Archive for April 20th, 2017
Anna Douglas writes for McClatchy:
Former U.S. House speakers are entitled to taxpayer-funded offices, franked mail privileges, staffers and furniture. Now two House of Representatives members want the practice stopped.
Former speakers are allowed to run post-speaker offices for up to five years. Former Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., spent $1.8 million. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who stepped down 18 months ago, spent $211,000.
A five-year allowance is one of the privileges that create an “elected elite,” said former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who did not set up a post-speaker office. But, the Georgia Republican told McClatchy, a short-term post-speaker office may be warranted if the person needs to wrap up local district casework to or has a large amount of records to preserve and file.
Nonsense, says Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. He wants to eliminate the post-speaker expenses, arguing that the former lawmakers have ample opportunity to pursue careers and make money in the private sector. Along with Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., he’s pushing legislation to end the system.
“As our country nears $20 trillion in debt, why should the taxpayer be forced to pay for a person that no longer serves in Congress, especially when they have the ability to make millions in retirement from speaking fees, book deals, lobbying and other things?” Jones asks.
The office has been barely noticed since it was created in 1971, but it did recently attract controversy. Hastert was accused in a 2013 civil lawsuit of using post-speaker office funds for private business expenses. Hastert, who maintained his post-speaker office in his home state of Illinois, denied misusing the money and the case was dismissed this month.
Hastert was indicted on separate federal charges in 2015 and pleaded guilty to a financial crime. He’s now in a Minnesota medical center prison facility, serving a 15-month sentence that started last June.
In the case against him, federal prosecutors said Hastert had been regularly withdrawing large sums of cash to pay off someone. Later, he admitted he’d sexually abused young boys decades earlier when he worked as a high school coach in Yorkville, Illinois. The money involved in the case had been paid to help cover up the past abuses.
Jones said he had learned about the post-speaker privilege from a news article published in CQ Roll Call in late 2015, after Boehner left Congress. Jones said his bill wasn’t specific to Boehner’s case, but he thinks Hastert’s example shows how unwarranted the expense is. Hastert used the post-speaker office for about four years.
“Meanwhile, he was making big money as a Washington, D.C., lobbyist and had the disposable income to pay $1.7 million to someone who was blackmailing him over allegedly molesting young boys,” Jones said in 2015 about Hastert. . .
Haley Tsukayama reports in the Washington Post:
Bose knows what you’re listening to.
At least that’s the claim of a proposed class-action lawsuit filed late Tuesday in Illinois that accuses the high-end audio equipment maker of spying on its users and selling information about their listening habits without permission.
The main plaintiff in the case is Kyle Zak, who bought a $350 pair of wireless Bose headphones last month. He registered the headphones, giving the company his name and email address, as well as the headphone serial number. And he download the Bose Connect app, which the company said would make the headphones more useful by adding functions such as the ability to customize the level of noise cancellation in the headphones.
But it turns out the app was also telling Bose a lot more about Zak than he bargained for.
Defendant programmed its Bose Connect app to continuously record the contents of the electronic communications that users send to their Bose Wireless Products from their smartphones, including the names of the music and audio tracks they select to play along with the corresponding artist and album information, together with the Bose Wireless Product’s serial numbers (collectively, “Media Information”).
Combined with the registration information, that gave Bose access to personally identifiable information that Zak and other never agreed to share, the complaint says. Listening data can be very personal, particularly if users are listening to podcasts or other audio files that could shade in information about their political preferences, health conditions or other interests, the complaint argues.
The filing also alleges that Bose wasn’t just collecting the information. It was also sharing it with a data mining company called Segment.io, according to research conducted by Edelson, the Chicago-based law firm representing Zak.
Bose did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suit.
Wireless headphones are part of a growing category of connected devices, in which everyday products can hook up to the Internet and pass information from users to companies. . .
Tim Carmody has a collection of links at Kottke.org, and I laughed out loud at the first two I read. So take a look.
Jennifer Rubin, a conservative Republican who writes a column at the Washington Post, excoriates the ethical cesspool that is the Trump administration. She writes:
President Trump’s ethical sloth and financial conflicts of interest are unique in American history. (The Harding and Grant administrations were rife with corruption, but the presidents did not personally profit. Richard Nixon abused power but did not use his office to fatten his coffers or receive help from a hostile foreign power to get elected.) But it keeps getting worse.
Ryan Lizza’s stunning report reveals ample evidence that Trump misused the intelligence community and manipulated Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) to concoct a plot meant to distract from the investigation into his Russian ties:
It is now clear that the scandal was not [former national security adviser Susan] Rice’s normal review of the intelligence reports but the coordinated effort between the Trump Administration and Nunes to sift through classified information and computer logs that recorded Rice’s unmasking requests, and then leak a highly misleading characterization of those documents, all in an apparent effort to turn Rice, a longtime target of Republicans, into the face of alleged spying against Trump. It was a series of lies to manufacture a fake scandal. Last week, CNN was the first to report that both Democrats and Republicans who reviewed the Nunes material at the N.S.A. said that the documents provided “no evidence that Obama Administration officials did anything unusual or illegal.”
I spoke to two intelligence sources, one who read the entire binder of intercepts and one who was briefed on their contents. “There’s absolutely nothing there,” one source said. The Trump names remain masked in the documents, and Rice would not have been able to know in all cases that she was asking the N.S.A. to unmask the names of Trump officials.
If true, this would be a clear abuse of authority — the very type of politicization of intelligence that the Trump team claims the Obama administration was guilty of. Had President Barack Obama done anything remotely similar, Republicans would have drafted articles of impeachment. Moreover, Trump’s antics have done serious damage to our national security toolkit:
The fallout from Trump’s [March 4] tweet could have grave consequences for national security. The law governing the N.S.A.’s collection of the content of communications of foreign targets is up for renewal this summer. Known as Section 702, part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, it is perhaps the most important intelligence tool that America’s spy agencies have to gather information about potential terrorist attacks and about the intentions of regimes around the world. There are legitimate privacy concerns about allowing the N.S.A. to vacuum up such an enormous amount of communications. … Some American intelligence officials are now concerned that Trump and Nunes’s wild claims about intercepts and Rice have made Section 702 look like a rogue program that can be easily abused for political purposes.
Trump, the individuals who assisted in this gambit and Nunes have abused the public trust. They utterly failed to uphold their responsibility for national security, for maintaining public confidence in our intelligence community and for protecting legitimate privacy interests. (Rice has a darned good case for defamation, which of course she won’t pursue.)
On the financial side of the Trump sewer, matters are going from bad to worse. Trump never divested himself of his business holdings or released his tax returns. The extent of his conflicts of interest are therefore unknown. He has now amended the trust (showing how flimsy it is if it can be altered on a whim) to allow him to withdraw funds and to receive periodic briefings from his son Eric (who “can do that as chair of the trust’s advisory board, and told Forbes magazine last month that he plans to give his father big-picture financial briefings every quarter or so”). All this should underscore how ludicrous it is to claim separation between Trump and his business operations.
Now, the sludge has engulfed Ivanka Trump. The Associated Press reports:
On April 6, Ivanka Trump’s company won provisional approval from the Chinese government for three new trademarks, giving it monopoly rights to sell Ivanka brand jewelry, bags and spa services in the world’s second-largest economy. That night, the first daughter and her husband, Jared Kushner, sat next to the president of China and his wife for a steak and Dover sole dinner at Mar-a-Lago, her father’s Florida resort.
The scenario underscores how difficult it is for Trump, who has tried to distance herself from the brand that bears her name, to separate business from politics in her new position at the White House.
That’s putting it mildly. As a federal employee, Ivanka Trump has an obligation under a criminal statute (18 U.S.C. § 208) to avoid “participating personally and substantially, in an official capacity, in any ‘particular matter’ that would have a direct and predictable effect on the employee’s own financial interests or on the financial interests.” As the government ethics guidelines specify:
Moreover, disqualification is often the appropriate way to prevent a conflict of interest in the long term, unless an “exemption” applies or the circumstances warrant use of other means of resolving conflicts of interest. …
An executive branch-wide regulation recognizes that a reasonable person may believe that an employee’s impartiality can be influenced by interests other than the employee’s own or those that are imputed to the employee by the conflict of interest laws. Under 5 C.F.R. § 2635.502, employees are required to consider whether their impartiality would be questioned whenever their involvement in a “particular matter involving specific parties” might affect certain personal or business relationships.
This is hardly an isolated event for Ivanka Trump. Recall that as she was working on a clothing deal with a Japanese apparel giant — whose parent company’s largest shareholder is wholly owned by the Japanese government — she was sitting in a transition meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
What is striking is the degree to which
It’s interesting that Jason Chaffetz has formalized his refusal to do his Congressional job of oversight by declaring yesterday that he will not run for re-election.
Very useful reference post by Tim Carmody at Kottke.org. Check it out.
This is from 9 years ago, but was featured this morning in a post by Tim Carmody at Kottke.org, who has more to say about it (and more good (that is, well worth watching) clips by Jay Smooth) at the link. Still good advice, still worth watching:
And, speaking of racism, the conservatives who vociferously complained about Obama’s playing golf from time to time are silent as President Trump plays golf almost every weekend. Apparently, the complaints were not about golf per se, but about a black person playing golf. Shawn King pointed that out in his column “Conservatives don’t hate a golfing President, but they hated an uppity Negro golfing President“:
No President in American history has ever golfed more per week than Donald Trump. In his first 12 weeks in office Trump took a staggering 18 golf course trips. That’s unheard of. In his first 12 weeks in office, President Obama didn’t visit a single golf course. By the end of this year, it’s likely that Trump will have golfed more than President Obama has in his entire presidency.
And that’s strange. It’s really strange. Because Donald Trump and other conservative pundits seemed to be deeply bothered by the times President Obama went out and golfed. It appeared to genuinely offend them. They obsessed over it.
Throughout the campaign, Trump frequently riffed on how much Obama golfed and pledged, “I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to go play golf.” The crowd ate it up.
Throughout the Obama administration, any time President Obama golfed, some famous conservative pundit chimed in. It was a reliable punchline that consistently got a rise out of their base.
In 2013 Sean Hannity tweeted, “Glad our arrogant Pres. is enjoying his taxpayer funded golf outing after announcing the US should take military action against Syria.”
Just a few months earlier, Newt Gingrich tweeted (his misspellings not mine), “Trump and president obsma both golf but trump doesn’t charge the taxpayers $920,000 for a golf weekend in florida.”
Neither of those tweets have aged well. Now it is Trump enjoying his taxpayer-funded golf outings after announcing military actions all over the world, including Syria. Now it’s Trump charging the taxpayers not $920,000 per golf outing in Florida, but reportedly much more.
Suddenly, the costs of golfing don’t seem to offend Trump or Newt or Hannity anymore. And I sincerely, genuinely don’t think the problem is political. It’s racial.
More than ever, it’s clear that conservatives never really had a problem with a golfing President, what they hated seeing was a black golfing President. I also think this was the subconscious message that Trump was pulling on throughout the campaign trail to his almost exclusively white audiences.
The racist caricature of the “uppity negro” has deep roots in this country. Uppity negroes have irritated white folk for over a hundred years. In its most simple form, the uppity negro is a black man or woman who enjoys anything other than working from sunup to sundown. Particularly, an uppity negro is a black man or woman who enjoys creature comforts in life that some whites may not yet be able to afford to enjoy — say a musical, a play, fine dining, or, you guessed it, a round of golf.
It’s why referencing Obama golfing got such a rise out of white, working-class crowds. It was a coded way to say, “How dare that uppity negro golf and enjoy leisure time while we work hard to make this country what it truly is?” Of course, . . .