Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Last Call For Meanwhile In Bevinstan

I've already talked about how here in Kentucky GOP Gov. Matt Bevin wants to dismantle state employee pensions and post-retirement health care benefits, as well as his across-the-board austerity cuts to the state budget.  Bevin says his cuts won't affect public education, but apparently that doesn't include the UK system, where the governor is warning the state's colleges and universities that the time has come to eliminate majors that don't produce money-making graduates as all of the state's higher education system faces Bevin's chainsaw austerity cuts.

Gov. Matt Bevin bluntly suggested Tuesday that some academic programs on Kentucky’s college campuses have outlived their necessity in times of tight state budgets.
With a pointed jab at the job prospects of interpretive dancers, the Republican governor challenged public university boards and presidents to consider eliminating some courses that don’t produce graduates filling high-wage, high-demand jobs. 
His message comes as the state tries to fix its failing public pension systems, and economists estimate Kentucky faces a $200 million shortfall when the fiscal year ends in mid-2018. 
Find entire parts of your campus … that don’t need to be there,” Bevin said in a speech to a higher education conference. “Either physically as programs, degrees that you’re offering, buildings that … shouldn’t be there because you’re maintaining something that’s not an asset of any value, that’s not helping to produce that 21st century educated workforce.”

Education, critical thinking, pushing boundaries, scholarship?  Screw that, we're here to make money, you ivory tower nerds.

Bevin acknowledged such comments would be seen as “sacrilege” by some. 
It’s not the first time Bevin has urged the state’s colleges and universities to refine course offerings to create more graduates moving on to jobs “that matter” and are in demand.
If you’re studying interpretive dance, God bless you, but there’s not a lot of jobs right now in America looking for people with that as a skill set,” he said Tuesday. 
In comments that echoed an earlier snipe at French literature students, Bevin said educators from middle school on up need to do a better job of steering students toward high-demand jobs. They need to stop perpetuating “this idea that simply going to college is enough,” Bevin said. A college degree isn’t sufficient if students “aren’t studying the right things,” he said. 
“There’s a whole lot of kids sitting in their parents’ basements and competing with people for jobs that are minimum wage or a bit better who have four-year degrees, some of them graduate-level degrees,” he said. “Some from the very universities that you all represent.” 
Bevin has made workforce development a priority of his tenure as governor. He said Tuesday he wants Kentucky to become the nation’s engineering and manufacturing epicenter, and urged the state’s engineering programs to embrace the challenge. 
“I challenge you to say to yourselves, ‘If we’re graduating 250 people out of our engineering school … why is it 250 and not 1,000? And what are we going to do between now and 2030 and a whole lot sooner to make sure it’s 1,000?’ ” Bevin said.
The University of Louisville’s interim president, Greg Postel, said the school’s engineering program has been growing, and continuing on that trajectory would be a “natural fit.” 
“Universities have to be aware of where the jobs are, and that has to advise us as to which programs we choose to grow and put resources in,” he said in an interview after Bevin’s speech. 
Asked about Bevin’s suggestion that universities look for academic programs to eliminate, Postel said: “That requires an awful lot of thought before one would do something that dramatic.”

U of L President Postel ought to know by now that "giving things a whole lot of thought" isn't Bevin's strong point.  If the only point of education is to make money as a member of the work force, then what's Bevin doing being employed?

We ain't gonna have no damn interpretive dancers in Bevinstan, ya hear?

La Brodega De La CondenaciĆ³n

Silicon Valley tech bros are out to kill the corner bodega, because progress and besides who needs immigrant small business owners anyway?

While it sometimes feels like we do all of our shopping on the internet, government data shows that actually less than 10%of all retail transactions happen online. In a world where we get our groceries delivered in just two hours through Instacart or Amazon Fresh, the humble corner store–or bodega, as they are known in New York and Los Angeles–still performs a valuable function. No matter how organized you are, you’re bound to run out of milk or diapers in the middle of the night and need to make a quick visit to your neighborhood retailer.

Paul McDonald, who spent 13 years as a product manager at Google, wants to make this corner store a thing of the past. Today, he is launching a new concept called Bodega with his cofounder Ashwath Rajan, another Google veteran. Bodega sets up five-foot-wide pantry boxes filled with non-perishable items you might pick up at a convenience store. An app will allow you to unlock the box and cameras powered with computer vision will register what you’ve picked up, automatically charging your credit card. The entire process happens without a person actually manning the “store.” 
Bodega’s logo is a cat, a nod to the popular bodega cat memeon social media–although if the duo gets their way, real felines won’t have brick-and-mortar shops to saunter around and take naps in much longer. “The vision here is much bigger than the box itself,” McDonald says. “Eventually, centralized shopping locations won’t be necessary, because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 feet away from you.”

2004 Tokyo called and wants its vending machines back, guys.  And let's talk about calling these things bodegas to begin with, you assholes.

The major downside to this concept–should it take off–is that it would put a lot of mom-and-pop stores out of business. In fact, replacing that beloved institution seems explicit in the very name of McDonald’s venture, a Spanish term synonymous with the tiny stores that dot urban landscapes and are commonly run by people originally from Latin America or Asia. Some might bristle at the idea of a Silicon Valley executive appropriating the term “bodega” for a project that could well put lots of immigrants out of work. (One of my coworkers even referred to it as “Bro-dega” to illustrate the disconnect.) 
I asked McDonald point-blank about whether he’s worried that the name Bodega might come off as culturally insensitive. Not really. “I’m not particularly concerned about it,” he says. “We did surveys in the Latin American community to understand if they felt the name was a misappropriation of that term or had negative connotations, and 97% said ‘no’. It’s a simple name and I think it works.” 
But some members of the Hispanic community don’t feel the same way. Take Frank Garcia, the chairman of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who represents thousands of bodega owners. Garcia’s grandfather was the head of the Latin Grocery Association in the 1960s and was part of the original community of immigrants who helped settle on the term “bodega” for the corner store. “To me, it is offensive for people who are not Hispanic to use the name ‘bodega,’ to make a quick buck,'”Garcia says. “It’s disrespecting all the mom-and-pop bodega owners that started these businesses in the ’60s and ’70s.” 
In fact, Garcia would consider making it harder for McDonald to set up the pantry boxes within his community. “I would ask my members not to allow these machines in any of their properties in New York State,” Garcia says. “And we would ask our Hispanic community not to use the service because they are not really bodegas. Real bodegas are all about human relationships within a community, having someone you know greet you and make the sandwich you like.” 
According to Garcia, many bodega owners are suffering because of escalating rents and competition from delivery services like Fresh Direct. A service like this could further adversely affect them. “Bodegas can’t compete with this technology, because it is so much more expensive to have a brick-and-mortar store than a small machine,” Garcia says. “To compete with bodegas and also use the ‘bodega’ name is unbelievably disrespectful.

When your startup's public mission statement is to put thousands of corner stores out of business, you might want to pause and reassess why both the left and the right think it's time to start taking a sledgehammer to Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook the way Ma Bell got broken up when I was a kid.

More and more I'm thinking this is looking like a much better idea all the time.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Another week, another piece of the puzzle between Trump/Russia as we have a triple feature for you today.  First up, we find out now that back in April, Vladimir Putin pitched full and immediate normalization of relations between Washington and Moscow as allies to the Trump regime.

In the third month of Donald Trump’s presidency, Vladimir Putin dispatched one of his diplomats to the State Department to deliver a bold proposition: The full normalization of relations between the United States and Russia across all major branches of government. 
The proposal, spelled out in a detailed document obtained by BuzzFeed News, called for the wholesale restoration of diplomatic, military and intelligence channels severed between the two countries after Russia’s military interventions in Ukraine and Syria. 
The broad scope of the Kremlin’s reset plan came with an ambitious launch date: immediately
By April, a top Russian cyber official, Andrey Krutskikh, would meet with his American counterpart for consultations on “information security,” the document proposed. By May, the two countries would hold “special consultations” on the war in Afghanistan, the Iran nuclear deal, the “situation in Ukraine,” and efforts to denuclearize the “Korean Peninsula.” And by the time Putin and Trump held their first meeting, the heads of the CIA, FBI, National Security Council and Pentagon would meet face-to-face with their Russian counterparts to discuss areas of mutual interest. A raft of other military and diplomatic channels opened during the Obama administration’s first-term “reset” would also be restored. 
"This document represents nothing less than a road map for full-scale normalization of US-Russian relations,” said Andrew Weiss, the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, after reviewing the proposal provided by BuzzFeed News. 
Besides offering a snapshot of where the Kremlin wanted to move the bilateral relationship, the proposal reveals one of Moscow’s unspoken assumptions – that Trump wouldn’t share the lingering US anger over Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 election and might accept a lightning fast rapprochement. 
“It just ignores everything that caused the relationship to deteriorate and pretends that the election interference and the Ukraine crisis never happened,” said Angela Stent, a former national intelligence officer on Russia during the George W. Bush administration who also reviewed the document.

As of today, only a small fraction of the dozens of proposed meetings have taken place — and many of the formalized talks appear unlikely to happen as Moscow and Washington expel one another's diplomats and close diplomatic facilities in a tit-for-tat downward spiral. 
The Russian Embassy in Washington declined to discuss the document. “We do not comment on closed bilateral negotiations which is normal diplomatic practice,” the embassy said in a statement.
Officials at the White House and State Department declined to say who delivered the document but did not dispute its authenticity. They denied giving the Russians explicit indications that their proposal was feasible. When asked how Moscow got the impression that its terms might be acceptable, a spokesperson for the National Security Council cited misleading news reports about Trump’s infatuation with Russia. “Frankly, I would point more to media coverage than administration overtures,” the spokesperson said.

This is what Putin thought he was going to get for his trouble and effort in helping Trump win.  Poor Vlad should have known Trump always screws his partners, investors, and contractors over in the end, but then again so does Vlad and sometimes those guys end know.

Anyway, if there were somehow any doubts or misconceptions about what Putin expected from Trump, those just got put to rest.

And speaking of Russia and swaying the election in favor of Trump, they had to be doing it from somewhere after all.  Our good friends the Russians have long had a UN diplomatic compound in the Bronx and there's new scrutiny on activities going on there.

Russian diplomatic buildings have come under increased public scrutiny in the past year. After the U.S. accused the Kremlin of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Obama administration closed several Moscow-owned compounds, saying Russia had used them for intelligence purposes. When the Donald Trump administration took over, the U.S. further retaliated as Congress passed new sanctions against Moscow, prompting Russian vows to expel hundreds of American diplomats back home. That led the U.S. to another reprisal, this time closing Russia’s consulate general in San Francisco, along with two other buildings, one in Washington, D.C., and the other in New York. 
The residency in the Bronx, however, remains open, even though former U.S. and Russian intelligence officials suspect Moscow used it as part of the 2016 election operation. Steve Hall is one of them. He’s a retired chief of Russian operations for the CIA who oversaw the agency’s clandestine service in Moscow until last year. “It would be very likely that some of the activities that are now coming to light from the 2016 election cycle were indeed authored or supported by the Russian mission,” he says. “Not only in New York but also Washington and perhaps other places as well.” 
Complex operations require a safe haven, Hall says, somewhere people can live and communicate over a secure line back to Moscow. “If you’re doing cyberoperations,” he says, “you have to have a place where that equipment, those computers and those systems, can function.” 
A former Russian intelligence operative, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the subject’s sensitivity, agrees. “If an officer records an asset speaking during a private meeting, they may use this building to send that [conversation] back to Moscow, who will tell them if that asset is lying to them or is an informant.” He adds that the facility’s privacy and its close proximity to the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan make it the perfect place to host introductory meetings and other intelligence-related conversations. 
“What the Russians do in the United States is what you saw in 2016—they recruit and run assets,” says Naveed Jamali, a former double agent for the FBI who worked against Moscow in the 2000s. “They’re looking for people who are upwardly mobile with access, who may be able to influence policy.” 
Former FBI officials, who also asked for anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak on the record, say New York is the perfect location for Russia to recruit such assets and conduct intelligence operations. Moscow has an abundance of diplomatic facilities in the city, which allows it to protect more spies under diplomatic immunity than anywhere else in the country. The more diplomats Russia can place in a region, the easier it is to expand intelligence operations without American scrutiny. “Anywhere that there’s a Russian consulate,” says Jamali, “it is safe to assume that there are Russian spy handlers.” 
And if the U.S. ever tried to raid or shut down the facility, the former Russian operative claims, the residency—like other diplomatic facilities—is equipped with an incinerator to destroy sensitive documents. “If you were wondering why the annex in San Francisco had a cloud of black smoke above it [recently], it’s because the U.S. was inspecting the building [the next day],” he says.

Of course we have diplomatic compounds in Moscow and Russia too and the Russians are well aware of CIA spying there, but the question is how many of these compounds in the US played a role in Trump's win last November?

Finally, we revisit an old friend, Gen. Michael Flynn, to check to see how quickly the walls are closing in around him.

Democrats in Congress believe retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn illegally concealed more than a dozen foreign contacts and overseas trips during the process of renewing his security clearances, omissions they considered so serious they forwarded their findings to special counselRobert Mueller
“It appears that General Flynn violated federal law by omitting this trip and these foreign contacts from his security clearance renewal application in 2016 and concealing them from security clearance investigators who interviewed him as part of the background check process,” Reps. Elijah Cummings and Eliot L. Engel, both Democrats, wrote in a letter to Flynn’s attorney obtained by ABC News on Tuesday. 
The letter, a copy of which can be read below, highlights new information House investigators collected from executives at three private companies advised by Flynn in 2015 and 2016. The companies were pursuing a joint venture with Russia to bring nuclear power to several Middle Eastern countries and secure the resulting nuclear fuelbefore Flynn joined then-candidate Donald Trump on the campaign trail.

In other words, there's a solid chance that Michael Flynn was working for the Russians before joining the Trump campaign as a foreign policy expert, and that he continued to do so after being named Trump's National Security Adviser.  What was he up to with the Russians in the Middle East consulting on nuclear technology?

Maybe Mueller knows.  We'll see.


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