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Archive for March 28th, 2018

The Senate Staffer Behind the Attack on the Trump-Russia Investigation

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Robert Faturechi reports in ProPublica:

Jason Foster, chief investigative counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, fits a classic Washington profile: A powerful, mostly unknown force at the center of some of the most consequential battles on Capitol Hill.

For the last year, Foster — empowered by his boss, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee’s chairman — has been the behind-the-scenes architect of an assault on the FBI, and most centrally its role in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to interviews with current and former congressional aides, federal law enforcement officials and others.

With Foster in charge of his oversight work, Grassley has openly speculated about whether former FBI director James Comey leaked classified information as Comey raised alarms about President Donald Trump’s possible interference in the Russia probe. Grassley and the other Republicans on the committee have questioned the impartiality of a former member of Mueller’s team, cast doubt on the credibility of the FBI’s secret court application for permission to surveil a Trump campaign associate and called for a second special counsel to investigate matters related to Hillary Clinton. A firm that conducted opposition research on Trump has made clear in court it believes Grassley’s committee, with Foster as its lead investigator, had leaked sensitive information about its business.

Most recently, many of those interviewed by ProPublica said, Foster engineered Grassley’s highly unusual public announcement asking federal authorities to consider criminal charges against Christopher Steele, the ex-British spy who compiled the dossier warning of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

For Foster’s critics, and they include Republicans as well as Democrats, his provocative work on the Trump-Russia investigation is just the latest chapter in the career of a partisan combatant willing to discard norms and indulge in conspiratorial thinking as he pursues investigations favorable to Republicans.

Foster — who cut his teeth on Capitol Hill working on the staff of former Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., who fueled the theory of foul play in a Clinton aide’s suicide and called for required AIDS testing for all Americans — drew the ire of many for his role in various Judiciary Committee investigations of the Obama administration.

“That’s the way it seemed to go every time with Jason, conspiracy to the point it was ridiculous,” said one Democratic aide who had dealt with Foster. The aide was one of several interviewed by ProPublica, Democrat and Republican, who would not be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the inner workings of Congress.

Foster’s career, including his work on the committee’s Russia investigation, has caught the attention of the Trump administration. Foster has twice been approached about a possible job, an inspector general role, with the administration, a situation that some say should have required his recusal from work on the collusion inquiry.

Foster, 46, would not respond to questions about his work on the committee, and Grassley’s office said its policy was not to comment on specific claims about individual staffers.

But the office offered a broad defense of both Foster and what it regards as the committee’s efforts to aggressively investigate the FBI’s handling of the Trump-Russia probe. The office said Grassley has moved to examine potential misdeeds by Trump and his campaign and would be willing to do so even more vigorously if Democrats would agree to investigate the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton and the firm that produced the Trump-Russia dossier.

Foster has admirers beyond his own office. Some of those interviewed by ProPublica, including several suggested by Foster himself, describe him as a fierce and detail-oriented investigator who is protective of whistleblowers who come to the committee looking to tell their stories. His tough approach with the FBI, they said, long predated the Trump-Russia investigation and he has been willing to take on Republican administrations.

“He isn’t especially deferential but he’s fair,” Hannibal Kemerer, a former judiciary aide, said of Foster’s style. “If he should retire or resign, nobody from the FBI is going to throw him a party. He’s not in it to make friends.”

In examining Foster’s role in the committee’s Trump-Russia investigation, ProPublica discovered that a decade ago he had written an anonymous blog, using the handle “extremist.” The posts by Foster, who was then working for Grassley on the Senate Finance Committee, made clear he was some sort of D.C. insider, and he came across as a knowing observer as the country navigated the thorny political fights of the Bush and Obama eras.

But there were also plenty of times “extremist” lived up to his chosen name.

He warned of an Islamic takeover. He wrote that homosexuality was akin to incest. He questioned whether waterboarding really amounted to torture. He derided Obama’s proposal to negotiate with the Taliban, and was particularly galled that the president doing so had the middle name Hussein. Liberals? They were anti-American.

He even mused about whether Sen. Joseph McCarthy, condemned as a demagogue for his 1950s anti-Communist crusade, should be remembered more kindly.

Foster, in an email sent this week to ProPublica, apologized for his inflammatory posts, saying his “pen name” had been satirical and that his writings had been “stupid and wrong.” . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2018 at 4:03 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP

Fair Housing Groups Sue Facebook for Allowing Discrimination in Housing Ads

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Facebook needs strict oversight. They are out of control. Julia Angwin and Ariana Tobin report in ProPublica:

In February 2017, in response to a ProPublica investigation, Facebook pledged to crack down on efforts by advertisers of rental housing to discriminate against tenants based on race, disability, gender and other characteristics.

But a new lawsuit, filed Tuesday by the National Fair Housing Alliance in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, alleges that the world’s largest social network still allows advertisers to discriminate against legally protected groups, including mothers, the disabled and Spanish-language speakers.

Since 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, “it is all the more egregious and shocking” that “Facebook continues to enable landlords and real estate brokers to bar families with children, women and others from receiving rental and sales ads or housing,” the lawsuit states. It asks the court, among other things, to declare that Facebook’s policies violate fair housing laws, to bar the company from publishing discriminatory ads, and to require it to develop and make public a written fair housing policy for advertising.

Diane Houk, lead counsel for the alliance, said this type of discrimination is especially difficult to uncover and combat. “The person who is being discriminated against has no way to know” it, because the technology “keeps the discrimination hidden in hopes that it will not be caught,” she said.

Facebook disputes the housing groups’ allegations. “There is absolutely no place for discrimination on Facebook. We believe this lawsuit is without merit, and we will defend ourselves vigorously,” said Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne.

The lawsuit adds to Facebook’s woes, which are mounting on multiple fronts. The company’s stock plunged last week on the news that it had allowed a voter-profiling outfit, Cambridge Analytica, to obtain data on 50 million of its users without their knowledge or consent. The news came after a troubling year in which, among other things, Facebook admitted that it unwittingly allowed a Russian disinformation operation on its platform and had been promoting fake news in its News Feed algorithm. As a result, lawmakers and regulators around the world have launched investigations into Facebook.

Discrimination in housing advertising has been a persistent problem for Facebook. In October 2016, we described how Facebook let advertisers exclude specific groups with what it called “ethnic affinities,” including blacks and Hispanics, from seeing ads. Although Facebook responded by announcing it had built a system to flag and reject these ads, we bought dozens of rental housing ads in November 2017 that we specified would not be shown to blacks, Jews, people interested in wheelchair ramps and other groups.

It wasn’t until ProPublica brought the issue of advertising discrimination on Facebook to light, Houk said, that fair housing advocates learned of it. Emulating ProPublica’s technique, the Washington, D.C.-based national fair housing group, along with member groups in New York, San Antonio and Miami created fake housing companies and placed discriminatory ads on Facebook. The ads were approved by Facebook over a period of a few months, with the most recent buys occurring on Feb. 23.

Using Facebook’s dropdown “exclusion” menu, they were able to buy housing ads that blocked groups such as “trendy moms,” “soccer moms,” “parents with teenagers,” people interested in a disabled parking permit and people interested in Telemundo, the Spanish-language television network.

The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to publish any advertisement “with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin.” Violators may face tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

After ProPublica’s investigation, Facebook added a self-certification option, which asks housing advertisers to certify that their advertisement is not discriminatory. In some cases, Houk said, the housing groups encountered the self-certification option, and did not submit the ads to Facebook for approval and publication. But that only happened in some of the ad buys, she said.

Since advertisers can falsely attest to fairness, the self-certification screens don’t “seem like a whole-hearted commitment to trying to change the advertising platform to comply with the Fair Housing Act and local fair housing laws,” Houk said. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2018 at 3:45 pm

Dwight Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial-Congressional comples, and he was right

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Andrea Drusch reports in McClatchy:

As Lockheed Martin celebrates a major milestone for the F-35 program Wednesday, some of the plane’s biggest critics concede its political opposition in Washington has all but fizzled.

Congress’s latest budget funds 90 of the planes — 20 more than requested by President Donald Trump, who once railed against their “tremendous cost.”

Government watchdog groups criticize the program for missing deadlines, exceeding cost estimates and failing to live up to promises. But with little appetite left to slow the current program in Washington, they’re now focused on stopping future versions of the plane, rather than convincing Congress to reconsider its investment.

“I have no real illusion we’re going to affect any drastic changes to the F-35,” said Dan Grazier, a military fellow at the Project On Government Oversight and one of the program’s leading critics in Washington. “It’s next to impossible to generate enough political opposition to the program.”

Steve Ellis, vice president of another watchdog group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, likened the plane’s inclusion in Congress’ budget to “the [appropriations] version of Oprah.”

“You get a plane, you get a plane, you get a plane!” Ellis said. . .

Continue reading.

Late in the article, a significant factoid:

“Components [of the F-35] are built in 46 states, and about 350 Congressional districts,” said Grazier. “That’s an awful lot of organic Congressional support for the program on Capitol Hill.”

Trump, who railed against the program as a candidate, has also toned down attacks since taking office.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2018 at 8:23 am

Edwin Jagger synthetic, Van Yulay Puros la Habana, Baby Smooth, Phoenix Cavendish

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I went for tobacco today, and the Edwin Jagger did a fine job with the Van Yulay soap. I do like Van Yulay soap and suggest you try a few samples. They offer quite a variety.

The RazoRock Baby Smooth never presents a problem and always gives both a good shave experience and a good result.

Cavendish is one of my favorites: the scent is long-lasting, which is good because I like the fragrance.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2018 at 8:18 am

Posted in Shaving

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