Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Last Call For My Neighbor Vladimir

Now that Vlad The Dudesplainer has his man in Washington, he's feeling pretty free and clear to make his moves around Europe and dare NATO to try anything.  This week, he's moved short ranged missile launchers into Kaliningrad, that lovely little Russian chunk of land on the Baltic between Lithuania and Poland.

NATO has accused Russia of "aggressive military posturing" following reports that it has deployed anti-ship missiles in its westernmost Baltic region.

Russia's Interfax news agency said on Monday that Bastion missile-launchers had been sent to Kaliningrad.

In a statement to the Associated Press, NATO said the move "does not help to lower tensions or restore predictability to our relations".

The Kremlin has accused NATO of stoking tensions by expanding eastwards.

Kaliningrad is a Russian exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania.

In October, Russia sent nuclear-capable Iskander missiles to Kaliningrad, a move Poland described as of the "highest concern".

Russia said the deployment was part of military exercises and had happened before.

So what, you're thinking, standard Vlad move, right?  Well...

The Russian exclave of Kaliningrad represents an important military outpost between Poland and Lithuania with its coastline on the Baltic Sea.

The accumulation of radars and air defence systems, as well as coastal anti-shipping missiles, all form part of Moscow's developing "anti-access and area denial strategy", which in essence seeks to push NATO forces away from Russia and to make it very difficult to reinforce NATO members in the Baltic region in the event of a crisis.

The fact that Russia can cut off the Baltic is bad enough.  It gets worse.

However, in a separate statement on Monday, the RIA news agency quoted Russian defence committee chairman Viktor Ozerov as saying Iskanders and S-400 surface-to-air missiles were deployed in Kaliningrad to counter a planned US missile defence shield in eastern Europe.

The Bastion system fires Oniks cruise missiles, which have a range of up to 280 miles (450km). Russia has already used them in the Syrian civil war where it is supporting President Bashar al-Assad.

By the way for those of you at home, places within 280 miles or so of Kaliningrad?  Most of Poland, southeastern Sweden, and the bonus round, northeastern Germany.  You know, Berlin.

Have a nice Turkey Day, courtesy of our good friend Vlad!

Merry Trumpmas? Bah Trumpbug!

Over the weekend I talked about Republicans in Congress eagerly awaiting the opportunity to reverse an Obama Labor Department rule and take overtime pay away from salaried workers who make less than $47,000 a year, something that would affect four million working Americans and their families.

Weeks before the 115th Congress even begins, House Republicans are laying the groundwork for a major push to repeal President Barack Obama’s most recent regulations, using the Congressional Review Act. The 1996 law allows the House to reverse regulations enacted within the previous 60 legislative days — and the Senate to pass a repeal by simple majority instead of the upper chamber’s typical 60-vote threshold.

While Obama is still president, the Republican controlled-Congress has no chance of repealing his regulations. But once Trump is inaugurated, that all changes.

Another boon for the right: The 1996 law is written such that the 60-legislative-day clock resets at the beginning of each Congress for all rules enacted in the 60 legislative days prior to the final day of congressional adjournment. That will give Congress months longer to tear up regulations issued late this year.

These working-class folks are mostly pink-collar office workers and lower "management" in retail and restaurants, busting their asses 50-60 hours a week and getting the same pay with no overtime every week (and even more on Black Friday week like this week.)  They were slated to start getting this overtime pay just in time for Christmas on December 1.

But Nevada GOP AG Adam Laxalt (a "rising GOP star" and Trump supporter in the Silver State) has come through with a gigantic lump of coal for millions this holiday season: a federal injunction blocking these overtime rules from taking affect at all.

In a blow to the Obama administration's labor-law plans, a federal court has blocked the start of a rule that would have made an estimated 4 million more American workers eligible for overtime pay heading into the holiday season.

As a result of Tuesday's ruling, overtime changes set to take effect Dec. 1 are now unlikely be in play before vast power shifts to a Donald Trump administration, which has spoken out against Obama-backed government regulation and generally aligns with the business groups that stridently opposed the overtime rule.

The U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas granted the nationwide preliminary injunction, saying the Department of Labor's rule exceeds the authority the agency was delegated by Congress.

"Businesses and state and local governments across the country can breathe a sigh of relief now that this rule has been halted," said Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, who led the coalition of 21 states and governors fighting the rule and has been a frequent critic of what he characterized as Obama administration overreach. "Today's preliminary injunction reinforces the importance of the rule of law and constitutional government."

The regulation sought to shrink the so-called "white collar exemption" that allows employers to skip overtime pay for salaried administrative or professional workers who make more than about $23,660 per year. Critics say it's wrong that some retail and restaurant chains pay low-level managers as little as $25,000 a year and no overtime — even if they work 60 hours a week.

So there you have it.  Odds are now very good that these rules will be blocked until they can be reversed by congressional Republicans and eventually dismantled by the Trump Administration, meaning we'll continue to have millions of workers working 60-hour weeks with no overtime.

Make America Great Again, right?

Time To Audit The Vote

It's time to start seriously taking a much closer look at the vote counts in the Rust Belt swing states and to start asking some hard questions.

Hillary Clinton is being urged by a group of prominent computer scientists and election lawyers to call for a recount in three swing states won by Donald Trump, New York has learned. The group, which includes voting-rights attorney John Bonifaz and J. Alex Halderman, the director of the University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society, believes they’ve found persuasive evidence that results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania may have been manipulated or hacked. The group is so far not speaking on the record about their findings and is focused on lobbying the Clinton team in private.

Last Thursday, the activists held a conference call with Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and campaign general counsel Marc Elias to make their case, according to a source briefed on the call. The academics presented findings showing that in Wisconsin, Clinton received 7 percent fewer votes in counties that relied on electronic-voting machines compared with counties that used optical scanners and paper ballots. Based on this statistical analysis, Clinton may have been denied as many as 30,000 votes; she lost Wisconsin by 27,000. While it’s important to note the group has not found proof of hacking or manipulation, they are arguing to the campaign that the suspicious pattern merits an independent review — especially in light of the fact that the Obama White House has accused the Russian government of hacking the Democratic National Committee.

I know the effort to recount Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan seems like Alex Jones-level conspiracy theories at this point, but if Alex Halderman and other computer science experts are involved in this analysis, it's time for this to be considered plausible enough to audit.

The revelation this month that a cyberattack on the DNC is the handiwork of Russian state security personnel has set off alarm bells across the country: Some officials have suggested that 2016 could see more serious efforts to interfere directly with the American election. The DNC hack, in a way, has compelled the public to ask the precise question the Princeton group hoped they’d have asked earlier, back when they were turning voting machines into arcade games: If motivated programmers could pull a stunt like this, couldn't they tinker with the results in November through the machines we use to vote?

This week, the notion has been transformed from an implausible plotline in a Philip K. Dick novel into a deadly serious threat, outlined in detail by a raft of government security officials. “This isn’t a crazy hypothetical anymore,” says Dan Wallach, one of the Felten-Appel alums and now a computer science professor at Rice. “Once you bring nation states’ cyber activity into the game?” He snorts with pity. “These machines, they barely work in a friendlyenvironment.”

The powers that be seem duly convinced. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently conceded the “longer-term investments we need to make in the cybersecurity of our election process.” A statement by 31 security luminaries at the Aspen Institute issued a public statement: “Our electoral process could be a target for reckless foreign governments and terrorist groups.” Declared Wired: “America’s Electronic Voting Machines Are Scarily Easy Targets.”

For the Princeton group, it’s precisely the alarm it has been trying to sound for most of the new millennium. “Look, we could see 15 years ago that this would be perfectly possible,” Appel tells me, speaking in subdued, clipped tones. “It’s well within the capabilities of a country as sophisticated as Russia.” He pauses for a moment, as if to consider this. “Actually, it’s well within the capabilities of much less well-funded and sophisticated attackers.”

And again, I know you're thinking that not only is this Ohio 2004 "the election was stolen!" nonsense all over again when legal voter suppression by Republicans was a far more likely answer then and a far more likely answer now to these questions, but there's also the factor of  "this will be used against us in the future by Republicans."

I remind you that questioning the integrity of the voting process is already being used by Republicans against us.  Maybe, just maybe, it's time to fight back.


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