Saturday, December 31, 2016

Last Call For Looking Back At 2016

White House photographer Pete Souza gives us his final year in pictures as he shared his best shots from 2016.

For the eighth and final time, I am presenting my annual Year in Photographs.

All of them were taken either by me or a White House photographer on my staff. For many of the images, I’ve included the backstory behind the image to provide further context or to share why that image was particularly important to me.

As always, the editing for this project is both subjective and personal. Yes, there are some historic moments included but mostly I was looking for behind-the-scenes moments that give people a more personal look at the President and First Lady. And I’ve included a few that I thought were just cool photos.

I hope you enjoy this final Year in Photographs of the Obama administration. It’s been the honor of a lifetime to be a witness to history these past eight years.

— Pete Souza, Chief White House Photographer

Make sure you have a look.  Here's my favorite of the year:

This is the Barack Obama I want to remember, a president who inspired generations over his eight years.  We will not see his like again in our lifetimes, and America will be a poorer place for it.

And yet that little boy's face is full of hope and joy.  That too is what this president gave us, genuine moments of real hope and true joy.  We will need those memories as we move ahead in 2017. Perhaps in this child's lifetime we will see someone as great in the White House again. I have to hope we do.

Don't lose that hope.

Zandar's 2017 Predictions

Here we go again with another time capsule that we'll revisit a year from now on December 31, 2017, and we'll see how I did. 

1) President Trump's average approval rating as of the end of 2016 according to Real Clear Politics's average is 44% favorable, 48% unfavorable, and 43% favorable-48% unfavorable according to Huffpost Pollster average.  My prediction is that he's at or below 44% favorable by this date next year.

2) At least one of Trump's cabinet selections will be rejected by the Senate.  My money's on Rex Tillerson, but the Senate will not confirm all of Trump's picks.  It will be a move by Republicans to let off the growing pressure on them to rein Trump in, but in the end somebody just as bad as Tillerson will be confirmed.  I'd love for Democrats to make this a nasty mess however.

3) Republicans are already fleeing from repealing Obamacare. I'll go out on a limb and predict that no repeal bill will pass in 2017.  Republicans are just too far apart on a solution. I'll take the split here if a repeal bill passes but the actual repeal part doesn't happen until after the 2018 election. I'll take full credit though if that repeal date should be after the 2020 election, which is definitely possible.

4) Harry Reid left the Dems the option to Bork a Trump Supreme Court pick.  I expect that will happen at least once (remember Harriet Miers?) I'll take the split if a second pick is confirmed before the end of the year, but Trump won't get his first pick.

5) All this shouting about the United Nations won't change anything: the US will continue to fund the UN as normal.  I could see a symbolic cut, but nothing about ending funding to the UN, it's simply too important.

6) Likewise, all of Trump's bankster choices for his cabinet and advisors means the debt ceiling will be raised on time.  That will happen quickly.

I expect plenty of new GOP legislation out before the end of the year:

7) A national 20-week ban on abortions will make it through the House.

8) National Voter ID will make it through the House at least.

9) Medicare and Social Security "reform" will also make it through the House.  I expect all of these to die in the Senate.

10) And as always, ZVTS will make it too.  It wasn't a gimme as it has been in the past, I've considered hanging it up, but decided that Trump was just too much of a threat to stop this place.

We'll see how things turn out.

Russian To Judgement, Con't

No, that Friday night Washington Post headline about RUSSIA HACKED OUR POWER OMG is misleading.  Russia did not "penetrate" the US power grid in Vermont, that's not what actually happened.  What actually happened is that malware often used by Russian hacker groups was found on one laptop used by a Vermont power utility, and no damage was caused. Rich Lawler at Engadget explains:

Just a few days ago, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security released a report detailing their assessment that Russian hackers were behind a series of attacks on US agencies and citizens. While the Obama administration issued sanctions, code linked to those hackers has been shared with other agencies, and on Friday, the Burlington Electric Department found malware with a matching signature on one of its laptops. The discovery raises more questions than it answers, but with recent reports of Russian hackers attacking the power grid in Ukraine, it obviously has raised alerts all over.

The Washington Post first reported the finding, suggesting that Russian hackers had gained access to the electrical grid via the Vermont utility, however the company's statement says there's no indication that happened. In a statement, it said the laptop in question was not connected to grid systems. Vermont Public Service Commissioner Christopher Recchia told the Burlington Free Press that the grid was not in danger.

Because it's not clear exactly what matched, there's a possibility that it could be the result of a false positive, or shared code. Also, it's not clear when or how the malware got on the laptop. Based on those reasons, a number of security professionals on Twitter suggested waiting for more details before crediting this finding to Grizzly Steppe (a name attributed to the Russian attacks in Wednesday's report).

So no, this really is nothing more than bad, bad reporting from WaPo.  Surprise, right?  In the midst of a real crisis of confidence in our media, it's important to note that much of the damage is self-inflicted by journalism itself. Yeah, manufactured fake news is definitely a problem, but it only was able to be used so effectively by others against the US because American journalism is by and large awful, stupid garbage on a daily basis.

Keep that in mind as we head into the Trump regime era.

Zandar's 2016 Scorecard

Time to go over my 2016 predictions and see where I ended up for the year as we usually do on December 31.  Let's see how I did...

1) No beating around the...well...Bush.  Hillary Clinton will be elected President of the United States in 2016.  I'll take the half-point if it's Bernie somehow, but if a Republican wins?  We all lose.

WRONG: And history books will be written for decades as to why.

2) 2016 in economics?  Unemployment under 5.5%, oil under $50, and the Dow Jones will close above 16k.  Yes, 2015 was the first negative year in the markets since 2008 and the Fed raised rates, but we were due, and I think the country will stay on track.

RIGHT: Oil is $53 today, but unemployment is under 5% and the Dow is close to 20K.  I'll take the 2 for 3 here.

3) Movies, I see a good year for both Marvel with Captain America: Civil War and DC with Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice.  Both will break $200 million domestically.  How will Deadpool, Suicide Squad, Doctor Strange and X-Men Apocalypse do?  Less sure about those, but they'll all do $100 million a piece.  I'll take the split if I get at least 3 right.

RIGHT: All six superhero films beat those numbers. Civil War beat $400 mil, Deadpool, BvS and Suicide Squad all topped $300 mil, Doc Strange came in at $225 mil, and even X-Men Apocalypse came in at $155 million.

4) Half-a-dozen massive Supreme Court cases in 2016 could change everything.  I'll call it 5-4 that SCOTUS will side with the Obama administration on Texas's abortion laws being too strict...

RIGHT: 5-3 with the passing of Scalia.

5) ...but you can kiss Affirmative Action goodbye.  Kennedy has repeatedly sided against it, as have the court's other four conservatives.

WRONG: Scalia's death and Kennedy's change of heart saved Fisher. As it was, upheld 4-3.

6) As with 2014's Sochi Winter Games, I predict the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics will be an absolute disaster.  There is no way Brazil is going to be ready for this, and I expect the games will be a nasty, disjointed affair with barely functional venues.

RIGHT: "Barely functional venues" was the generous term as the Olympic Village was unfinished and pool water was algae green. And President Dilma Rouseff was impeached and removed from office not long after.

7) I think it's a safe bet that turnout in the 2016 election will be under 50%.  The last time that happened was in 1996 (49%) when Bill Clinton was re-elected and 8 million angry Americans turned to Ross Perot, ironically proving a major third-party candidate reduces turnout.

SPLIT:  There are still several questions about 2016's election that have to be answered, needless to say.  Turnout was supposedly two points higher than in 1996.

8) The Oculus Rift and other virtual reality headset systems will bomb.  We're talking "Google Glass" level of bomb here.  Ironically, the rebranded, industrial/commercial version of Google Glass will return in 2016 and probably do better.

RIGHT: Both predictions were correct.  VR is there, but only 6 million or so have sold. Oculus itself sold well under 500K units.  If it wasn't for Sony's PlayStation VR and Samsung's Gear VR, it would have been a complete waste.

9) The 2016 GOP nominee will not be Trump.  Somehow, the voters will nominate either Cruz or Rubio instead, I don't know how but...hey, we shouldn't have gone down this far anyway. I'll hedge my bet and say that I hope he is.

WRONG: And for the same reasons as #1.

10) ZVTS will still be here going into 2017.  Here's hoping we make it through.

RIGHT: Still here, and now, I think needed more than ever as we head into the new year.

So 7.5 out of ten, not bad at all, but the two biggest predictions were devastating.  We'll be cleaning up for decades after this election.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Obamacare Repeal Reveal, Con't

Congress will be back in session within a matter of weeks and the GOP's number one priority is still repealing Obamacare. Only...they're still not sure how to actually go about doing it without collapsing the entire health care system.

The first major act of the unified Republican government in 2017 will be a vote in Congress to begin tearing down Obamacare.

But the euphoria of finally acting on a long-sought goal will quickly give way to the reality that Republicans -- and President-elect Donald Trump -- have no agreement thus far on how to replace coverage for about 20 million people who gained insurance under the health-care law.

“They haven’t come to a consensus in the House and the Senate about the possible replacement plans,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a conservative economist and former adviser to Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “They don’t know Point B.”

Republicans are debating how long to delay implementing the repeal. Aides involved in the deliberations said some parts of the law may be ended quickly, such as its regulations affecting insurer health plans and businesses. Other pieces may be maintained for up to three or four years, such as insurance subsidies and the Medicaid expansion. Some parts of the law may never be repealed, such as the provision letting people under age 26 remain on a parent’s plan.

House conservatives want a two-year fuse for the repeal. Republican leaders prefer at least three years, and there has been discussion of putting it off until after the 2020 elections, staffers said.

Such courage!  Obamacare is so awful that it must be repealed immediately but actually it won't go away for 2 years, 4 years or even longer.  And then we're keeping the good parts that people like.  Oh yeah, and then there's the little problem of tens of millions of Americans losing their health care coverage.

Translating slogans and white-papers into legislation will create problems. Undoing Obamacare would increase the number of non-seniors who are uninsured by 24 million over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Republican aides privately acknowledge that would give Democrats a potent political weapon to fight their efforts, but say their focus will be on lowering costs and expanding choice.

And then there's the issue that several GOP governors don't want to end their careers having to take health care away from their constituents.

Whether or not Democrats will be able to convince anyone that blowing up Obamacare won't be Obama's fault, well, who knows?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Last Call For Obama Makes His Move

The conventional wisdom of the intelligentsia on the right is that Obama (like all pathetic, weak Democrats) constantly brings plastic knives to fights settled by who has the most .50 caliber ammo when it comes to dealing with spycraft. 

This dismal view of the outgoing president is particularly popular among right-wing former intel and military analyst types, folks like John Schindler, Tom Nichols, and Larry Johnson, all of whom think President Obama is either patently evil or incredibly stupid (or in the case of Johnson, both).

Either way, the general idea is that Putin is just too smart and too crafty for Obama to handle, and our president was never in the same league as ol' KGB Vlad, let alone the same international playing field.

But gosh, every now and again Obama goes and proves that even crafty Russian spies are very, very predictable when they get cocky, and that level of predictability can result in some truly masterful manipulation.

President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and sanctioned Russian intelligence officials who Washington believes were involved in hacking U.S. political groups in the 2016 presidential election.

The measures, taken during the last days of Obama's presidency, mark a new low in U.S.-Russian relations which have deteriorated over serious differences on Ukraine and Syria.

"These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior," Obama said in a statement from vacation in Hawaii.

It was not immediately clear whether President-elect Donald Trump, who has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin and nominated people seen as friendly toward Moscow to senior administration posts, would seek to roll back the measures once he takes office on Jan. 20.

Obama is seeking to deter Russia and other foreign governments from leveraging cyber attacks in the future to meddle in U.S. politics, former officials and cyber security experts said.

Obama has been under growing pressure from within his own administration and lawmakers of both political parties to respond more forcefully to the cyber attacks, which included leaked emails of Democratic Party operatives that became part of the media coverage in the campaign for the Nov. 8 presidential election.

The Russian foreign ministry said on Thursday the sanctions were counter-productive and would harm the restoration of bilateral ties. Moscow denies the hacking allegation.

Obama sanctioned two Russian intelligence agencies, the GRU and the FSB, four GRU officers and three companies "that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations.

We know who your players are Vlad.  And Obama just openly burned dozens of Russian counter-intelligence agents as an impressive warning.  Rather than keep an eye on these known agents in case misdirection came in handy, the president chose to clean house, giving them until January 1 to get out of the country for good.  That's a strong move and one ol' Vlad was clearly not counting on.

Putin may have been playing games with Obama, but Obama just flipped the game board over and scattered the pieces.  And the warning is clear: now the Russians have to ask themselves if the rest of their counter-intelligence assets in the US...or in other countries allied with the US...are similarly in danger of being burned.  Does Vlad want to take the chance that somehow these are the only spies we know about?

But it's not just Putin who has to make some choices now, but Trump as well.  Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan are calling this move "overdue" and hey, kicking Russian spies out of the country is something that actually gets bipartisan support even these days.  Forget the fact that Ryan could have cared less about sacntions before today, but even Ryan's willing to sell out Trump over this.  Does Trump really want to start sucking up to Vlad now as Obama lays down the hammer?  Not even Trump is dumb enough to invite spies into the country. he?

Your move, Vlad, and happy new year.

Israeli Having A Hard Time With This, Con't

In a highly anticipated and very candid speech, outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear that yet another American administration's hopes for Middle East peace were dashed upon the rocks of Benjamin Netanyahu's ego, as Kerry let Israel know exactly what he thinks about settlements wrecking any shot at a two-state solution.

The status quo is leading toward one state, or perpetual occupation,” Mr. Kerry said, his voice animated. He argued that Israel, with a growing Arab population, could not survive as both a Jewish state and a democratic state unless it embraced the two-state approach that a succession of American presidents have advocated.

The speech came at a moment of tension between the United States and Israel, on a scale rarely seen since President Harry S. Truman recognized the fragile Israeli state in May 1948. In a direct response to Mr. Netanyahu’s barb over the weekend that “friends don’t take friends to the Security Council,” a reference to the Obama administration’s decision to abstain from a resolution condemning the building of new settlements in disputed territory, Mr. Kerry said the United States acted out of a deeper understanding of the alliance.

“Some seem to believe that the U.S. friendship means the U.S. must accept any policy, regardless of our own interests, our own positions, our own words, our own principles — even after urging again and again that the policy must change,” he said. “Friends need to tell each other the hard truths, and friendships require mutual respect.”

Mr. Kerry usually speaks in the careful words of diplomacy, being careful not to publicly name names, or put choices in the harshest terms. He dropped most of those niceties on Wednesday, especially about Mr. Netanyahu’s government.

The Israeli prime minister publicly supports a two-state solution, but his current coalition is the most right wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by its most extreme elements,” he said. “The result is that policies of this government — which the prime minister himself just described as ‘more committed to settlements than any in Israel’s history’ — are leading in the opposite direction, towards one state.”

Needless to say, both Israel and the GOP are furious, screaming that until the Palestinians get a new government, there's no hope of even coming to the table.

The negative reaction to the speech was unanimous among Republican lawmakers, with some calling it "disastrous." Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said it could generously be described as "a pointless tirade."

"Secretary Kerry's speech today was at best a pointless tirade in the waning days of an outgoing administration. At worst, it was another dangerous outburst that will further Israel's diplomatic isolation and embolden its enemies," McCain said.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said he favors a two-state solution, much like Kerry, but doesn't believe the American government has the right to dictate that solution to the Israelis.

Instead, the fixes to the problems in the Middle East must come from the ground up, he said.

"Public lectures against Israel and UN resolutions attacking Israel do not aid the cause of peace," McCain said. "They only provide those seeking Israel's destruction a convenient excuse to blame Israel for their own intransigence."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Kerry's proposals for peace in the Middle East "fanciful," if not "delusional."

He said the Palestinians can't agree among themselves how to run the areas of where they have some autonomy and can't function as a state right now. The only way stability can take hold in the Holy Land is if Israel is strongly supported by he United States, he said.

"I wish Secretary Kerry and President Obama would stop pushing Israel to negotiate against themselves," Graham said. "The only way the peace process can be restarted is for the Palestinians to hold elections and be governed by a single entity that rejects terrorism. That is not the current situation and until that day arrives, pushing Israel to restart the peace process is folly."

Kerry speech is frankly decades too late.  We should have said this to Israel years and years ago about settlements, but we allowed them to continue unabated.  At this point, with the Trump administration incoming, there's no reason to believe that anything will improve in the West Bank.

Even Worse At Democracy Than NC

Remember when I said that GOP gerrymandering made election districts so ridiculously unfair that North Carolina no longer qualified as a democracy

In the just released EIP report, North Carolina’s overall electoral integrity score of 58/100 for the 2016 election places us alongside authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table – a deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world. 
Indeed, North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project.

Well, it turns out plenty of other Republican-controlled states are just as dismal as NC in the voting district boundaries department, and actually worse overall in election integrity as a Pennsylvania newspaper points out.

Pennsylvania cannot be considered a fully functioning democracy, according to a new report.

It's among at least a dozen states that, if they were nations, would rank as "a deeply flawed, partly free democracy," according to Andrew Reynolds, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina and an adviser to the Electoral Integrity Project, or EIP, a joint effort of Harvard University and the University of Sydney.

Strictly speaking, Reynolds made the comment about his home state of North Carolina, which scored 58/100 on the EIP's metrics, ranking 38th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

However, Pennsylvania scored worse than North Carolina: 56/100, for a rank of No. 45.

The states as bad or worse than NC overall include Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin (the Badger State under Scott Walker would be dead last except for Arizona.)  Wisconsin rated 8/100 on voting district boundaries, and Ohio a dismal 10.  Please note that these are all states that have passed GOP "voter ID laws" and were gerrymandered by Republican legislatures after 2010.  They are also all states that Trump won.

The fact of the matter is that this is what cost Clinton the election: states that are no longer free democracies and instead weighted heavily towards the GOP.  More so than Trump's cult of personality, more so than race, more so than Russian interference, this is why Clinton lost.

We're no longer a collection of democratic states.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Last Call For Crashing The Confederate Cotillion

Trump supporters are fighting it out over their little neo-Nazi victory party in Washington DC next month and I just don't have enough popcorn.

The “alt-right” erupted in a civil war Monday after one of the movement’s leaders banned another from appearing at the pro-Donald Trump “DepolaBall” for his history of flirting with Nazism.

The argument seems to have begun when NY Magazine writer Jesse Singal pointed out that one of the headliners for the D.C. event with the Twitter handle Baked Alaska had a history of anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi tweets about the “Jewish question.” Shortly afterwards, Singal watched in real time as Baked Alaska’s name was removed from the Google Doc listing attendees.

Fellow alt-right leader Mike Cernovich announced the cancellation shortly afterwards, and that Baked Alaska would be replaced with Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos.

But Baked Alaska soon hit back, accusing Cernovich of betraying the movement and sharing messages from Cernovich asking him to stop throwing Nazi salutes.

From there, Baked Alaska took aim at Yiannopoulos, calling him a fraud and a sellout and retweeing tweets calling him a “kike” and Cernovich a “cuck.” One alt-right supporter even burned Cernovich’s book.

Cernovich responded by accusing Baked Alaska of being a drug addict in a now-deleted tweet and Periscope.

The night culminated in dueling Periscope streams, where the two continued to trash each other. Baked Alaska also retaliated by taking control of the official Twitter account behind the Deploraball and saying that Cernovich was the one being banned.

Again, grown men arguing like children not because they are both black-hating, Jew-hating, Mexican-hating white supremacist assholes (both freely admit this) but because one of them doesn't want to other to do full-on Nazi saluting in public at the victory party event they've set up for Trump's inaugural celebration.

These are Trump's core supporters, folks.  These are the people that got him elected.  Maybe not everyone who voted for Trump believes what Cernovich and his racist clowns do, but precisely zero Trump voters thought their open support of Trump and Trump's acceptance of this support disqualified Trump from the presidency.

This is America now.  This is who and what we are.  Take it in.

Then let's start the hard work on fixing it.

That Economic Anxiety In Elkhart Again

I've talked about Elkhart, Indiana and its unemployment issues several times on the blog over the years as President Obama made one of his first visits as President to the city's hard-hit RV manufacturing industry in order to assure the American people that he was going to help the country. 

The city went from the prime example of what the Bush economic crash did to middle America with its over 22% unemployment to Tea Party hotbed as Indiana transformed into a blood red state to one of the best economic success stories during the Obama years as unemployment this year dropped to under 4%.

But as we checked in with in back in April we found President Barack Obama was public enemy #1 in Elkhart, and not only were the people of Elkhart not grateful in the least to the Obama administration but that they openly despised him and were rooting for Trump.

The Atlantic's Alana Samuels returned to Elkhart post-election and found that the people here not only think Obama took credit for something he had nothing to do with, but that Donald Trump will absolutely do what Obama didn't.

This city exemplifies the economic recovery the country has experienced since the Great Recession ended. Elkhart’s unemployment rate, which had reached a high of 22 percent in March of 2009, is now at 3.9 percent. Hiring signs dot the doors of the Wal-Mart, the McDonald’s, and the Long John Silver’s. The RV industry makes 65 percent of its vehicles in Elkhart, and the industry is producing a record number of vehicles, which is creating a lot of jobs in this frosty town in northern Indiana.

“America’s economy is not just better than it was eight years ago--it is the strongest, most durable economy in the world,” President Obama said during a visit to Elkhart in June, in which he touted the economic recovery. (Elkhart was also the first place outside Washington he visited as president, in 2009.) “Elkhart would not have come this far--if we hadn’t made a series of smart decisions, my administration, a cooperative Congress--decisions we made together early on.”

But despite the decisions that the Obama administration made that might have helped Elkhart, many people here have a strong dislike of Obama, who presided over an economic recovery in which the unemployment rate fell nationally to 4.6 percent from a high of 10 percent in October 2009. They say it’s not Obama who is responsible for the city or the country’s economic progress, and furthermore, that the economy won’t truly start to improve until President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

He didn’t help us here, but he took credit for what happened,” Chris Corbin, 47, who works for a dispatch company in Elkhart, told me. Corbin thinks it will be Trump who improves the economy. “It’s going to take two terms, but he’ll fix things,” he said.

To recap: the RV industry is doing better than it ever has.  It's doing better than it did under Bush.  Unemployment has gone from 22% to under 4%.  And that doesn't matter because Obama is black and these racist assholes hate him for it and will never, ever give a black man credit for helping them.

Brandon Stanley owns a bar in Elkhart. He says he’s optimistic that the economy is improving now that Republicans have regained power, but emphasizes that there are still a host of economic problems that haven’t been solved in Elkhart. As for the shrinking unemployment rate in Elkhart, “they changed how they report unemployment numbers,” he told me, so they’re not believable.

The idea that the government falsified unemployment numbers was a popular narrative among Republicans during the Obama administration, and was most notoriously trumpeted by former General Electric CEO Jack Welch on Twitter. Outlets such as Fox News published multiple stories questioning whether the Obama administration has doctored the unemployment rate. “People tend to engage in effortful resistance when information is inconsistent with their prior beliefs,” Nyhan told me.

When people hear, for example, that the unemployment rate has fallen, but they don’t want to believe that because they don’t like who is in office, they may seek out information that challenges or resists these facts. They can often find other, alternative, information on the news sites that most closely fit their political beliefs.

Andi Ermes, 39, offered a number of reasons for disliking Obama. She said Obama didn’t attend the Army-Navy football game, even though other presidents had. Obama has actually attended more Army-Navy games than George H.W. Bush. She said that he had taken too many vacations. He has taken fewer vacation days that George W. Bush. She also said that he refused to wear a flag pin on his lapel. While it is true that Obama did not wear a flag on his lapel at points during the 2007 campaign, it was back on his suit by 2008. Ermes told me the news sources she consumes most are Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and a local conservative radio show hosted by Casey Hendrickson.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ermes sees the biggest signs for hope in the economy in Carrier deal struck by Donald Trump, which will keep 1,000 jobs in the U.S. “He’s not even president yet and already he’s helping the economy,” she said.

These assholes will tell themselves anything to believe that their town wasn't saved by the ni-CLANG! and when Trump wrecks the economy once again, they'll blame Obama for it and re-elect Trump just so they can be right.

But remember, Democrats have to win these guys back.  We have to look the other way on racism or we'll never win in places like Indiana or Ohio or Kentucky again. Democrats have to compromise and change, not them.

Let me know how that works out.  I'm not doing it.

The Pyongyang Problem

A North Korean defector is warning that, with chaos in South Korea over the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye and with US President Obama exiting the picture, the regime in North Korea is going to make the move to join the nuclear club next year as quickly as possible.

The North Korean government is pushing to develop nuclear weapons "at all costs by the end of 2017," according to a high-ranking North Korean diplomat who recently defected to South Korea.

"Due to domestic political procedures, North Korea calculates that South Korea and the US will not be able to take physical or military actions to deter North Korea's nuclear development," Thae Yong-ho, the former second highest North Korean diplomat at the embassy in London, told Yonhap News Agency, as reported by CNN.

During his first media appearance since he and his family defected in July, Thae said that North Korea is "racing ahead with nuclear development after setting up a plan to develop [nuclear weapons] at all costs by the end of 2017."

He added that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will not be open to dismantle the nuclear program for any amount of money.

The former North Korean diplomat noted that Kim's geopolitical strategy toward the U.S. and South Korea is designed to encourage stability-focused policies toward the country. 
"North Korea believes that relentless provocations must shift new [South Korean and U.S.] governments' policy lines into more stability-focused ones," Thae said according to the report.

It makes sense. Both Seoul and Washington are rather busy right now, but perhaps Beijing will be able to step in and knock some sense into Mini Mao here in the near-term.  While the analysis that Trump will have far bigger issues on his plate to deal with next year than North Korea is almost certainly correct, and that South Korea is likely to be in political aparalysis for some time to come, I foresee China being more than ready to act to placate the North Koreans if only to get them off the radar long enough.

We'll see what happens as China is, for now, helping to put the brakes on Kim Jong Un's ambitions.  But he's already ordered two nuclear tests in 2016, and it looks like more will be coming.

And as far as what Trump will actually end up doing about it?  Well, who the hell knows?

Trump has often suggested China crack down on its smaller neighbor. But while Beijing has no love for the instability North Korea creates, it is also in its interests to have a buffer zone against U.S. forces in the south of the peninsula.

The last thing Beijing wants is a collapsed North Korea, which could result in American troops right on its border in a reunited Korea. So for China, the status quo may be the least-bad option.

But if the new president concludes that a nuclear-armed North is inevitable, it may be forced to propose new arms control and nuclear talks that include Israel, Pakistan, India, Japan, Saudi Arabia and other states that may want the weapons. That is unlikely, although as a candidate Trump criticized the current international nuclear status quo that prevented allies like Japan from developing nuclear arsenals for their own protection.

"At some point we have to say, you know what we're better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea," candidate Trump said when asked whether he would abandon longstanding U.S. policy of a non-nuclear Japan.

A nuclear Japan would infinitely complicate things in the Asia-Pacific region.  Neither China nor North Korea is likely to stand for it, to say the least.  But that's where things appear to be headed.

Things looked a lot better on this front in the past.  For now, adding the Nuclear Stupidity tag.  I feel like we're going to get a lot of use out of it here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Last Call For Climate Of Fear

Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker is doing his part to fight climate change by eliminating what he believes to be the main source of the problem:  the words "climate change" on Wisconsin state websites.

Throughout his time as governor of Wisconsin, Walker has taken a series of actions to “reduce the role of science in environmental policymaking and to silence discussion of controversial subjects, including climate change, by state employees,” according to the Scientific American.

Political writer James Rowen reported on Monday that the Walker administration had advanced their war on science by scrubbing information about climate change from a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website that was dedicated to explaining how the agency would deal with a warming planet.

The DNR page titled “climatechange.html” originally acknowledged that “[h]uman activities that increase heat–trapping (‘green house’) gases are the main cause [of global warming.] Earth´s average temperature has increased 1.4 °F since 1850 and the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 1998.”

In all, 13 mentions of “climate” where stripped from the page along with all references to global warming. The word “climate” now appears only in the title of a footnote link at the bottom of the page.

“In short, the guts of this page are now gone, or sanitized,” Rowan observed. “This is Orwellian and propagandistic.”

If we just pretend that climate change was never a problem, it will go away, right?

Alexa, Can I Get A Witness?

This holiday was a huge success for Amazon, especially for its in-home audio assistant device, the Amazon Echo. Inc. said it had its best holiday season yet, having shipped more than 1 billion items through its Prime and Fulfillment services, and receiving a record number of orders for its own Alexa devices.

Sales for Echo speakers based on Alexa’s voice-recognition software were nine times more than the 2015 holiday season, Amazon said in a statement Tuesday. The Seattle-based company had trouble keeping them in stock despite “ramped-up production,” said Jeff Wilke, chief executive officer worldwide consumer.

Gauging demand for a product is difficult. Retailers risk losing money by overstocking or missing sales and disappointing shoppers by not having enough items available. Amazon actually sold out of its Echo speakers in mid-December. The Echo shortage shows voice-activated assistants are resonating with shoppers. Consumers can use voice commands on the gadget to order pizza, check homework, play music, among other tasks.

“Echo and Echo Dot were the best-selling products across Amazon this year, and we’re thrilled that millions of new customers will be introduced to Alexa as a result,” Wilke said.

But here's the dark side of Alexa: putting a device in your home whose job it is to listen to you speak and then recognize and use that data means you should have zero expectations of privacy around it.

This was bound to happen eventually, the question now becomes what privacy standards will be imposed as law tries desperately to catch up to technology. Police in Arkansas want to know what an Amazon Echo device may have overheard in a murder case, and suddenly that hot new Christmas gift you got this year is looking rather Orwellian.

Amazon's Echo devices and its virtual assistant are meant to help find answers by listening for your voice commands. However, police in Arkansas want to know if one of the gadgets overheard something that can help with a murder case. According to The Information, authorities in Bentonville issued a warrant for Amazon to hand over any audio or records from an Echo belonging to James Andrew Bates. Bates is set to go to trial for first-degree murder for the death of Victor Collins next year.

Amazon declined to give police any of the information that the Echo logged on its servers, but it did hand over Bates' account details and purchases. Police say they were able to pull data off of the speaker, but it's unclear what info they were able to access. Due to the so-called always on nature of the connected device, the authorities are after any audio the speaker may have picked up that night. Sure, the Echo is activated by certain words, but it's not uncommon for the IoT gadget to be alerted to listen by accident.

Police say Bates had several other smart home devices, including a water meter. That piece of tech shows that 140 gallons of water were used between 1AM and 3AM the night Collins was found dead in Bates' hot tub. Investigators allege the water was used to wash away evidence of what happened off of the patio. The examination of the water meter and the request for stored Echo information raises a bigger question about privacy. At a time when we have any number of devices tracking and automating our habits at home, should that information be used against us in criminal cases?

Bates' attorney argues that it shouldn't. "You have an expectation of privacy in your home, and I have a big problem that law enforcement can use the technology that advances our quality of life against us," defense attorney Kimberly Weber said. Of course, there's also the question of how reliable information is from smart home devices. Accuracy can be an issue for any number of IoT gadgets. However, an audio recording would seemingly be a solid piece of evidence, if released.

Smart devices used in criminal investigations are just further data points to be gathered by investigators, law enforcement argues.  The larger question is if the data you generate in your home through internet-connected devices your data at all.  To whom does it ultimately belong to?  Corporate America? Your employer? The state?

What I do know is that the answer to that question is increasingly "not you", the consumer. And more and more the data generated by these devices is going to be used against you by people whose interests may not match your own.

Israeli Having A Hard Time With This, Con't

If you're wondering why Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is in such a bad mood lately and lashing out at the rest of the world, maybe it's because he's about to get hit with a massive scandal investigation for bribery and fraud.

A months-long inquiry into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s affairs took a new twist on Monday, with police reportedly convinced that they will be able to open a full-blown criminal investigation against him in the next few days.

Police recently received new documents as part of a secret inquiry that began almost nine months ago, Channel 2 reported. Based on thpse files police have already turned to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit requesting that he allow them to open a full criminal investigation. The report stated that among the suspected offenses are bribe-taking and aggravated fraud.

A spokesperson for the prime minister said that “it’s all nonsense,” Haaretz reported. “Since Netanyahu’s victory in the last elections and even before, hostile elements have used heroic efforts to attempt to bring about [Netanyahu’s] downfall, with false accusations against him and his family. This [latest attempt] is absolutely false. There was nothing and there will be nothing.”

In June, it was reported that Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheich gave his go-ahead on the secret investigation by special police unit Lahav 433, but that he had demanded full cooperation on secrecy and that no details be leaked to the media.

Mandelblit also reportedly instructed employees in the state prosecutor’s office to look into allegations that Netanyahu accepted 1 million euros (about $1.1 million) from accused French fraudster Arnaud Mimran in 2009.

In May, Israel’s state comptroller issued a critical report on Netanyahu’s foreign trips, some of which were taken with his wife and children, from 2003 to 2005, when he was finance minister.

Earlier this month, in an apparently unrelated case, there were calls for the prime minister to be investigated for his role in a Defense Ministry deal to purchase submarines from a German company partly owned by the Iranian government.

Well now, this certainly explains why Netanyahu is trying to rally the Israeli people to his side by acting like last week's UN Security Council resolution was an act of war by Obama.  Not only is he trying to get the support of Israelis but the support of the Jewish diaspora as well because he knows what's coming, and he knows just how much trouble he's in.

Of course, I'm thinking Obama knew as well.

This is going to get good.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Israeli Having A Hard Time With This

Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't take rejection well, it seems.  That whole Obama parting gift of a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements has done nothing but piss the Israeli PM off, and he's apparently vowing revenge on everyone he can find...except Trump, of course.

Benjamin Netanyahu has been unrelenting in his criticism of the Obama administration over what he condemned as its "shameful" decision not to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a halt to Israeli settlement-building.

But with the clock ticking down on Barack Obama's presidency, a possibly more amenable Republican Donald Trump due to succeed him on Jan. 20 and a $38 billion U.S. military aid package to Israel a done deal, it's all a calculated risk for the four-term, right-wing Israeli prime minister.

Netanyahu, after what critics are calling a stinging defeat on the international stage, is already maneuvering to mine deep-seated feelings among many Israelis that their country and its policies toward the Palestinians are overly criticized in a world where deadlier conflicts rage.

He has tried to rally Israelis around him by portraying the anti-settlement resolution as a challenge to Israel's claimed sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.

That was hammered home with an unscheduled Hanukkah holiday visit to the Western Wall, one of Judaism's holiest sites, which is located in Jerusalem's Old City in the eastern sector captured along with the West Bank in a 1967 war.

That all of Jerusalem is their country's capital is a consensus view among Israelis, including those who otherwise have doubts about the wisdom of Netanyahu's support for settlements on the West Bank.

Palestinians claim eastern Jerusalem as their capital, and Washington has in the past accepted an international view that the city's status must be determined at future peace talks. Trump has promised to reverse decades of U.S. policy by moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

Neanyahu went on to say that Israel will "re-evaluate diplomatic relations" with all 14 countries who voted yes, including permanent Security Council members Russia, the UK, China and France.

Republicans too are making all kinds of threats, not only to the UN, but to those 14 countries that voted for the Security Council resolution as well.

Sen. Lindsey Graham will propose a measure to pull US funding for the United Nations unless the UN Security Council repeals the resolution it passed condemning Israeli settlements. 
"It's that important to me," he told CNN. "This is a road we haven't gone down before. If you can't show the American people that international organizations can be more responsible, there is going to be a break. And I am going to lead that break." 
"I will do everything in my power, working with the new administration and Congress, to leave no doubt about where America stands when it comes to the peace process and where we stand with the only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel," Graham added. He later told CNN's Dana Bash that US funding accounts for 22% of the UN's budget.

Ted Cruz not only piped up to say that he supported Graham's proposed legislation, but that it would include measures to be taken against "countries that do not join our opposition".

So we'll see where things are.  Cruz doesn't tend to follow through on things for long.

Water We Waiting For, Con't

The Trump regime wants to "Make America Great Again" and envisions "millions" of new jobs created by long overdue infrastructure investments that Republicans blocked year after year because we "can't afford it" despite the fact that interest rates have been at record lows.  The real reason is that America had to be punished for daring to elect a black President, and Republicans were more than happy to do so.

But there's a new circus in town, and Republicans suddenly want to invest hundreds of billions in crumbling roads, leaky and toxic water mains, structurally failing bridges, and badly-needed sanitation projects.  If you're wondering what the catch is (besides obvious racism) just ask the folks who stand to rake in trillions over the years from profiting off of your water, electric, and toll road bills: Wall Street venture capital firms who want to become our new utility companies.

Nicole Adamczyk’s drinking water used to slosh through a snarl of pipes dating from the Coolidge administration — a rusty, rickety symbol of the nation’s failing infrastructure.

So, in 2012, this blue-collar port city cut a deal with a Wall Street investment firm to manage its municipal waterworks.

Four years later, many of those crusty brown pipes have been replaced by shiny cobalt-blue ones, reflecting a broader infrastructure overhaul in Bayonne. But Ms. Adamczyk’s water and sewer bill has jumped so much that she is thinking about moving out of town.

“My reaction was, ‘Oh, so I guess I’m screwed now?’” said Ms. Adamczyk, an accountant and mother of two who received a quarterly bill for almost $500 this year. She’s not alone: Another resident’s bill jumped 5 percent, despite the household’s having used 11 percent less water.

Even as Wall Street deals like the one with Bayonne help financially desperate municipalities to make much-needed repairs, they can come with a hefty price tag — not just to pay for new pipes, but also to help the investors earn a nice return, a New York Times analysis has found. Often, these contracts guarantee a specific amount of revenue, The Times found, which can send water bills soaring

No matter what happens in these public-private infrastructure partnerships, Wall Street will always get paid, and taxpayers will always get the shaft.  And if you don't pay up?  Wall Street gets to repossess your home.

Water rates in Bayonne have risen nearly 28 percent since Kohlberg Kravis Roberts — one of Wall Street’s most storied private equity firms — teamed up with another company to manage the city’s water system, the Times analysis shows. City officials also promised residents a four-year rate freeze that never materialized.

In one measure of residents’ distress, people are falling so far behind on their bills that the city is placing more liens against their homes, which can eventually lead to foreclosures.

In the typical private equity water deal, higher rates help the firms earn returns of anywhere from 8 to 18 percent, more than what a regular for-profit water company may expect. And to accelerate their returns, two of the firms have applied a common strategy from the private equity playbook: quickly flipping their investment to another firm. This includes K.K.R., which is said to be shopping its 90 percent stake in the Bayonne venture, a partnership with the water company Suez.

In other words, Wall Street wants to do to public works what they did to the real estate market 8 years ago.  And the Trump regime is raring to go to see Bayonne replicated in every city in America.

The New Deal is ending.  The GOP government no longer will provide any basic services for Americans.  Everything, from roads to schools to water to power to retirement to elder care, will be subject to profit margins.

And those who can't pay will be dealt with under the power of the state.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas At Ground Zero

Still the best Christmas song ever, especially now!  Take her away, Weird Al!

Have a Merry Christmas everyone!

Merry Christmas From The Trumps, Fort Worth!

So Donald Trump's tweets earlier this week trashing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter have people suddenly really worried that the Trump administration will force cuts to the Pentagon's notoriously over-budget weapons programs or even cancel the project altogether.  Not that I'm a huge fan of trillion-dollar jet fighter programs or anything, but that's bad news for the F-35's manufacturer, defense contractor Lockheed Martin, and for the city of Fort Worth, Texas, where Lockheed Martin and the US Naval Air Station there are the city's two biggest employers.

New York has Wall Street. West Virginia has coal. Los Angeles has Hollywood. And Fort Worth has the F-35 plane.

For more than a decade, this aircraft has served as the economic lifeblood of the west side of town, where it is manufactured. Yet, the F-35 is deeply unpopular elsewhere in the country, thanks to a series of cost and scheduling overruns.

And unfortunately for its manufacturer, Lockheed Martin — and Fort Worth — the F-35 is now in the crosshairs of President-elect Donald Trump.

Is Cowtown rattled?

“Oh, absolutely,” said U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, a Fort Worth Democrat. “Everybody’s talking about it.”

“It was something that I would say sent fear through the people that work for the plant, Republicans that are longtime, proud Fort Worth residents,” he added. “It was something that got everybody’s ear.”

It started this month, when President-elect Donald Trump tweeted: “The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th.”

He since met with executives from Lockheed and rival Boeing and added to the anxiety on Thursday with a follow-up tweet, indicating he might pull back on the F-35 manufacturing in lieu of a Boeing aircraft.

“Long term, it would be catastrophic,” Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said of the economic impact of canceling the F-35.

It's important to note that Tarrant County, where Fort Worth is located, voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by a 52-43% margin.  Nearly ten percent of Trump's statewide winning margin in Texas came from just Tarrant County alone, compared to Clinton winning neighboring Dallas County by almost 200K.

It's entirely possible that Tarrant County may have just end up voting themselves out of tens of thousands of jobs.

Merry Christmas, Fort Worth!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Last Call For Christ-Mess Eve

Everything's fine as we head into the end of the year and the holidays. Everything is perfectly fine and there's no reason to panic at all.

A fake news article led to gunfire at a Washington pizzeria three weeks ago. Now it seems that another fake news story has prompted the defense minister of Pakistan to threaten to go nuclear.

The defense minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, wrote a saber-rattling Twitter post directed at Israel on Friday after a false report — which the minister apparently believed — that Israel had threatened Pakistan with nuclear weapons. Both countries have nuclear arsenals.

“Israeli def min threatens nuclear retaliation presuming pak role in Syria against Daesh,” the minister wrote on his official Twitter account, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too.”

Mr. Asif appeared to be reacting to a fake news article published on

That story, with the typo-laden headline “Israeli Defense Minister: If Pakistan send ground troops to Syria on any pretext, we will destroy this country with a nuclear attack,” appeared on the website on Dec. 20, alongside articles with headlines like “Clinton is staging a military coup against Trump.”

The fake story about Israel even misidentified the country’s defense minister, attributing quotations to a former minister, Moshe Yaalon. Israel’s current minister of defense is Avigdor Lieberman.

The Israeli Defense Ministry responded on Twitter to say the report was fictitious.

“The statement attributed to fmr Def Min Yaalon re Pakistan was never said,” the ministry wrote in Twitter post directed at Mr. Asif. The Israeli ministry added in a second post: "Reports referred to by the Pakistani Def Min are entirely false.”

Perhaps anticipating Donald Trump reacting to fake news about nuclear threats is the reason his chosen communications director bailed after just two days. 

Merry Christmas!

When In Doubt, Blame Obama, Con't

Political strategist Charlie Cook has some brutal words for Dems: better win over white Christian heartland voters or else, because they're literally the only voting demographic that matters now.

Simply put, Demo­crats need to ex­pand their sens­it­iv­ity-train­ing courses to in­clude people who live in small-town and rur­al Amer­ica—middle-class white voters, people who live paycheck to paycheck, and whites who at­tend church at least once a week. Frank­lin Roosevelt’s New Deal co­ali­tion of voters is now of­fi­cially dead. Demo­crats were los­ing these voters be­fore Don­ald Trump came along and will con­tin­ue to do so bey­ond his pres­id­ency un­less they show genu­ine con­cern for these con­stitu­en­cies. To be sure, the coun­try is chan­ging and be­com­ing more di­verse, but it is not do­ing so at the same pace every­where. Demo­crats are run­ning up the score in places that do not help them win ma­jor­it­ies in the House, Sen­ate, and Elect­or­al Col­lege.

An ana­lys­is by Tyler Fish­er and Alyson Hurt for NPR found that Trump won 70.6 per­cent of the vote from rur­al counties and places with pop­u­la­tions un­der 2,500 that were not near metro areas, com­pared to 25.1 per­cent for Clin­ton. Trump won 66.1 per­cent of the vote in small counties that were near metro areas (Clin­ton 30.1 per­cent), 65.8 per­cent in counties with pop­u­la­tions between 2,500 and 19,999 not near metro areas (Clin­ton 29.4 per­cent), and 66.3 per­cent in sim­il­arly-sized counties near metro areas (Clin­ton 29.5 per­cent).

While many Demo­crats and journ­al­ists are busy read­ing Hill­billy Elegy: A Mem­oir of a Fam­ily and Cul­ture in Crisis (I per­son­ally find the title of­fens­ive), far more can be learned from The Polit­ics of Re­sent­ment by Uni­versity of Wis­con­sin polit­ic­al sci­ence pro­fess­or Kath­er­ine Cramer. It is the product of nine years of in­ter­view­ing rur­al Wis­con­sin voters to learn about their anxi­ety, fears, and re­sent­ment of urb­an Amer­ica and its elites.

If any Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate in mod­ern his­tory should have done badly with white church­go­ers, it was Don­ald Trump. And yet, exit polls show that Trump car­ried the 26 per­cent of the white elect­or­ate who con­sider them­selves evan­gel­ic­al or born-again voters by a 65-point mar­gin, 81 to 16 per­cent. Among the 33 per­cent of voters of all races who at­tend church at least once a week, Trump won by 16 points, 56 to 40 per­cent, and among those who go at least monthly, Trump won by 12 points, 54 to 42 per­cent. Demo­crats can take solace in win­ning people who say they nev­er go to church by 31 points, 62 to 31 per­cent, but they will be dis­tressed to learn that this group makes up just 22 per­cent of the elect­or­ate.

Demo­crats wor­ried about their poor show­ing among church­go­ers would be well-ad­vised to read God’s Polit­ics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It by So­journ­ers pres­id­ent Jim Wal­lis, whom I would describe as a lib­er­al evan­gel­ic­al. Wal­lis ar­gues that con­ser­vat­ives have no corner on re­li­gion in gen­er­al or Chris­tian­ity in par­tic­u­lar, but that Demo­crats are in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a sec­u­lar party while Re­pub­lic­ans are be­com­ing the party of people of faith.

In short, Demo­crats need to get over Don­ald Trump and the spe­cif­ics of what happened in 2016 and be­gin to think about how, in their rush in­to Amer­ica’s fu­ture, they left be­hind a large num­ber of voters who are still very much here, right now. To ma­lign these people as big­ots, ra­cists, and miso­gyn­ists ig­nores the fact that some ac­tu­ally voted for Pres­id­ent Obama at least once, have voted for wo­men in pre­vi­ous elec­tions, or have voted for Demo­crats in the not-so-dis­tant past.

It's complete nonsense, of course.  There's no "getting over" a candidate that ran on making people of color into second-class citizens (or non-citizens in the case of Muslim Americans.)  The stupidity of "they voted for Obama once can't make them racists" is manifest in this piece, and it's precisely because of the soft racism in so many of these voters who thought Barack Obama was "one of the good ones" that allowed Trump to win.

Most of all Cook is expecting the voters most loyal to the Democrats now to be the least vocal in efforts to court the people who have already demonstrated they are the most easily swayed by white identity politics enough to abandon the Dems when a vicious demagogue like Trump rolls up.

Again, this advice is disastrous.  Dems need to stick with the people loyal to the party.  As for the rest, well, another economic crisis precipitated by Trump and his goons should open America's eyes. I only hope it won't be too late by then.

When In Doubt, Blame Obama

Democratic consultants Stan and Anna Greenberg dump the last six years of Democratic losses on Barack Obama not listening to Democratic consultants like Stan and Anna Greenberg and being nicer to a nation of white Republican voters who questioned if he was even human born in Hawaii.

Faced with the economy’s potential collapse as he took office, Mr. Obama devoted his presidency to the economic recovery, starting with restoring the financial sector. But he never made wage stagnation and growing inequality central to his economic mission, even though most Americans struggled financially for the whole of his term.

At the same time, Mr. Obama declined to really spend time and capital explaining his initiatives in an effective way. He believed that positive changes on the ground, especially from economic policies and the Affordable Care Act, would succeed, vindicating his judgment and marginalizing his opponents. 
Absent a president educating the public about his plans, for voters, the economic recovery effort morphed into bailouts — bank bailouts, auto bailouts, insurance bailouts. By his second year in office, he spotlighted the creation of new jobs and urged Democrats to defend our “progress.” 
When President Obama began focusing on those “left behind” by the recovery, he called for building “ladders of opportunity.” That communicated that the president believed the country’s main challenges were unrealized opportunity for a newly ascendant, multicultural America, rather than the continuing economic struggle experienced by a majority of Americans.

Wow.  Just wow.  That last paragraph is a dog whistle that could shatter lead crystal at 500 yards. "Multicultural" America is not "ordinary" America apparently, not "real" America, and that's why Obama lost.

It gets worse.

Mr. Obama also offered only tepid support to the most important political actor in progressive and Democratic politics: the labor movement. In the absence of progressive funders in the mode of the conservative Koch brothers, unions are the most important actors at the state legislative level. Yet when the 2010 election ushered in a spate of anti-union governors, who eliminated collective bargaining rights for public employees and passed “right to work” laws, Mr. Obama never really joined this fight. In fact, he spent the last couple of years of his presidency pursuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a free trade law vociferously opposed by the labor movement. Under President Obama, union membership has declined to 11.1 percent from 12.3 percent. 
While the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2012 were models of innovation in online organizing and microtargeting, they did not translate into success in the midterm elections or in Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Democratic turnout dropped in 2010, 2012 and significantly in 2014. Models, it appears, do not substitute for the hard work of organizing and engaging voters in nonpresidential years; models that apparently drove nearly every decision made by the Clinton campaign are no substitute for listening to voters.

The Greenbergs all but blame 2016 on Obama not listening to white union voters, "the most important actors" in state and local politics and apparently the only goddamn voters that actually matter, despite being such a small fraction of American voters before Obama even took office.

It's garbage like this that will get the Dems killed again in 2018.  White Midwest and Southern voters are going to vote for Trump no matter what, guys.  They decided they could win more with Trump's white nationalism than with the Obama coalition and frankly the way things are going right now that's probably correct.

They didn't vote against their self-interest.  They specifically voted for it.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Last Call For The No-State Solution, Con't

I've talked about David Friedman, Trump's odious ambassador to Israel pick before (a man whose literally single qualification for the job is the fact he's Trump's bankruptcy lawyer) but it's entirely another thing to hear just how frightening a departure Friedman is from diplomatic norms from somebody who's an expert on the situation like Emily L. Hauser.

It could be (and has been) argued that in choosing Friedman, Trump has merely removed the mask behind which U.S. policy and opinion have long hidden. Over the years American rhetoric has come to at least nominally acknowledge Palestinian rights and human dignity, with many beautiful words about peace and children who deserve to no longer live in fear, but U.S. policies have consistently belied these lovely words, unswervingly privileging (and facilitating) the official Israeli framing of the conflict as one in which Israel and Israel alone may determine the future of the region. 
Settlements are built and expanded, human rights abuses mount, and the occupation of what is internationally recognized as Palestinian land continues unrelentingly toward Israeli annexation of the West Bank, even as Israel insists that the Palestinians introduce no "preconditions" to peace negotiations. And then there's the Gaza Strip — which Israel maintains it no longer occupies, and yet the Israeli military is still somehow free to launch military incursions (and all-out wars) at will, as well as strictly controlling the comings and goings of Gaza's 1.8 million residents, along with much of their food and supplies
With the understanding that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a war, and that in war all sides commit unforgivable acts (I have reported on suicide bombings in which I could very well have been among the dead), we conveniently ignore the fact that one side of this conflict maintains one of the world's most powerful militaries, and the other lives under the daily control of the first in a U.S.-enabled military occupation. Stated baldly, the subtext of American actions and policies has always been that Palestinians just don't matter very much. 
This is what the Friedman pick makes manifest. Not that successive U.S. governments have lacked the political will to facilitate the establishment of a secure peace for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples — that's as apparent as the map on your wall — but rather that in the American zeitgeist, Palestinians are second-class humans.

And given Trump and who he has surrounded himself with, this toxic realpolitik that the world consists of either Trump friends or second-class humans should surprise exactly nobody. Friedman's selection clearly indicates that Palestinians and much of the Muslim world falls into that latter category.

There's a reason Netanyahu ignored Obama completely this week and went to Trump to help kill a UN resolution on Israeli settlements.  He considers the Palestinians to be less than human himself. Of course he's going to be much happier dealing with Trump.

Oh, and simply replace "Palestinians" here with "liberals" and this view neatly governs Trump's domestic policy as well.

Banana (No Longer A) Republic

Gerrymandering election districts is a way of life in America, and Republicans have all but perfected the art, drawing districts so complex and convoluted that the courts have slapped them down in a number of states.

But the worst example by far is my home state of North Carolina, where from a statistical and mathematical modeling standpoint, Republicans have so completely rigged state general assembly and US House congressional districts that UNC-Chapel Hill poly sci professor Andrew Reynolds finds that the state technically no longer qualifies as a representative democracy.

In 2005, in the midst of a career of traveling around the world to help set up elections in some of the most challenging places on earth – Afghanistan, Burma, Egypt, Lebanon, South Africa, Sudan and Yemen, among others – my Danish colleague, Jorgen Elklit, and I designed the first comprehensive method for evaluating the quality of elections around the world. Our system measured 50 moving parts of an election process and covered everything from the legal framework to the polling day and counting of ballots. 
In 2012 Elklit and I worked with Pippa Norris of Harvard University, who used the system as the cornerstone of the Electoral Integrity Project. Since then the EIP has measured 213 elections in 153 countries and is widely agreed to be the most accurate method for evaluating how free and fair and democratic elections are across time and place. 
When we evolved the project I could never imagine that as we enter 2017, my state, North Carolina, would perform so badly on this, and other, measures that we are no longer considered to be a fully functioning democracy. 
In the just released EIP report, North Carolina’s overall electoral integrity score of 58/100 for the 2016 election places us alongside authoritarian states and pseudo-democracies like Cuba, Indonesia and Sierra Leone. If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table – a deeply flawed, partly free democracy that is only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world. 
Indeed, North Carolina does so poorly on the measures of legal framework and voter registration, that on those indicators we rank alongside Iran and Venezuela. When it comes to the integrity of the voting district boundaries no country has ever received as low a score as the 7/100 North Carolina received. North Carolina is not only the worst state in the USA for unfair districting but the worst entity in the world ever analyzed by the Electoral Integrity Project
That North Carolina can no longer call its elections democratic is shocking enough, but our democratic decline goes beyond what happens at election time. The most respected measures of democracy — Freedom House, POLITY and the Varieties of Democracy project — all assess the degree to which the exercise of power depends on the will of the people: That is, governance is not arbitrary, it follows established rules and is based on popular legitimacy. 
The extent to which North Carolina now breaches these principles means our state government can no longer be classified as a full democracy.
That utter lack of integrity of the 2016 elections in the state are a large part of the reason why a federal judge is now forcing the state to redraw everything ahead of the 2018 elections.  But getting that fixed will require a Department of Justice that's actually intrested in fixing the problem, and there's precisely zero indication that the Trump administration will do anything in that regard under probable AG Jeff Sessions.

In fact, there's every indication that Republicans will try to do to the rest of the country what they've already done to NC, and very little reason to believe that they won't succeed in an impressive fashion.
Read more here:

Equal Opportunity To Hate

Republicans, now sensing that they can get away with pretty much anything they want to in the Trump Era, are swinging for the fences with new legislative priorities.  The big motif (as I've been warning about) is taking red state culture war and economic nonsense national in order to inflict them on blue states at the federal level, and our first contestant is none other than Ted Cruz.

Earlier this month, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Senator Mike Lee of Utah, through his spokesperson, told Buzzfeed they plan to reintroduce an embattled bill that barely gained a House hearing in 2015. But this time around, they said, the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) was likely to succeed due to a Republican-controlled House and the backing of President-elect Donald Trump.

FADA would prohibit the federal government from taking "discriminatory action" against any business or person that discriminates against LGBTQ people. The act distinctly aims to protect the right of all entities to refuse service to LGBTQ people based on two sets of beliefs: "(1) marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or (2) sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage." 
Ironically, the language of the bill positions the right to discriminate against one class of Americans as a "first amendment" right, and bans the government from taking any form of action to curb such discrimination—including withholding federal funds from institutions that discriminate. FADA allows individuals and businesses to sue the federal government for interfering in their right to discriminate against LGBTQ people and would mandate the Attorney General defend the businesses. 
On December 9, Sen. Lee's spokesperson, Conn Carroll, told Buzzfeed the election of Trump had cleared a path for the passage of FADA. 
"Hopefully November's results will give us the momentum we need to get this done next year," Carroll said. "We do plan to reintroduce FADA next Congress and we welcome Trump's positive words about the bill."

The ridiculously broad bill would basically take Indiana's bill enshrining the right to discriminate as a federal law, specifically against LGBTQ folks, and take it national, forcing the government to take the side of the oppressor. It would turn the Justice Department's civil rights division into a weapon that would be used to allow people to openly discriminate against the LGBTQ community and most certainly would override all state-level protections in doing so.

It would be a nightmare.

It will almost certainly pass the House next year. The only question is how far it will get in the Senate.  Given Cruz's penchant for overplaying his hand, he's liable to piss off as many of his fellows in the Most August Deliberative Body as possible and the bill will die there.

We'll see.

But get used to this.  And should Democrats crumble in 2018 and the GOP get 60 seats, all civil rights and voting rights in this country will be subject to obliteration.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Last Call For Chartering Out A Course For NOLA

The great Post-Katrina Scam Factory is almost complete: the last of New Orleans's public schools will soon become for-profit charter operations run on taxpayer dollars.

New Orleans may soon be the first city to have an all-charter school system -- a landmark in U.S. history. 
Orleans Parish Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. announced Friday (Dec. 9) he had "received informal expressions of interest from current school and charter leaders to convert some or all of our remaining five network elementary and high schools to charter schools authorized by OPSB." 
The five schools currently under school board control this would affect: Ben Franklin Elementary, Eleanor McMain Secondary, Mahalia Jackson Elementary, Mary Bethune Elementary, and McDonogh No. 35, comprising a middle and high school. 
Charters are publicly funded but run by independent boards, held to benchmarks set by an authorizing party -- in this case, the Orleans Parish School Board. 
Lewis offered no further details, saying only, "We are beginning the process of informing school board members, staff, principals, teachers and families. When that process is completed early next week, we will be in a better position to provide more details."
The School Board is scheduled to meet Tuesday.

If the decision proceeds, it will have been a long time coming. In 2014, the Louisiana Recovery School District finished converting to charters all the New Orleans public schools it took over after Hurricane Katrina.

The Louisiana Legislature made the victory of the charter model obvious this spring when they passed a law returning the Recovery schools to Orleans Parish School Board control -- but as charters.

By any reasonable metric, the conversion to charter schools has been a disaster for the city and its people.

Last year, 63 percent of children in local elementary and middle schools were proficient on state tests, up from 37 percent in 2005. New research by Tulane University’s Education Research Alliance shows that the gains were largely because of the charter-school reforms, according to Douglas N. Harris, the alliance’s director. Graduation and college entry rates also increased over pre-Katrina levels.

But the New Orleans miracle is not all it seems. Louisiana state standards are among the lowest in the nation. The new research also says little about high school performance. And the average composite ACT score for the Recovery School District was just 16.4 in 2014, well below the minimum score required for admission to a four-year public university in Louisiana. 
There is also growing evidence that the reforms have come at the expense of the city’s most disadvantaged children, who often disappear from school entirely and, thus, are no longer included in the data.

That's the whole point of the charter operation: to drive out the "undesirable" kids and say "look at us, we've improved test scores!"  And now the entire district will most likely be charter. The reality of the existing charter schools has been ten years of neglect and shame.

Test scores have improved, according to two major reports that examine academic achievement over the past nine years. On Katrina’s 10th anniversary, RSD is being held up as a national model. The graduation rate has risen from 56 percent to 73 percent. Last year, 63 percent of students in grades 3-8 scored basic or above on state standardized tests, up from 33 percent.

But by other measures, the RSD suffers. In These Times received an advance copy of research conducted for the Network for Public Education (NPE) by University of Arizona researchers Francesca L√≥pez and Amy Olson. The study compared charters in Louisiana, the majority of which are in New Orleans, to Louisiana public schools, controlling for factors like race, ethnicity, poverty and whether students qualified for special education. On eighth-grade reading and math tests, charter-school students performed worse than their public-school counterparts by enormous margins—2 to 3 standard deviations.

The researchers found that the gap between charter and public school performance in Louisiana was the largest of any state in the country. And Louisiana’s overall scores were the fourth-lowest in the nation
“You can say until you’re blue in the face that this should be a national model, but this is one of the worst-performing districts in one of the worst-performing states,” says NPE board member Julian Vasquez Heilig, an education professor at California State Sacramento.

Arguably New Orleans and its charter schools are among the worst in the country.  And our incoming Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wants to do to America's public schools what charter schools have done to New Orleans, and she's already spent millions to make charter schools in the city to buy off politicians so that she can do so.

Trump's chosen Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her organizations have spent a lot of money in Louisiana. How much? Try $1.6 million in campaign contributions alone, according to Louisiana ethics filings. 
DeVos heads the Alliance for School Choice and the American Federation for Children, which in turn runs the Louisiana Federation for Children. Trump announced her as his nominee Wednesday (Nov. 23). 
Louisiana Education Superintendent John White commended the selection. He spoke at an AFC policy summit in 2015. 
"Betsy DeVos has long advocated for the rights of families and children to a quality education," he said. "We congratulate her on being nominated for Secretary of Education, and we look forward to working with her."

Eliminating public schools has long been a crusade of the far right, and New Orleans is the prime example of what will happen to the rest of the nation should people like DeVos get their way.
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