessly, in the face of the actual journalists, he tempered his whining with flattery.

At one point he said:

“I just appreciate the meeting and I have great respect for The New York Times. Tremendous respect. It’s very special. Always has been very special.”

He ended the meeting by saying:

“I will say, The Times is, it’s a great, great American jewel. A world jewel. And I hope we can all get along well.”

I will say proudly and happily that I was not present at this meeting. The very idea of sitting across the table from a demagogue who preyed on racial, ethnic and religious hostilities and treating him with decorum and social grace fills me with disgust, to the point of overflowing. Let me tell you here where I stand on your “I hope we can all get along” plea: Never.
You are an aberration and abomination who is willing to do and say anything — no matter whom it aligns you with and whom it hurts — to satisfy your ambitions.

I don’t believe you care much at all about this country or your party or the American people. I believe that the only thing you care about is self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment. Your strongest allegiance is to your own cupidity.

I also believe that much of your campaign was an act of psychological projection, as we are now learning that many of the things you slammed Clinton for are things of which you may actually be guilty.

You slammed Clinton for destroying emails, then Newsweek reported last month that your companies “destroyed emails in defiance of court orders.” You slammed Clinton and the Clinton Foundation for paid speeches and conflicts of interest, then it turned out that, as BuzzFeed reported, the Trump Foundation received a $150,000 donation in exchange for your giving a 2015 speech made by video to a conference in Ukraine. You slammed Clinton about conflicts of interest while she was secretary of state, and now your possible conflicts of interest are popping up like mushrooms in a marsh.

You are a fraud and a charlatan. Yes, you will be president, but you will not get any breaks just because one branch of your forked tongue is silver.

I am not easily duped by dopes.

I have not only an ethical and professional duty to call out how obscene your very existence is at the top of American government; I have a moral obligation to do so.

I’m not trying to convince anyone of anything, but rather to speak up for truth and honor and inclusion. This isn’t just about you, but also about the moral compass of those who see you for who and what you are, and know the darkness you herald is only held at bay by the lights of truth.

It’s not that I don’t believe that people can change and grow. They can. But real growth comes from the accepting of responsibility and repenting of culpability. Expedient reversal isn’t growth; it’s gross.

So let me say this on Thanksgiving: I’m thankful to have this platform because as long as there are ink and pixels, you will be the focus of my withering gaze.

I'm thinking Mr. Blow will soon find himself robbed of both ink and pixels very soon by his current employer, but this column will stand for some time.  I find myself agreeing with the piece completely.

Have a happy Thanksgiving and remember when it comes to Trump: "Let me tell you here where I stand on your “I hope we can all get along” plea: Never."
Related Posts with Thumbnails