Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Last Call For Baked Alaska

If you thought Sarah Palin was the worst governor in the history of Alaska, Republican Mike Dunleavy's line item vetoes are making Palin look like Bernie Sanders by comparison, as he's cut nearly $450 million from the state's budget (a 10% austerity whack on top of steep cuts made by the state's Republican legislature) that targets everything from the University of Alaska to Medicaid funding to a petty move to cut funding for the state's court system after the state's supreme court ruled abortion was protected by the state constitution.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Friday cut $444 million from Alaska’s state’s operating budget, slashing services beyond the cuts already made by the Alaska Legislature in order to move closer to a balanced budget without raising taxes or reducing the Permanent Fund dividend.

The action drew immediate and impassioned criticism from many Alaskans, including those who rely on those services and those who provide them, and there were calls on lawmakers to override the vetoes. But the governor also drew praise from Alaskans who believe state government is too large.

The University of Alaska is the biggest target of Dunleavy’s line-item veto pen, losing $130 million in state support atop the $5 million cut approved earlier by lawmakers. The resulting reduction is nearly 41% of the state’s support for the university system. University officials said the cuts would be devastating to the UA system.

“I believe they’re going to be able to work through this ... I don’t believe they can be all things to all people, and I think that’s generally speaking, the state of Alaska. We can’t continue to be all things for all people,” the governor said Friday morning in a news conference that was broadcast statewide.

For the fiscal year that starts July 1, Medicaid spending was reduced by $50 million, the state’s senior benefits program was eliminated, a cruise ship pollution inspector program was eliminated, the Village Public Safety Officer program lost $3 million in funding and most state support for public broadcasting was erased.

The Legislature can override those decisions, but only if three-quarters of its 60 members agree. The deadline for an override is the fifth day of the special session that begins July 8.

Alaska House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said the governor’s budget presents an “imminent threat" to Alaskans.

“The fundamental question is now squarely before Alaskans. What’s more important: a healthy economy, our schools, university, and seniors, or doubling the Permanent Fund Dividend at the expense of essential state services? The governor has made his choice clear,” Edgmon wrote.

We'll see if legislators want to overrule the cuts, but I wouldn't hold out too much hope for that.  The list of Dunleavy's cuts are here, and thousands of University of Alaska employees are already being furloughed because the vetoes and the fact that the fiscal year started yesterday means there's no money to pay them.

Welcome to Kansas, Alaska!

It Doesn't Make Census

One of the Trump regime's arguments for telling the Supreme Court two weeks ago to ignore actual law, to simply defer to the government, and to make a summary judgment on the question of citizenship on the 2020 Census was that the government needed to start printing Census questionnaire forms no later than yesterday, July 1.

Of course, now that SCOTUS has ruled that the regime's argument is baloney, suddenly that July 1 deadline has been missed, and now the Trump regime is blaming the courts for the inevitable delay in the Census.

The Trump administration appears to have missed its own deadline Monday to start the printing of paper forms and other mailings that will play a key role in next year's constitutionally mandated head count of every person living in the U.S.

As of Monday evening, the 2020 census materials did not appear to have been officially approved by the White House's Office of Management and Budget for printing, according to a website tracking OMB's review process.

In another sign that production has not begun, Justice Department attorneys told a federal judge in Maryland on Monday that the administration has not reached a final decision on whether it will try to make another case in court for adding a hotly contested citizenship question to census forms.

U.S. District Judge George Hazel, who is presiding over recently reopened lawsuits over the question, has agreed to hold a hearing on the issue Tuesday, plaintiffs' attorneys Denise Hulett of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Shankar Duraiswamy of Covington & Burling tell NPR.

The delay in printing 1.5 billion paper census mailings could throw a wrench into a tightly wound timetable of final preparations for the 2020 census. The count is scheduled to begin officially in January in rural Alaska before rolling out to the rest of the country by April.

On Monday, President Trump said that his administration is continuing to look "very strongly" at delaying the census. Hours after the Supreme Court announced its decision last week to keep the citizenship question temporarily blocked, Trump tweeted that he wants to wait until the court has more time and information to "make a final and decisive decision."

Asked why it's so important to add a citizenship question, Trump said Monday from the Oval Office, "I think it's very important to find out if somebody is a citizen as opposed to an illegal."

Even Chief Justice Roberts said the Trump regime's argument that they were "only enforcing the Voting Rights Act" was totally contrived and dismissed it. It doesn't mean that the Trumpies can't come up with a better argument that he can feel good about, but for now, the scheme is as plain as day.

Besides, the Trump regime is required by law to start the actual Census counting by April 1, so we'll see how that goes.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

I have no clue as to why this is still in doubt, but the Russians helped Donald Trump win the White House with their propaganda and disinformation, and the massive pile of evidence making that point only continues to grow.

President Donald Trump and his allies have long insisted that Russian's 2016 propaganda campaign on social media had no impact on the presidential election.

A new statistical analysis says it may well have.

The study, by researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, does not prove that Russian interference swung the election to Trump. But it demonstrates that Trump's gains in popularity during the 2016 campaign correlated closely with high levels of social media activity by the Russian trolls and bots of the Internet Research Agency, a key weapon in the Russian attack.

"Our results show that the weeks when Russian trolls were accumulating likes and retweets on Twitter, that activity reliably foreshadowed gains for Trump in the opinion polls," wrote Damian Ruck, the study's lead researcher, in an article explaining his findings.

The study found that every 25,000 re-tweets by accounts connected to the IRA predicted a 1 percent increase in opinion polls for Trump.

In an interview with NBC News, Ruck said the research suggests that Russian trolls helped shift U.S public opinion in Trump's favor. As to whether it affected the outcome of the election: "The answer is that we still don't know, but we can't rule it out."

Given that the election turned on 75,000 votes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, "it is a prospect that should be taken seriously," Ruck wrote, adding that more study was needed in those swing states.

He points out that 13 percent of voters didn't make their final choice until the last week before the election.

Ruck said the correlation between troll activity and Trump's popularity remained true even when controlling for Trump's own Twitter activity and other variables.

"It turns out that the activity of Russian Twitter trolls was a better predictor of Donald Trump's polling numbers than his own Twitter activity," he wrote

Donald Trump won because he effectively got a third of a percentage point total in the right three states, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, all states we now know were heavily targeted by Russia's Internet Research Agency in 2016.

And now we have evidence that Russian social media propaganda was a leading indicator of Trump's perfidious success, not a trailing one.

We've got to get the guy out of office.


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