Thursday, November 30, 2017

Last Call For Ain't Nothin' Gonna Breaka My Stride

Steve M. notes that the tenor of the disastrous Trump regime is changing in the media again.  It's looking considerably more likely than just a week ago that both the GOP tax bill and Roy Moore will be big victories for the Republicans in December, and that means Trump will be able to end 2017 on a high note.

How can Trump possibly become worse than he's been?

By openly embracing Nazism? By unleashing goon squads to beat up journalists and other critics? It could happen, but I remain skeptical. Trump still seems willing to push the envelope only so far. His administration is doing horrible things, but it's doing them using conventional levers of government -- pushing an unspeakably awful tax bill, putting up unqualified extremists for judgeships, politicizing the oversight of mergers. It's like a national version of the Scott Walker or Sam Brownback governorships. It's not Hitler, even though it's appalling.

Trump seems to have grasped his role in all this: He says and tweets outrageous things that mostly have nothing to do with the governing process, we all react, he gets ego gratification, heartland white voters get thrills up their legs and remain loyal to the GOP -- and Congress works with his White House team to radically transform America
. It's taken a year, but the key players on the GOP side have found their niches. 

I'd have to agree.  Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have finally gotten their shit together long enough to get all their ducks in a row, and should the tax bill become law, it will cap arguably the worst year for Democrats in generations.  Even if Trump resigned on December 31st, 2017 would mark a first year in office that will take the rest of my lifetime to fix, if ever.

And the fun part?

2018 will somehow be worse.

Trump's Year-End Clearance Fail

Looks like long-suspected rumors that the Trump regime is going to reshuffle the deck chairs on the Trumptanic over the holidays are shifting into a much likely action phase with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly's plans for an brand-new, even worse cabinet for 2018.

The White House has developed a plan to force out Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, whose relationship with President Trump has been strained, and replace him with Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, within the next several weeks, senior administration officials said on Thursday. 
Mr. Pompeo would be replaced at the C.I.A. by Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who has been a key ally of the president on national security matters, according to the White House plan. Mr. Cotton has signaled that he would accept the job if offered, said the officials, who insisted on anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations before decisions are announced. 
It was not immediately clear whether Mr. Trump has given final approval to the plan, but he has been said to have soured on Mr. Tillerson and in general is ready to make a change at the State Department. 
John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, developed the transition plan and has discussed it with other officials. Under his plan, the shake-up of the national security team would happen around the end of the year or shortly afterward. 
The ouster of Mr. Tillerson would end a turbulent reign at the State Department for the former Exxon Mobile chief executive, who has been largely marginalized over the last year. Mr. Trump and Mr. Tillerson have been at odds over a host of major issues, including the Iran nuclear deal, the confrontation with North Korea and a clash between Arab allies. The secretary was reported to have privately called Mr. Trump a “moron” and the president publicly criticized Mr. Tillerson for “wasting his time” with a diplomatic outreach to North Korea.

And let's be honest about exactly what getting rid of Rex Tillerson and replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo means (and backfilling Pompeo's job with avowed racist asshole Tom Cotton), it means any hope of a diplomatic, non-military solution to North Korea and/or Iran goes up in smoke (or in cruise missile contrails).

Tillerson is a horrendous Secretary of State who gutted America's diplomatic corps in less than a year and his promises to increase diversity at State in August turned into a massive purging of top black and Latino and women diplomats in November.  I'm not sorry to see him gone, but Pompeo at State would be the end of US diplomacy period, and Cotton at the CIA would be fundamentally worse.

In other words, Trump would have the people he wants on hand to start the wars he'll need in order to stay in office after Mueller drops the hammer.

You though 2017 was bad?  Stay turned for 2018, now just a month away.  The odds of us being in a major war before the end of next year just went up substantially.

All The News That's Fit To Fake, Con't

So it turns out there's a lot more to the story of the bafflingly moronic attempt by James O'Keefe and Project Veritas to knowingly con the Washington Post into running a story using an obviously false Roy Moore accuser as part of a "sting operation" to discredit the paper.

Much more as it turns out, because Jamie Phillips, the woman recruited by O'Keefe as the false Moore accuser, has worked for Project Veritas for a while now and has been involved in a concerted months-long effort to try to discredit multiple major news outlets.

The failed effort by conservative activists to plant a false story about Senate candidate Roy Moore in The Washington Post was part of a months-long campaign to infiltrate The Post and other media outlets in Washington and New York, according to interviews, text messages and social media posts that have since been deleted

Starting in July, Jaime Phillips, an operative with the organization Project Veritas, which purports to expose media bias, joined two dozen networking groups related to either journalism or left-leaning politics. She signed up to attend 15 related events, often accompanied by a male companion, and appeared at least twice at gatherings for departing Post staffers.

Phillips, 41, presented herself to journalists variously as the owner of a start-up looking to recruit writers, a graduate student studying national security or a contractor new to the area. This summer, she tweeted posts in support of gun control and critical of Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants — a departure from the spring when, on accounts that have since been deleted, she used the #MAGA hashtag and mocked the Women’s March on Washington that followed Trump’s inauguration as the “Midol March.”

Her true identity and intentions were revealed only when The Post published a story on Monday, along with photos and video, about how she falsely told Post reporters that Moore had impregnated her when she was a teenager. The Post reported that Phillips appeared to work for Project Veritas, an organization that uses false cover stories and covert video recordings in an attempt to embarrass its targets.

Phillips’s sustained attempt to insinuate herself into the social circles of reporters makes clear that her deception — and the efforts to discredit The Post’s reporting — went much further than the attempt to plant one fabricated article.

Phillips’s encounters with dozens of journalists, which have not been previously reported, typically occurred at professional networking events or congratulatory send-offs for colleagues at bars and restaurants. She used three names and three phone numbers to follow up with Post employees, chatting about life in Washington and asking to be introduced to other journalists.

In one case, Phillips kept a conversation going for five weeks with a Post employee over text message, repeatedly asking whether she and her husband could meet Phillips for dinner. After the employee shared that she was experiencing a family tragedy, Phillips wrote: “Let me know if I can do anything to help, even if just to talk or something small. We’d like to send flowers or a donation… Thoughts & prayers.” 

In other words, Jamie Phillips used amateur spycraft techniques over several months in order to try to befriend and recruit reporters from more than one national newspaper.  When the time was right, she would "come forward" as a fraudulent "major source" to a reporter she had targeted in order to try to get them to run her false claims.  Then, Project Veritas would expose the newspaper's story as false.

And if any of the reporters and editors from the Washington Post or NY Times or any other major news outlet had fallen for Phillips's long con without checking out her story, they would have deserved to have been destroyed by O'Keefe's clowns.  Fortunately, they did not fall for it and realized they were being played.

To their credit, the Post staff turned the con around and got the real story: how activists like O'Keefe are trying to deliberately destroy the news media in order to help Republicans like Roy Moore. Even if they were bad at it, Project Veritas still takes in money from political donors in order to try to wreck the Fourth Estate.

And as I said earlier this week, all Project Veritas has to do in order to greatly damage, if not destroy, what's left of our barely functional media is get one fake story past the goalie and into the net.  Remember, these guys have spurred Congress to act before.  Imagine the huge outrage if the Moore story had gone live.  There would have been hearings in the Senate for sure, and possibly even legislation limiting the powers of the free press.

All so the Trump regime could set up de facto state-run right-wing media as the "only credible source".  Even without the legislation, the right would have been yelling about THE FAKE ROY MOORE ABORTION STORY for decades.

Believe that.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Last Call For Russian To Judgment, Con't

Turns out America's journalists and pundits may have finally figured out that Trump isn't mentally deficient or suffering from dementia, he's really an awful racist narcissist manipulative asshole who knows exactly what he's doing with his tirades: stoking the flames of rage in order to save his ass from prison.

Over the past 24 hours, President Trump has delivered a concentrated dose of misinformation, self-sabotage, hypocrisy, and bigotry that stands out even by the standards of his short and eventful political career.

The president blew up negotiations to fund the government with a tweet attacking Democratic congressional leaders. He retweeted inflammatory and misleading anti-Islam videos from a bigoted far-right British politician. He joked about presenting a “Fake News Trophy” to media networks. He called attention to Matt Lauer, the NBC host fired on Wednesday for sexual misconduct, despite Trump’s own past admissions of sexual assault. He baselessly implied that NBC host Joe Scarborough, a onetime informal adviser, might have been involved in the death of an intern years ago in Florida. And several outlets reported that the president privately continues to claim preposterous things, including that it wasn’t him on the Access Hollywood tape and that Barack Obama really wasn’t born in the United States.

It’s unclear what precipitated the meltdown. Trump was having a decent stretch in office, including relatively smooth progress for the GOP tax bill. Taken individually, none of these examples is all that unusual for Trump. His bigotry toward Muslims has been on display for years. He has blown up budget negotiations before. He frequently passes along unverified and false information. His hypocrisy about sexual-harassment allegations is not new. He has a weakness for conspiracy theories.

Taken together, however, they offer yet another display of poor judgment and divisive leadership from the putative leader of the free world, and they again cast doubt on his fitness for his office. They are also further evidence that Trump’s hypocrisy, bigotry, and dishonesty are not an act. He means it all.

On Tuesday, North Korea launched what appears to be its most powerful rocket yet, one it claims is capable of reaching the East Coast of the United States. There’s no time when it’s safe for a nation to have a leader who cannot grapple with reality, but it is especially dangerous at a moment when a nuclear adversary is brandishing ever more powerful rockets at the United States.

The videos that Trump retweeted were from Jayda Fransen, the leader of the far-right political party Britain First. Fransen was convicted last year of harassing a Muslim woman for wearing a hijab. The three videos that Trump retweeted are a mixed bag. The first, labeled, “Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!” depicts an attack by supporters of the deposed Islamist president of Egypt, Mohammed Morsi, on a young man; his killer was later hanged. The second is labeled “Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!” According to Dutch media reports, however, none of the people involved are Muslims. The provenance of the third, labeled “Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!” is unclear; it shows a man crushing a ceramic statue, and has no apparent point beyond inflaming anger at Muslims. The office of British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned Trump for retweeting the videos.

Trump has no hesitations about inflaming anger toward Muslims, and in fact he revels in it. But while some supporters wrote off such behavior as politicking during the campaign, Trump’s persistence now indicates a more deep-seated bigotry. His continued provocations also hurt his cause. His tweets about the “Muslim ban” on immigration have already caused judges to rule against the order in court, and Neal Katyal, a lawyer arguing against the ban, suggested Wednesday that he’ll use the latest tweets against Trump as well.

He doesn't care. He believes he will ultimately be vindicated as the greatest leader in human history. But if you want to know what set this tirade off, you don't have to look far at all.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has postponed an anticipated grand jury testimony linked to his investigation into Michael Flynn amid growing indications of possible plea deal discussions. 
Additional witnesses were expected to be questioned soon including a public relations consultant hired by Flynn's lobbying firm who was given an early December date deadline to appear before the grand jury, according to a person at the company. 
Ahead of the delay, the impression was that the testimony needed to happen soon, the source said. 
"Time seems to be of the essence," said the source at Sphere Consulting, the PR firm where the consultant worked. 
The grand jury testimony was postponed, the person said, with no reason given. There could be many reasons for a delay, including scheduling issues.

Every time it seems there's another story about Robert Mueller closing in on Trump, he blows up.  The more scared Trump is, the worse the meltdown, and this is the worst tirade Trump has been on yet.

Sphere's government relations arm, SGR LLC Government Relations and Lobbying, is one of several companies Flynn Intel Group hired to work for Inovo BV, a Netherlands-based company owned by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, according to filing made by Flynn Intel Group under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Inovo hired Flynn to research Fethullah Gulen, an exiled Turkish cleric who Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused of being behind the 2016 attempted military coup to overthrow him, the filing said. 
Inovo paid Flynn's group $530,000 for the research, which was supposed result in a video documentary but it was never finished. Sphere's SGR was paid $40,000. 
Sphere has been cooperating for months with the investigation. The inquiry was originally opened before the appointment of the special counsel, according to the source. Sphere, which was subpoenaed around June, was described as "a cooperating witness at best." Sphere has not been accused of any wrongdoing. 
Interviews conducted by special counsel investigators have included questions about the business dealings of Flynn and his son such as their firm's reporting of income from work overseas, two witnesses interviewed by the team told CNN. The Foreign Agents Registration Act requires people acting as agents of foreign entities to publicly disclose their relationship with foreign countries or businesses and financial compensation for such work.

There's no doubt that Flynn and his son are looking at a lifetime behind bars here...unless they can offer Mueller up a bigger fish.  It's very possible that fish is Jared Kushner or Jeff Sessions, but I'm betting it's Trump himself.

Today's behavior by Trump, given the stories this week of Flynn's plea deal, makes total sense.  He's scared out of his mind and lashing out as everyone he hates, Muslims, the media, North Korea, you name it.  He knows what's coming.

So does Mueller.

Stay tuned.

Lauer Lauer On The Radio

The reckoning over sexual harassment in the workplace claimed another leading television personality on Wednesday when NBC fired its leading morning news anchor, Matt Lauer, over a sexual harassment allegation. 
“On Monday night, we received a detailed complaint from a colleague about inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace by Matt Lauer,” Andrew Lack, the NBC News president, said in a memo to the staff. 
He said the allegation against Mr. Lauer “represented, after serious review, a clear violation of our company’s standards. As a result, we’ve decided to terminate his employment.” 
“While it is the first complaint about his behavior in the over 20 years he’s been at NBC News, we were also presented with reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident,” Mr. Lack said. 
Ari Wilkenfeld, a civil rights lawyer with the firm Wilkenfeld, Herendeen & Atkinson in Washington, said he represented the woman who made the complaint to NBC, but declined to publicly identify her. In a statement provided to The New York Times, he said: 
“My client and I met with representatives from NBC’s Human Resources and Legal Departments at 6 p.m. on Monday for an interview that lasted several hours. Our impression at this point is that NBC acted quickly, as all companies should, when confronted with credible allegations of sexual misconduct in the workplace. 
“While I am encouraged by NBC’s response to date, I am in awe of the courage my client showed to be the first to raise a complaint and to do so without making any demands other than the company do the right thing.” 
The Times met with the woman Monday afternoon, but she said she was not ready to come forward and tell her story publicly. 

Page Six is reporting that the complaint involved Lauer sexually assaulting an NBC employee during the network's coverage of the 2014 Sochi games.

Matt Lauer allegedly sexually assaulted a female NBC staffer during the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, sources told Page Six. 
An NBC insider said Lauer’s alleged victim complained to HR on Monday: “This happened so quickly. She didn’t go to the media, she made a complaint to NBC’s human resources, and her evidence was so compelling that Matt was fired on Tuesday night. The victim says she has evidence that this has also happened to other women, but so far we don’t have evidence of that.” 
Another source tells us that the decision to fire Lauer was made late Tuesday night by NBC News chairman Andy Lack. 
Lauer’s firing comes amid rumors that several news outlets were working on stories about his alleged sexual misconduct. 
Reporters for the New York Times had been investigating Lauer for several weeks, according to sources who had been contacted by the paper, CNN reported.

I'm sure that NBC knew that the NY Times and Variety were going to drop these stories soon, so the HR complaint became the reason to pro-actively fire Lauer before the stories hit the airwaves, but let's not pretend like they're the good guys.  NBC happily employed now fired pundit Mark Halperin as a contributor as well as Donald Trump himself, and Lauer's long list of creepy rumors has been around for years now.

Also, NBC had no problem hiring Megyn "New Black Panther Party is really scary you guys" Kelly away from her state media job at FOX News, so yeah, NBC had no choice but to get rid of him sooner rather than later.

Lauer won't be the last media figure to lose their job over a career filled with sexual misconduct, either.  More are coming, guaranteed.  The floodgates are open and the garbage is getting washed away...and that brings us to today's other media firing, Minnesota Public Radio's Garrison Keillor.

Garrison Keillor, the former host of “A Prairie Home Companion,” says he’s been fired by Minnesota Public Radio over allegations of improper behavior. 
Keillor told The Associated Press of his firing in an email. In a follow-up statement, he says he was fired over “a story that I think is more interesting and more complicated than the version MPR heard.” 
He didn’t give details of the allegation. Minnesota Public Radio didn’t immediately respond to messages. 
Keillor retired last year from his longtime radio show, but still produced “The Writer’s Almanac” for syndication.

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik confirmed the story on Twitter this afternoon.

Considering NPR has its own problems with sexual harassment in the workplace, I'm not surprised at Keillor's firing at all.

2017 has been a garbage year full of garbage people, but let's not forget that the biggest sack of manure remains in the Oval Office.

It's Nobody's Business But The Turks, Con't

Looks like the part of the DoJ that's still doing its job has latched on to a major international case involving Turkey, Iran, gold, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader at the center of an international corruption case, is set to tell a New York jury the “inside story” of a plot to evade American sanctions on Iran that reached the highest levels of Turkey’s government, a prosecutor said.

Zarrab is the U.S. government’s star witness in the prosecution of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, a deputy chief executive officer at Turkiye Halk Bankasi AS, who is accused of conspiring with Zarrab to launder money and funnel Iranian funds through the U.S. financial system. Zarrab, who has pleaded guilty after being charged with Atilla, is likely to take the witness stand later on Tuesday or on Wednesday.

"Atilla and his lies played a crucial role in giving Iran access to U.S. dollars and U.S. banks,” Assistant U.S. Attorney David William Denton Jr. told jurors at the start of the case. “Iran did not need soldiers. Iran needed a banker.”

The disclosure of Zarrab’s cooperation, minutes before the lawyers addressed jurors on Tuesday, roiled markets in Turkey, as the Lira fell as much as 1.7 percent and Halbank shares dropped 7.9 percent. Yields on 10-year bonds have surged to records above 13 percent.

The revelation ends weeks of mystery after the gold trader suddenly stopped participating in the defense. With the U.S. expected to present evidence of corruption at the highest reaches of the Turkish government, the case has sparked outrage from Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who claims the prosecution is a plot to undermine his country’s economy. 
Zarrab was arrested in the U.S. last year on charges that he helped bank executives and others in Turkey to help Iran disguise hundreds of millions of dollars in transactions that went through the U.S. financial system. Now, instead of standing trial, Zarrab will testify against Atilla, 47, and recount the alleged scheme.

Hmm, a DoJ international money laundering investigation and Turkey's corrupt Erdogan government, now who do we know that's connected to both of those things? Oh that's right, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's alleged plan to forcibly extradite a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania is now a part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal
Why it matters: Flynn had previously done consulting work on behalf of the Turkish government, which he failed to disclose before joining the Trump administration. This meeting would have taken place during the transition and after he had accepted his position as Trump's national security advisor, which occurred on November 18. 
The details: Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn, Jr., reportedly met with Turkish representatives in New York in December to discuss delivering cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is living legally in the United States in exile, to Turkey in exchange for as much as $15 million. The plan would have involved transporting Gulen to a Turkish island prison via a private jet. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Gulen of fomenting 2016's failed coup attempt against him. 
And it's not the first time this plan came up as Flynn held a similar meeting with high-level Turks, including Turkey's foreign minister and Erdogan's son-in-law last September. Former CIA Director James Woolsey attended that meeting, telling the WSJ that the plan then involved "a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away." Woolsey later turned down his consulting fee for the meeting and alerted then-Vice President Joe Biden about its content.

Is it any surprise that a day after Flynn's lawyers met with Mueller's team that suddenly we have a major announcement in another huge federal case involving Turkey's government and money laundering?  I don't believe in coincidences that large, folks, and neither should you.

What does Flynn know about Zarrab, and what does Zarrab know about Flynn?  What do they both know about Erdogan...and Trump?  I'm betting plenty, and both of them are supposedly cooperating with the Justice Department.

Stay tuned.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Last Call For Franken My Dear, I Don't Give A Damn, Con't

Sen. Al Franken's hometown newspaper isn't buying his apologia for his sexual harassment behavior, and neither am I to be honest.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken broke his self-imposed silence over the weekend, submitting to a series of media interviews on the sexual misconduct allegations against him, professing his shame and embarrassment. That was a necessary move — Minnesotans and the country at large deserved to hear from him. But his apology falls lamentably short in several respects. 
The Minnesota Democrat said in one interview it was important "that we listen to women," but then refuted the story of Leeann Tweeden, the USO entertainer who accused him of shoving his tongue down her throat during a rehearsed "kiss." He recalls "a normal rehearsal," but didn't elaborate. On the subsequent allegations of women who say he groped them during photos — specifically, that he grabbed their buttocks — Franken apologized, but for what, exactly? 
He said he does not recall groping and said he "would never intentionally" squeeze or grope a woman but often hugs people. Is he suggesting these women could not distinguish between a friendly embrace and groping? Or that at his age he somehow groped unintentionally? Can one credibly apologize for acts without acknowledging they occurred? 
With a Senate ethics investigation looming, Franken remains on politically shaky ground. It's debatable whether he is, as he said, "holding myself accountable." Without saying he didn't do it, he nevertheless has countered every allegation except the one that carries indisputable proof — the infamous photo of him appearing to grab at Tweeden while she slept. 
Under such circumstances, Franken's apology is less a statement of accountability and more akin to "I'm sorry for what you think I did." Franken may just be trying to ride out the storm, as is the case too often these days. After all, President Donald Trump survived multiple sexual misconduct allegations to become president, and it's possible that Roy Moore will become Alabama's next senator despite credible allegations that he molested a 14-year-old and repeatedly approached underage teens. Moore's conduct is in a different league from what Franken is accused of, but none of it is acceptable.

And that's really the issue, isn't it?  How much sexual harassment is "acceptable" in our political leaders, particularly the ones in the party we support?  Republicans obviously don't give a damn, about that, Trump and Moore prove that beyond any objective doubt.

And yes, I know that it's easy to say "This is another GOP ratfvcking operation, just done by people smarter than O'Keefe and his Project Veritas clowns."  Sure, this has Roger Stone's primordial ooze all over it. But as the Star-Tribune notes, Franken's not denying the allegations from Tweeden, and he's not denying that more women may come forward still. No matter how cynical you are about Tweeden's timing, a picture speaks a thousand words, and she didn't deserve to be groped, even in jest.  At some point however, we have to be better than the damn GOP when it comes to having morality.

We're not Republicans.  We do give a damn. And you'll excuse me for thinking that Al Franken needs to go.

Not before Trump does and Moore too for that matter.  But he still needs to go.

All The News That's Fit To Fake

Remember the next time you hear conservatives scream that the news media has nobody to blame but themselves as to why people don't trust them that there's a concerted effort by the right to try to cripple and/or destroy journalism in the US in order to make it easier to continue to lie to America without anyone around to challenge them.

Fortunately for the news media, the concerted effort to destroy them is headed by idiots like James O'Keefe III and his merry band of blockheads at Project Veritas, as once again an obvious "sting operation" to discredit a major news outlet, in this case the Washington Post and its coverage of Roy Moore's sexual assault, gloriously backfired as the reporters at the newspaper actually did their job and followed up on O'Keefe's attempt to plant a fake accuser against Moore.

A woman who falsely claimed to The Washington Post that Roy Moore, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, impregnated her as a teenager appears to work with an organization that uses deceptive tactics to secretly record conversations in an effort to embarrass its targets. 
In a series of interviews over two weeks, the woman shared a dramatic story about an alleged sexual relationship with Moore in 1992 that led to an abortion when she was 15. During the interviews, she repeatedly pressed Post reporters to give their opinions on the effects that her claims could have on Moore’s candidacy if she went public.

The Post did not publish an article based on her unsubstantiated account. When Post reporters confronted her with inconsistencies in her story and an Internet posting that raised doubts about her motivations, she insisted that she was not working with any organization that targets journalists. 
But on Monday morning, Post reporters saw her walking into the New York offices of Project Veritas, an organization that targets the mainstream news media and left-leaning groups. The organization sets up undercover “stings” that involve using false cover stories and covert video recordings meant to expose what the group says is media bias. 
James O’Keefe, the Project Veritas founder who was convicted of a misdemeanor in 2010 for using a fake identity to enter a federal building during a previous sting, declined to answer questions about the woman outside the organization’s offices on Monday morning shortly after the woman walked inside. 
“I am not doing an interview right now, so I’m not going to say a word,” O’Keefe said.

In a follow-up interview, O’Keefe declined to answer repeated questions about whether the woman was employed at Project Veritas. He also did not respond when asked if he was working with Moore, former White House adviser and Moore supporter Stephen K. Bannon, or Republican strategists. 
The group’s efforts illustrate the lengths to which activists have gone to try to discredit media outlets for reporting on allegations from multiple women that Moore pursued them when they were teenagers and he was in his early 30s. Moore has denied that he did anything improper.

A spokesman for Moore’s campaign did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Now, this absolutely was a stupid, long-shot stunt on O'Keefe's part.  He's tried such sophomoric nonsense before. But remember, even if there was a 99% chance he was going to be caught here, if he hadn't, if the Post had run the false accusations, it would have destroyed the Post's credibility for years, and most likely served as a major deterrent for people to come forward on sexual harassment for a significant period of time.

That is the the gamble O'Keefe was willing to take, and it's worth it to him.  As with ACORN, the voter registration outfit that he helped to destroy with a ludicrous "sting" video (which still serves as a right-wing coded dog whistle) and with Shirley Sherrod, who was fired wrongfully from her government job in 2010 after a false story in Breitbart accused her of being racist, remember that all he has to do is catch a news outlet napping once.

The news media on the other hand has to be vigilant 100% of the time against O'Keefe's cartoon villainy, and must defeat him every time.  Eventually O'Keefe will get his Trump era brass ring, and he knows it.

It's just a matter of time and of the odds.

Tales Of A Lesser Moore, Con't

Alabama's special Senate election is two weeks away as Roy Moore and Doug Jones battle it out, and Steve M. has noted a new write-in challenger has appeared.

A retired Marine colonel who once served as a top aide to White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly plans to launch a long-shot write-in campaign Monday afternoon to become Alabama’s next senator, with just 15 days left in the campaign.

Lee Busby, 60, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., said he thinks that the allegations of sexual impropriety against Republican nominee Roy Moore have created an opportunity for a centrist candidate to win more than a third of the state’s votes in the Dec. 12 special election....

Busby, who was lacking any formal campaign structure or even a working website as of Monday morning, said he is counting on social media to spread the word about his campaign. He said he plans to run as an independent on his record as an investment banker, military leader and defense contractor and entrepreneur. He spent the weekend working on a logo and said he is just starting to explore the legal requirements for raising money for a campaign.

Steve argues that Col. Busby is the GOP's last-ditch effort to help Moore.

It's likely that a certain number of voters who normally vote Republican have qualms about Moore, because they think his God-bothering goes too far or because they're disturbed by the sex allegations against him. Some might be thinking of voting for Democrat Doug Jones -- but if they find out about Busby's campaign, they can vote for him without voting for either Moore or (horrors!) a Democrat. So I think the candidate Busby could hurt is Jones.

Or, more likely, Moore's going to win by a comfortable margin. Polls are close, but I suspect that many GOP voters will come home at the last minute, or have already settled on Moore but aren't saying so out loud. If they need an excuse for their moral relativism, they can just say that John Conyers and Al Franken are still in office, so why not a perv who's their perv? However, I hope I'm wrong.

He's probably not wrong at all.  A Moore victory by 8-10 points is still the most likely scenario. Alabama had no problem voting for Trump, he won by 28 points. Why would they be bothered voting for Moore? And yes, if Moore wins by that much, it will mean that the very credible accusations made against him will mean precisely nothing to Alabama voters as the polls showed Moore with a close to a double digit lead in October, before the story of his long history of sexual assault broke.

So yes, I fully expect Moore to win and win easily.  Republican voters in Alabama are simply telling themselves that the allegations against Moore are fake news.  They will vote for Moore anyway, because Republican voters who still vote Republican these days are just as awful as the Republicans they vote for.

Maybe this will finally get that fact through people's heads, and Democrats will finally stop chasing them.  I hope I'm wrong, but after Matt Bevin's massive win in 2015, I take all state polling with a large deposit of salt.

We'll see.


Monday, November 27, 2017

Last Call For Raiding The Till

If you're still somehow wondering why Congress has yet to lift a finger to seriously curb asset forfeiture raids by state and local governments, the fact of the matter is that it's a massive income cash cow for cities and counties worth billions every year of what basically amounts to free money taken from citizens by police and prosecutors. In Suffolk County, NY for example, the county prosecutor's office issued millions in bonuses to employees paid for with -- you guessed it -- a major increase in asset forfeitures since 2012.

Newly disclosed records show Suffolk district attorney employees have received $3.25 million in bonuses since 2012 — $550,000 more than reported previously — as county lawmakers prepare for a hearing Tuesday on a bill to tighten legislative control over how proceeds from seized criminal assets are spent. 
Bonus recipients included deputy chief homicide prosecutor Robert Biancavilla, who received a total of $108,886 between 2012 and 2017, and division chief Edward Heilig and top public corruption prosecutor Christopher McPartland, who each received $73,000, according to records obtained from county Comptroller John Kennedy’s office through the Freedom of Information Law. 
Federal prosecutors have charged McPartland and former District Attorney Thomas Spota with attempting to cover up former county Police Chief of Department James Burke’s assault of a suspect who broke into his car. Spota and McPartland have pleaded not guilty. 
The bonuses, which were funded from assets seized in criminal cases by the district attorney’s office, did not receive legislative approval. The original figure of $2.7 million came from documents provided by County Executive Steve Bellone’s office, which only included bonuses for top management employees.

On Tuesday, the legislature will hold a public hearing on a bill by Legis. Robert Calarco (D-Patchogue) to require asset forfeiture expenditures, including by the district attorney’s office and the police, sheriff’s and probation departments, to be approved by the Public Safety Committee. 
Calarco called it inappropriate to spend asset forfeiture money on bonuses, particularly without a legislative vote. 
“Asset forfeiture money that comes into this county counts into the millions of dollars,” Calarco said. “That’s a lot of money to be spent at the sole discretion of an individual with no oversight.”

Note that Albany's proposed solution isn't "asset forfeiture is bad", it's "spending the massive windfall from asset forfeiture should require state legislature approval, not county approval."   Don't in fact be surprised if states start collecting county/city police asset forfeiture funds like this across the country in the name of "transparency".

It's still legal police shakedown tactics that net billions every year, and once these funds start disappearing down the rabbit holes of state legislatures, well states will just have to keep making their seizures in order to help balance the budgets, you know.

So no, Congress won't do anything, and neither will states.  Except for, you know, counting the money they forcibly take from Americans.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

John Schindler reminds us that while there are obvious KGB ties to Republicans like Donald Trump and GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, there are a couple of problematic Democrats with Kremlin dalliances as well, and none more prominent than Rep. John Conyers of Michigan.  The esteemed civil rights leader has quite the background on his own ties to Moscow over the years, his sexual harassment issues notwithstanding.

That’s because, whatever inappropriate things Conyers may (or may not) have done with female staffers, he’s unquestionably been uncomfortably pro-Moscow for decades. Cursory examination of Conyers’ words and actions reveal a politician who is, at best, a longstanding dupe of the Kremlin. Worst of all, this “secret” aspect to Conyers’ political life has been hiding in plain sight for years, something that polite people didn’t bring up at Georgetown soirées, yet which was known to anybody who can access Google. 
However, in the current hothouse climate regarding Russian spies and lies in our nation’s capital, Conyers’ ties to the Kremlin matter needs to be discussed. From the beginning of his political career, Conyers had close relations with prominent members of the Communist Party USA, and he was a longtime member of the National Lawyers Guild, a CPUSA-affiliated group, as well as a leader of its Detroit chapter. Conyers never made much effort to mask his associations with known CPUSA members, even after being elected to Congress. Keep in mind that, as proven by KGB files, the CPUSA was a wholly-owned Kremlin operation, clandestinely funded by Soviet spies, and operating under Moscow’s direction. 
Conyers went further and associated with known KGB fronts. He was long active in the World Peace Council—which sounds like a Quaker-run group but was founded by the Kremlin at the beginning of the Cold War. The WPC followed the Moscow line religiously, serving as a conduit for KGB Active Measures against the West, regularly denouncing American “war-mongering” and “imperialism” while coordinating anti-NATO protests in many countries. 
With the publication of the Mitrokhin archive in 1999, the KGB’s supervisory relationship to the WPC was made public, though it was obvious long before to anyone who wanted to see that the latter was a leading Kremlin front for espionage and propaganda. Not that Conyers was deterred from involvement with the WPC, and he helped establish its American chapter, the U.S. Peace Council. He addressed its inaugural meeting in Philadelphia in November 1979, alongside numerous KGB agents, including Romesh Chandra, a prominent Indian Communist who headed the WPC for decades and was a senior operative of the Soviet secret police. 
Such public actions did not go undetected, and on occasion the press made noteof Conyers’ ties to the WPC and other Soviet fronts, particularly in the early 1980s, when KGB Active Measures against NATO reached their peak. It should be noted that Conyers was hardly the only left-wing Democrat in Washington who cultivated links to Kremlin spy-fronts during the Cold War. 
American counterintelligence had questions, too. Investigating members of Congress was always a touchy issue for our counterspies, given the political sensitivities, but Conyers’ chumminess with the KGB was noted in our Intelligence Community. The benign take on Conyers’ questionable associations was that was a mere dupe, a “useful idiot” to use the proper term. Others weren’t so sure, and when I asked a veteran IC counter-intelligencer who had checked out Conyers back in the 1980s, he responded with a wry smile: “Do you really think anybody’s that stupid?” 
Moreover, this isn’t just a historical matter. Conyers has continued to follow the Moscow line on countless issues down to the present day. Back in 2010, when WikiLeaks was busy dumping hundreds of thousands of stolen classified State Department files on the Internet, Conyers came to the defense of Julian Assange and his cyber-criminal gang, stating that WikiLeaks had committed no crimes. That was a remarkable thing for the then-chair of the House Judiciary Committee to say, particularly when the leadership of his own party—including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—proffered a radically different take on the case. 
Since WikiLeaks barely bothers to conceal its Kremlin links these days, questions abound regarding Conyers’ public defense of the group which did so much damage to the Democrats and their presidential nominee in 2016. Even as relations with Moscow have soured since Russia’s seizure of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine in early 2014, Conyers has continued to spout Kremlin propaganda, as he has done for decades. 
In June 2015, Conyers went on a tirade against Ukraine on the floor of the House, denouncing Kyiv’s military as “neo-Nazi”—a slander that was quickly parroted by Kremlin mouthpieces online. He stated that Ukraine should not get anti-aircraft missiles from Washington, citing as evidence the shootdown of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, the murder of 299 innocents—without noting that it was Russians, not Ukrainians, who downed the civilian airliner. It comes as no surprise that the bill amendment before the House to block anti-air missiles for Ukraine that was sponsored by Conyers was arranged by the notorious pro-Kremlin lobbyist Paul Manafort—the very same swamp macher who’s now facing indictments over his shady ties to President Trump and the Russians. 
Conyers’ decades of spouting unfiltered Kremlin propaganda is so notorious in Washington that last year the Huffington Post, nobody’s idea of a right-wing outlet, ran a piece on him entitled “Putin’s Man in Congress.” That charge seems fair, based on the evidence, and is something that needs public discussion, particularly as Washington prepares to root out Moscow’s secret spy-propaganda apparatus in our nation’s capital. 

Just another reminder that the Russians have been playing us for a very, very long time, and it's not always the GOP causing the damage, and again, as with Trump and Rohrabacher, the case can be made with publicly available information that Conyers's ties to the Kremlin are at best very unseemly.

Don't be surprised if Conyers gets caught up in this along with Rohrabacher when Mueller brings the hammer down, and that could be sooner rather than later as there's yet more evidence that former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn is actively working out a plea deal with Robert Mueller.

The lawyer for President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn met Monday morning with members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, the latest indication that both sides are discussing a possible plea deal, ABC News has learned. 
Trump’s legal team confirmed late last week that Flynn’s attorney Robert Kelner alerted them that he could no longer engage in privileged discussions about defense strategy in the case, a sign Flynn is preparing to negotiate with prosecutors over a deal that could include Flynn’s testimony against the president or senior White House officials. 
That process would typically include a series of off-the-record discussions in which prosecutors lay out in detail for Flynn and his lawyers the fruits of their investigation into his activities. Prosecutors would also provide Flynn an opportunity to offer what’s called a proffer, detailing what information, if any, he has that could implicate others in wrongdoing. 
When reached Monday, Kelner declined to comment on the nature of his morning visit to Mueller’s offices in Washington, D.C. 
Sources familiar with the discussions between Flynn’s legal team and Trump’s attorneys told ABC News that while there was never a formal, signed joint defense agreement between Flynn’s defense counsel and other targets of the Mueller probe, the lawyers had engaged in privileged discussions for months.

I love how everyone involved is completely pretending this is normal and how it doesn't mean Flynn has flipped and turned on Trump in order to save his own ass and his son's ass from a lifetime in prison, too.  Stay tuned.

Who's The Boss?

Now that Richard Cordray has resigned from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (ostensibly to run as the Dems' best shot to replace John Kasich as Governor of Ohio) the question is who will lead the agency in his wake.  Cordray named deputy director Leandra English to run the agency, but Trump is naming his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, as the acting director of the agency, setting up a legal fight for the ages.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's top lawyer sided with the Justice Department over President Donald Trump's appointment of Mick Mulvaney to lead the CFPB as a leadership battle over the controversial watchdog agency escalated.

In a memorandum obtained by POLITICO, CFPB general counsel Mary McLeod said Trump had the legal authority to name an acting director to the bureau under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.

"It is my legal opinion that the president possesses the authority to designate an acting director for the bureau," McLeod wrote in the Nov. 25 memo to the CFPB leadership team. "I advise all bureau personnel to act consistently with the understanding that Director Mulvaney is the acting director of the CFPB."

Yet even as McLeod's memo was circulating, Leandra English, former CFPB Director Richard Cordray's choice to serve as acting director of the watchdog agency, sued the Trump administration in U.S District Court in Washington.

In her lawsuit filed late Sunday, English named Trump and Mulvaney as defendants and asked the court to establish her authority as acting director.

"Ms. English has a clear entitlement to the position of acting director of the CFPB," the filing claims. "The President's purported or intended appointment of defendant Mulvaney as acting director of the CFPB is unlawful."

Here's the difference: Leandra English actually wants the agency to continue to fight for consumer rights against huge financial corporations and big banks. Mick Mulvaney wants to shut the agency down completely and says it was a mistake for the agency to even have been created in the first place.

English has a case because the 2010 Dodd-Frank legislation specifically says the deputy director takes charge of the agency should the director step aside, and that the President cannot fire the director without cause.  The Trump regime says that's all nice and good, but that Dodd-Frank is superseded by the Vacancies Reform Act because Trump says so, and that he gets to appoint an interim director for any federal agency that doesn't have a permanent head.

Who's right here?  Nobody knows.  Should be an interesting day at work today for the CFPB though.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Last Call For Shutdown Countdown, Con't.

The latest Republican can-kicking on the federal budget expires in less than two weeks on December 8, and while another continuing resolution is almost certain, it's not a sure thing.  Nothing in the Senate is certain at all, and there's still a pretty good chance Paul Ryan will lose control of the House GOP and shut the government down.

A short-term funding patch delaying the current Dec. 8 deadline at least a couple of weeks is inevitable, since top Hill leaders haven’t even agreed on spending numbers for federal agencies. The appropriations committees would need at least three to four weeks to write funding legislation.

Because it involves a must-pass bill, the spending fight gives House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) maximum leverage to demand a top priority for Democrats by year’s end: codifying Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals into law.

While not explicitly threatening to withhold votes without a DACA measure, both Pelosi and Schumer have vowed to save the Obama-era immigration program legislatively before lawmakers leave Washington for the year. Moderate Republicans have also urged their leadership to find a fix.

But doing so could prompt a rebellion among conservatives who don’t want to be steamrolled by Democrats on such a contentious issue. The White House is also insisting on funding for President Donald Trump's border wall with Mexico.

In addition to a huge omnibus spending package, Congress has another pricey funding measure to deal with — aid for hurricane-wrecked states and territories — that many on Capitol Hill say doesn’t go far enough. 
The White House has suggested a $44 billion emergency measure distributed to Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for ongoing hurricane relief, as well as money for combating wildfires in the West. Democrats and some powerful Republicans — including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 GOP leader — have said the package is far too small, though they will have to contend with fiscal conservatives who are getting weary of continued spending on aid, particularly if it’s not paid for with other cuts.

Other prime government programs could be temporarily shuttered if Congress fails to act.

One is Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which empowers the NSA to monitor communications without a warrant. That authority expires at the end of the year, and there is bipartisan opposition to a “clean” renewal of the spying powers. There are varying proposals that would extend the programs, but with key reforms.

The National Flood Insurance Program, which has become financially strapped after the spate of powerful hurricanes this year, also needs to be reauthorized by Dec. 8. The House and Senate have dueling proposals to renew the program.

On the health care front, the expiration of funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program is already causing problems as more states have turned to temporary cash infusions from the federal government to keep the programs running.

House Republicans passed a largely partisan CHIP funding measure earlier this month. Still, CHIP could be a relatively simple fix: One option would be to let funding ride along with a short-term continuing resolution that will need to clear Congress by Dec. 8.

Lawmakers will also face pressure to act on legislation that would stabilize the Obamacare markets after Trump’s decision last month to stop paying so-called cost-sharing reduction subsidies to insurers.

Basically any of these could blow up and the House GOP could vote to shut the place down for a while, and even if things pass, there's no guarantee that the increasingly unstable Trump would sign anything into law.

It's a dice roll at this point, and millions of people could be affected.  And it doesn't look like the GOP cares one whit about it.

Sunday Long Read: Lessons We Failed To Learn

Anyone who had gone over Klansman David Duke's near-win in 1990 for Louisiana's Senate race could have seen Donald Trump coming a mile away, but as Adam Serwer documents in The Atlantic, Republicans, the media, and voters refused to call Duke out for his racism or to take responsibility for nearly electing him to the Senate based solely on appealing to white supremacy and were allowed to chalk it up to "economic anxiety" of the Poppy Bush years.

Thirty years ago, nearly half of Louisiana voted for a Klansman, and the media struggled to explain why.

It was 1990 and David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, astonished political observers when he came within striking distance of defeating incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston, earning 43 percent of the vote. If Johnston’s Republican rival hadn’t dropped out of the race and endorsed him at the last minute, the outcome might have been different.

Was it economic anxiety? The Washington Post reported that the state had “a large working class that has suffered through a long recession.” Was it a blow against the state’s hated political establishment? An editorial from United Press International explained, “Louisianans showed the nation by voting for Duke that they were mad as hell and not going to take it any more.” Was it anti-Washington rage? A Loyola University pollster argued, “There were the voters who liked Duke, those who hated J. Bennett Johnston, and those who just wanted to send a message to Washington.”

What message would those voters have been trying to send by putting a Klansman into office?

“There’s definitely a message bigger than Louisiana here,” Susan Howell, then the director of the Survey Research Center at the University of New Orleans, told the Los Angeles Times. “There is a tremendous amount of anger and frustration among working-class whites, particularly where there is an economic downturn. These people feel left out; they feel government is not responsive to them.”

Duke’s strong showing, however, wasn’t powered merely by poor or working-class whites—and the poorest demographic in the state, black voters, backed Johnston. Duke “clobbered Johnston in white working-class districts, ran even with him in predominantly white middle-class suburbs, and lost only because black Louisianans, representing one-quarter of the electorate, voted against him in overwhelming numbers,” The Washington Post reported in 1990. Duke picked up nearly 60 percent of the white vote. Faced with Duke’s popularity among whites of all income levels, the press framed his strong showing largely as the result of the economic suffering of the white working classes. Louisiana had “one of the least-educated electorates in the nation; and a large working class that has suffered through a long recession,” The Post stated.

By accepting the economic theory of Duke’s success, the media were buying into the candidate’s own vision of himself as a savior of the working class. He had appealed to voters in economic terms: He tore into welfare and foreign aid, affirmative action and outsourcing, and attacked political-action committees for subverting the interests of the common man. He even tried to appeal to black voters, buying a 30-minute ad in which he declared, “I’m not your enemy.”

Duke’s candidacy had initially seemed like a joke. He was a former Klan leader who had showed up to public events in a Nazi uniform and lied about having served in the Vietnam War, a cartoonishly vain supervillain whose belief in his own status as a genetic Übermensch was belied by his plastic surgeries. The joke soon soured, as many white Louisiana voters made clear that Duke’s past didn’t bother them.

Many of Duke’s voters steadfastly denied that the former Klan leader was a racist. The St. Petersburg Times reported in 1990 that Duke supporters “are likely to blame the media for making him look like a racist.” The paper quoted G. D. Miller, a “59-year-old oil-and-gas lease buyer,” who said, “The way I understood the Klan, it’s not anti-this or anti-that.”

Duke’s rejoinder to the ads framing him as a racist resonated with his supporters. “Remember,” he told them at rallies, “when they smear me, they are really smearing you.”

The economic explanation carried the day: Duke was a freak creature of the bayou who had managed to tap into the frustrations of a struggling sector of the Louisiana electorate with an abnormally high tolerance for racist messaging.

While the rest of the country gawked at Louisiana and the Duke fiasco, Walker Percy, a Louisiana author, gave a prophetic warning to The New York Times.

“Don’t make the mistake of thinking David Duke is a unique phenomenon confined to Louisiana rednecks and yahoos. He’s not,” Percy said. “He’s not just appealing to the old Klan constituency, he’s appealing to the white middle class. And don’t think that he or somebody like him won’t appeal to the white middle class of Chicago or Queens.”

A few days after Duke’s strong showing, the Queens-born businessman Donald Trump appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live.

“It’s anger. I mean, that’s an anger vote. People are angry about what’s happened. People are angry about the jobs. If you look at Louisiana, they’re really in deep trouble,” Trump told King.

Trump later predicted that Duke, if he ran for president, would siphon most of his votes away from the incumbent, George H. W. Bush—in the process revealing his own understanding of the effectiveness of white-nationalist appeals to the GOP base.

“Whether that be good or bad, David Duke is going to get a lot of votes. Pat Buchanan—who really has many of the same theories, except it's in a better package—Pat Buchanan is going to take a lot of votes away from George Bush,” Trump said. “So if you have these two guys running, or even one of them running, I think George Bush could be in big trouble.” Little more than a year later, Buchanan embarrassed Bush by drawing 37 percent of the vote in New Hampshire’s Republican primary.

We failed then to see the Republican party for what it was: the last bastion of white supremacy in America.  Both Bush and his son tried to pretend the party wasn't what it clearly was, and for a while it worked.  Then Obama was elected, and the backlash finally hit home for tens of millions of white voters who decided that Trump's overt racism was no longer a dealbreaker in a White House candidate.

The signs however have been there for my entire lifetime.

We Don't Need No Education. Con't

Everywhere you turn, the Republican Party stands for the destruction of government and the services it provides to the people, moving to privatize everything from roads to schools to water to the internet and turn it into revenue streams for corporations.  Higher education is no different, it's been under attack ever since I was in college in the 90's and 20 years later, the majority of the GOP now wants American public universities all but shut down.

Frank Antenori shot the head off a rattlesnake at his back door last summer — a deadeye pistol blast from 20 feet. No college professor taught him that. The U.S. Army trained him, as a marksman and a medic, on the “two-way rifle range” of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Useful skills. Smart return on taxpayers’ investment. Not like the waste he sees at too many colleges and universities, where he says liberal professors teach “ridiculous” classes and indoctrinate students “who hang out and protest all day long and cry on our dime.”

“Why does a kid go to a major university these days?” said Antenori, 51, a former Green Beret who served in the Arizona state legislature. “A lot of Republicans would say they go there to get brainwashed and learn how to become activists and basically go out in the world and cause trouble.”

Antenori is part of an increasingly vocal campaign to transform higher education in America. Though U.S. universities are envied around the world, he and other conservatives want to reduce the flow of government cash to what they see as elitist, politically correct institutions that often fail to provide practical skills for the job market.

To the alarm of many educators, nearly every state has cut funding to public colleges and universities since the 2008 financial crisis. Adjusted for inflation, states spent $5.7 billion less on public higher education last year than in 2008, even though they were educating more than 800,000 additional students, according to the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

In Arizona, which has had a Republican governor and legislature since 2009, lawmakers have cut spending for higher education by 54 percent since 2008; the state now spends $3,500 less per year on every student, according to the progressive Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Tuition has soared, forcing students to shoulder more of the cost of their degrees.

Meanwhile, public schools in Arizona and across the nation are welcoming private donors, including the conservative Koch brothers. In nearly every state, the Charles Koch Foundation funds generally conservative-leaning scholars and programs in politics, economics, law and other subjects. John Hardin, the foundation’s director of university relations, said its giving has tripled from about $14 million in 2011 to $44 million in 2015 as the foundation aims to “diversify the conversation” on campus.

People across the ideological spectrum are worried about the cost of college, skyrocketing debt from student loans and rising inequality in access to quality degrees. Educators fear the drop in government spending is making schools harder to afford for low- and middle-income students.

State lawmakers blame the cuts on falling tax revenue during the recession; rising costs of other obligations, especially Medicaid and prisons; and the need to balance their budgets. But even as prosperity has returned to many states, there is a growing partisan divide over how much to spend on higher education. Education advocates worry that conservative disdain threatens to undermine universities.

An uneducated population is far easier to control.  Millennials are the most college-educated generation in American history, but it's come at the cost of massive student debt. Mine's been paid off, I got a scholarship and had to borrow the rest, but that was 20 years ago. Besides, for the tens of millions who can't afford college, it's easier to demonize it.

Antenori views former president Barack Obama, a Harvard-educated lawyer who taught at the University of Chicago Law School, as the embodiment of the liberal establishment. Antenori said liberal elites with fancy degrees who have been running Washington for so long have forgotten those who think differently.

“If you don’t do everything that their definition of society is, you’re somehow a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal cave man,” Antenori said.

Antenori was drawn to Trump, he said, because he was the “reverse of Obama,” an “anti-politically correct guy” whose attitude toward the status quo is “change it, fix it, get rid of it, crush it, slash it.”

Even though Trump boasts of his Ivy League degree from the University of Pennsylvania, Antenori said he “had a different air about him.” Unlike Obama, Trump has not emphasized the importance of Americans going to college.

"My college education was a mistake" is what I hear from people.  "If fewer people went to college, it would be less expensive, they would have to get rid of stupid arts and humanities programs and have to concentrate on majors that produced high-paying jobs. Nobody can use an English major, everyone can use a business degree."

You know, like Trump, the smartest businessman who ever lived, or something.

We don't need no education.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Last Call For White Washing

I'm trying to figure out the whole "White Supremacist next door isn't so bad" genre of news since the Trump Era began, especially for those aforementioned white supremacists who live less than an hour from you.

Tony and Maria Hovater were married this fall. They registered at Target. On their list was a muffin pan, a four-drawer dresser and a pineapple slicer.

Ms. Hovater, 25, was worried about Antifa bashing up the ceremony. Weddings are hard enough to plan for when your fiancé is not an avowed white nationalist.

But Mr. Hovater, in the days leading up to the wedding, was somewhat less anxious. There are times when it can feel toxic to openly identify as a far-right extremist in the Ohio of 2017. But not always. He said the election of President Trump helped open a space for people like him, demonstrating that it is not the end of the world to be attacked as the bigot he surely is: “You can just say, ‘Yeah, so?’ And move on.”

It was a weeknight at Applebee’s in Huber Heights, a suburb of Dayton, a few weeks before the wedding. The couple, who live in nearby New Carlisle, were shoulder to shoulder at a table, young and in love. He was in a plain T-shirt, she in a sleeveless jean jacket. She ordered the boneless wings. Her parents had met him, she said, and approved of the match. The wedding would be small. Some of her best friends were going to be there. “A lot of girls are not really into politics,” she said.

In Ohio, amid the row crops and rolling hills, the Olive Gardens and Steak ’n Shakes, Mr. Hovater’s presence can make hardly a ripple. He is the Nazi sympathizer next door, polite and low-key at a time the old boundaries of accepted political activity can seem alarmingly in flux. Most Americans would be disgusted and baffled by his casually approving remarks about Hitler, disdain for democracy and belief that the races are better off separate. But his tattoos are innocuous pop-culture references: a slice of cherry pie adorns one arm, a homage to the TV show “Twin Peaks.” He says he prefers to spread the gospel of white nationalism with satire. He is a big “Seinfeld” fan.

“I guess it seems weird when talking about these type of things,” he says. “You know, I’m coming at it in a mid-90s, Jewish, New York, observational-humor way.”

Mr. Hovater, 29, is a welder by trade. He is not a star among the resurgent radical American right so much as a committed foot soldier — an organizer, an occasional podcast guest on a website called Radio Aryan, and a self-described “social media villain,” although, in person, his Midwestern manners would please anyone’s mother. In 2015, he helped start the Traditionalist Worker Party, one of the extreme right-wing groups that marched in Charlottesville, Va., in August, and again at a “White Lives Matter” rally last month in Tennessee. The group’s stated mission is to “fight for the interests of White Americans.’’

Its leaders claim to oppose racism, though the Anti-Defamation League says the group “has participated in white supremacist events all over the country.” On its website, a swastika armband goes for $20.

If the Charlottesville rally came as a shock, with hundreds of white Americans marching in support of ideologies many have long considered too vile, dangerous or stupid to enter the political mainstream, it obscured the fact that some in the small, loosely defined alt-right movement are hoping to make those ideas seem less than shocking for the “normies,” or normal people, that its sympathizers have tended to mock online.

And to go from mocking to wooing, the movement will be looking to make use of people like the Hovaters and their trappings of normie life — their fondness for National Public Radio, their four cats, their bridal registry.

“We need to have more families. We need to be able to just be normal,” said Matthew Heimbach, the leader of the Traditionalist Worker Party, in a podcast conversation with Mr. Hovater. Why, he asked self-mockingly, were so many followers “abnormal”?

Mr. Hovater replied: “I mean honestly, it takes people with, like, sort of an odd view of life, at first, to come this way. Because most people are pacified really easy, you know. Like, here’s some money, here’s a nice TV, go watch your sports, you know?”

He added: “The fact that we’re seeing more and more normal people come is because things have gotten so bad. And if they keep getting worse, we’ll keep getting more, just, normal people.”

And so in America, in Ohio, we have a friendly New York Times profile on a regular, everyday Millennial couple who just happens to think that the races need to be separated for their own good, that tens of millions of undocumented need to be immediately rounded up and deported, and that fascism is necessary in order to make all that happen.

They're convinced that they're on the side that will eventually win.

The problem is that in 2017, I can't definitively say that people like Tony Hovater are wrong about that assumption anymore.

Keeping Up With The Jonses

A depressing story from the Washington Post finds that Doug Jones's biggest vulnerability is getting black voters to turn out for the special election in less than three weeks, but this is Alabama, a state where Republicans have done everything they can to ensure permanent GOP power through suppressing the black vote, and it continues to work.

Jones’s campaign believes he can win only if he pieces together an unusually delicate coalition built on intense support from core Democrats and some crossover votes from Republicans disgusted with Moore. Crucial to that formula is a massive mobilization of African Americans, who make up about a quarter of Alabama’s electorate and tend to vote heavily Democratic.

Yet, in interviews in recent days, African American elected officials, community leaders and voters expressed concern that the Jones campaign’s turnout plan was at risk of falling short.

“Right now, many African Americans do not know there is an election on December 12,” said state Sen. Hank Sanders (D), who is black and supports Jones.

The challenge for Jones is clear. According to Democrats working on the race, Jones, who is white, must secure more than 90 percent of the black vote while boosting black turnout to account for between 25 and 30 percent of the electorate — similar to the levels that turned out for Barack Obama, the country’s first black president.

As a result, Jones and his allies are waging an aggressive outreach campaign. It includes targeted radio and online advertisements, billboards and phone calls. Campaign aides are debating whether to ask former first lady Michelle Obama to record a phone message for black voters.

The message emphasizes that Jones prosecuted two Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a black church in Birmingham in 1963.

The Jones campaign expects to intensify its black outreach in the final stretch. Among the messages under consideration for radio ads and already included in mailers that have been produced, according to campaign officials, are reminders that Moore once opposed removing segregationist language from the state constitution and expressed doubt that Obama was born in the United States.

The Moore campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The real problem remains though that in Alabama, Jones will still need some white voters to win.

A key question for Jones’s campaign is how to balance a more partisan campaign message aimed at energizing core Democrats, particularly blacks, with the need to appeal to GOP voters with a more middle-of-the-road approach. Not only must Jones come close to matching Obama’s performance among blacks, but also he must far surpass the former president’s tallies among whites. Exit polls show that Obama won 15 percent of the white vote in Alabama in 2012 — and Jones, according to Democratic strategists working on the race, may have to win more than a third of white voters to beat Moore.

So it's not black voters who will be at fault if Jones loses.  The real issue is whether more than two-thirds of white voters in Alabama will still turn out for the racist pedophile thrown off the state's Supreme Court twice, and there's every indication that in the Trump era, they'll do just that.

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