Saturday, September 30, 2017

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Remember how Republicans said that Hillary Clinton using private email showed she should never hold a government office that requires a security clearance again because her data was hopelessly compromised by our enemies and would assure that if elected she would be blackmailed?

Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn, Ivanka Trump, and several other top Trump regime officials have been using private email for months now.  The NSA warned them immediately that this was a hideously bad idea.  They ignored the NSA and did it anyway.

The briefings came soon after President Donald Trump was sworn into office on Jan. 20, and before some top aides, including senior adviser Jared Kushner, used their personal email and phones to conduct official White House business, as disclosed by POLITICO this week.

The NSA briefers explained that cyberspies could be using sophisticated malware to turn the personal cellphones of White House aides into clandestine listening devices, to take photos and video without the user’s knowledge and to transfer vast amounts of data via Wi-Fi networks and Bluetooth, according to one former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the briefings.

The briefings were held in the White House Situation Room because of the sensitivity of the topics discussed, according to that official and three other former officials familiar with such briefings, which have been given to each incoming administration.

The officials said White House aides also were told they should assume that foreign cyberspies had already penetrated their personal email systems to some degree and used that access to vacuum up everything not just on their own computers and phones but those of their contacts.

The NSA briefers told the Trump aides that using their personal devices for work, including passing files and emails from one system to the other, could give cyberspies access to their work computers and email, too, the officials said.

If Kushner did not adhere to the security precautions, it could lead to a significant security breach, the officials said, given his access to President Donald Trump and unique portfolio of responsibilities. Kushner, who is Trump’s son-in-law, is the president’s point man on China, Syria, Middle East peace, and Afghanistan, along with innovation, infrastructure and other issues.

Jared is probably one of the top five or 10 targets in the U.S. government because of his access to the president and because of the portfolios he’s been given,” said Richard Clarke, a former top cybersecurity advisor to three presidents. “It’s a pretty safe bet that his personal devices have been compromised by foreign intelligence services. And therefore there is some risk that meetings he attends are compromised too.”

 Even setting aside the caustic levels of irony that would come from the NSA calmly telling Trump's son-in-law that his private email just might be compromised by the Russians, the fact that Kushner and the rest of Trump's inner circle continued to do exactly what they warned America that Clinton could never be allowed to do is just hysterically funny and sad.

But that's life in 2017 now, isn't it.

Paying The Price

Trump regime Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was the victim of another Friday Night Firing­­ as he was forced to tender his resignation over spending close to $400,000 on charter jets to travel the country with.  The reality is though that the jet issue was the excuse Trump needed for the real reason to cut Price's throat and bleed him out: Price's multiple failures to shepherd Obamacare repeal through the Senate.

Price’s lack of goodwill with Trump and other senior administration officials ultimately doomed his chances of survival, even though many administration officials believed the furor would blow over when news first broke that Price spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on private jets.

By early this week, however, it became clear that the growing firestorm over Price’s travel was only getting worse. A number of officials in the White House said HHS had badly handled the response to the controversy — and was caught off guard by the facts. And it was hard to find a power player in the White House who would defend Price to the president.

POLITICO published five stories over the last 10 days that revealed Price had spent more than $1 million in taxpayer money on travel since May, including overseas flights on military aircrafts and more than two dozen domestic trips on private planes.

Other media outlets amplified the revelations, with cable news frequently running damaging chyrons and reporters peppering Trump and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about the growing scandal throughout the week. 
The president grew more angry, fuming to West Wing aides about the optics of a member of the administration spending so lavishly. The almost daily drip of revelations — including that Price took a government-funded private jet in August to get to a Georgia resort where he and his wife own land — further incensed the president.

Meanwhile, Trump was intensely frustrated by his unsuccessful health care push and associated Price with the failure, several aides said. He joked at a rally in July he would fire Price if he didn't get the votes for the Obamacare repeal.

While the White House has weathered a steady stream of mini-scandals since Trump took office, this one was different, according to administration officials, because it made Price look like the kind of creature of Washington that the president had railed against on the campaign trail.

Trump himself blasted Price on Friday for what he suggested was frivolous spending in light of the administration’s efforts to impose fiscal conservatism on the federal government.

“I've saved hundreds of millions of dollars,” the president told reporters on Friday when he was asked if he had lost confidence in Price. “So I don’t like the optics of what you just saw.”

The notion that Trump "saved" taxpayer anything, considering his own travel budget for 2017 is rapidly approaching the amount of money that Barack Obama spent on taxpayer travel for all eight years of both terms combined is utterly ridiculous, as is Trump punishing any of his cabinet members for charter jet use (he's leaving that to WH Chief of Staff John Kelly).

No, the real reason is somebody's head had to roll for failing to repeal Obamacare, and I'm betting the leaks to Politico over the last 10 days concerning Price's travel came from somebody who wanted Price gone.

My guess is somebody in the White House.  After all, leaks and firing are now common occurrences in the Trump regime as the failures keep piling up.

Botas Anaranjadas En La Noche

The Trump regime is mostly too incompetent to deliver relief supplies to islands, for example, but the one part of the machinery that is working brilliantly is Immigration and Customs Enforcement, our good friends at ICE.  They know exactly where to go and exactly how to find undocumented immigrants and round them up, as their latest raids earlier this week deliberately targeted sanctuary cities in blue states with almost ruthless efficiency and flawless execution.

Fifty immigrants across the state were among nearly 500 nationwide arrested for federal immigration violations in an operation that targeted so-called sanctuary cities and, in the case of Massachusetts, a state that had not fallen in line with President Trump’s aggressive deportation policies. 
In a statement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, said its four-day “Safe City” operation, which ended Wednesday, was “focused on cities and regions where ICE deportation officers are denied access to jails and prisons to interview suspected immigration violators or jurisdictions where ICE detainers are not honored.” 
About two-thirds of the immigrants arrested nationwide are wanted on criminal charges, ICE said. According to figures provided by ICE, 30 of those arrested in Massachusetts had criminal records, and the other 20 did not.

Local municipalities including Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville have declared themselves sanctuary cities for immigrants, establishing policies that forbid law enforcement officials from assisting their federal counterparts in enforcing immigration laws. 
In July, the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled that local law enforcement cannot hold a person who is wanted solely for immigration violations, a decision that provided legal support for sanctuary cities in the Commonwealth. 
In the statement from ICE, Massachusetts was the only state singled out. Other areas targeted in the “Safe City” operation were cities and counties. They included Santa Clara County, Calif., and Cook County, Ill., which contains Chicago, and seven cities: New York; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Denver; Baltimore; and Portland, Ore. 
“We have always done these kinds of operations historically, for the decades past, including the last administration,” said Shawn Neudauer, a spokesman for ICE. He went on to say that this operation was distinctive in that “this is focused on areas that have . . . self-proclaimed they are not going to cooperate with ICE.”

He said the decision by the state SJC had led to the state’s inclusion among those areas.

They want people scared in sanctuary cities and in smaller blue states like Massachusetts  They want people to know that being a sanctuary city means nothing to ICE, and I would expect more raids like the Orwellian "Operation Safe City" to continue in these places specifically.

As the raids continue and get worse, the goal will be to turn immigration advocates and the people they protect against local governments who won't be able to stop ICE, and I don't see any reason why it won't continue to work as long as Trump remains in charge.

To once again paraphrase Grand Moff Tarkin in A New Hope, "Fear will keep the sanctuary cities in line. Fear of this ICE force."

The orange jackboots in the night will keep coming I suspect for a long time as long as Trump can be motivated to crack down by revenge.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Last Call For The Confederacy Of Dunces

Last time I checked Ohio was on the Union side in the Civil War, but apparently that never stopped a monument plaque to Gen. Robert E. Lee going up in Franklin Township north of Cincy (in Boehner Country, of course) some 90 years ago.  The township took it down after the events of Charlottesville last month, figuring "nobody's going to miss a Confederate plaque in small-town Ohio."

Oh, were they ever wrong.

Franklin Twp. trustees said they working out details to return a Confederate marker to public display and hold a re-dedication ceremony. 
A handful of residents attended Wednesday evening’s meeting to ask why there has been little information about the 90-year old marker honoring Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Dixie Highway that was removed overnight Aug. 17 from the intersection of Hamilton-Middletown Road and Dixie Highway. 
The controversy started Aug. 16 when reporters asked about Franklin Township’s plans for the monument after the violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. 
“The monument is going back,” said Trustees President Brian Morris. “It might not be in the exact same spot. You’re going to get essentially what we all want, but it might not be in the exact same spot.” 
Morris said he is looking at several places in the township along Dixie Highway but no site has been selected and more details remain to be worked out. 
“We’ll have a re-dedication ceremony,” Morris said. “It’s going to be put back out in public. Rest assured, get the word out, it will be back.”

Apparently the answer to "who would miss a Confederate plaque in small-town Ohio" is "racist small-minded old white people complaining to township officials."

Which is exactly what Ohio is like in 2017, for those of you who keep saying I should move across the river to "less" racism or something.

Collective Trumpunishment

The Narcissist-in-Chief's ego has gotten so swollen and infected that as Paul Krugman points out, Americans are going to die as a direct result of this kakistocratic administration.

When Hurricane Maria struck, more than a week ago, it knocked out power to the whole of Puerto Rico, and it will be months before the electricity comes back. Lack of power can be deadly in itself, but what’s even worse is that, thanks largely to the blackout, much of the population still lacks access to drinkable water. How many will die because hospitals can’t function, or because of diseases spread by unsafe water? Nobody knows. 
But the situation is terrible, and time is not on Puerto Rico’s side: The longer this goes on, the worse the humanitarian crisis will get. Surely, then, you’d expect bringing in and distributing aid to be the U.S. government’s top priority. After all, we’re talking about the lives of three and a half million of our fellow citizens — more than the population of Iowa or metro San Diego. 
So have we seen the kind of full-court, all-out relief effort such a catastrophe demands? No. 
Admittedly, it’s hard to quantify the federal response. But none of the extraordinary measures you’d expect to see have materialized. 
The deployment of military resources seems to have been smaller and slower than it was in Texas after Harvey or Florida after Irma, even though Puerto Rico’s condition is far more dire. Until Thursday the Trump administration had refused to lift restrictions on foreign shipping to Puerto Rico, even though it had waived those rules for Texas and Florida. 
Why? According to the president, “people who work in the shipping industry” don’t like the idea.

And as Krugman adds, it's not just Puerto Rico, it's healthcare too.

Obamacare repeal has failed again, for the simple reason that Graham-Cassidy, like all the other G.O.P. proposals, was a piece of meanspirited junk. But while the Affordable Care Act survives, the Trump administration is openly trying to sabotage the law’s functioning. 
This sabotage is taking place on multiple levels. The administration has refused to confirm whether it will pay crucial subsidies to insurers that cover low-income customers. It has refused to clarify whether the requirement that healthy people buy insurance will be enforced. It has canceled or suspended outreach designed to get more people to sign up. 
These actions translate directly into much higher premiums: Insurers don’t know if they’ll be compensated for major costs, and they have every reason to expect a smaller, sicker risk pool than before. And it’s too late to reverse the damage: Insurers are finalizing their 2018 rates as you read this. 
Why are the Trumpists doing this? Is it a cynical calculation — make the A.C.A. fail, then claim that it was already doomed? I doubt it. For one thing, we’re not talking about people known for deep strategic calculations. For another, the A.C.A. won’t actually collapse; it will just become a program more focused on sicker, poorer Americans — and the political opposition to repeal won’t go away. Finally, when the bad news comes in, everyone will know whom to blame.

No, A.C.A. sabotage is best seen not as a strategy, but as a tantrum. We can’t repeal Obamacare? Well, then, we’ll screw it up. It’s not about achieving any clear goal, but about salving the president’s damaged self-esteem. 

It's worse than that.  It's collective punishment of the people who dared to vote against Trump in 2016.  He lost the GOP primary there to Marco Rubio, remember?  As a result, he is trying to cause as much suffering to those who, as far as Trump is concerned, no longer matter as Americans and therefore no longer deserve anything from the country other than the coercive power of the state at point-blank range.

This is about Trump making sure his regime hurts anyone and everyone who stands up to him in any way.  And if thousands of American citizens in Puerto Rico have to be sickened or even die from neglect in order to make that point, if millions have to lose their health care coverage and some will die as a result?

So be it.  Dear Leader Trump has spoken.

He is a monster, full stop.

Flaking Out Over Sinema Verite'

My favorite pain in the ass conservative Democrat, Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, is finally throwing her hat into the ring to take on embattled GOP Sen. Jeff Flake in 2018.  While I definitely believe Sinema will end up in the Heitkamp/Donnelly/Manchin wing of the Conserva-Dems and will be a major roadblock to broadband regulations and health care legislation in the future, that's what Jeff Flake was now, plus he votes with Trump far more often than Sinema does.

U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is running for the Senate seat held by Jeff Flake, ending months of speculation about her political future and giving Democrats a top-tier fundraiser with experience on Capitol Hill.

In a video announcing her bid,the Arizona Democrat recounts her upbringing in a family that fell from the middle class into homelessness. She made her way to Congress, Sinema says, with hard work and help from "family, church and, sometimes, even the government."

"I really feel like I have a duty to serve and give back to this country, which has given so much to me," she said in an interview with The Arizona Republic. "Working hard is all I know; it's who I am. I believe I'll be the hardest worker for Arizonans in the United States Senate."

Sinema, who has a reputation as an energetic problem-solver not focused on partisanship, said she intends to make her work on behalf of military veterans and in cutting regulatory red tape for businesses the core issues of her campaign.

"Our nation is facing a lot of problems right now, but we can fix these problems if we work together," Sinema says in the video. "It's time to put our country ahead of party, ahead of politics. It's time to stop fighting and look for common ground."

The fact of the matter is the Dems need to win Flake's seat next year.  As I've said multiple times, Heitkamp, Manchin, and Donnelly all face tough re-elections in Trump states, along with Claire McCaskill, Sherrod Brown, Tammy Baldwin, Jon Tester, and Bill Nelson.  If Flake and Dean Heller survive and the GOP runs the table on these, that's 60 for them, and that's the end of the ball game.

Frankly, I'd expect the GOP to pick up four or five of these, but all eight is certainly not out of the question.

So yes, I want to see Sinema win.  Even if she does do obnoxious things like meet with Donald Trump, and still hasn't learned that for all her "bipartisan" leanings, Republicans are still happily depicting her as an "extreme liberal" who hates America and loves "illegals".

We'll see.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Deficits Stopped Mattering On January 20

With the GOP (nominally) in charge of the government, suddenly deficit spending is super okay again when there's not a black Democratic president around to blame it on.  Don't take my word for it though, just ask Republican lawmakers who now freely admit that's the case.

In 2001, when surging budget surpluses fueled hopes of extinguishing the national debt, a pitched battle broke out over President George W. Bush’s proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut.  
Nevermind that the tax cut’s 10-year tab was supposed to leave behind more than $3 trillion in surpluses — Democrats and some Republicans said that the tax cut was just too large. 
Fast forward to President Trump’s Washington, where the budget deficit for this fiscal year is expected to near $700 billion and the federal debt has topped $20 trillion.
A new tax cut is emerging to rival those of the Bush years, and the deficit hawks have hardly peeped. 
It’s a great talking point when you have an administration that’s Democrat-led,” said Representative Mark Walker, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a group of about 150 conservative House members. “It’s a little different now that Republicans have both houses and the administration.” 

Here's the hard truth: Deficit spending is always acceptable to the GOP as long as anyone darker than a wine cork doesn't benefit from it.

For years, Republican lawmakers lamented the soaring national debt, pressing for spending cuts and clinging to the mantle of fiscal responsibility. But last week, Senate Republicans hammered out a deal to allow for as much as $1.5 trillion in tax cuts, betting that supercharged growth will make up for lost revenue, a potentially dubious prospect. The tax plan outlined Wednesday by the White House and Republican leaders in the House and Senate could cost more than $2 trillion over the next decade, according to a preliminary estimate by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
This month, the majority of Republicans in the House and the Senate voted to raise the debt limit without doing anything to rein in spending. 
Republican lawmakers are pushing to increase military spending by tens of billions of dollars, topping even Mr. Trump’s request for a beefed-up military. Democrats are sharing in the fiscal intemperance, lining up behind a “Medicare for all” proposal despite having no definitive plan for how to pay for universal, government-provided health coverage. 
And as Congress mulls large tax cuts, the tabs for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria keep rising. 
When Mr. Bush took office and pushed for a big tax cut, the fiscal outlook was strong. The Congressional Budget Office in 2001 was projecting $5.6 trillion in budget surpluses over 10 years
Now, the budget office forecasts that deficits will total $10.1 trillion over the next decade. The deficit is expected to top $1 trillion a year in 2022 and keep growing from there. Federal debt held by the public is at the highest level since shortly after World War II, at 77 percent of the gross domestic product.

And that's if Trump doesn't crash the economy (which given this tax plan and massive austerity cuts to follow that scenario becomes virtually certain).   We'll be lucky to get through the next four years without stacking up another $10 trillion to throw in the hole, and 99% of it will go to the wealthiest people and corporations on earth.

The Kansas disaster is coming to a state near you in 2018 unless we stop these guys.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

BuzzFeed News's Jason Leopold gives us the latest instance of the Trump regime's passive-aggressive foot-dragging in confounding investigators, as the Treasury Department's forensic accounting team has been locked out of FBI intelligence files for months over an unexplained "mishap", which they discovered as they raced to help track the terrorists behind June's London Bridge attack.

The lack of access for personnel within the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network — never before reported — cost anti-terrorism forces on both sides of the Atlantic crucial time in identifying and pursuing the people and networks around the attackers, according to sources and documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News. 
Sources said the lack of access has also hindered the Congressional inquiry into President Donald Trump and Russia. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network — FinCEN for short — has not turned over all the records that the Senate Intelligence and Finance committees requested as part of their probes into the 2016 election. While the agency did send over about 2,000 pages of banking and other financial information to the Intelligence committee in March, officials said they are still waiting for additional information on transactions between specific people. Sources declined to name those people or describe the transactions. 
Accusing the Treasury Department of making it impossible for Congress to “follow the money,” Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, of Oregon, announced last week that he would would block the confirmation vote on Trump’s nominee to be Treasury’s assistant secretary for intelligence and analysis, Isabel Patelunas, until the remaining documents are produced. 
The Treasury Department did not respond to specific questions from BuzzFeed News about FinCEN’s response to terrorist attacks or Congressional requests, but issued a statement saying in part that its “employees obtain and maintain access to the tools needed to support our partners in law enforcement, the intelligence community and foreign counterparts.” 
FinCEN’s skill at following the money has proven valuable in past terrorist attacks. After the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon, one FBI official told BuzzFeed News, the “names searches FinCEN did were far more effective and thorough than what we had been doing when it came to identifying the attackers” and mapping the terrorist network tied to them. 
Two explanations have emerged for why FinCEN personnel have been locked out. The problem was either a retaliatory move in an increasingly nasty power struggle with the Treasury Department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, which controls the digital keys to classified computer networks, or it was a bureaucratic snafu regarding the keys’ timely renewal. 
Members of Congress who have been briefed on the situation say it needs to be fixed immediately. FinCEN’s lack of access puts America’s national security at “grave” risk, said Republican Steve Pearce, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Terrorism and Finance. As a result of the shut-out, “FinCEN was unable to effectively respond to critical, time-sensitive requests for information from law enforcement partners, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Pearce wrote on June 9 in a previously undisclosed letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Pearce, whose office declined to comment beyond what is in the letter, wrote that the problem was “bewildering” and “unacceptable.”

But if you're trying to stop an investigation into the White House and the guy in the Oval Office, denying the FinCEN team access to classified material is the easiest way to stop the sleuthing dead in its tracks, particularly if the trail leads to a foreign adversary like Moscow.

It's not the crime that gets you, it's the cover-up.

And speaking of cover-up, the Daily Beast crew does some digging on the "Russian front companies bought Facebook ads" story and found that Russian agents were pretending to be a real Muslim advocacy group on Facebook with the intent of damaging Hillary Clinton and riling up right-wing voters.

The Facebook group United Muslims of America was neither united, Muslim, nor American. 
Instead, sources familiar with the group tell The Daily Beast, it was an imposter account on the world’s largest social network that’s been traced back to the Russian government. 
Using the account as a front to reach American Muslims and their allies, the Russians pushed memes that claimed Hillary Clinton admitted the U.S. “created, funded and armed” al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State; claimed that John McCain was ISIS’ true founder; whitewashed blood-drenched dictator Moammar Gadhafi and praised him for not having a “Rothschild-owned central bank”; and falsely alleged Osama bin Laden was a “CIA agent.” 
Sources confirmed that the imposter account bought Facebook advertisements to reach its target audience. It promoted political rallies aimed at Muslim audiences. And it used the Twitter account “muslims_in_usa” and the Instagram account “muslim_voice” to pass along inflammatory memes under cover of the UMA. The Twitter account has been suspended, and the account on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook, was shuttered at around the same time as the Facebook page. 
The Kremlin-backed trolls did all this while simultaneously using other accounts to hawk virulently Islamophobic messages to right-wing audiences on Facebook, such as an August 2016 Twin Falls, Idaho rally demanding, “We must stop taking in Muslim refugees!” Taken together, the newest revelation of Russian propaganda on Facebook shows the sophistication of the Russian “active measures” campaign to influence the U.S. voting public.

“Russia knows no ends and no limits to which groups they would masquerade as to carry out their objectives,” Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat on the House intelligence committee, told the Daily Beast.

It's amazing that all the Russians had to do was to buy Facebook ads and drop right-wing garbage fake news memes on Instagram so your racist uncle would send it to everyone he knows.  Low-information FOX News morons happily voted as a direct result.

Ahh, but it wasn't just Islamophobia that the Russians were exploiting on Facebook to help stir up trouble.  It was much easier to exploit race and target it at those who would hear.

At least one of the Facebook ads bought by Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign referenced Black Lives Matter and was specifically targeted to reach audiences in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, sources with knowledge of the ads told CNN.

Ferguson and Baltimore had gained widespread attention for the large and violent protests over police shootings of black men. The decision to target the ad in those two cities offers the first look at how accounts linked to the Russian government-affiliated troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency used geographically targeted advertising to sow political chaos in the United States, the sources said.

Facebook has previously said that roughly one-quarter of the 3,000 ads bought by the agency were geographically targeted, but it has not revealed any specific locations. Facebook has also not revealed which demographic groups and interest groups were targeted by the ads.

The Black Lives Matter ad appeared on Facebook at some point in late 2015 or early 2016, the sources said. The sources said it appears the ad was meant to appear both as supporting Black Lives Matter but also could be seen as portraying the group as threatening to some residents of Baltimore and Ferguson.

Pisses me off that we lost America to these assholes, and they had help from the Russians.  Even before Trump entered the race they were manipulating American voters.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Last Call For The Great Hole Of Bevinstan

Voters handed the entire state of Kentucky over to Gov. Matt Bevin and the GOP in 2015 and 2016, now they'll have to come up with a way to deal with the state's massive pension crisis and the multi-billion dollar shortfall expected for the next pair of fiscal years.

Kentucky’s General Assembly will need to find an estimated $5.4 billion to fund the pension systems for state workers and school teachers in the next two-year state budget, officials told the Public Pension Oversight Board on Monday. 
That amount would be a hefty funding increase and a painful squeeze for a state General Fund that — at about $20 billion over two years — also is expected to pay for education, prisons, social services and other state programs. 
There are two reasons for the dramatic increase. 
First, Gov. Matt Bevin and the legislature committed two years ago to paying the state’s full annual recommended contribution, or ARC, to the long-underfunded Kentucky Retirement Systems, which provides pension benefits for state and local government retirees. 
Second, KRS recently adopted more realistic financial assumptionsabout its investment returns and the state’s payroll growth. Those new assumptions made KRS’ numbers look far worse literally overnight.

The legislature will pass the next state budget during its 2018 law-making session this winter. 
“We realize this challenge is in front of us. That’s obviously part of the need for us to address pension reform,” said state Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, co-chairman of the oversight board. 
“In the short-term, yeah, we’re obligated to find this money,” Bowen said. “And everybody is committed to do that. We have revealed this great challenge. We have embraced this great challenge, as opposed to previous members of the legislature, perhaps.” 

The only question is how bad the austerity budget is going to be here in Kentucky, and it's almost certainly going to start with massive cuts to Medicaid and other state health programs in what's already one of the least healthy states in the nation, one that's at the epicenter of the country's opioid crisis.

Expect more steep cuts to education and infrastructure too as Kentucky remains near the bottom of test scores and replacement of one of the busiest bridges in the Midwest, the Brent Spence bridge leading into Cincinnati, is delayed yet again.

I foresee massive state employee layoffs and pay cuts on top of the 17% across-the-board cuts Bevin ordered this year.  Finally, don't be surprised if Bevin decides that Kentucky needs to pull a Brownback and destroy the state's tax base in order to make it "more competitive to business" as we go down the road to fiscal destruction like Kansas as lack of good schools, crumbling infrastructure, and lack of health care options have driven skilled workers away from the state and may take businesses with them.

Kentucky Republicans are putting us on a path to be in ten years the disaster Kansas is now, and Matt Bevin is ready to run the ship of state into an iceberg just to prove a point.

The Island Of Misfit Americans, Con't

Something definitely slimy is going down in Puerto Rico with the Trump regime's "recovery efforts" as now lawmakers are being denied permission to fly to the island by the White House.

The Trump administration is restricting lawmakers in both parties from visiting storm-ravaged Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands aboard military aircraft this weekend in order to keep focused on recovery missions there, according to multiple congressional aides. 
The decision comes as the Pentagon is intensifying its relief efforts on the islands as the U.S. government struggles to respond to devastation caused last week by Hurricane Maria and earlier by Hurricane Irma. 
Multiple attempts have been underway in recent days for members of both parties to travel to Puerto Rico aboard military aircraft. Once there, they would have met with officials with the military and Federal Emergency Management Agency responsible for ongoing missions on the ground. 
At least 10 members of the House and Senate were hoping to go this Friday, according to two aides. Another trip of senators and House lawmakers would have gone on Sunday, said the aides, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the planning. 
But since Monday evening, permission to use military aircraft to make the trips has been denied by the White House and Pentagon, the aides said. One Republican aide familiar with the back-and-forth said that the administration and military officials had indicated that they need “resources for rescue and recovery, thus member travel will be restricted.” 
Trump said at a news conference on Monday that he would be traveling to Puerto Rico next Tuesday and may also visit the U.S. Virgin Islands, adding that he was told that is the earliest day he could do so without hampering ongoing relief missions.

So no Congressional oversight to see what's going on, and the Pentagon, which, you know, just got a $700 billion paycheck for the year, doesn't have the resources to spare for members of either party in Congress to inspect the island's recovery effort.

It's almost like they don't want any oversight.

Now, why would that be?

Some Stinky Wisconsin Cheese

As I long suspected, successful Republican voter suppression efforts from Wisconsin's strict "Voter ID" law was actually did cost Hillary Clinton the state of Wisconsin in 2016.

A comprehensive study released today suggests how many missing votes can be attributed to the new law. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison surveyed registered voters who didn’t cast a 2016 ballot in the state’s two biggest counties—Milwaukee and Dane, which is home to Madison. More than 1 out of 10 nonvoters (11.2 percent) said they lacked acceptable voter ID and cited the law as a reason why they didn’t vote; 6.4 percent of respondents said the voter ID law was the “main reason” they didn’t vote. 
The study’s lead author, University of Wisconsin political scientist Kenneth Mayer, says between roughly 9,000 and 23,000 registered voters in the reliably Democratic counties were deterred from voting by the ID law. Extrapolating statewide, he says the data suggests as many as 45,000 voters sat out the election, though he cautioned that it was difficult to produce an estimate from just two counties.* 
“We have hard evidence there were tens of thousands of people who were unable to vote because of the voter ID law,” Mayer told me.

Trump won Wisconsin by fewer than 23,000 votes. 

The study, which was funded by Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell, provides some of the firmest evidence yet that new restrictions on voting lead to voter disenfranchisement. It’s a strong rebuke to supporters of voter ID laws like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has claimed that the notion the voter ID law reduced participation is a “load of crap.” (Wisconsin saw its lowest turnout since 2000, and there were 41,000 fewer voters in Milwaukee compared with 2012.
After the study’s release, McDonell and Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson joined together in calling for an immediate suspension of the law. “It is completely unacceptable that thousands of voters were deterred from exercising their sacred right to vote due to this law. Citizens’ basic belief in their democracy is seriously eroded when those in power target some for exclusion from self-government,” said McDonell. 
Mayer and Michael DeCrescenzo, the University of Wisconsin Ph.D. candidate who co-authored the report, didn’t ask those surveyed who they would’ve voted for, so it’s impossible to know if these thousands of lost voters might’ve tipped the election, but other studies—like a 2014 one by the Government Accountability Office—have found that voter ID laws disproportionately reduced turnout among voters of color, young voters, and newly registered voters, who were more likely to support Democrats. “If you were to re-run the election over without the voter ID requirement, would the outcome have been different? Possibly,” Mayer said. 
The study also found socioeconomic and racial disparities among those impacted by the new law. “The burdens of voter ID fell disproportionately on low-income and minority populations,” writes Mayer. More than 20 percent of registrants coming from homes with incomes less than $25,000 say they were kept from voting by the law; 8.3 percent of white voters surveyed were deterred, compared with 27.5 percent of African Americans.

Voter ID laws are the new Jim Crow.  They are designed specifically to keep black people, especially poor black people, from ever being allowed to vote, period.  Wisconsin's law was no exception and it almost certainly cost Hillary Clinton the state.  Michigan and Pennsylvania also had Voter ID laws, Pennsylvania's law was struck down by the courts but there was still confusion and mess in 2016.

Without these laws, Hillary would have won.  There was little doubt in my mind before, but there's none now.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Last Call For The Island Of Misfit Americans, Con't

Pretty sure Donald Trump has no idea how much of a crisis is unfolding in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands this week.  It may be months before the power is back on, and without power, other systems are inoperable to the point of producing a major public health disaster.

Horrifying stories of Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico’s sickest and most vulnerable are now trickling in: a newborn who couldn’t get a scheduled surgery for her heart defectbecause the storm closed down her hospital, an elderly woman with diabetes struggling to keep her life-sustaining insulin cool. 
One theme underlying many of these tales: Power outages throw the health care system into chaos. As Vox’s Brian Resnick explained, the storm knocked out power for the entire island, and five days later, most of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents are still in the dark. Some hospitals are now running generators, but many households will have to wait up to six months for power to be restored. 
We often take electricity for granted, and don’t typically associate it with public health. A lot of the ways they’re tied together are hidden. But when the power is out, it becomes painfully clear how much the medical, public health, and sanitation systems rely on the electrical grid to keep people safe and healthy. 
Not long ago, researchers at Public Health England decided to scan the medical literatureto learn what was known about power outages and health with more extreme weather events threatening power systems around the world. They summarized their findings in the only systematic review of the research on the subject — and in this useful chart:

So imagine all the above systems down indefinitely: potable water, transportation, perishable food and medicine storage, communication, safety, and more.  On an island where all these systems are isolated and everything needed to repair these systems has to be shipped in.

Three and a half million people without these systems for months, best case scenario.

And Donald Goddamn Trump in charge of fixing it.

This is going to be an enduring nightmare.  Yes, flooded Houston and the wrecked Florida Keys face a similar situation, but the logistics of getting help to those affected is much easier than getting help to Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands right now.  There's not an immediate public safety crisis for millions brewing.  Yes, recovery for Houston and the Keys will take years, and there's a very good chance both those areas will get struck by another major hurricane again before they can fully recover.

But Puerto Rico, right now, today, is on the brink of disaster.  People aren't going to make it months or even weeks without help now, and Trump is too busy yelling at the teevee for it to matter to him.

This is precisely the scenario I expected would unfold with Trump running the show, and the results are going to be horrific.

Demand All, The Handle Vandals

The Trump regime wants the social media identities of every immigrant in America on file to keep an eye on them in real time, and this apparently includes naturalized citizens and permanent residents.

Federal officials are planning to collect social media information on all immigrants, including permanent residents and naturalized citizens, a move that has alarmed lawyers and privacy groups worried about how the information will be used. 
The Department of Homeland Security published the new rule in the Federal Register last week, saying it wants to include "social media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information, and search results" as part of people's immigration file. The new requirement takes effect Oct. 18. 
DHS and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 
Adam Schwartz, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for privacy and free expression, said the plan was disturbing. 
"We see this as part of a larger process of high tech surveillance of immigrants and more and more people being subjected to social media screening," Schwartz told BuzzFeed News. "There's a growing trend at the Department of Homeland Security to be snooping on the social media of immigrants and foreigners and we think it's an invasion of privacy and deters freedom of speech." 
This would also affect all US citizens who communicate with immigrants, Schwartz said, who could self censor out of fear that information they exchange with someone overseas could be misconstrued and used against them.

Of course these social media accounts will be flagged for permanent Trump regime surveillance, there's no other reason for DHS or Immigration Services to have this information.  It ridiculous enough that foreigners and immigrants to the US would need to surrender this info, but for naturalized US citizens to do it is crazy.

If that's found to be constitutional, there's no reason not to require this from every American. It's insane and ripe for abuse by both government and corporate actors, not to mention law enforcement and hey, hackers.

But this is where we are now, as we get a little more authoritarian and a little more fascist every day.

The Restaurant At The End Of America

While Trump's "friend" Luther Strange gets his ass handed to him by 18th century Judge Roy Moore in tonight's Alabama Senate primary runoff (Moore has a double-digit lead in nearly every poll) don't feel bad for Donald Trump. Tonight he will be at famous NYC eatery Le Cirque hosting a quarter-million-dollar-a-plate fundraiser for the RNC.

Some of the biggest names in U.S. finance and real estate are expected to gather at New York’s Le Cirque restaurant on Tuesday as President Donald Trump raises money for the Republican National Committee.

For $250,000 a couple, donors can attend a “private roundtable” with the president, while $100,000 will guarantee “VIP access,” according to people with knowledge of the preparations. The minimum donation is $35,000, and about 150 people will probably attend, these people said.

Good money if you can get it.  NYC hated Trump. Now they are coming to Donald to literally pay their respects just to eat dinner with him, and he loves every second of it.

Accompanying the president at Le Cirque will be Ronna McDaniel, the RNC chairwoman, and Steve Wynn, the casino mogul and RNC finance chairman, the people said, adding that Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr. also will be on hand. Many of the anticipated attendees, such as the executives Howard Lorber and Steve Witkoff, come from New York real-estate circles where the president’s career began, the people said.

John Catsimatidis, a New York billionaire with interests in real estate, energy and supermarkets, said he might swing by. While the president has “made some mistakes,” Catsimatidis said, donors are happy with the change in tone Trump brought to the White House.

“Don’t forget, under Obama, the business people and the banks were the enemies of Washington,” Catsimatidis said. “The one thing Donald Trump has done is the business people and banks are no longer the enemies, and the business people feel better and they are making investments.”

Yes, this is about raising money for the 2018 fight, but this is more about Trump laying down the law that he's the most powerful man in the world right now.  And Wall Street is starting to get used to Trump being in power, and how it will be very good for them as the GOP tackles massive tax cuts for the wealthy.

They like Trump as long as he delivers, and Republicans haven't been in a position to deliver like this in decades.  Trump's the best chance Wall Street has had at unregulated greed since Reagan, and they know it.

They'll pay out the nose for it too.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Last Call For Weiners And Losers

Former Dem Congressman Anthony Weiner is going to jail, and rightfully so.

Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former congressman who pleaded guilty in May to sexting with a 15-year-old girl, was sentenced Monday to 21 months in prison. 
Weiner, 53, also faces spending the rest of his life as a registered sex offender for his lengthy and lurid social media contacts with the North Carolina teen. 
Weiner cried as he read from a written statement in Manhattan federal court, saying he was sorry and that he was “a very sick man for a very long time.” 
"The crime I committed was my rock bottom," Weiner said. "I live a different and better life today." 
Weiner, who must report to prison by Nov. 6, wept again after the sentence was announced. 
“This is a serious crime that deserves serious punishment," federal Judge Denise Cote said.

Well Carlos Danger, you're going to be serving that better life in prison for a while, where maybe you can, you know, stop being a sex offender.

Jackass.  Glad to be rid of you for a while at least.

How far he has fallen since first crossing my radar seven years ago.

Zuck Trucks Amok But He Mucked Up

Back in August I came to this conclusion about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's nascent political aspirations:

So here's the exit question folks: which is more frightening? 
One one hand there's the notion that Zuck wants to run the country like he's running Facebook, as the ultimate Silicon Valley dudebro who thinks tech can solve everything. On the other hand there's the notion that he's lost control of his social network behemoth and not even he knows how to fix the fake news spewing volcano that he's helped to unleash under the body politic. 
Neither scenario exactly fills me with confidence.

Several weeks later as the evidence piles up that the Russians gleefully used $100,000 in Facebook ads as a pro-Trump propaganda tool and that Zuckerberg has lost control of the platform he built to the algorithms that rule it, now we find out that Zuckerberg was warned 15 months ago that his big blue toy was a target and that the Facebook founder ignored the warnings.

In the days immediately after the 2016 election, Facebook C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg seemed offended by suggestions that the social network he created might have had any influence on the outcome, beyond serving as a marketplace for the exchange of ideas. “Personally, I think the idea that fake news on Facebook, it’s a very small amount of the content, influenced the election in any way is a pretty crazy idea,” he said, on stage at the Techonomy conference in Half Moon Bay, California. While some were quick to blame Facebook for amplifying misinformation about Hillary Clinton, Zuckerberg suggested that critics were betraying a “profound lack of empathy” by not taking voters who supported Donald Trump seriously. 
Zuckerberg wasn’t wrong to be skeptical of Democrats assigning blame rather than engaging in self-reflection. But in dismissing the possibility that social media might be anything other than a force for good, Zuckerberg was also slow to recognize Facebook’s own vulnerabilities in an age of information warfare. About a week after the Techonomy conference, however, Zuckerberg received a “wake-up call” from President Barack Obama, The Washington Postreports. During a meeting of world leaders in Lima, Peru, nine days after the election, Obama tried to personally appeal to Zuckerberg, warning that unless Facebook did something, its fake-news problem would only be exacerbated in the next presidential election:

For months leading up to the vote, Obama and his top aides quietly agonized over how to respond to Russia’s brazen intervention on behalf of the Donald Trump campaign without making matters worse. Weeks after Trump’s surprise victory, some of Obama’s aides looked back with regret and wished they had done more.

Zuckerberg acknowledged the problem posed by fake news. But he told Obama that those messages weren’t widespread on Facebook and that there was no easy remedy, according to people briefed on the exchange, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of a private conversation. 
The account of Zuckerberg’s post-election reckoning also reveals new details about what Facebook executives knew, and when they knew it. The Post reports that Facebook notified the F.B.I. as early as June 2016 when a hacking group working in connection to the GRU, the Russian military intelligence unit, started making fake Facebook profiles to disseminate stolen e-mails and manipulate public opinion—days before Guccifer 2.0, a hacking persona now thought to be a front for Russian intelligence, took credit for hacking the Democratic National Committee. But after looking into the accounts, which were linked to the GRU’s hacking group called APT28 or Fancy Bear, which set up a Facebook profile for Guccifer 2.0 and a Facebook page called DCLeaks, the company came to believe they weren’t linked to a foreign government but were instead financially motivated.

Facebook thought it was about money, not politics.  Then they took the money anyway. Which just goes to show you that the part of technology most vulnerable to manipulation remains the humans who think they control it.

No wonder then that Steve Bannon sought to put a mole among Facebook's staff.

Steve Bannon plotted to plant a mole inside Facebook, according to emails sent days before the Breitbart boss took over Donald Trump’s campaign and obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The email exchange with a conservative Washington operative reveals the importance that the giant tech platform — now reeling from its role in the 2016 election — held for one of the campaign’s central figures. And it also shows the lengths to which the brawling new American right is willing to go to keep tabs on and gain leverage over the Silicon Valley giants they used to help elect Trump — but whose executives they also see as part of the globalist enemy. 
The idea to infiltrate Facebook came to Bannon from Chris Gacek, a former congressional staffer who is now an official at the Family Research Council, which lobbies against abortion and many LGBT rights. 
“There is one for a DC-based ‘Public Policy Manager’ at Facebook’s What’s APP [sic] division,” Gacek, the Senior Fellow for Regulatory Affairs at the group, wrote on August 1, 2016. “LinkedIn sent me a notice about some job openings.” 
“This seems perfect for Breitbart to flood the zone with candidates of all stripe who will report back to you / Milo with INTEL about the job application process over at FB," he continued.

Whether or not anything came of it, we don't know.  But the Trump regime certainly knew how important Facebook was to their plans. And in the end, Doctor Zuckenstein here doesn't want to believe that his creation is a dangerous monster that can be used for nefarious purposes.

We're all in trouble as long as this goes on.

The Island Of Misfit Americans

While Trump is doing everything he can to distract from his problems, more than 3 million Americans on Puerto Rico now face a second week without power, and the damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria were so awful that the island's infrastructure may take months or even years to recover and the immediate humanitarian crisis is far from over.

It’s been less than a week since Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, bisecting the entire island, bringing 150 mph winds and torrential rains to some of its most populated areas. 
But the crisis in Puerto Rico, a US territory whose residents are citizens of the United States, is just beginning, and will likely last months or years. 
Puerto Rico’s entire power grid was knocked offline during the storm. The New York Times reports it could be four to six months before power is restored on the island. That’s half a year relying on generators, half a year without air conditioning in the tropical climate, half a year where even the most basic tasks of modern life are made difficult. And remember: 3.4 million people live there. 
Making life even harder: Cell service is out on almost the entire island, and communications are generally strained. Thousands of people living in the mainland United States with relatives in Puerto Rico have yet to make contact. At least six people died during the storm, but this number could rise due to the fact that news is moving slowly on the communications-choked island. 
Meanwhile, new crises keep forming in the wake of the storm. On Friday, the National Weather Service issued a dire warning about the Guajataca Dam in the northwestern corner of Puerto Rico, which is reported to be near the point of breaking, threatening downstream areas with deadly floods. Seventy thousand people — enough to fill a small city — have been asked to evacuate areas that could be flooded by the nearly 11 billion gallons of water the dam holds back. 
Puerto Rican officials believe the dam’s failure is imminent. “It could be tonight, it could be tomorrow, it could be in the next few days, but it’s very likely [the dam will break] soon,” Christina Villalba, a spokesperson with Puerto Rico’s emergency management agency, told Reuters.

Evacuations of residents in the path of the dam's flood plain are already underway but the island's inhabitants are facing dire circumstances, and this administration and the Congress that doles out the money don't seem concerned in the least to do a single goddamn thing about it.

Sure, the Texas and Florida coasts are still reeling from billions in damage and there are still hundreds of thousands of people dealing with flooded and destroyed homes and no power in the lingering early fall heat.  But that goes for all of Puerto Rico right now and the Trump regime does not give a damn.

We're on our own, guys.  This is life under Trump.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

Presidential son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has corresponded with other administration officials about White House matters through a private email account set up during the transition last December, part of a larger pattern of Trump administration aides using personal email accounts for government business.

Kushner uses his private account alongside his official White House email account, sometimes trading emails with senior White House officials, outside advisers and others about media coverage, event planning and other subjects, according to four people familiar with the correspondence. POLITICO has seen and verified about two dozen emails.

“Mr. Kushner uses his White House email address to conduct White House business,” Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Kushner, said in a statement Sunday. “Fewer than 100 emails from January through August were either sent to or returned by Mr. Kushner to colleagues in the White House from his personal email account. These usually forwarded news articles or political commentary and most often occurred when someone initiated the exchange by sending an email to his personal rather than his White House address.”

Aides who have exchanged emails with Kushner on his private account since President Donald Trump took office in January include former chief of staff Reince Priebus, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, and spokesman Josh Raffel, according to emails described to or shown to POLITICO. In some cases, those White House officials have emailed Kushner’s account first, said people familiar with the messages.

The decision to set up new, private accounts as Kushner was preparing to enter the White House came in the wake of a bitter election campaign in which Trump routinely excoriated his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for using a personal email account to handle government business when she was secretary of state.

There is no indication that Kushner has shared any sensitive or classified material on his private account, or that he relies on his private email account more than his official White House account to conduct government business. Aides say he prefers to call or text over using email.

And so we come full circle on "administration officials using private email addresses" and the same people who assured us this was a sign that Hillary Clinton was completely crooked and unfit for office won't lift a finger over multiple people in the Trump regime doing the exact same thing.

What's Kushner hiding from the American people?  Well, who knows.  But this has been going on for months now, and nobody seems to want to care enough to find out.

Fin. Exeunt stage right.

Trump's Sports Race To The Bottom

Even CNN's Chris Cillizza has figured out that Donald Trump is playing to white supremacy by attacking black NFL and NBA players as "disrepectful" and "ungrateful" for daring to protest.

On one level, this is classic Trump. He feels as though he is being disrespected -- whether by NFL players not standing for the national anthem or by Curry saying if it was up to him, the Golden State Warriors would not visit the White House. (The Warriors, in a statement Saturday afternoon, said they would come to Washington and do events to promote diversity and inclusiveness rather than meet with Trump.) 
They hit him, so he hit back. 
But, there's something far more pernicious here. Both the NFL and the NBA are sports in which the vast majority of the players are black and the vast majority of owners are white. In the NFL, there are 0 black owners of the 32 teams. In the NBA, Michael Jordan is the lone black owner of a team. 
Consider that in the context of what Trump said both Friday night and Saturday.
In Alabama, Trump called the players who refuse to stand for the anthem "sons of bitches" and insisted that any owner worth his or her salt should fire them immediately.
That got a lot of attention -- and rightly so. But it's what Trump said next that's really telling. "Total disrespect of our heritage, a total disrespect of everything that we stand for," he said --- adding for emphasis: "Everything that we stand for." 
Notice the use of "our heritage" and "we" in those two sentences above
But wait, there's more. In both his Curry tweet and his two NFL tweets, Trump expressed frustration that these lucky athletes felt the need to be ungrateful. 
Trump noted the "great honor" of going to the White House and the "privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL." You should just be thankful for what you have and not be making any trouble, Trump is telling these players. 
Here's the thing: Even if we lived in a color-blind society, that would be a dangerous sentiment. After all, freedom of expression is right there in the First Amendment. And our brave soldiers didn't fight and die so that everyone stood during the national anthem. They fought so people could have the right to make a choice about whether or not they wanted to stand. That's the whole damn point of the First Amendment. 
The thing is: We don't live in a color-blind society. Slavery sits at the founding roots of America. The goal of racial equality remains a goal, not an achievement. To pretend otherwise is to willfully blind yourself to hundreds years of history.

And I will say this again: it's so obvious that this is being driven by Trump's racial animus towards successful black people (and there's a slew of successful black people that Trump has personally singled out and attacked, reporter April Ryan,  Merck CEO Ken Frazier, sportscaster Jemelle Hill, now Colin Kaepernick and the NBA's Steph Curry)

Everything you need to know about this is that several NFL players not only took a knee during the anthem to protest this week, at least three teams, the Steelers, the Titans and Seahawks skipped the anthem altogether.  Meanwhile, NASCAR owners say they will happily take retribution out on drivers and crew who get the idea to join the protest.

Sports and protest, especially civil rights protests, have long been part of America.  For Trump to not see this coming is ridiculous. Some even say he's counting on it.

We'll see.

Sunday Long Read: Just The Facts, Ma'am

This week's Sunday Long Read delves into the arguably the last real bastion of fact-checking in the internet era: the man behind fake news-debunking website Snopes. In the era of Trump, they are being inundated more than ever by falsities to debunk, and they're trying their hardest to be up to the task.

IT WAS EARLY March, not yet two months into the Trump administration, and the new Not-Normal was setting in: It continued to be the administration’s position, as enunciated by Sean Spicer, that the inauguration had attracted the “largest audience ever”; barely a month had passed since Kellyanne Conway brought the fictitious “Bowling Green massacre” to national attention; and just for kicks, on March 4, the president alerted the nation by tweet, “Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower.”

If the administration had tossed the customs and niceties of American politics to the wind, there was one clearly identifiable constant: mendacity. “Fake news” accusations flew back and forth every day, like so many spitballs in a third-grade classroom.

Feeling depressed about the conflation of fiction and fact in the first few months of 2017, I steered a car into the hills of Calabasas to meet with one person whom many rely on to set things straight. This is an area near Los Angeles best known for its production of Kardashians, but there were no McMansions on the street where I was headed, only old, gnarled trees and a few modest houses. I spotted the one I was looking for—a ramshackle bungalow—because the car in the driveway gave it away. Its license plate read SNOPES.

David Mikkelson, the publisher of the fact-checking site, answered the door himself. He was wearing khakis and a polo shirt, his hair at an awkward length, somewhere between late-­career Robert Redford and early-­career Steve Carell. He had been working alone at the kitchen table, with just a laptop, a mouse, and the internet. The house, which he was getting ready to sell, was sparsely furnished, the most prominent feature being built-in bookcases filled with ancient hardcovers—“there’s a whole shelf devoted to the Titanic and other maritime disasters,” Mikkelson told me—and board games, his primary hobby.

Since about 2010, this house has passed for a headquarters, as Snopes has no formal offices, just 16 people sitting at their laptops in different rooms across the country, trying to swim against the tide of spin, memes, and outright lies in the American public sphere. Just that morning Mikkelson and his staff had been digging into a new presidential tweet of dubious facticity: “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!” Trump had the correct total, but the overwhelming number of those detainees had been released during the George W. Bush administration. “There’s a whole lot of missing context to just that 122 number,” Mikkelson said.

There are other fact-checking outfits, like PolitiFact, which is operated by the Tampa Bay Times, or at the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. But Snopes has kicked around the internet since 1994—which makes it almost as old as what we once called the World Wide Web. In this age of untruth, it has become an indispensable resource. Should your friend’s sister start a conspiracy trash fire in a Facebook comment thread, Snopes is a reliable form of extinguisher. Because of this reputation, Snopes was listed as a partner in a Facebook fact-­checking effort announced last fall after the social media giant acknowledged it had become a conduit for fake news. Potentially false stories could be flagged by users and an algorithm, and then organizations like Snopes, ABC News, and the Associated Press would be tasked with investigating them.

As pretty much anyone knows, the truth can be a slippery bastard. Getting to the bottom of something requires what you might generously call a fussy personality. Mikkelson possesses that trait. He spends hours writing a detailed analysis of a claim and feels frustrated when readers just want a “true” or “false” answer. He’s got the world­view of Eeyore, had Eeyore been obsessed with cataloging the precise history, variety, and growing seasons of thistles in the Hundred Acre Wood. He can even get pessimistic about whether his work makes a difference. “Since a lot of this stuff is really complicated, nuanced stuff with areas of gray, it requires lengthy and complex explanations,” he said. “But a lot of the audience, their eyes just tend to glaze over, and it’s just, they don’t want to have to follow all of that. So they just fall back on their preconceptions.”

Among those preconceptions is the right-wing view that Snopes is anti-Trump, its efforts to separate fact from fiction merely a cover for liberal bias. Mikkelson disputes this, saying that if you look at the totality of the posts Snopes has written on the subject of the president, “the vast majority of them are debunking false claims made about him, not affirming negative things said about him or disproving positive things said about him.” But nobody is looking at the totality; if that sort of intellectual honesty ever existed in the public sphere, it’s gone now. And sure enough, the week before I went to Calabasas, Tucker Carlson on Fox News had been jeering at “those holy men at Snopes, those gods of objectivity.”

Like an order of medieval monks recording history in the midst of chaos of the Dark Ages, the crew at Snopes are trying to preserve fact in a world of perception, manipulation, and obfuscation. And they need help.

We'll see how long they can hold on.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Not Getting Away Scott Free This Time

Florida GOP Gov. Evil Batboy Skeletor Rick Scott is in a heap of trouble after it turns out his office deleted the voice mails from the nursing home that requested immediate assistance after losing power during Hurricane Irma. Eight people died because of lack of ability to keep cool in the blistering heat, and it's looking more and more like Scott completely failed his constituents.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is facing criticism after his office revealed that four voicemails sent from a nursing home where eight residents died in the aftermath Hurricane Irma were deleted.

CBS Miami reported on Saturday that Scott's office said the four voicemails, which were all received during a 36-hour period before the first resident died, were handed off to the appropriate agency and then deleted.

Eight people died at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a nursing home that lost power and air conditioning during Hurricane Irma. Authorities said the deaths were heat-related.“The voicemails were not retained because the information from each voicemail was collected by the governor’s staff and given to the proper agency for handling," the governor's office told CBS in a statement.

A vice president at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills told CBS that she requested "immediate assistance" for the residents at the nursing home.

Last week, Scott's office denied that the nursing home ever indicated its residents were in immediate danger, and stressed that the calls were referred to the appropriate authorities.

“Every call made to the governor from facility management was referred to the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Florida Department of Health and quickly returned,” Scott’s spokesman said last week in a statement to the CBS affiliate.

Two weeks ago it was "the nursing home is at fault, they never contacted us."  Last week it was "They contacted us but we referred them to the Department of Health" (which is blaming the nursing home for not evacuating all residents to a nearby hospital.) Now it's "we deleted the voice mails." 


Except this oops cost eight lives.  And remember, the nursing home called four times in 36 hours saying they needed help.

Rick Scott is in trouble, and he should be.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Meanwhile, more evidence is pouring in that our good friends the Russians definitely wanted to help Donald Trump win by any means necessary.

Russians attempted to hack elections systems in 21 states in the run-up to last year's presidential election, officials said Friday.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security notified states of the attempted breaches on Friday, said Michael Haas, director of the Wisconsin Elections Commission. The attempt in Wisconsin was unsuccessful, he said.

Homeland Security officials said the effort was conducted by “Russian government cyber actors," according to Haas. He said he did not know which states other than Wisconsin were part of the hacking attempt.

According to a tally by the Associated Press, election officials in 19 states confirmed their election systems were targeted by hackers last year.

The states are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

North Dakota was the only state that failed to provide answers, the AP said. Republican Secretary of State Al Jaeger says he “can’t be specific at this time what the situation is.” He says he’s trying to get more information from Washington.

A response also wasn't available from the District of Columbia.

Homeland Security officials first reported in June that election systems in 21 states had been targeted during a hearing before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee. At that hearing, Haas told the committee he had concluded Wisconsin was not one of the targeted states, at least in part because Homeland Security had not alerted him to any attempted breach.

State officials are seeking more information about the incident and why they were not notified sooner, Haas said.

“This scanning had no impact on Wisconsin’s systems or the election,” Haas said in a statement. “Internet security provided by the state successfully protected our systems. Homeland Security specifically confirmed there was no breach or compromise of our data.”

Tom Evenson, a spokesman for Gov. Scott Walker, said the announcement "confirms what we already knew, which is Wisconsin held an honest and fair election with no interference."

The attempts were made, however.  And while Wisconsin seems very confident that no damage was done, if anyone in the Trump campaign knew about the attempts, and helped enable them, well, there's a word for that.

Treason.  You know, the Article III of the Constitution "or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort" part.

How very strange that the Trump regime seems to not care about this at all.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Last Call For The Gang's All Here

If anyone thinks that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is going to do anything about Trump's odious malfeasance, well, Jeff's too busy using the position given to him to turn American into shivering wrecks too afraid to go outside their doors because of an imaginary child army of deadly Latino gangbangers waiting to decapitate your family.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is warning that many unaccompanied minors trying to enter the U.S. across its southern border are gang members whom the country should view as “wolves in sheep's clothing.” 
In a speech to local and national law enforcement this afternoon in Boston, Sessions said transnational gangs like Central America-based MS-13, use what’s known as the ‘unaccompanied refugee minors’ program to “as a means by which to recruit new members.”

The attorney general said the Department of Justice is working with the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services to “examine the unaccompanied minors issue and the exploitation of this program by the gang members who come to this country as wolves in sheep's clothing.” 
The program was developed in the 1980s to assist with thousands of children in Southeast Asia without parents, according to the Department for Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. Since 1980, more than 13,000 children have entered the unaccompanied refugee minors program. 
The Obama administration allowed certain minors in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to be considered for refugee status in the United States after tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from those countries flooded into the United States. In August, DHS canceled the approvals of 2,700 kids who had been conditionally approved for parole but had not received final sign-off. 
Sessions described MS-13’s activities in brutal terms. 
“This is America. We will not allow the likes of MS-13 or any other gang to prey upon our communities, to decapitate individuals with machetes, baseball bats and chains,” Sessions said.

Jeff seems awfully convinced that the largest law enforcement problem in America in 2017 is somehow "Americans being decapitated by baseball bats wielded by scary brown teenagers" or something rather than, you know, a President grifting millions and pissing on the Constitution he's sworn to protect, but far be it from me to tell a racist Confederate elf how to do his job or something.

Seems to be a lot of that "fear of people darker than a paper bag" thing going around these days.
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