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Archive for January 6th, 2017

Perhaps Congress should seriously investigate the hack issue

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Sam Biddle writes at The Intercept:

After President Obama and Donald Trump were briefed on a classified report explaining the United States Intelligence Community’s belief that Russia hacked the Democratic Party, the public has received its own, declassified version. Unfortunately for us, it appears virtually anything new and interesting was removed in the redaction process, leaving us without the conclusive, technical evidence we were hoping for — and that the American people are owed. Failing a last minute change of heart, the next best (and perhaps last) hope for the government to show us its work would be a formal, bipartisan probe.

The immensely confident report, based on the combined findings of the NSA, CIA, and FBI, includes virtually no new details about why the nation’s intelligence agencies attributed the attacks to the Russian government (and in some cases, directly to Vladimir Putin), other than a reference to the involvement of the “Guccifer 2.0″ hacker persona, a fact they had been open about since the hacked documents first started spreading. Instead, we’re left with this, which does not move the evidentiary ball forward even an inch:

We assess with high confidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election, the consistent goals of which were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.

We don’t even get an allusion to NSA SIGINT, or a brief reference to the existence of more evidence — the report is all confidence, no justification. That confidence and consensus has meaning on its own — and, certainly, the claims are serious — but it is no substitute for some public understanding of what caused that confidence.

When it comes to the assessment that “Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him,” all three agencies are in agreement, though the NSA believes it with only a “moderate” level of confidence. For this and a thousand other reasons, it would be tremendously helpful to know what led them to these conclusions, the severity of which will likely shape U.S.-Russian relations for decades. Presumably, the classified version presented to the the president, president-elect, and certain members of Congress, would include at least some of the technical material behind the claims. But we can’t see that version, the report explains: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 January 2017 at 5:46 pm

Trump Already Demanding Leak Investigation and He’s Not Even President Yet

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Alex Emmons points out in The Intercept how Obama laid the foundation and readied to tools to clamp down on a free press, and Trump will exploit Obama’s work to the fullest. Read the full report. The latter part:

. . . Despite claiming to oversee “most transparent administration in history,” Obama has presided over an unprecedented crackdown on leaks and whistleblowers, laying the groundwork for future Presidents to threaten would-be leakers.

Obama has used the Espionage Act – a World War One-era law designed to outlaw spying – to prosecute twice as many leakers as all his predecessors put together. As part of leak investigations, the Justice Department has authorized the FBI to collect the phone records and emails of journalists, even naming a Fox News reporter an unindicted  “co-conspirator” in one case.

Obama even opposed efforts to grant journalists more legal protection. After Congress was close to passing a law in 2009 that would have shielded reporters from having to testify against sources, Obama’s demands to add exceptions to the bill ended up killing it.

The Obama administration fought a costly, seven-year legal battle to force Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times Reporter James Risen to testify against his sources after reporting on a botched operation where the CIA passed nuclear blueprints to Iranian scientists. The government dropped its subpoena only after taking the case to the Supreme Court, likely to avoid negative publicity for jailing a reporter.

In several weeks, the system Obama has created will pass to the next president, who has already proven himself deeply hostile to press freedom.

Throughout his campaign, Trump threatened to sue newspapers for negative coverage. In response to the Chelsea bombings in New York City in September, he told Fox News that “freedom of the press” was what allowed terrorists to learn how to build bombs. He said that the press has “too much protection,” and that he wants to “open up our libel laws” to make it easier to sue media companies.

Writing in the New York Times last month, Risen argued that Obama’s expansive war on press freedom laid that groundwork for future abuses. “If Donald J. Trump decides as president to throw a whistleblower in jail for trying to talk to a reporter, or gets the F.B.I. to spy on a journalist,” Risen said, “he will have one man to thank for bequeathing him such expansive power: Barack Obama.”

Written by LeisureGuy

6 January 2017 at 4:01 pm

Kamala Harris Fails to Explain Why She Didn’t Prosecute Steven Mnuchin’s Bank

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Is Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) corrupt? or incompetent? In The Intercept David Dayen takes a look at her actions as California Attorney General:

Former California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Wednesday vaguely acknowledged The Intercept’s report about her declining to prosecute Steven Mnuchin’s OneWest Bank for foreclosure violations in 2013, but offered no explanation.

“It’s a decision my office made,” she said, in response to questions from The Hill shortly after being sworn in as California’s newest U.S. senator.

“We went and we followed the facts and the evidence, and it’s a decision my office made,” Harris said. “We pursued it just like any other case. We go and we take a case wherever the facts lead us.”

Mnuchin is Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Treasury Department, and served as CEO of OneWest from 2009 to 2015. In an internal memo published on Tuesday by The Intercept, prosecutors at the California attorney general’s office said they had found over a thousand violations of foreclosure laws by his bank during that time, and predicted that further investigation would uncover many thousands more.

But the investigation into what the memo called “widespread misconduct” was closed after Harris’s office declined to file a civil enforcement action against the bank.

Harris’s statement on Tuesday doesn’t explain how involved she was with the decision to not prosecute, or why the decision was made. She also would not say whether the revelations would disqualify Mnuchin for the position of treasury secretary. “The hearings will reveal if it’s disqualifying or not, but certainly he has a history that should be critically examined, as do all of the nominees,” Harris told The Hill. She added that she would review the background and history of all Trump cabinet nominees.

Senate Democrats have vowed to put up a fight over Mnuchin — even creating a website inviting homeowners to list their complaints against OneWest. And yet not one senator has commented publicly on the leaked memo, which received media coverage in Politico, Bloomberg, the New York Post, CBS News, Vanity Fair, CNN, CNBC, and other outlets.

The Intercept has reached out to half a dozen Senate Democratic offices, including those of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and leading Mnuchin critics Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, receiving no response.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., retweeted the story, as did the Twitter account of the Democratic National Committee. But another DNC tweet just hours later hinted at the bind Democrats are in when it comes to using the information against Mnuchin. That tweet praised Harris’s swearing-in. Her decision not to prosecute may make her new colleagues wary of pursuing it.

Progressive groups have not been so reluctant. Three groups — the Rootstrikers project at Demand Progress, the Center for Popular Democracy’s Fed Up Campaign, and the California Reinvestment Coalition – have called for a delay of Mnuchin’s confirmation hearing until he publicly discloses all settlements and lawsuits OneWest has faced from its foreclosure-related activities, responds fully to all questions submitted by members of the Senate Finance Committee, and publicly discloses his role in obstructing the California attorney general investigation, or any others.

The California Reinvestment Coalition followed that up on Thursday by asking OneWest to release the obstructed evidence, which involved loan files held by a third party then known as Lender Processing Services (it’s now called Black Knight Financial Services). “That’s something the Senate Finance Committee should ask him for, prior to scheduling their hearing with him,” said Paulina Gonzalez, executive director of the California Reinvestment Coalition.

Mnuchin has already declined to answer a detailed list of questions from Finance Committee member Sherrod Brown, which Brown sent before the release of the leaked memo. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 January 2017 at 1:22 pm

The GOP’s deficit hypocrisy

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Kevin Drum posts at Mother Jones:

The Washington Post reports today on the latest harangue from those hardline, deficit-hating, no-compromise, tea-party Republicans:

In a dramatic reversal, many members of the hard-line House Freedom Caucus said Thursday they are prepared later this month to support a budget measure that would explode the deficit and increase the public debt to more than $29.1 trillion by 2026, figures contained in the budget resolution itself.

….“I just came to understand all the different ideas about where we go next,” said Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), a member of the House Freedom Caucus that typically opposes massive spending increases. Schweikert now says he will probably vote for the budget resolution.

Here’s the text of the budget resolution:

blog_freedom_caucus_deficitAs always, Republicans only care about deficits when a Democrat is president. This time around they didn’t waste even two days before they made that crystal clear. I wonder how many times they can pull this bait-and-switch before the public and the press stops taking them seriously on their alleged horror of the spiraling national debt?

Republicans want to cut spending on the poor and cut taxes on the rich. That’s it. Deficits haven’t bothered them since the Reagan era. But I have to admit that this latest U-turn is pretty brazen even for them. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 January 2017 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP

Take a look at just a few of this week’s drug raids

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Some police departments view civilians as the enemy and themselves as an occupying military force that is above the law. Radley Balko lists a few recent examples in the Washington Post:

Here at the The Watch, we strive to keep you updated on the latest in drug-raid terribleness. So here’s your roundup. First stop — Oakland, Calif.:

Two East Oakland residents are suing the Oakland Police Department saying that officers serving a search warrant threw them each down the stairs to their apartment, injuring the woman who was recovering from knee surgery.

The suit also alleges that the officers had the wrong apartment, looking for a drug dealer that didn’t live there and who neither of the residents knows …

[One resident] was sleeping on the couch at 2:30 p.m. when she heard aggressive knocks at her front door and windows.

When she got to the door, she asked, “Who is it?” and looked out the window, seeing the nine officers with their guns drawn and holding a battering ram.

They said if she didn’t open the door they would enter by force. She opened the door and the officers grabbed her. She lifted her pant leg and told them she had recently had a knee replacement, but they pulled her out of the apartment and threw her down the steps, injuring her knee, according to the complaint …

They told the officers they had the wrong apartment, but one sergeant told them, “so what?” and “take it up with the people up front,” according to the complaint.

On we go, to Buffalo:

Working off a tip from ‘snitch’, Buffalo Police Lieutenant Sean O’Brien and Detective Shawn Adams went before the Chief Judge of Buffalo City Courts, the Hon. Judge Thomas Amodeo, and swore they had probable cause to raid a house in Buffalo where a man – whose name they did not know – was selling heroin and marijuana.

Neither could police tell the judge the age, height or weight of the man, or whether he was white, brown, yellow, black or red, but they knew his address was 85 Ullman; a green house, with white trim.

On the early morning of December 21, in the final hours of darkness of what was the longest night of the year, a SWAT of Buffalo Police Narcotics Officers, in paramilitary gear, stormed the Ullman St. home.

Inside, they encountered a grey haired, white man and a [German shepherd].

Within seconds, police ordered the man to lie on the floor face down and shot his dog in the head.

They found a small bag with white residue that the police say is cocaine. The article points out the man’s attorney is currently “pursuing lawsuits in a dozen wrong house raids and dog killings.”

Next stop — Miami Beach: . ..

Continue reading.

The column concludes:

. . . Our final stop is Augusta, Ga., where the editorial board at the Augusta Chronicle points out that drug raids terrorize innocent people, cause unnecessary death and destruction, and are often conducted in an unprofessional manner. The same editorial board then explains why they must continue.

While we’d like to end drug raids on homes, and the danger and trauma they can cause, we’re not sure that can be done. Drug dealers work primarily out of their homes; they can’t be given carte blanche to do so.

We just hope law enforcement agencies are chastened by the above incidents and work all the harder to avoid them.

Sure. Let’s try that. I mean, the trail of terror, violence, dead dogs and dead bodies caused by aggressive drug raids goes back 35 years. But maybe these latest incidents will inspire police to use a more “chastened” approach. Cross your fingers. And hide your dog.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 January 2017 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Four brief videos on the topic “Automation Will Necessitate a Universal Basic Income”

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The first is a five-minute talk by Alan Watts, from 1960 (57 years ago):

There are three other videos (by Elon Musk, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Andy Stern), along with a post by Josh Jones, which begins:

One of the most propulsive forces in our social and economic lives is the rate at which emerging technology transforms every sphere of human labor. Despite the political leverage obtained by fearmongering about immigrants and foreigners, it’s the robots who are actually taking our jobs. It is happening, as former SEIU president Andy Stern warns in his book Raising the Floor, not in a generation or so, but right now, and exponentially in the next 10-15 years.

Self-driving cars and trucks will eliminate millions of jobs, not only for truckers and taxi (and Uber and Lyft) drivers, but for all of the people who provide goods and services for those drivers. AI will take over for thousands of coders and may even soon write articles like this one (warning us of its impending conquest). What to do? The current buzzword—or buzz-acronym—is UBI, which stands for “Universal Basic Income,” a scheme in which everyone would receive a basic wage from the government for doing nothing at all. UBI, its proponents argue, is the most effective way to mitigate the inevitably massive job losses ahead.

Those proponents include not only labor leaders like Stern, but entrepreneurs like Peter Barnes and Elon Musk (listen to him discuss it [at this link]), and political philosophers like Georgetown University’s Karl Widerquist. The idea is an old one; its modern articulation originated with Thomas Paine in his 1795 tract Agrarian Justice. But Thomas Paine did not foresee the robot angle. Alan Watts, on the other hand, knew precisely what lay ahead for post-industrial society back in the 1960s, as did many of his contemporaries.

The English Episcopal priest, lecturer, writer, and popularizer of Eastern religion and philosophy in England and the U.S. gave a talk in which he described “what happens when you introduce technology into production.” Technological innovation enables us to “produce enormous quantities of goods… but at the same time, you put people out of work.”

You can say, but it always creates more jobs, there’ll always be more jobs. Yes, but lots of them will be futile jobs. They will be jobs making every kind of frippery and unnecessary contraption, and one will also at the same time beguile the public into feeling that they need and want these completely unnecessary things that aren’t even beautiful.

Watts goes on to say that this “enormous amount of nonsense employment and busywork, bureaucratic and otherwise, has to be created in order to keep people working, because we believe as good Protestants that the devil finds work for idle hands to do.” People who aren’t forced into wage labor for the profit of others, or who don’t themselves seek to become profiteers, will be trouble for the state, or the church, or their family, friends, and neighbors. In such an ethos, the word “leisure” is a pejorative one.

So far, Watts’ insights are right in line with those of Bertrand Russell and Buckminster Fuller, whose critiques of meaningless work we covered in an earlier post. Russell, writes philosopher Gary Gutting, argued “that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous.” Harm to our intellects, bodies, creativity, scientific curiosity, environment. Watts also suggests that our fixation on jobs is a relic of a pre-technological age. The whole purpose of machinery, after all, he says, is to make drudgery unnecessary.

Those who lose their jobs—or who are forced to take low-paying service work to survive—now must live in greatly diminished circumstances and cannot afford the surplus of cheaply-produced consumer goods churned out by automated factories. This Neoliberal status quo is thoroughly, economically untenable. “The public has to be provided,” says Watts, “with the means of purchasing what the machines produce.” That is, if we insist on perpetuating economies of scaled-up production. The perpetuation of work, however, simply becomes a means of social control. . .

Read (and view) the whole thing.

Then think about whether our governments (state and especially federal) will be able to address the major economic dislocation that will occur over the next 20 years. What do you think? Will they be able to pull it off?

Written by LeisureGuy

6 January 2017 at 10:32 am

Show Us the Replacement BEFORE You Repeal the ACA!

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No one wants to buy a pig in a poke. Kevin Drum notes in Mother Jones:

Hmmm. Congressional Republicans might have a problem on their hands. Here’s one of the findings of the latest Kaiser Family poll on health care:


That little orange pie slice at the bottom—the one that says 20 percent—represents the number of people who support the idea of repeal and delay. About half the respondents don’t want to repeal Obamacare at all, and another 28 percent, showing the common sense that heartland Americans are famous for, don’t want to buy a pig in a poke. They may not be thrilled with Obamacare, but they sure want to see what’s going to replace it before it’s ripped apart.

This is the mantra Democrats should be hawking every second of every day. We don’t want a white paper, we want to see the real replacement. Does it really protect people with pre-existing conditions? Does it really keep premium costs down? Does it really reduce deductibles? Is it really a better deal for most working-class folks than Obamacare? Does it really keep the Medicaid expansion in place? Does it really guarantee that no one will be worse off than they are under Obamacare? And will it really cost less than Obamacare? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 January 2017 at 10:03 am

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