B12 Solipsism

Spreading confusion over the internet since 1994

Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

News of US politics

Federal Savings Bank and Paul Manafort

with one comment

The Federal Savings Bank
The Federal Savings Bank – FSB

There is a small brick building on the corner of Fulton and Elizabeth; on the third floor is the Federal Savings Bank. Unless you follow the news closely, you’ve probably never heard of this bank – it doesn’t advertise that I know of, nor does it maintain a high profile.

Federal Savings was born out of Generations Bank, a Kansas thrift bought by Calk and his brother John Calk in 2011. That bank, which had about $40 million in assets, was undercapitalized, facing regulatory restrictions and posting losses for five straight years, according to a 2012 story in ABA Banking Journal, an American Bankers Association publication.

Now headquartered on Chicago’s Near West Side, successor institution Federal Savings in 2012 said it was getting $18 million in tax breaks over 10 years from the state through the Economic Development for a Growing Economy, or EDGE, program as well as up to $4 million in training money from the city of Chicago.

The bank had 842 full-time workers as of the end of March. Steve Calk has said about 10 percent of the bank’s employees are veterans like him.

Federal Savings has three branches or loan production offices in Illinois: at its headquarters and in Lake Forest and Naperville, according to its website.

(click here to continue reading Report: Prosecutors demand records on Chicago bank’s loans to Paul Manafort – Chicago Tribune.)

Does that seem like a lot of employees for such a small bank? I wonder what they all do, and where they all fit? Who knows, I’m not a banking expert. Maybe many employees work remotely, or in Lubyanka Square?

Entrance to The Federal Savings Bank

Entrance to The Federal Savings Bank

Federal Savings Bank (FSB, not to be confused with the Russian FSB which is the successor organization to the KGB) is1 tight with the Donald Trump 2016 campaign, and with Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Tight enough that this small bank loaned 1/4 of its assets to Manafort to cover the payments on two of Manafort’s properties, despite his seemingly shaky credit (one property was in foreclosure after a loan default, the other property was not yet in foreclosure, but was also in default).

The Wall Street Journal reports:

New York prosecutors have demanded records relating to up to $16 million in loans that a bank run by a former campaign adviser for President Donald Trump made to former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The subpoena by the Manhattan district attorney’s office to the Federal Savings Bank, a small Chicago bank run by Steve Calk, sought information on loans the bank issued in November and January to Mr. Manafort and his wife, the person said. The loans were secured by two properties in New York and a condominium in Virginia, real-estate records show.

The Wall Street Journal reported in May that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had begun examining real-estate transactions by Mr. Manafort, who has spent and borrowed tens of millions of dollars in connection with property across the U.S. over the past decade. Investigators at both offices are examining the transactions for indications of money-laundering and fraud, people familiar with the matters have said.

The Journal reported that at the time of the loans from Federal Savings Bank, Mr. Manafort was at risk of losing a Brooklyn, N.Y., townhouse and his family’s investments in California properties being developed by his son-in-law, real-estate and court records show.

Mr. Calk was a member of Mr. Trump’s economic advisory panel who overlapped with Mr. Manafort on the Trump campaign. Messrs. Manafort and Calk knew each other before the campaign, a person familiar with the relationship has said.

The bank’s loans to Mr. Manafort equaled almost 24% of the bank’s reported $67 million of equity capital, according to a federal report. Around the time they were issued, Mr. Calk had expressed interest in becoming Mr. Trump’s Army Secretary.

(click here to continue reading New York Seeks Bank Records of Former Trump Associate Paul Manafort – WSJ.)

I walked over to this bank a few weeks ago, and it is sort of strange, at least to me. FSB is an odd kind of bank, only on the third floor of 300 N. Elizabeth, with a building security employee that won’t let you go up unless you are a member of the bank, plus they won’t allow photography in the lobby. Reading through FSB’s Yelp reviews, they seem a little sketchy, sending out loan application letters to veterans almost to the degree of spam and many other complaints of incompetence and worse. Of course, Yelp reviews aren’t the most reliable, but still, this bank has a lot of unhappy (civilian) clients.

For instance:

Horrible experience. They send letters every week to advertise being part of the VA IRRRL program. If you look, you’ll notice the phone number is different in every letter. So, you can’t trace if there’s been any complaints about the number. The representative got very defensive when he couldn’t answer why the number is different and after I asked to speak with a manager, he said he’d take me off the mailing list and hung up on me. After I tried calling back with no answer, I received a call from someone who apologized, and though he was very nice and informative, I still believe this company is very deceptive. The first guy told me they are VA owned and operated when I asked if they are from the VA. He then said its because 95% of their loans are to veterans. THAT DOES NOT MAKE THEM VA OWNED! I just learned they used to operate under the name Chicago Bancorp and they have a lawsuit against them from 2014, and the owners’ names are the same as now.

(click here to continue reading The Federal Savings Bank – 27 Reviews – Banks & Credit Unions – 300 N Elizabeth St, West Loop, Chicago, IL – Phone Number – Services – Yelp.)

Makes one wonder how FSB is making a profit, suddenly, after years of not making profits. Maybe there are other sources of income besides veterans and tax dollars from the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago?

The property in Brooklyn seems to be in distress:

Reference to home values in the area suggests that the outstanding principal on the loan secured by the townhouse at 377 Union Street may exceed the market value of the property. Reports suggest that the property has been empty for the last 4 years and is currently in disrepair (link). The mortgage secured by the Bridgehampton property indicates that the borrower was required to deposit $630,000 as additional collateral.  The mortgage secured by 377 Union Street indicates that the borrower was required to deposit $2.5 million as additional collateral.

(click here to continue reading 377 Union | Paul Manafort | Who is Steve Calk, and What Does He Have to Gain From Helping Paul Manafort?.)

Caviar Russian
Caviar Russian

One final weird thought: the modus operandi for Russian money laundering schemes frequently use real estate as the anchor. What better way to wash one’s dirty money than paying more than a property is worth? The seller is happy, and now the money is in the banking system. Especially if the purchaser is an LLC company, with limited public information available as to the source of the money.

A former senior official said Mr. Mueller’s investigation was looking at money laundering by Trump associates. The suspicion is that any cooperation with Russian officials would most likely have been in exchange for some kind of financial payoff, and that there would have been an effort to hide the payments, probably by routing them through offshore banking centers.

(click here to continue reading Mueller Seeks to Talk to Intelligence Officials, Hinting at Inquiry of Trump – The New York Times.)

From USA Today we read:

Since President Trump won the Republican nomination, the majority of his companies’ real estate sales are to secretive shell companies that obscure the buyers’ identities, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

Over the last 12 months, about 70% of buyers of Trump properties were limited liability companies – corporate entities that allow people to purchase property without revealing all of the owners’ names. That compares with about 4% of buyers in the two years before.

USA TODAY journalists have spent six months cataloging every condo, penthouse or other property that Trump and his companies own – and tracking the buyers behind every transaction. The investigation found Trump’s companies owned more than 430 individual properties worth well over $250 million.

Since Election Day, Trump’s businesses have sold 28 of those U.S. properties for $33 million. The sales include luxury condos and penthouses in Las Vegas and New York and oceanfront lots near Los Angeles. The value of his companies’ inventory of available real estate remains above a quarter-billion dollars.

Profits from sales of those properties flow through a trust run by Trump’s sons. The president is the sole beneficiary of the trust and can withdraw cash any time.

(click here to continue reading Trump property buyers make clear shift to secretive shell companies.)

and from Bloomberg:

But the Justice Department inquiry led by Mueller now has added flavors. The Post noted that the investigation also includes “suspicious financial activity” involving “Russian operatives.” The New York Times was more specific in its account, saying that Mueller is looking at whether Trump associates laundered financial payoffs from Russian officials by channeling them through offshore accounts.

In that context, a troubling history of Trump’s dealings with Russians exists outside of Russia: in a dormant real-estate development firm, the Bayrock Group, which once operated just two floors beneath the president’s own office in Trump Tower.

One of Bayrock’s principals was a career criminal named Felix Sater who had ties to Russian and American organized crime groups. Before linking up with the company and with Trump, he had worked as a mob informant for the U.S. government, fled to Moscow to avoid criminal charges while boasting of his KGB and Kremlin contacts there, and had gone to prison for slashing apart another man’s face with a broken cocktail glass.

In a series of interviews and a lawsuit, a former Bayrock insider, Jody Kriss, claims that he eventually departed from the firm because he became convinced that Bayrock was actually a front for money laundering.

Kriss has sued Bayrock, alleging that in addition to laundering money, the Bayrock team also skimmed cash from the operation, dodged taxes and cheated him out of millions of dollars.

(click here to continue reading Trump, Russia, and Those Shadowy Sater Deals at Bayrock – Bloomberg.)

which makes this real estate transaction, a few blocks away2 from FSB’s West Loop HQ so eye-catching:

The record purchase price for a West Loop condo is set to more than quadruple, with a buyer agreeing to pay more than $5 million for a not-yet-built penthouse on Washington Street.

The asking price is about $5.6 million for the home, which is under contract. The listing agents declined to provide any details on the buyer, whom they referred to only as “he.”

Construction is scheduled to start next month, with the building ready for occupancy by summer 2018.

The penthouse prices astonished Baird & Warner agent Nicholas Colagiovanni, who sold the previous record-setter, a 2,400-square-foot loft at 1000 W. Washington, which closed this week at $1.2 million. It’s one of four condos sold in the neighborhood that have sold for $1 million or more so far this year.

(click here to continue reading West Loop contract under contract at over $5 million – Residential News – Crain’s Chicago Business.)

So a condo, in a building not even under construction yet, is worth 4 times more than the previously record holder for most expensive, one on the same block? One wonders what sort of business the purchaser is in. Do they speak Russian? Hmm.

If I was an investigator working for Robert Mueller, I’d take a closer look at this, and similar property transactions.

Footnotes:
  1. or was []
  2. a ten minute walk, 15 via Google Maps []

Written by Seth Anderson

July 21st, 2017 at 1:53 pm

Abolish property tax exemptions for rich nonprofits

without comments

Dom Sub Invoc S Hedwigis
Dom Sub Invoc S Hedwigis.

David M. Simon elaborates on a point I’ve made before: wealthy non-profits like churches and universities shouldn’t be tax exempt.

Illinois is the land of special favors for those with lobbyists, connections or clout. Just look at the state’s property tax laws and the exemptions for rich nonprofits.

Retired homeowners living on fixed incomes pay hefty property taxes, despite the so-called “senior exemption.”

On the other hand, real estate owned by many rich nonprofits is completely exempt from property taxes. This includes private university campuses and their sports facilities, the gleaming skyscrapers of qualifying private hospitals and magnificent church cathedrals. And lots of other expensive real estate owned by other qualifying nonprofits. All completely exempt — and unfair.

Wealthy nonprofits with expensive real estate use and benefit from the same law enforcement, fire protection and other basic services as other property owners. These nonprofits may not principally use their real estate to make money, but neither do most families.

This system also dumps the hefty shares of the tax burden that these nonprofits should pay on the rest of us.

(click here to continue reading Abolish property tax exemptions for rich nonprofits – Chicago Tribune.)

Jesus Is A Hoarder
Jesus Is A Hoarder

What are these organizations doing for our society? Is it justified for them to be takers on the basis of whatever their so-called mission is? For instance, Scientology? Or college and professional sports stadiums? Not if I had a vote.

I had a 3 A.M. thought. Mayor Daley the Younger was bad for the city in a lot of ways1 but inarguably there was one aspect he was better at than the current administration: keeping the city gleaming, especially downtown, but everywhere really. Today, in many nooks and crannies of the city, there are mounds of McDonald’s wrappers, Starbucks coffee cups, cigarette butts, puddles of stale urine that haven’t been touched in years. Rain washes some of this detritus off the streets and sidewalks, but then it accumulates in stairways, alleys, and other locations. Nobody is power-washing the sidewalk, nobody is picking up the garbage that doesn’t make it into a garbage can.

What if in exchange for tax-exempt status, a non-profit had to adopt a city block and keep it clean? There could be some formula based on the annual financial report of the organization and the total number of city blocks. So the Heritage Foundation would be required to keep clean 5 blocks on the South Side somewhere near the Koch Brothers coal dust repository, while Northwestern Memorial Hospital would be responsible for 23 blocks in a cluster near Garfield Park. Or however the math works. 

Impractical, unlikely, and unwieldily, like most 3 AM thoughts…

Footnotes:
  1. enthusiastically privatizing city assets, allowing the police free rein to ride roughshod over civil liberties, frequently walking right up to the line of corruption, and even putting his toe over the line, and so on []

Written by Seth Anderson

July 12th, 2017 at 9:27 am

Posted in government,politics,religion

Tagged with ,

Senate Democrats Take a Harder Line Eventually

without comments

Lil Trump and Obama
Lil Trump and Obama (via)

Funny how the Democrats were so willing to work with Trump and the GOP, in contrast to Senator Mitch McConnell’s scorched earth approach in 2008. McConnell famously pushed his party to not vote with the Democrats a single time and to actively obstruct each and every possible initiative proposed by President Obama. Remember that guy named Merrick Brian Garland?

Rather than trying to bring Democrats to his side, Mr. Trump has instead waged a war of Twitter insults against lawmakers who oppose his agenda. He has picked fights with allies, proposed giant budget cuts to programs dear to many in his own party and inserted himself into the health care fight in ways that hurt congressional Republicans’ efforts, all under the cloud of a federal investigation into possible connections to Russian meddling in the election.

All this has undermined the notion, born just six months ago, that Mr. Trump’s surprising win had rewritten the political map, as Ronald Reagan did in 1980, in a way neither party could ignore. Confident that the political order is largely intact, Democrats have been emboldened to oppose his agenda, and Republicans, who adamantly refused to help Mr. Obama, are learning what turnabout feels like.

“Early in new administrations, members look to work together where they can,” said Scott Mulhauser, who served in senior roles for several Democrats and committees in the Senate over the past decade. “There was a postelection moment where this president might have reached toward the center, delivered on priorities like infrastructure that cut across party lines and reconfigured the electoral math. Instead, he made little effort to collaborate, lurched rightward to his base while taunting the center and the left, and is now feeling the consequences. You reap the discord you sow.”

Some Democrats, including Mr. Schumer, tried to appeal to Mr. Trump early on.

“I told him infrastructure and tax reform should have been the first thing out of the box,” said Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, whom both parties expected to be an early ally of Mr. Trump. But, Mr. Manchin said, the president chose a more partisan agenda. “Someone got to him,” he said.

Mr. Manchin spoke with the president early in his administration — leading to speculation that he might even land a job within it — but has since been largely ignored by White House officials and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, who has mostly iced out Democrats in this Congress.

(click here to continue reading Spurned by Trump, Senate Democrats Take a Harder Line – The New York Times.)

Partisanship is here to stay, the Democrats might as well accept it. The Democratic Party’s rank and file understand the new paradigm, too bad the party officials are seemingly stuck in 1948 mode.

Watch Your Damn Mouth.jpg

Watch Your Damn Mouth.jpg

Written by Seth Anderson

June 29th, 2017 at 9:47 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with ,

Firm Says Voter Data Set Left Unprotected Online

without comments

Democratic Primary Ballot
Democratic Primary Ballot

Kinda seems like a big deal, though this sort of information is in all sorts of databases, public and private…

A computer-security company said that a proprietary data set containing personal information on nearly 200 million American voters and their predicted voting behavior was left unprotected online, in a large cache of spreadsheets and other electronic files.

According to security company UpGuard, the information, which was available on a public server accessible by anyone via the internet, was compiled by consulting firm Deep Root Analytics, which helps Republican campaigns choose which voters to target with TV advertising.

The voter records, which are public information, were augmented with proprietary analysis about voter behavior by Deep Root, which tries to predict voters’ policy preferences and how likely they are to choose a particular candidate.

The voter information, portions of which were reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, includes the names and other personally identifying information about 198 million registered voters, which would appear to be nearly all of the estimated registered voters in the U.S., the company found. The information includes dates of birth, mailing addresses and party affiliation, as well as self-reported racial demographics, according to Mr. Vickery, but didn’t include social security numbers or financial information.

Registration information about individual voters is available from state and county election boards to anyone who requests it, though compiling it all in one place would take a significant amount of time and labor, and it wouldn’t contain any predictions about voter behavior.

 

(click here to continue reading Computer-Security Firm Says Voter Data Set Left Unprotected Online – WSJ.)

Written by Seth Anderson

June 19th, 2017 at 3:24 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with ,

A Sean Hannity Conspiracy Theory Finally Went Too Far

without comments

Don't Forget to Suffer In Brooding Silence
Don’t Forget to Suffer In Brooding Silence.

We live in a new world, a world where advertisers don’t want to be associated with toxic scum like Sean Hannity. Finally!

Sean Hannity has been peddling his Roger Ailes-inspired schtick for a long, long time. Fear, hatred, anger, and related emotions are the currency Hannity and his ilk traffic in. But these days, there is a precedent for consumers to directly contact the advertisers for these shows, and pressure the corporations to withdraw their support. Sometimes the corporation is enlightened enough to act on their own.

Cars.com, Casper, and several other companies pulled advertising from Sean Hannity’s Fox News program Wednesday as the host continued to push a conspiracy theory about Seth Rich, the Democratic National Committee staffer who was killed in Washington, DC, last year.

For days, Hannity has been peddling a theory that Rich’s killing was ordered by the Clintons in retaliation for leaking DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Police have said his death was the result of a robbery gone wrong.

“Cars.com’s media buy strategies are designed to reach as many consumers as possible across a wide spectrum of media channels,” a Cars.com spokesperson said in a statement to BuzzFeed News when asked about Hannity’s focus on the conspiracy.

“The fact that we advertise on a particular program doesn’t mean that we agree or disagree, or support or oppose, the content. We don’t have the ability to influence content at the time we make our advertising purchase. In this case, we’ve been watching closely and have recently made the decision to pull our advertising from Hannity,” the company added.

After learning its commercials ran on Hannity’s show, Crowne Plaza Hotels said it terminated its relationship with its third-party ad-buying agency.

“We do not advertise on Fox News, Hannity or any political commentary show. We have a specific do not advertise list for this type of programming. Unfortunately, our expectation to adhere to this list was not met by a third-party agency. Since we learned of the airings, we addressed the issue immediately and terminated our relationship with the agency. We have no plans to advertise on Fox News for the foreseeable future,” the company explained.

Ring, a video doorbell company, and Peloton, a cycling studio, announced that they had directed their media agencies to stop advertising on the show.

Mattress companies Casper and Leesa Sleep also said Wednesday that they had pulled ad buys from the show. Casper said it was “reassigning the allocation.”

The decisions came after Rich’s brother sent a letter to Hannity’s executive producer pleading for the show to stop spreading rumors about Rich’s death. On Tuesday, Fox News retracted a story tying Rich to Wikileaks and wrote in a statement, “The article was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require from all our reporting.”

(click here to continue reading Sean Hannity’s Seth Rich Obsession Just Cost Him Several Advertisers.)

Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic
Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic

Corporations want to sell their goods and services, not support hate speech. Thus in the last few years there have been several instances of advertisers fleeing toxicity: Sandra Fluke vs. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Breitbart, Bill O’Reilly, and probably other incedents too. The right wing tried these tactics on Stephen Colbert’s The Late Show, but without much success, so far.

Media Matters added:

Fox News’ two decades of peddling bigotry, misogyny, and extremism are finally coming home to roost. After former president and CEO Roger Ailes was forced out last year, Fox News parted ways with Bill O’Reilly and co-president Bill Shine last month after their central roles inside the network’s workplace culture of sexual harassment and racial discrimination were put in the spotlight and advertisers started to flee.

At Media Matters, we know Fox News. We’ve spent more than 10 years watching the network profit from a dangerous mix of hate, lies, and propaganda. Ad buyers may think that because Fox dropped O’Reilly and some of the old guard executives who enabled him, it’s safe to get back in the water there. But we know that the network’s new prime-time lineup — featuring the likes of Sean Hannity, Eric Bolling, and darling of the “alt-right” Tucker Carlson — is just as bad. They’re committed to the same “culture war” racism and misogyny that made Fox culture toxic in the first place — and as a federal investigation into shady practices at Fox ramps up, there are no indications yet that this network is any less risky for advertisers than it was before.

The bottom line is this: When companies knowingly advertise alongside hate, they incentivize and enable more hate, and they put their reputations on the line. Like our ads say, “It’s one crisis after another with Fox. Don’t forget: Hate, misogyny, and racism are bad for business.” Advertisers beware.

(click here to continue reading Media Matters Launches “Know What You’re Sponsoring” Ad Campaign Targeting Buyers At Upfronts.)

Hannity had been one of the main purveyors of a widely discredited theory that DNC staffer Seth Rich was shot and killed near his home in Northwest Washington last year because he had supplied DNC emails to WikiLeaks. District police say Rich died in a botched robbery. His parents have pleaded with news outlets to stop speculating about his death.

Facing a wave of criticism over its reporting, Fox News retracted an article on Tuesday that said Rich made contact with WikiLeaks before he was shot.

At first Hannity refused to follow suit, telling listeners on his radio show, “All you in the liberal media, I am not Fox.com or Foxnews.com; I retracted nothing.” On his Fox News show Tuesday evening he said he would back off the story “for now,” but he continued to post cryptic tweets about Rich’s death.

The left-leaning media watchdog Media Matters published a list of Hannity’s sponsors on Tuesday — a move many interpreted as a call to boycott his show.

Hannity responded in a series of tweets saying “liberal fascists” were trying to bring him down.

(click here to continue reading Sean Hannity loses advertisers amid uproar over slain DNC staffer conspiracy theories – The Washington Post.)

This Man Was Talked To Death
This Man Was Talked To Death

Even some at Fox question why Hannity is allowed free reign…

Fox News staffers have told CNNMoney that they are frustrated and embarrassed by Hannity’s peddling of the conspiracy. “It is disappointing because it drags the rest of us down,” one senior Fox News employee said earlier this week. Several staffers have also questioned why Fox News leadership continued to allow Hannity to spread an unproven theory on the network.

The most common theory circulating among staff is that Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of 21st Century Fox, doesn’t want to run the risk of losing Hannity by upsetting him. Fox News has already lost its two biggest prime time stars — Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly — in the span of just five months. Losing Hannity would be a crushing blow to the network, these sources said.

(click here to continue reading Sean Hannity’s conspiracy theory puts pressure on Fox – May. 24, 2017.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Seth Anderson

May 25th, 2017 at 9:01 am

Posted in Advertising,Business,politics

Tagged with ,

Democrats Can Retake the House in 2018 Without Converting a Single Trump Voter

without comments

Perpetual Transfers and Promotions
Perpetual Transfers and Promotions

Steve Phillips of The Nation has an interesting analysis on the prospects of the Democratic Party in 2018

If 84 percent of the people who voted Democratic in 2016 come back out and vote Democratic again in 2018, Democrats should be able to reclaim control of the House of Representatives. There is also a narrower path to recapturing control of the Senate, but that’s a topic for a future column (spoiler alert, the Senate path requires massive investment in and mobilization of Latinos in Nevada, Arizona, and Texas).

The results of the special elections in Kansas and Georgia have highlighted the path to victory in House races, but in order to seize this opportunity, progressives must focus their time, energy, and money on organizing and mobilizing core Democratic voters rather than squandering precious time and resources trying to convince Trump voters of the error of their ways.

Democrats need a net pickup of 24 House seats to re-take control, and there are 23 Republican incumbents in Congressional districts that were won by Hillary Clinton in November. There are another 5 seats where Clinton came within 2 percent of winning. Those 28 districts hold the key to retaking control of that chamber.

(click here to continue reading Democrats Can Retake the House in 2018 Without Converting a Single Trump Voter | The Nation.)

As somebody said on the internets (sic), the corporate media and the political chattering classes are treating the Trump base as if they are superdelegates. These reactionaries who voted for Trump despite all the warning signs of Trump’s incompetence are never going to be convinced to vote for progressive policies, why do we need to devote so much effort trying to cater to them? Are the Deplorables the only citizens who matter? Why not spend resources convincing the sometime voters who lean left to come to the polls instead?

A better future
A better future

More from Steve Phillips:

The essential mathematical concept that a shockingly large number of people in politics fail to understand is the difference between percentages and raw numbers. Reporters see that Tom Price, a Republican, received 60 percent of the vote in 2016 in the Georgia’s Sixth Congressional district and quickly conclude that the district is conservative. Percentages, however, are only of limited analytical utility (for example, if a stock price increases by 10 percent, that means a whole lot more to somebody who has a billion dollars of that stock—a $100 million increase in wealth—than it does to somebody who only has $100 and just gets a bump of just $10).

What the percentages masked in Georgia is that while the Democrat only received 38 percent of the vote in that district in 2016, that 38 percent equals 125,000 people. If Jon Ossoff had gotten 97,000 votes in the first round, we would now be calling him Congressman (and we may yet have that pleasure if his campaign mobilizes the core Democrats in the district in June). As it was, Ossoff received 92,000 votes and nearly pulled off the outright win.

This situation of high Democratic turnout making seats competitive enough to flip will replicate itself across the country heading into the 2018 midterm elections. If Republican turnout does fall significantly—as it has in the special elections and as it did during the last Republican presidential administration—then Democrats have a golden opportunity. Presuming a Republican decline of 36 percent—as occurred in 2006 during Bush’s presidency—then Democrats only need to get, on average, 84 percent of those who came out in 2016 to vote again in 2018.

While I am often frustrated by the Democratic Party’s centrism and lack of fire, I realize that the only way Trump’s corruption can get exposed is if the Democrats take control of chairmanships of major committes, which means the Dems have to win control of the House (and maybe the Senate too). Otherwise, the Republicans will continue stymie any real oversight of the Trumpies.

Written by Seth Anderson

April 27th, 2017 at 9:29 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with ,

Trump Inadvertently Cripples U.S. Coal Exports

without comments

Everything If You Want Things

Everything If You Want Things

The Cheeto-in-Chief’s shoot from the hip governing style has struck again, this time screwing his big time buddies, the US coal industry. I giggled.

On Monday, at the urging of the U.S. timber industry, Trump imposed tariffs of up to 24 percent on imports of Canadian softwood lumber. The issue of Canadian lumber imports has been vexed for years, but this latest hardball from Trump—especially at a time when he is threatening to pull the United States out of NAFTA—hit a nerve with Canada. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to stand up for Canada’s lumber industry, warning, “You cannot thicken this border without hurting people on both sides of it.”

Today, British Columbia Premier Christy Clark dropped a bombshell tweet, saying, “It’s time to ban thermal coal from BC ports.” In a letter to Trudeau, she wrote:

For many years, a high volume of U.S. thermal coal has been shipped through BC on its way to Asia. It’s not good for the environment, but friends and trading partners cooperate. So we haven’t pressed the issue with the federal government that regulates the port.

Clearly, the United States is taking a different approach. So, I am writing you today to ban the shipment of thermal coal from BC ports.

Clark goes on to note the success of the Beyond Coal movement in shutting down coal terminals on the U.S. Pacific Coast:

As you may know, over the past five years, every proposed coal export facility on the West Coast of the United States has been rejected or withdrawn, typically as a result of ecological or environmental concerns. . . . Oregon, Washington, and California have all made significant commitments to eliminate the use of coal as a source of electricity for their citizens. In fact, in August 2016, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed Bill 1279 that banned the provision of any state transportation funding for new coal export terminals.

Due to the lack of U.S. terminals, Clark says, U.S. exports through Canada have been increasing. Last year, she says, 6.2 million tons of U.S. thermal coal moved through the Port of Vancouver, and the number was expected to increase in the future.

(click here to continue reading D’oh! Donald Trump Inadvertently Cripples U.S. Coal Exports | Sierra Club.)

Maybe If You Slowed Down
Maybe If You Slowed Down

a little background about the lumber dispute which led to the imposition of tariffs: doesn’t seem like it is that clear of a “win”.

The average American’s stake in all of this — or the average Canadian’s, for that matter — is considerably less clear than the Trump administration’s rhetoric would imply.

As a lumber producer, Canada enjoys a basic advantage over the United States: a timber inventory that’s 13 times greater, per capita, according to Daowei Zhang, a professor of forest economics and policy at Auburn University who has made a career of his own studying this never-ending kerfuffle. Canada’s resource endowment, plus exchange rates and many other economic factors, helps explain the rise of Canadian softwood-lumber imports from a mere 7 percent of the U.S. market during the Korean War to 30 percent or so in recent years.

U.S. producers emphasize the fact that Canada’s forests are government-owned, whereas most U.S. timber stands are on private land. Provincial agencies set the price loggers must pay — delightfully known as the “stumpage fee” — for cutting down pines and other conifers, a.k.a., “soft” wood. U.S. producers say that this results in below-market stumpage fees for Canadian loggers — or, as the U.S. industry contends, a subsidy.

A 2105 Congressional Research Service report called evidence on this point “widespread, but inconclusive.” The U.S. side has not fared well in international arbitration. Even so, Canada has agreed to a series of temporary market-sharing agreements, the most recent of which expired in the waning days of the Obama administration, thus freeing the Trump team to take its new position, whether in earnest or as posturing ahead of a NAFTA renegotiation remains to be seen.

The best thing for the public, in both countries, would be to use market mechanisms to allocate timber resources to the maximum extent feasible, then allow free cross-border trade in lumber as in (almost) everything else. May the most efficient producer win!

Certainly, limiting imports of Canadian lumber, whether through tariffs or by negotiated agreement, will make U.S. housing more expensive, since Canada supplied roughly 31 percent of the U.S. market for softwood lumber in 2016 and softwood lumber accounts for about 7 percent of the construction cost of a home, according to the Washington-based National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

The NAHB, another D.C. lobby that the softwood-lumber dispute periodically activates, estimates that the jobs that Trump’s latest move saves in American saw mills would be offset elsewhere, resulting in a net loss of 8,241 U.S. jobs, $498.3 million in wages and salaries, and $350.2 million in taxes and other government revenue.

No doubt the housing lobby is a dubious proxy for the public, given its own dependence on government market manipulation and subsidies. Yet, in this case, the NAHB study illustrates a valid point: The Trump administration is not proposing to protect America from Canada; it’s proposing to protect certain American special interests from certain Canadian special interests.

(click here to continue reading Trump has set out to protect lumber workers. Instead, he’s helping lobbyists. – The Washington Post.)

So Trump purses his lip, imposes a tariff on Canadian lumber to show how “tough” he is against those meanie Canadians, and ends up screwing his coal producing buddies. Doh! Coal is a dirty, dying business, and shouldn’t be propped up in any circumstance.

Oh, and since I had to look it up: thermal coal is coal used for power generation, as opposed to metallurgical coal used mostly for steel production.

Written by Seth Anderson

April 27th, 2017 at 9:02 am

Posted in Business,environment,politics

Tagged with ,

America Discover Costs of Trump

without comments

I Am Going To Eat You - Paul Noth
I Am Going To Eat You – Paul Noth.

Another addition to the Trumpistan regret file…

For some of the businesses and government agencies that surround President Trump’s “Winter White House,” the effects of his frequent weekend getaways to Mar-a-Lago can best be told in numbers.

■ $200,000 in lost fuel sales at a large local airport in a single four-day visit this month.

■ 75 no-shows at a new restaurant in just one night.

■ $60,000 a day to pay overtime to sheriff’s deputies who guard the many closed roads, a tab that is about $1.5 million over all since the election.

■ 250 private flights grounded every day.

A month into his presidency, Mr. Trump arrived at Mar-a-Lago, his private club here, for a third weekend in a row this Presidents’ Day weekend. For the locals, that’s at least three days of clogged roads and strict security protocols that hurt local businesses and frustrate residents.

(click here to continue reading Mar-a-Lago Neighbors Discover Costs of Trump’s Visits – The New York Times.)

The Secret Service closed Lantana Airport on Friday for the third straight weekend because of the president’s return to his Palm Beach resort, meaning its maintenance companies, a banner-flying business and another two dozen businesses are also shuttered, costing them thousands of dollars at the year’s busiest time. The banner-flying company says it has lost more than $40,000 in contracts already.

The airport, which handles only small, propeller-driven planes and helicopters, is about 6 miles southwest of Mar-a-Lago, well within the 10-mile circle around the resort that’s closed to most private planes when he’s in town. Trump flies into Palm Beach International Airport, which is 2.5 miles from Mar-a-Lago, and remains opens as it handles commercial flights.

The airport and its 28 businesses have an economic impact of about $27 million annually and employ about 200 people full-time, many of them making about $30,000 a year. They don’t get paid when the airport is closed.

Miller is already losing a helicopter company, which is moving rather than deal with the closures. That will cost him $440,000 in annual rent and fuel sales.

Trump family’s lavish lifestyle could cost taxpayers hundreds of millions over 4 years

Jorge Gonzalez, owner of SkyWords Advertising, a banner towing service, said his company lost four contracts totaling $42,500 because of Trump’s visits. He wants exceptions made for three pilots to fly within the restricted zone when the president visits because it is where thousands of residents live and tourists stay.

“We have spent 10 years building this business,” said Gonzalez’s wife, Hadley Doyle-Gonzalez. “We just can’t pick up and move.”

 

(click here to continue reading Small airport businesses to Trump: Your Florida visits hurt – Chicago Tribune.)

Liberty Gold Pay Cash
Liberty Gold Pay Cash…

In New York City, businesses near Trump’s Dark Tower are suffering too, even such iconic stores as Tiffany’s. I’d guess a non-zero number of Tiffany’s clientele were reluctant or enthusiastic Trump supporters; convinced that no matter the costs to the world, at least Trump and Paul Ryan’s gang would enact tax cuts, specifically reduction in estate taxes. And yet…

Donald Trump is bad for Tiffany’s bling business.

Security barricades, protesters and a perpetual media encampment in and around Trump Tower since the election has sent sales plunging at the jeweler’s flagship store just steps from Trump Tower.

Tiffany said Tuesday that sales at its store on Manhattan’s Fifth Ave. tumbled 14% in November and December, compared with the same period last year, partly due to “postelection traffic disruptions.”

Businesses around Trump Tower have complained that the security zone around the president-elect’s building has cut back on foot traffic, made deliveries difficult and warded off customers.

 

(click here to continue reading Trump Tower security hurting sales at Fifth Ave. Tiffany & Co. – NY Daily News.)

These Premises Protected
These Premises Protected

America is a wealthy country, but less than six months ago, conservative yammers were constantly harping on how expensive President Obama’s travel costs were, and yet, now that So-Called President Trump is spending more in a month than Obama did in a year, silence. Strange, no? 

New York Senator Chuck Schumer has ramped up pressure on Donald Trump and the federal government to accept the mounting costs of protecting the president, the first family and their extended entourage.

Missile crisis by candlelight: Donald Trump’s use of Mar-a-Lago raises security questions Read more Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, inserted himself into the debate on Sunday, saying it costs $500,000 per day for nearly 200 police officers to protect Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, which houses the Trump family business headquarters and serves as the home of the first lady, Melania Trump, and the couple’s son, Barron. The senator estimated the cost could rise to as much as $183m annually.

At current estimates, even a four-year Trump administration could be heading for a billion dollars in taxpayer-borne costs – an eight-fold increase of the $97m Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, estimates it cost to protect Barack Obama over the two terms of his administration.

The estimated costs of guarding Trump Tower have varied from $1m a day (during daily protests before the inauguration) to around $100,000 for the first lady and Barron, 10, who are staying in New York until at least the end of the school year.

Schumer urged Trump to include the costs in the federal budget, noting that New York City has only been reimbursed $7m of $35m requested for the cost of protecting the tower for the period between election day and the Inauguration.

(click here to continue reading Cost of Trump family security vexes New York and Florida officials | US news | The Guardian.)

Written by Seth Anderson

February 21st, 2017 at 10:48 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with

Lord Emperor Tiny Hands Seems Unable To Perform Duties

without comments

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet Over DC
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet Over DC

I’ve laughed at this article a few times now, might as well record some of the jollies for your pleasure as well. With the caveat that since the report is based on “ interviews with dozens of government officials, congressional aides, former staff members and other observers of the new administration, many of whom requested anonymity.”, some of the revelations might be more truthy than fact…

Anyway, imagine, if you will, Lord Emperor Tiny Hands wandering around an empty White House in his robe, partially sashed, as his daily drug cocktail of Propecia, tetracycline and whatever else wears off…

Aides confer in the dark because they cannot figure out how to operate the light switches in the cabinet room. Visitors conclude their meetings and then wander around, testing doorknobs until finding one that leads to an exit. In a darkened, mostly empty West Wing, Mr. Trump’s provocative chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, finishes another 16-hour day planning new lines of attack.

Usually around 6:30 p.m., or sometimes later, Mr. Trump retires upstairs to the residence to recharge, vent and intermittently use Twitter. With his wife, Melania, and young son, Barron, staying in New York, he is almost always by himself, sometimes in the protective presence of his imposing longtime aide and former security chief, Keith Schiller. When Mr. Trump is not watching television in his bathrobe or on his phone reaching out to old campaign hands and advisers, he will sometimes set off to explore the unfamiliar surroundings of his new home.

All this is happening as Mr. Trump, a man of flexible ideology but fixed habits, adjusts to a new job, life and city.

Cloistered in the White House, he now has little access to his fans and supporters — an important source of feedback and validation — and feels increasingly pinched by the pressures of the job and the constant presence of protests, one of the reasons he was forced to scrap a planned trip to Milwaukee last week. For a sense of what is happening outside, he watches cable, both at night and during the day — too much in the eyes of some aides — often offering a bitter play-by-play of critics like CNN’s Don Lemon.

Before he was ousted in November as transition chief, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, the Trump adviser with the most government experience, helped prepare a detailed staffing and implementation plan in line with the kickoff strategies of previous Republican presidents.

It was discarded — a senior Trump aide made a show of tossing it into a garbage can — for a strategy that prioritized the daily release of dramatic executive orders to put opponents on the defensive.

Visitors to the Oval Office say Mr. Trump is obsessed with the décor — it is both a totem of a victory that validates him as a serious person and an image-burnishing backdrop — so he has told his staff to schedule as many televised events in the room as possible.

To pass the time between meetings, Mr. Trump gives quick tours to visitors, highlighting little tweaks he has made after initially expecting he would have to pay for them himself.

Flanking his desk are portraits of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. He will linger on the opulence of the newly hung golden drapes, which he told a recent visitor were once used by Franklin D. Roosevelt but in fact were patterned for Bill Clinton. For a man who sometimes has trouble concentrating on policy memos, Mr. Trump was delighted to page through a book that offered him 17 window covering options.

(click here to continue reading Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles – The New York Times.)

Paging through books of interior design options is fun for Donald, policy memos, not so much.

Donald Trump Likes to Sign Things 

and my favorite paragraph:

 But for the moment, Mr. Bannon remains the president’s dominant adviser, despite Mr. Trump’s anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council, a greater source of frustration to the president than the fallout from the travel ban.

Yes, Donald is mad because the Executive Order he signed and showed off wasn’t explained to him. Most people when they sign such documents read them first, especially short documents, but Donald is too busy padding around the White House in his robe to be bothered with such minutia.  Perhaps in the future, staffers should make a mock television news show where they read the text of important Executive Orders aloud so that Lord Emperor Tiny Fists can grasp the “details”.

Maybe Samantha Bee is correct, and Donald is functionally illiterate? 

Written by Seth Anderson

February 6th, 2017 at 8:02 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with

Judge Blocks Part of Trump’s Immigration Order

without comments

No Borders No Nations
No Borders No Nations! 

As you’ve probably heard, there was another poorly thought out Executive Order signed by the Lord Emperor Tiny Hands, suddenly banning travel to the US from several countries, quickly stayed by federal judges. One wonders how much thought went into the ban, was it crafted on the toilet using a non-secured Android phone

Around the country, people gathered at airports to protest the travel ban. The Chicago Tribune reported that protesters gathered at O’Hare International Airport after more than a dozen travelers were detained. The Star Tribune reported some 100 people protesting at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport although there were no reports of people detained there. In San Francisco, The Mercury New reported hundreds gathered at San Francisco International Airport as three travelers were detained. And at Kennedy International Airport in New York, The New York Times reported that thousands protesters spread along the parking apron and on three floors of a parking deck shouting their protests.

(click here to continue reading Federal judge bars US from removing legal residents detained at Dulles | WTOP.)

A federal judge in Brooklyn came to the aid of scores of refugees and others who were trapped at airports across the United States on Saturday after an executive order signed by President Trump, which sought to keep many foreigners from entering the country, led to chaotic scenes across the globe.

The judge’s ruling blocked part of the president’s actions, preventing the government from deporting some arrivals who found themselves ensnared by the presidential order. But it stopped short of letting them into the country or issuing a broader ruling on the constitutionality of Mr. Trump’s actions.

The high-stakes legal case played out on Saturday amid global turmoil, as the executive order signed by the president on Friday afternoon slammed shut the borders of the United States for an Iranian scientist headed to a lab in Massachusetts, a Syrian refugee family headed to a new life in Ohio and countless others across the world.

Mr. Trump — in office just a week — found himself accused of constitutional and legal overreach by two Iraqi immigrants, defended by the American Civil Liberties Union. Meanwhile, large crowds of protesters turned out at airports around the country to denounce Mr. Trump’s ban on the entry of refugees and people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

(click here to continue reading Judge Blocks Part of Trump’s Immigration Order – The New York Times.)

Resist (hat)
Resist (hat)

The Executive Order didn’t go through normal vetting channels, so people were on flights that were perfectly legal when they began, but became forbidden by the time they landed. Incompetent White House, or chaos by design? Only Steve Bannon knows.

It wasn’t until Friday — the day Trump signed the order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and suspending all refugee admission for 120 days — that career homeland security staff were allowed to see the final details of the order, a person familiar with the matter said. The result was widespread confusion across the country on Saturday as airports struggled to adjust to the new directives. In New York, two Iraqi nationals sued the federal government after they were detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and 10 others were detained as well.

The policy team at the White House developed the executive order on refugees and visas, and largely avoided the traditional interagency process that would have allowed the Justice Department and homeland security agencies to provide operational guidance, according to numerous officials who spoke to CNN on Saturday.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Department of Homeland Security leadership saw the final details shortly before the order was finalized, government officials said.
Friday night, DHS arrived at the legal interpretation that the executive order restrictions applying to seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan and Yemen — did not apply to people with lawful permanent residence, generally referred to as green card holders.

The White House overruled that guidance overnight, according to officials familiar with the rollout. That order came from the President’s inner circle, led by Stephen Miller and Steve Bannon. 

…Before the President issued the order, the White House did not seek the legal guidance of the Office of Legal Counsel, the Justice Department office that interprets the law for the executive branch. A source said the executive order did not follow the standard agency review process that’s typically overseen by the National Security Council, though the source couldn’t specifically say if that included the decision to not have the order go through the Office of Legal Counsel.

Separately, a person familiar with the matter said career officials in charge of enforcing the executive order were not fully briefed on the specifics until Friday. The officials were caught off guard by some of the specifics and raised questions about how to handle the new banned passengers on US-bound planes.

Regarding the green card holders and some of the confusion about whether they were impacted, the person familiar with the matter said if career officials had known more about the executive order earlier, some of the confusion could have been avoided and a better plan could be in place.

But even after the Friday afternoon announcement, administration officials at the White House took several hours to produce text of the action until several hours after it was signed. Adviser Kellyanne Conway even said at one point it was not going to be released before eventually it did get sent out.
Administration officials also seemed unsure at first who was covered in the action, and a list of impacted countries was only produced later on Friday night, hours after the President signed the document at the Pentagon.

(click here to continue reading Inside the confusion of the Trump executive order and travel ban – CNNPolitics.com.)

As an aside, usually I am content to read my news rather than some television talking head read it out loud to me; yet certain stories benefit from seeing live footage of the event as it unfolds. Natural disasters, perhaps, and certainly protests. Last night I flipped through all the news channels I could think of, and none had any live coverage of the raucous protests in airports around the country. Not MSNBC, PBS, CNN, BBC even. I didn’t try Fox, they were probably suggesting the protestors should all be rounded up into camps. Ironically, CNN was broadcasting its documentary on the 1980s, and as I flipped it on, Ted Turner was talking about what a disruption having a 24 hour network would be. Ironic since there was a genuine news story going on at that very moment, and CNN wasn’t broadcasting any live coverage.

Also, I was pleased that the ACLU jumped into action, and planned to give them another donation (even though I just had given them some money in December). Apparently, I wasn’t alone, as their website was being hammered by traffic…ACLU 2017 01 28 at 9 06 21 PM

ACLU 2017-01-28 at 9.06.21 PM

I’ll have to donate to them later in the week.

The American Civil Liberties Union announced Saturday evening that a federal court in New York had issued an emergency stay on President Trump’s executive order banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The court’s decision, which will affect people who have been detained in airports, came after the ACLU and other activist groups filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of two Iraqis who were held at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York as a result of the order.

“I hope Trump enjoys losing. He’s going to lose so much we’re going to get sick and tired of his losing,” ACLU national political director Faiz Shakir told Yahoo News shortly after the decision was announced.

(click here to continue reading ACLU wins legal challenge against immigration ban: ‘Hope Trump enjoys losing’.)

Written by Seth Anderson

January 29th, 2017 at 10:57 am

Posted in government,politics

Tagged with ,

Uneasy About the Future, Readers Turn to Dystopian Classics

without comments

Dystopian Future Reading
Dystopian Future Reading

It seems I had the same thought as many people.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is among several classic dystopian novels that seem to be resonating with readers at a moment of heightened anxiety about the state of American democracy. Sales have also risen drastically for George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and “1984,” which shot to the top of Amazon’s best-seller list this week.

Other novels that today’s readers may not have picked up since high school but have landed on the list this week are Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel, “Brave New World,” a futuristic dystopian story set in England in 2540; and Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel “It Can’t Happen Here,” a satire about a bellicose presidential candidate who runs on a populist platform in the United States but turns out to be a fascist demagogue. On Friday, “It Can’t Happen Here” was No. 9 on Amazon; “Brave New World” was No. 15.

The sudden boom in popularity for classic dystopian novels, which began to pick up just after the election, seems to reflect an organic response from readers who are wary of the authoritarian overtones of some of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric. Interest in “1984” surged this week, set off by a series of comments from Mr. Trump, his press secretary, Sean Spicer, and his adviser Kellyanne Conway, in which they disputed the news media’s portrayal of the crowd size at his inauguration and of his fractious relationship with American intelligence agencies. Their insistence that facts like photographs of the crowd and his public statements were up for interpretation culminated in a stunning exchange that Ms. Conway had on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” when she said that Mr. Spicer had not lied about the crowd size but was offering “alternative facts.”

To many observers, her comment evoked Orwell’s vision of a totalitarian society in which language becomes a political weapon and reality itself is defined by those in power. The remarks prompted a cascade of Twitter messages referencing Orwell and “1984.” According to a Twitter spokesman, the novel was referenced more than 290,000 times on the social network this week. The book began climbing Amazon’s best-seller list, which in turn drove more readers to it, in a sort of algorithm-driven feedback loop. It amounted to a blizzard of free advertising for a 68-year-old novel.

(click here to continue reading Uneasy About the Future, Readers Turn to Dystopian Classics – The New York Times.)

1984 was out of print, but I bought a copy of it from Amazon that will arrive whenever. Of these eight books, I have read several, but it had been years and years. For whatever reason, I have not ever read Sinclair Lewis’s, “It Can’t Happen Here”, nor Czesław Miłosz’s,”The Captive Mind”, nor more than a couple of excerpts of Hannah Arendt’s “The Origin of Totalitarianism”. 

In comments to the above photo of dystopian books on Flickr, I asked what other books I should add to the list,  commenters suggested “We”, by Russian writer Yevgeny Zamyatin, completed in 1921 as well as “The Road” by American writer Cormac McCarthy. Any others you can think of? 

So if I’m grimmer than normal about Trumpism, you’ll know I’ve been reading from this pile…

Written by Seth Anderson

January 28th, 2017 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Books,politics,Suggestions

Tagged with , ,

President Obama’s Memorable Parting Words

without comments

Fist Bumps
Fist Bumps

I don’t think Trump can even figure out how to get to the White House without whining about something or other. Meanwhile, one of the nation’s best political orators is leaving office after eight years, and the majority of the nation is mourning already.

George Packer writes about President Obama’s last major speech in office (YouTube if you didn’t already watch it, in its echoey greatness):

Obama’s farewell address from Chicago last week was one of the very best speeches of his Presidency. He had one overriding message: that American democracy is threatened—by economic inequality, by racial division, and, above all, by the erosion of democratic habits and institutions. Its urgency gave the speech an unusual rhetorical punch: “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life”; “If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves”; “We sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them.” Lines like these might not prove deathless, but because of their bluntness, and because the times are desperate, they hit hard.

Politicians are always letting the public off the hook—it might be the most unforgivably dishonest thing they do. Obama was more candid than most, reminding Americans that the quality of our democracy depends on us—on our capacity to reason and to empathize, our attachment to facts, our willingness to get our hands dirty even when the political game seems sordid or futile. The key word of the speech was “citizen,” which Obama called “the most important office in a democracy,” one that he’ll embrace in his post-Presidency. His exhortations and implications of blame were nonpartisan: conservatives might have heard their denial of science called out, while liberals might have been stung by the allusion to fair-weather activism. Whites and non-whites alike were urged to imagine inhabiting a different person’s skin.

Most Presidential farewell addresses are quickly forgotten. Hardly anyone knows that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush both gave one, as did Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Those which endure are memorable for their warnings. When the new republic was still taking shape, in 1796, George Washington cautioned against domestic factionalism and foreign entanglements. At the height of the Cold War, in 1961, Dwight Eisenhower described a new “military-industrial complex” and a “scientific-technological élite” that were taking over public policy. Obama’s warning in Chicago—owing to its context, ten days before the Inauguration of President Donald Trump—felt even more dire. He quoted from Washington’s address, but not its most obviously relevant passage, on the danger of partisan demagoguery: “It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.”

(click here to continue reading President Obama’s Memorable Parting Words – The New Yorker.)

Written by Seth Anderson

January 18th, 2017 at 10:39 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with

Republicans created the Dossier that Became a Crisis for Donald Trump

without comments

The Pope is Concerned About Putin and Trump
The Pope is Concerned About Putin and Trump

I wonder if Trump’s people will figure out who gave Fusion GPS money to create this dossier? Jeb Bush would be the most obvious – his dad was head of CIA, and even a President, but it could have been Ted Cruz, could have been the Koch brothers, or someone else entirely, one of the Never Trump team. When Trump’s minions get wind of this story, will they even tell Trump? Or just ignore it and hope it doesn’t ever get discussed on cable news?

Trump PEEOTUS
Trump PEEOTUS

The Failing New York Times reports:

Seven months ago, a respected former British spy named Christopher Steele won a contract to build a file on Donald J. Trump’s ties to Russia. Last week, the explosive details — unsubstantiated accounts of frolics with prostitutes, real estate deals that were intended as bribes and coordination with Russian intelligence of the hacking of Democrats — were summarized for Mr. Trump in an appendix to a top-secret intelligence report.

The consequences have been incalculable and will play out long past Inauguration Day. Word of the summary, which was also given to President Obama and congressional leaders, leaked to CNN Tuesday, and the rest of the media followed with sensational reports.

The story began in September 2015, when a wealthy Republican donor who strongly opposed Mr. Trump put up the money to hire a Washington research firm run by former journalists, Fusion GPS, to compile a dossier about the real estate magnate’s past scandals and weaknesses, according to a person familiar with the effort. The person described the opposition research work on condition of anonymity, citing the volatile nature of the story and the likelihood of future legal disputes. The identity of the donor is unclear.

Fusion GPS, headed by a former Wall Street Journal journalist known for his dogged reporting, Glenn Simpson, most often works for business clients. But in presidential elections, the firm is sometimes hired by candidates, party organizations or donors to do political “oppo” work — shorthand for opposition research — on the side.

The former journalist and the former spy, according to people who know them, had similarly dark views of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, a former K.G.B. officer, and the varied tactics he and his intelligence operatives used to smear, blackmail or bribe their targets.

As a former spy who had carried out espionage inside Russia, Mr. Steele was in no position to travel to Moscow to study Mr. Trump’s connections there. Instead, he hired native Russian speakers to call informants inside Russia and made surreptitious contact with his own connections in the country as well.

Mr. Steele wrote up his findings in a series of memos, each a few pages long, that he began to deliver to Fusion GPS in June and continued at least until December. By then, the election was over, and neither Mr. Steele nor Mr. Simpson was being paid by a client, but they did not stop what they believed to be very important work. (Mr. Simpson declined to comment for this article, and Mr. Steele did not immediately reply to a request for comment.)

(click here to continue reading How a Sensational, Unverified Dossier Became a Crisis for Donald Trump – The New York Times.)

Written by Seth Anderson

January 11th, 2017 at 11:26 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with ,

House Republicans Back Down on Bid to Gut Ethics Office For Now

without comments

Already Waited Too Long
Already Waited Too Long

Well, that little trip down Unethical Lanewas sidetracked quickly…

House Republicans, facing a storm of bipartisan criticism, including from President-elect Donald J. Trump, moved early Tuesday afternoon to reverse their plan to kill the Office of Congressional Ethics. It was an embarrassing turnabout on the first day of business for the new Congress, a day when party leaders were hoping for a show of force to reverse policies of the Obama administration.

The reversal came less than 24 hours after House Republicans, meeting in a secret session, voted, over the objections of Speaker Paul D. Ryan, to eliminate the independent ethics office. It was created in 2008 in the aftermath of a series of scandals involving House lawmakers, including three who were sent to jail.

Mr. Trump criticized House Republicans on Tuesday for their move to gut the office, saying they should focus instead on domestic policy priorities such as health care and a tax overhaul.

(click here to continue reading House Republicans Back Down on Bid to Gut Ethics Office – The New York Times.)

Tabled for now, but I expect we’ll hear more about the Office of Congressional Ethics soon…

Written by Seth Anderson

January 3rd, 2017 at 2:05 pm

Posted in politics

Tagged with , ,

Sneak Attack on Ethical Restrictions: Republicans vote to dismantle independent ethics body

without comments

Get Out of Jail Free
Get Out of Jail Free

And so it begins – the very first vote the newly installed House Republicans take is a vote to encourage the next generation of Jack Abramoffs. Amazingly brazen, why else conduct this vote in secret, on a national holiday no less? Symbolic, and telegraphing where the GOP wants to focus their energy – on  looting the public trough, without consequence…

House Republicans have gutted an independent ethics watchdog, putting it under their own control, in a secret ballot hours before the new Congress convened for the first time.

The unheralded vote severely weakens the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which was set up after a lobbying scandal in 2008 to investigate corruption allegations against members of Congress. The move, led by the head of the House judiciary committee, defied the Republican congressional leadership and was reportedly supported by several legislators currently under OCE scrutiny.

Republicans’ plan to erase Obama legacy starts with chipping away at Obamacare Read more The amendment was voted through by the House Republican conference over the New Year’s holiday with no prior notice or debate and inserted in a broad rules package the House will vote for on Tuesday. It turns the formerly independent OCE into the Office of Congressional Complaint Review, a subordinate body to the House Ethics Committee, which is currently run by the Republican majority and has a long history of overlooking charges of malfeasance by lawmakers.

The new body will not be able to receive anonymous tips from members of Congress or make its findings public.

The vote comes at a time when the Republicans control all three branches of government and are seeking to remove some of the residual constraints on their powers.

(click here to continue reading Outcry after Republicans vote to dismantle independent ethics body | US news | The Guardian.)

What reason do they have to hide their actions? Draining the swamp in the dark I guess

But the House Ethics Committee, even if it dismisses the potential ethics violation as unfounded, is required to release the Office of Congressional Ethics report detailing the alleged wrongdoing, creating a deterrent to such questionable behavior by lawmakers.

Under the new arrangement, the Office of Congressional Complaint Review could not take anonymous complaints, and all of its investigations would be overseen by the House Ethics Committee itself, which is made up of lawmakers who answer to their own party.

The Office of Congressional Complaint Review would also have special rules to “better safeguard the exercise of due process rights of both subject and witness,” Mr. Goodlatte said. The provision most likely reflects complaints by certain lawmakers that the ethics office’s staff investigations were at times too aggressive, an allegation that watchdog groups dismissed as evidence that lawmakers were just trying to protect themselves.

“O.C.E. is one of the outstanding ethics accomplishments of the House of Representatives, and it has played a critical role in seeing that the congressional ethics process is no longer viewed as merely a means to sweep problems under the rug,” said a statement from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an ethics watchdog group that has filed many complaints with the Office of Congressional Ethics

(click here to continue reading With No Warning, House Republicans Vote to Gut Independent Ethics Office – The New York Times.)

Talking Points Memo is trying to figure out how the little creeps actually voted:

As I noted last night, the House GOP caucus just voted to kill the independent Office of Congressional Ethics (it loses its independence and now needs Congress’s permission to investigate anyone or report anything it finds). But the vote is secret. But you can find out! Yes, you can! If you live in a district represented by a Republican member of Congress you can call their office and ask how they voted on the Goodlatte proposal. Here are the details of what happened. And here’s an example of how we did this back the last time something like this happened back in 2004.

Call your Republican Rep. and ask how the member voted on the Goodlatte proposal. Remember, always be polite and courtesy. You’re not speaking to the member. You’re more than likely speaking to a junior staffer who is just their to do their job. Being polite but firm is not only more effective it’s just the right thing to do.

Remember Trump’s on-board with Ryan on this (even though Ryan nominally warned against the decision). Kellyanne Conway said this morning on GMA that ditching oversight was necessary because “There’s been an overzealousness in some of the processes over the years.”

As I wrote last night, the last time the GOP achieved unified Republican control in Washington, their first move was to loosen ethics oversight. First they pushed through the “DeLay Rule”, which allowed House leaders to stay1 in their leadership roles while under indictment. A couple months later, when putting through the rules for the new Congress (the same step that happened last night), they created another new rule which held that any question that deadlocked the Ethics Committee was automatically dismissed. In other words, unless a member of the party of the person being investigated was willing to support the investigation, it was automatically dismissed.

(click here to continue reading Help Us Count the Vote!.)

I think we should start referring to our nation as America-stan…

It Pays to Play
It Pays to Play

and a bit of history from Josh Marshall:

Before we get to what happened this evening, a bit more background. When the Democrats took back control of the House in the 2006 wave election, they did so with the rampant corruption of the congressional GOP as one of their major campaign themes. So in the Spring of 2008 they created Office of Congressional Ethics, a congressional oversight office which was independent of the members themselves. The House Ethics Committee is supposed to handle ethics questions. But it’s run by members and was generally as good at sweeping ethics issues under the rug as addressing them. More generously, in an era of intense partisanship, it was often simply un-runnable. In any case, the OCE was able to do a lot of things the Ethics Committee could not. It could look into anything it wanted to. It could issue recommendations to the Ethics Committee.

This may all seem a bit like inside baseball. But in the world of oversight, it was actually a pretty big step in having someone with some actual power keeping an eye on members.

…in a sort of kick off to the Trump Era, the House GOP Caucus voted to put the OCE back under the authority of the Ethics Committee, which of course has a GOP Chair. Basically that means abolishing the OCE since the whole point of the OCE is that it’s independent of the Committee. One of the sales’ points for this new set up is that it “provide[s] protection [for Members of Congress] against disclosures to the public or other government entities” of the results of any investigations. In other words, if wrongdoing is found the newly-neutered OCE can’t tell anyone. Awesome. They can’t have a press person, issue reports, do anything without the say of the Ethics Committee. In other words, the whole thing is a joke, both the new version of the OCE (now the ““Office of Congressional Complaint Review”) and this whole move. But it’s the Trump Era. Members want to get down to business, get their piece of the action and not have anyone giving them any crap. Just like the big cheese down Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s the Trump Era.

Now, here’s the good part, as it was with the DeLay Rule, the vote is secret. Why? Because this is a caucus vote, i.e., not an actual congressional vote. Let me digress for a moment and explain just one more bit of detail. With each new Congress the majority puts together a bundle of rules that will govern how the House works during that Congress. Mostly this just puts the old rules back in place. But there are always a few changes. All those rules get bundled into one bill and it’s the first thing or one of the first to get voted on. That bill gets approved on a party line vote, just like the Speaker gets elected. If the caucus votes for it, it’s a sure thing. So even though this was just a secret caucus vote, in effect it is binding as law since all Republicans will vote for it in the official vote.

(click here to continue reading Back to The Auction House.)

Footnotes:
  1. corrected typo []

Written by Seth Anderson

January 3rd, 2017 at 9:21 am

Posted in politics

Tagged with , , ,