Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 3rd, 2017

What The CIA and FBI Knew About Trump Before 2016

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Josh Marshall has an amazing report at TPM EdBlog:

As you’ve likely inferred from my recent posts I’ve spent a lot of time in recent days and weeks piecing together different elements of the Trump/Russia story. I’ve brought other colleagues into the work and plan to expand that once we have people hired for the three new investigative positions I discussed last month. Today everyone is talking about the inexplicable news about Jeff Sessions. But there’s another dimension of the Trump/Russia story which has only become clear to me recently but which provides a critical backstory for understanding the background of this scandal and news story.

Let’s go back to the story of Felix Sater, the Russian-American immigrant, convicted felon and longtime Trump business associate we discussed last week.

Let me review two separate streams of information which are critical to understanding the story. First, here are some basic and well-attested facts about Felix Sater.

Sater began his professional life as a New York City stock broker; spent 15 months in prison for stabbing a man in the face with a broken wine glass in a bar fight; and then became involved in a pump and dump penny stock scheme in association with the Gambino and Genovese crime families. When he and his associates were arrested in the securities fraud scheme in 1998, Sater tried to make a deal to save himself.

According to reliable accounts, what Sater offered to do was work with the CIA to facilitate the purchase of Stinger missiles on the weapons black market in post-Soviet Central Asia. According to his accomplice and business partner, Salvatore Lauria, who wrote a book detailing the story, the CIA was more keen on working with Sater than was the FBI, which had recently been burned by its longstanding and close working relationship with Whitey Bulger. The plan eventually fell apart. It seemed like Sater and Lauria might end up doing hard time. They had defrauded investors over more than $40 million. Then 9/11 happened and everything changed. Suddenly the federal government was much more interested in Sater’s help.

Lauria later disowned the book which he had cowritten with an AP reporter, David Barry, claiming it was fiction. But Barry insists that he reported out everything contained in the book.

Sater’s attorney Robert Wolf made various seemingly hyperbolic claims about Sater’s cooperation for federal law enforcement and intelligence. He told The Washington Times in early 2015 that Sater worked on “the most serious matters of national security, battling our greatest enemies at tremendous risk to his own life and for the benefits of all citizens of our country … [saving] potentially tens of thousands, if not millions, of our citizens’ lives.”

Needless to say this all sounds wild and improbably novelistic. And you would expect Sater’s attorney to make extravagant claims about the value of his clients cooperation. Despite being well-attested, we don’t know directly from the US government that any of these wild claims are true. But the statements and actions of federal law enforcement strongly suggest that even if some of the details are off, Sater’s assistance was of an exceptional character.

The US government went and continues to go to extreme lengths to keep Sater’s cooperation and work for the government a secret. Until quite recently, it went to great lengths to keep Sater’s conviction itself, and all documents related to it, a secret. It took the extraordinarily rare step of managing the entire adjudication of Sater’s crimes in secret, with all documents kept secret. Federal judges even pursued what might reasonably be called a vendetta against two lawyers who used leaked information about Sater’s case in lawsuits growing out of a failed Trump building venture, Trump Fort Lauderdale, as well as lawsuits on behalf of victims in the original pump and dump scheme.

The federal government also kept Sater on as a cooperating witness for fully 11 years before finally sentencing him in 2009 for the plea deal in 1998. In a $42 million securities fraud case, Sater received no jail time, was not forced to pay restitution and was fined a mere $25,000. In other words, he walked away from the crime with close to no punishment. The controversy over the government’s secrecy in the Sater case, as well as his minimal punishment, got enough attention that it eventually bubbled up from the criminal courts to the governmental and political realm. During her 2015 confirmation hearings, Attorney General Loretta Lynch was asked about the propriety of the government’s cooperation with Sater, in part because she had been the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, where Sater’s case was adjudicated.

In response to questions from Sen. Orin Hatch, Lynch wrote (emphasis added):

The defendant in question, Felix Sater, provided valuable and sensitive information to the government during the course of his cooperation, which began in or about December 1998. For more than 10 years, he worked with prosecutors from my Office, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York and law enforcement agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other law enforcement agencies, providing information crucial to national security and the conviction of over 20 individuals, including those responsible for committing massive financial fraud and members of La Cosa Nostra. For that reason, his case was initially sealed.

Lynch’s references to “national security” has been echoed by other judges involved in Sater’s case, ones who have gone to great length to prevent the release of documents tied to Sater’s case.

It is impossible to know precisely what Sater was doing during this decade. But statements from government officials, news reports and Lauria’s book make clear that it required him to have extensive associations with and knowledge of the mafia and touched not just on organized crime but specifically on critical matters of national security. Based on published reports and Lauria’s book, it seems extremely likely that it also required him to have extensive knowledge of and contacts in the criminal underworld in the former Soviet Union. Clearly the US government saw Sater’s cooperation as highly important. Otherwise it would not have gone to such lengths to get it, to keep it secret and to protect Sater after the fact. Lynch’s words to Hatch speak volumes.

Then there’s Mikhail Sater, aka Michael Sheferofsky, Felix Sater’s father.

In 2000, two years after Felix was arrested in the securities fraud scheme, Mikhail Sater was charged along with Ernest “Butch” Montevecchi, a soldier in the Genovese crime family, for running an extortion ring in Brighton Beach between 1990 and 1999. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. A lot more.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2017 at 8:12 pm

President Trump’s blaming the Democrats for Cabinet delays that are normal — and his own fault

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Trump is constitutionally unable to accept any blame. (See what I did there?) It’s impossible for his psyche to comprehend anything about him that might not be great. To balance it out, he will take credit for anything good, including the state of the economy.

Philip Bump writes in the Washington Post:

Having apparently temporarily misplaced his Android phone after his joint address to Congress, President Trump has relocated it (probably on the nightstand in the Lincoln bedroom) and has resumed his habit of angry early morning tweeting about his political opponents.

On Friday morning, his target was Democrats on Capitol Hill who he said are still blocking his Cabinet picks from being approved.

It’s hard to overstate what nonsense this is.

It is true that, at one time, Senate Democrats were dragging their heels on Trump’s Cabinet picks. In January, members of the party boycotted committee votes to advance nominees to the full Senate, slowing the process. In recent weeks, however, the process has happened in regular bursts. Three Cabinet picks have been approved in the last two days.

How does Trump compare to past presidents? At this moment, he has two unconfirmed Cabinet positions — the same as Barack Obama had on Mar. 3, 2009. In fact, only three of the last six presidents have had their entire Cabinets in place at this point.

Remember: The Democrats don’t control the Senate. While they were able to throw some hurdles in the path of the president — hurdles that Republicans overcame by changing the rules to allow a vote without Democrats present — there was nothing they could do to block nominees entirely.

So what’s the hold-up on the two empty slots? Well, one is his nominee for Secretary of Labor. His first pick, Andrew Puzder, withdrew last month and Trump nominated Alexander Acosta in his stead. There’s a natural delay built-in to that switchover.

But the main problem is that neither that pick nor Trump’s pick to run the Department of Agriculture have been sent to the Senate yet.

Senate Republicans are baffled that the White House hasn’t yet sent over the necessary paperwork for Sonny Perdue, his late pick to run Agriculture. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chair of the Senate committee that will forward Perdue’s nomination, told ABC News on Wednesday that he didn’t know when to expect Perdue’s formal nomination. “I wish to hell I did,” Roberts said. “We need a champion for agriculture, we need him on board.” . . .

Continue reading.

Chart and more at the link. Boy, President Trump is really something!

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2017 at 5:22 pm

How the Trump Administration May Be Skirting Its Own Ethics Rules

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Justin Elliott reports for ProPublica:

The Trump administration appears to be either ignoring or exempting top staffers from its own watered-down ethics rules.

As we have detailed, President Trump in January issued an order weakening Obama-era ethics policies, allowing lobbyists to work at agencies they had sought to influence. The Trump order did limit what lobbyists could do once they entered government, banning them from directly handling issues on which they had lobbied.

But the administration may not be even following that.

We’ve found three hires announced this week who, in fact, are working on the same issues on which they were registered lobbyists while in the private sector.

Consider Shahira Knight, President Trump’s special assistant for tax and retirement policy.

Lobbying disclosures show that Knight lobbied the government on a host of retirement and tax issues for financial services giant Fidelity. In one case, she lobbied against a regulation requiring financial professionals to act in the best interests of their clients when it comes to retirement accounts such as 401(k)s. The regulation is strongly supported by consumer advocates and strongly opposed by Fidelity. Retirement savers lose billions of dollars a year because of conflicts of interest in the industry, the Obama administration estimated.

The Trump executive order says former lobbyists like Knight cannot work in the “specific issue area” in which they lobbied, though that phrase is not defined.

Given that Knight lobbied on tax and retirement issues and is now working as Trump’s assistant on tax and retirement issues, how can she be in compliance with the ethics policy?

It’s not at all clear.

One possibility is that the Trump administration has issued waivers exempting Knight and the other lobbyists they’ve hired from the new rules.

Unfortunately, there’s no way for the public to know if this has been done. In a little-noticed action, Trump killed the Obama-era requirement that the Office of Government Ethics publish an annual report disclosing such waivers. Trump’s order also removed the requirement to provide a public interest justification for waivers.

That means Trump can exempt an official from the lobbying limits at any time, for any reason, with no public disclosure.

Critics of the administration’s approach to conflicts of interest said it is impossible to know whether the rules are being ignored or rendered irrelevant by the officials implementing them.

“I very much suspect that Trump’s ethics executive order either is not understood within the administration and not enforced, or the White House counsel is single-handedly interpreting the restrictions of the executive order so narrowly that they are next to meaningless,” said Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen.

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment about whether any waivers have been issued or the how the ethics policy is being enforced. . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. Later:

Just a few months ago Catanzaro was lobbying on fuel standards and greenhouse gas regulations for the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. He is now special assistant to the president for domestic energy and environmental policy.

As for Banks, disclosure records state he recently lobbied on environmental issues for a business group. He is now special assistant to the president for international energy and environment.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2017 at 3:02 pm

How Uber Deceived Authorities Worldwide

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Uber seems to have many similarities to a criminal enterprise: how it treats its employees, for example, or quite deliberately breaking the law. (Full disclosure: I’ve never used Uber and probably never will—no smartphone, for one thing.)

Mike Isaac reports in the NY Times:

Uber has for years engaged in a worldwide program to deceive the authorities in markets where its low-cost ride-hailing service was being resisted by law enforcement or, in some instances, had been outright banned.

The program, involving a tool called Greyball, uses data collected from the Uber app and other techniques to identify and circumvent officials. Uber used these methods to evade the authorities in cities such as Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, and in countries like Australia, China, Italy and South Korea.

Greyball was part of a broader program called VTOS, short for “violation of terms of service,” which Uber created to root out people it thought were using or targeting its service improperly. The VTOS program, including the Greyball tool, began as early as 2014 and remains in use, predominantly outside the United States. Greyball was approved by Uber’s legal team.

Uber’s use of Greyball was recorded on video in late 2014, when Erich England, a code enforcement inspector in Portland, Ore., tried to hail an Uber car downtown as part of a sting operation against the company.

At the time, Uber had just started its ride-hailing service in Portland without seeking permission from the city, which later declared the service illegal. To build a case against the company, officers like Mr. England posed as riders, opening the Uber app to hail a car and watching as miniature vehicles on the screen made their way toward the potential fares.

But unknown to Mr. England and other authorities, some of the digital cars they saw in the app did not represent actual vehicles. And the Uber drivers they were able to hail also quickly canceled. That was because Uber had tagged Mr. England and his colleagues — essentially Greyballing them as city officials — based on data collected from the app and in other ways. The company then served up a fake version of the app populated with ghost cars, to evade capture. . .

Continue reading.

I think it would do Uber a lot of long-term good if some of the executives were sent to prison for stunts like this: deliberately breaking the law is not something that should be condoned.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2017 at 12:58 pm

Posted in Business, Law, Technology

Five Reasons Trump Needs to Think Twice Before Waging War on Weed

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Philip Smith writes in Drug-War Chronicles:

White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s comment last week that we “will see greater enforcement” of federal marijuana prohibition has set off tremors in the pot industry, but it should be setting off warning bells at the White House itself.

Any move against marijuana would be politically fraught, economically foolish, and counter to some of the Trump administration’s other expressed goals, such as fighting Mexican drug cartels and creating American jobs right here in America.

Here are five reasons the Trump administration needs to think twice before its meddles with legal marijuana:

1. Legal marijuana is way more popular than Trump is. A Quinnipiac poll released last week is only the latest of a long series of polls in recent years showing majority support for marijuana legalization. That poll had nearly three out of five Americans — 59% — down with freeing the weed. And more directly to the political point, an even higher number — 71% — want the federal government to butt out in states where it is legal. Trump, meanwhile, is polling in the thirties or forties in personal popularity polls. And we know he wants to be liked.

2. Trump can’t make legal marijuana go away; he can only mess it up. Even if Jeff Sessions lives up to marijuana industry nightmare scenarios by successfully shutting down pot businesses and preventing states from taxing and regulating it, marijuana possession and cultivation for personal use will remain legal under state law. The federal government cannot force state and local police to enforce federal marijuana prohibition and it does not have the resources to effectively do so itself. People will continue to grow and possess pot in legal states, and continue to sell it — only now all that activity will return to the black market.

3. Legal marijuana is a job creation dynamo. The marijuana industry already employs more than 100,000 people and, if left unimpeded, would create more jobs than manufacturing by 2020, according to a recent report from New Frontier Data. That report projects that 250,000 jobs would be created in the industry by 2020, while Bureau of Labor statistics project than 800,000 manufacturing jobs are going to vanish by 2024. And new jobs are way more likely to pop up in marijuana processing operations than in coal fields.

4. Legal marijuana is a tax bonanza for the states. In Colorado, the state took in $200 million in pot tax revenues in 2016, using it for schools and public health and safety, Oregon took in $60 million, and Washington saw $35 million in the last fiscal year. In California, the Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates legal weed will generate $1 billion in tax revenues per year. An awful lot of fiscal conservatives are very happy to see those revenues.

5. Legal marijuana hurts . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2017 at 11:33 am

In Mathematics, ‘You Cannot Be Lied To’

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Siobhan Roberts interviews Sylvia Serfaty in Quanta magazine:

A few years back, a prospective doctoral student sought out Sylvia Serfaty with some existential questions about the apparent uselessness of pure math. Serfaty, then newly decorated with the prestigious Henri Poincaré Prize, won him over simply by being honest and nice. “She was very warm and understanding and human,” said Thomas Leblé, now an instructor at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University. “She made me feel that even if at times it might seem futile, at least it would be friendly. The intellectual and human adventure would be worth it.” For Serfaty, mathematics is about building scientific and human connections. But as Leblé recalled, Serfaty also emphasized that a mathematician has to find satisfaction in “weaving one’s own rug,” alluding to the patient, solitary work that comes first.

Born and raised in Paris, Serfaty first became intrigued by mathematics in high school. Ultimately she gravitated toward physics problems, constructing mathematical tools to forecast what should happen in physical systems. For her doctoral research in the late-1990s, she focused on the Ginzburg-Landau equations, which describe superconductors and their vortices that turn like little whirlwinds. The problem she tackled was to determine when, where and how the vortices appear in the static (time-independent) ground state. She solved this problem with increasing detail over the course of more than a decade, together with Étienne Sandier of the University of Paris-East, with whom she co-authored the book Vortices in the Magnetic Ginzburg-Landau Model.

In 1998, Serfaty discovered an irresistibly puzzling problem about how these vortices evolve in time. She decided that this was the problem she really wanted to solve. Thinking about it initially, she got stuck and abandoned it, but now and then she circled back. For years, with collaborators, she built tools that she hoped might eventually provide pathways to the desired destination. In 2015, after almost 18 years, she finally hit upon the right point of view and arrived at the solution.

“First you start from a vision that something should be true,” Serfaty said. “I think we have software, so to speak, in our brain that allows us to judge that moral quality, that truthful quality to a statement.”

And, she noted, “you cannot be cheated, you cannot be lied to. A thing is true or not true, and there is this notion of clarity on which you can base yourself.”

In 2004, at age 28, she won the European Mathematical Society prize for her work analyzing the Ginzburg-Landau model; this was followed by the Poincaré Prize in 2012. Last September, the piano-playing, bicycle-riding mother of two returned as a fulltime faculty member to the Courant Institute, where she had held various positions since 2001. By her count, she is one of five women among about 60 full-time faculty members in the math department, a ratio she figures is unlikely to balance itself out anytime soon.

Quanta Magazine talked with Serfaty in January at the Courant Institute. An edited and condensed version of the conversation follows.

QUANTA MAGAZINE: When did you find mathematics?

SYLVIA SERFATY: In high school, there was one episode that crystallized it for me: We had assignments, little problems to solve at home, and one of them seemed very difficult. I had been thinking about it and thinking about it, and wandering around trying to find a solution. And in the end I came up with a solution that was not the one that was expected — it was more general than the problem was calling for, making it more abstract. So when the teacher gave the solutions, I proposed mine as an alternative, and I think everybody was surprised, including the teacher herself.

I was happy that I’d found a creative solution. I was a teenager, and a little bit idealistic. I wanted to have a creative impact, and research seemed like a beautiful profession. I knew I was not an artist. My dad is an architect and he’s really an artist, in the full sense of the word. I always compared myself to that image: the guy who has talent, has a gift. That played a role in building my self-perception of what I could do and what I wanted to achieve.

So you don’t think of yourself as having a gift — you weren’t a prodigy.

No. We do a disservice to the profession by giving this image of little geniuses and prodigies. These Hollywood movies about scientists can be somewhat counterproductive, too. They are telling children that there are geniuses out there that do really cool stuff, and kids may think, “Oh, that’s not me.” Maybe 5 percent of the profession fits that stereotype, but 95 percent doesn’t. You don’t have to be among the 5 percent to do interesting math.

For me, it took a lot of faith and believing in my little dream. My parents told me, “You can do anything, you should go for it” — my mother is a teacher and she always told me I was at the top of my cohort and that if I didn’t succeed, who will? My first university math teacher played a big role and really believed in my potential, and then as I pursued my studies, my intuition was confirmed that I really liked math — I liked the beauty of it, and I liked the challenge.

So you have to be comfortable with frustration if you want to be a mathematician?

That’s research. You enjoy solving a problem if you have difficulty solving it. The fun is in the struggle with a problem that resists. It’s the same kind of pleasure as with hiking: You hike uphill and it’s tough and you sweat, and at the end of the day the reward is the beautiful view. Solving a math problem is a bit like that, but you don’t always know where the path is and how far you are from the top. You have to be able to accept frustration, failure, your own limitations. Of course you have to be good enough; that’s a minimum requirement. But if you have enough ability, then you cultivate it and build on it, just as a musician plays scales and practices to get to a top level.

How do you tackle a problem?

One of the first pieces of advice I got as I was starting my Ph.D. was from Tristan Rivière (a previous student of my adviser, Fabrice Béthuel), who told me: People think that research in math is about these big ideas, but no, you really have to start from simple, stupid computations — start again like a student and redo everything yourself. I found that this is so true. A lot of good research actually starts from very simple things, elementary facts, basic bricks, from which you can build a big cathedral. Progress in math comes from understanding the model case, the simplest instance in which you encounter the problem. And often it is an easy computation; it’s just that no one had thought of looking at it this way.

Do you cultivate that perspective, or does it come naturally?

This is all I know how to do. I tell myself that there are always very bright people who have thought about these problems and made very beautiful and elaborate theories, and certainly I cannot always compete on that end. But let me try to rethink the problem almost from scratch with my own little basic understanding and knowledge and see where I go. Of course, I have built enough experience and intuition that I sort of pretend to be naive. In the end, I think a lot of mathematicians proceed this way, but maybe they don’t want to admit it, because they don’t want to appear simple-minded. There is a lot of ego in this profession, let’s be honest.

Does the ego help or hinder mathematical ambition? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2017 at 10:34 am

Posted in Daily life, Math

What Trump didn’t want you to see him signing

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Very interesting column in the Washington Post by James Hohmann. Three things from the column that Trump doesn’t want you to see him signing:


On Tuesday, Trump participated in a flashy photo op to sign two feel-good resolutions. The “Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act” authorizes the National Science Foundation to encourage females to become entrepreneurs. The “Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers Women Act” says NASA should urge young girls to study science. Neither of these measures provides even one dollar to help advance these worthy aims, which is why they passed Congress unanimously by voice votes.

During a lunch with the anchors from all the major networks, meanwhile, Trump suggested that he could get behind a grand bargain to enact comprehensive immigration reform. This turned out to be a big head fake, but it nonetheless dominated the conversation during the run-up to his maiden speech before a joint session of Congress that evening.

While the press corps was distracted and the cable channels aired footage of Trump surrounded by a bipartisan group of smiling women, behind closed doors and with no fanfare the president quietly signed a measure that killed a regulation enacted by the Obama administration to tighten gun background checks.

The rule required the Social Security Administration to send over the names of people who receive government checks for being mentally disabled and others who have been deemed unable to handle their own financial affairs to the FBI office that runs the national background check database. This is a universe of about 75,000 people.

The National Rifle Association says the rule curtails the Second Amendment rights of these people and persuaded GOP leadership to use the Congressional Review Act to undo it. Under the Constitution, Trump had 10 days to sign off. By waiting until the day before the deadline to do so, when there were so many big stories in the mix, he ensured it got minimal coverage.

In a normal time, with a conventional president, undoing this regulation would have been front-page news. Trump’s move would have sparked a national conversation about the country’s continuing failure to seriously address both gun violence and mental illness. Major publications would have run deeper stories about how flawed the national background check system is five years after the massacre at Sandy Hook, with an emphasis on the gun lobby’s role in keeping it that way.

But in the current news environment, with the Trump administration running a blitzkrieg offense and the attorney general embattled for concealing secret meetings with the Russian ambassador while under oath before Congress, it’s very hard for anyone to stay on top of everything. Not only does the media have limited bandwidth, but cable producers are always reluctant to give much airtime to issues that don’t have obvious visuals. (Three White House spokeswomen did not respond to a request for comment about the decision to sign the gun measure off camera.)


On the same day that Jeff Sessions was sworn in, Trump quietly signed an executive order to change the order of succession at the Justice Department if the attorney general resigns.

It was significant because the president had just fired Sally Yates as acting AG after she wouldn’t defend his travel ban. As he was entitled to do, Trump went outside the official order of succession to elevate Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to replace her. A week before his term ended, Barack Obama had (also without fanfare) changed the order of succession to remove Boente from the list.

Because the Senate hasn’t yet confirmed Trump’s nominee for deputy AG, Boente is now serving in that role on an acting basis. Sessions’s recusal himself from overseeing the FBI’s Russia investigation means it will be handled by Boente.

In an indication that they didn’t want to draw attention to this, it’s worth noting that Trump signed three other orders in front of reporters immediately after Sessions was sworn in. Each was noncontroversial: One would “break the back of the criminal cartels that have spread across our nation and are destroying the blood of our youth,” the president told the assembled press pool. The other would create a “task force on reducing violent crime,” he said. And the third would instruct DOJ to implement a plan to stop crime against law enforcement officers.

Basically no one noticed Trump’s fourth order. A USA Today reporter noticed that it was dated on a Thursday but didn’t appear on an official web site that lists such actions until Friday. The White House didn’t explain the discrepancy.


Last week, the Trump administration revoked federal guidelines specifying that transgender students have the right to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity. It is one of the most significant social policy shifts ushered in by the new president during his first 40 days, which means it was too big of a deal to bury.

But the White House kept the president himself as far away from it as possible, describing it in a statement as “a joint decision made … by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education.”

Anyone who knows anything about how government works knows that nothing like this happens without sign-off at the highest levels. In this case, Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had been at loggerheads regarding timing and specific language. So others were involved.

The president could also have had the two department heads come into the Oval Office and made a statement with them behind him, or he could have made a show of signing the memorandum himself. Or he could have even tweeted about it. He didn’t. . .

Read the whole thing. There’s quite a bit more and it shows the drawbacks of secret government—that is, hiding government decisions from the public.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2017 at 10:28 am

Trump Plans to Slash the Most Effective Social Program in History

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Kevin Drum points out a particularly boneheaded decision by the Trump administration:

Reuters tells us what to expect from President Trump’s budget:

Under the proposal, which was sent to the EPA this week, grants to states for lead cleanup would be cut 30 percent to $9.8 million, according to the source, who read the document to Reuters.

What an idiot. This is hardly the biggest issue in his budget, and I’ll grant that the current allocation for lead cleanup is so pitiful that a 30 percent cut hardly matters. On principle, though, it’s obvious that Mick Mulvaney’s crew just saw a line item in their spreadsheet and slashed it without knowing anything about it. Nice work, folks. You get a gold star.

By coincidence, the Washington Post ran a piece yesterday that’s all about lead—though the reporter didn’t realize it:

In dozens of one-on-one meetings every week, a lawyer retained by the city of Philadelphia summons parents whose children have just been jailed, pulls out his calculator and hands them more bad news: a bill for their kids’ incarceration….[He] is one agent of a deeply entrenched social policy that took root across the country in the 1970s and ’80s. The guiding principle was simple: States, counties and cities believed that parents were shedding responsibility for their delinquent children and expecting the government to pick up the tab.

….“It was a very different time, when too many parents frequently wanted to essentially ‘dump’ their adolescent children on juvenile courts when they found them unruly, ungovernable, uncontrollable,” Linda O’Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, said of the era decades ago when the laws were implemented.

Regardless of what you think about this policy, there’s a reason it “took root” in the 70s and 80s: Kids of that era spent their early childhoods surrounded by lead fumes from automobiles, so they contracted lead poisoning in massive numbers. By the time they were teenagers they really were “unruly, ungovernable, uncontrollable,” and parents didn’t know what to do.

As it turns out, there was nothing they could do. The damage was done. But nobody knew that, so we put in place pointless laws based on the premise that if only they worked harder, parents could keep their kids under control. In reality, the only policy that ended up working came from Trump’s hated EPA, which banned leaded gasoline and put an end to our national epidemic of lead poisoning.

But the old laws are still around, even though they don’t work, while the EPA’s lead cleanup program is being slashed, even though it does work. Welcome to America.


Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2017 at 9:51 am

New Forest, Paislay, Baby Smooth, New York: A fine shave

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SOTD 2017-03-03

Paislay shaving soap is excellent, but it has not been made for decades. This old puck lathers up easily and quickly and still has a nice lavender fragrance. The New Forest brush is an artisanal brush made in a traditional format, and it performs quite well.

This is the new release of the Baby Smooth and it does the same superb job as the original. A great razor, IMO. Three passes to a perfect and trouble-free result, to which I applied a good splash of New York aftershave (again, no longer available).

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2017 at 8:44 am

Posted in Shaving

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