Sunday, March 18, 2018

Last Call For It's Mueller Time, Con't

At least one Republican is finally speaking out on the very real possibility that Trump will fire Robert Mueller and warning him not to do it.  Sort of.

Sen. Lindsey Graham gave a stern warning Sunday to President Donald Trump against firing special counsel Robert Mueller. 
"As I said before, if he tried to do that, that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency," the South Carolina Republican said on CNN's "State of the Union." 
"The only reason that Mr. Mueller could be dismissed is for cause. I see no cause when it comes to Mr. Mueller," Graham said, later adding he believed the Mueller was "doing a good job." 
Graham called for Mueller to be able to carry out his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election "independent of any political influence." 
"I pledge to the American people, as a Republican, to make sure that Mr. Mueller can continue to do his job without any interference," he said. 

Frankly, Graham won't be able to do much of anything about it by himself without GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan or GOP Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell.  This is John McCain and the tax bill all over again, which destroyed Obamacare's individual mandate even as McCain promised to fight against Trump's changes to the Affordable Care Act.

The actions of the GOP, especially Senators, leads me to believe that in the end they do not care.

I don't believe Lindsey Graham will protect Mueller and anyone who does is a fool.

School Funding Blues

Red states have tons of financial issues, you only have to look at what Sam Brownback and the GOP did to Kansas or what Matt Bevin has done in just over two years as governor of Kentucky.  Oklahoma schools are only open four days out of the week now and it's only going to get worse as red state economies are wrecked by Trump's trade war.

But that doesn't mean blue states don't have serious inequality issues.  West coast housing is in a massive bubble right now, and when that pops it's going to take millions of jobs and billions of dollars with it.  And Massachusetts still has a school funding disparity where the poorest districts are so underfunded that they are rightfully suing the state on civil rights grounds.

Twenty-five years after the state enacted its landmark Education Reform Act, which pumped millions of dollars into public education, enormous funding gaps exist between poor and affluent school systems. By many accounts, the gaps are widening. 
Now, Brockton is exploring a lawsuit against the state — challenging the funding system — and is lining up other school districts to join it. Worcester, another struggling city, decided last month to jump in. 
Brockton and Worcester school leaders view the funding inequities as a civil rights issue, depriving their students, who are largely poor, minority, and immigrants, the right to an equal education. The chief culprit, they argue, is the state’s formula for doling out aid, which favors poorer districts but has failed, by a wide margin, to keep pace with the actual cost of providing a public education. 
Real estate taxes fund most of the rest of school spending, a fact that further locks in inequality of opportunity. Wealthy communities have an obvious, systemic advantage; they can make up the difference and then some, while others, like Brockton, are barely scraping by. A legislative commission highlighted this divide 2½ years ago and implored lawmakers to update the state formula to reflect the true cost of an education. 
But the new legislation, which would likely require the state to spend hundreds of millions of additional dollars, has moved slowly on Beacon Hill. 
Superintendent Smith, who began as a teacher in Brockton four decades ago, said she never thought she would see the return of the days when Brockton had 38 students in a class, not enough desks, and not enough books. She said she spent much of last summer fretting about how deeply she would need to cut. 
“We waited all summer to see if this money would come in or that money,” Smith said in a recent interview. “It was just devastating all the way through. . . . We are hanging on by a thread.” 
State data reveal huge gulfs in the wealth of the state’s school systems. In Brockton, household income on a per-pupil basis is $95,000. Yet 30 miles away in Weston, it is $1.5 million per student. Brockton’s equalized property valuation on a per-pupil basis is $309,000; in Weston, $2.6 million. 
Overall, Brockton spent $14,778 per student, while Weston spent $24,458. Seventy percent of Brockton’s students are economically disadvantaged, lack English fluency, or have disabilities, which means they cost more to educate because they often require specialized programs or extra tutoring. In Weston only 24 percent of students fall into one of those categories, and yet the town spends vastly more on its schools — because it wants to and can.

At every turn, and it seems like in every state, it's black and brown students who have the worst schools because school funding is nearly always tied to property taxes and home values.  The rich kids get funding and good schools, the poor kids get cut programs, 20 year old textbooks that are falling apart, and schools that can't even keep the heat on.

Blue states are trying, sort of, to fix the problem.  But even people there are having to turn to the courts for relief.  The big difference there is Trump hasn't completely stacked the federal circuits in New England at the West Coast with conservatives.


Sunday Long Read: A Pipeline To The Lord

The Koch Brothers have been funding "bait-and-switch" propaganda rallies in black neighborhoods for years, where they use black churches and their congregations to tell residents that new pipelines going through their back yards will help them instead of destroy black communities.

In December 2016, gospel music stars descended on a local community center in Richmond’s East Highland Park neighborhood. Hundreds of residents from throughout the area had answered the call to attend a concert marketed as an opportunity for enlightenment, both spiritual and environmental.

As a sea of hands waved through the air as eyes closed in prayer, what many in the crowd didn’t know was that they were the target of a massive propaganda campaign. One of the event’s sponsors was a fossil-fuel advocacy group called Fueling U.S. Forward, an outfit supported by Koch Industries, the petrochemicals, paper, and wood product conglomerate founded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch.

The gospel program was designed to highlight the benefits of oil and natural gas production and its essential role in the American way of life. During a break in the music, a panel discussion unfolded about skyrocketing utility costs. The lobbyists and businesspeople on the panel presented a greater reliance on fossil fuels — billed as cheap, reliable energy sources — as the fix. Later, a surprise giveaway netted four lucky attendees the opportunity to have their power bills paid for them.

The event was one big bait and switch, according to environmental experts and local activists. Come for the gospel music, then listen to us praise the everlasting goodness of oil and gas. Supporting this sort of pro-oil-and-gas agenda sprinkled over the songs of praise, they say, would only worsen the pollution and coastal flooding that come with climate change, hazards that usually hit Virginia’s black residents the hardest.

“The tactic was tasteless and racist, plain and simple,” says Kendyl Crawford, the Sierra Club of Richmond’s conservation program coordinator. “It’s exploiting the ignorance many communities have about climate change.”

Rev. Wilson likens that gospel concert to the Biblical story of Judas accepting 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus. Like many African Americans in Virginia, he initially didn’t connect environmental policy with what he calls the “institutional racism” — think racial profiling, lack of economic opportunity, etc. — that can plague black communities nationwide. Now he considers “the sea level rising or the air quality in the cities” another existential threat.

So in response to the Koch Brothers’ attempt to sway their flocks, Wilson and others affiliated with black churches in Virginia have channeled their outrage into a new calling: climate advocacy. For Wilson, environmentalism has become a biblical mission.

“The climate is changing,” he says. “And it’s black folk in Virginia who will lose the most.”

If there's anything about climate change that you should know, it's that the first people to lose everything in the increasing magnitude of environmental disasters in America will be black and brown people.  You have to look no further than Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Harvey, or the double hurricanes in Puerto Rico where residents still don't have power after six months and nobody running our government seems to give a good god damn.

Disasters tend to lower prices of land quite a bit, and there's still plenty of it that black and brown people live on that American corporations still want to take. New Orleans lost tens of thousands of residents and it changed the political landscape of Louisiana.

The same thing is happening in Texas: if you think a blue wave is going to help Beto O' Rourke beat Ted Cruz in November, you're not factoring in the hundreds of thousands of displaced Houston residents from the city who are no longer in the state, or won't be able to prove they have the right to vote because their homes, IDs, and documents were washed away. It'll be mostly Democratic voters of color in America's fourth-largest city who won't be able to vote.

No rush to remedy that problem.  I figure Harvey will push back the bluing of Texas by a another decade or so, and Republicans who run the state will be just fine with that.

It's good to see black pastors figure out that they're the product being bought and sold, and that they are fighting back, but it's far too late.  Disaster capitalism in the Trump era is only going to get worse.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Yesterday I pointed out how Steve Bannon's data analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica, stole 50 million voter Facebook profiles in 2014 to use in 2016.

The election may not have been stolen, but it was manipulated with a precision that would have impressed even the most jaded sci-fi writers and futurists.  Now, combine Cambridge Analytica's voter data trove with Russia's Internet Research Agency, indicted by Robert Mueller for election meddling, and you start to see exactly how Trump's 2016 victory went down.

Cambridge had the data but didn't have the propaganda resources. IRA had the propaganda experience and the social media bot army but needed the voter data to seed their operation and pick their target groups for maximum effectiveness.

This, folks, was the most likely collusion.  It worked well enough to put Trump in the White house despite losing by more than 3 million votes.  And in my view, it's a question of when, not if, Robert Mueller can show a link between Cambridge and Steve Bannon and the Russian IRA operation.

It didn't even take 24 hours for the NY Times to find that link.

When the Russia question came up during a hearing at the British Parliament last month, Alexander Nix did not hesitate.

“We’ve never worked in Russia,” said Mr. Nix, head of a data consulting firm that advised the Trump campaign on targeting voters.

“As far as I’m aware, we’ve never worked for a Russian company,” Mr. Nix added. “We’ve never worked with a Russian organization in Russia or any other country, and we don’t have any relationship with Russia or Russian individuals.”

But Mr. Nix’s business did have some dealings with Russian interests, according to company documents and interviews.

Mr. Nix is a director of SCL Group, a British political and defense contractor, and chief executive of its American offshoot, Cambridge Analytica, which advised the Trump campaign. The firms’ employees, who often overlap, had contact in 2014 and 2015 with executives from Lukoil, the Russian oil giant.

Lukoil was interested in how data was used to target American voters, according to two former company insiders who said there were at least three meetings with Lukoil executives in London and Turkey. SCL and Lukoil denied that the talks were political in nature, and SCL also said there were no meetings in London.

The contacts took place as Cambridge Analytica was building a roster of Republican political clients in the United States — and harvesting the Facebook profiles of over 50 million users to develop tools it said could analyze voters’ behavior.

Cambridge Analytica also included extensive questions about Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, in surveys it was carrying out in American focus groups in 2014. It is not clear what — or which client — prompted the line of questioning, which asked for views on topics ranging from Mr. Putin’s popularity to Russian expansionism.

On two promotional documents obtained by The New York Times, SCL said it did business in Russia. In both documents, the country is highlighted on world maps that specify the location of SCL clients, with one of the maps noting that the clients were for the firm’s elections division. In a statement, SCL said an employee had done “commercial work” about 25 years ago “for a private company in Russia.”

Lukoil is run by Vagit Alekperov, a former oil minister under Putin.  Putin knows the guy pretty well, as both men have gotten very, very wealthy off of Russian oil.  Lukoil has done business in the US for a long time, if you remember that picture of Chuck Schumer and Putin eating Krispy Kreme in 2003, it was at Lukoil's grand opening of its first gas station in Manhattan.

And now Putin owns our government.

By the way, there's a 100% chance that Putin will win today's Russian elections and rule the country for another six years.
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