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New evidence shows contact between Trump official and Republican redistricting expert over census citizenship question, contradicting earlier DOJ claims

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Tara Bahrampour reports in the Washington Post:

Newly released documents show that contrary to statements by the Trump administration, a member of the president’s transition team communicated directly about adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census with a Republican redistricting strategist who determined the question would help Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.

The documents, released Tuesday by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, show text messages about the question between transition team member Mark Neuman and the strategist, Thomas Hofeller, in the summer of 2017, at a time when other evidence shows administration members were actively discussing how the question might be added to the survey.

A Justice Department spokesman in May flatly denied allegations of contact between Hofeller and the administration. The spokesman also had said an unpublished study by Hofeller from 2015 showing the question would benefit Republicans and whites had “played no role” in the administration’s push to add the question.

But July 2, two weeks after a request from the Oversight Committee, Neuman produced documents confirming he had communicated with Hofeller and his business partner, Dalton “Dale” Oldham, on how to craft the question, according to a memo released by the committee Tuesday.

The memo cites an email sent Aug. 30, 2017, from Neuman, who was an adviser to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on the citizenship question, “asking Mr. Hofeller to review language for a letter Mr. Neuman was drafting to request the addition of a citizenship question.”

The letter, addressed from the Justice Department to the director of the Census Bureau, argued that data from a citizenship question was needed to ensure “compliance with requirements of the Voting Rights Act and its application in legislative redistricting,” the memo said, adding that the language Mr. Neuman sent to Mr. Hofeller was part of that draft letter.

In the email, Neuman appeared to critique one argument against adding the question: that the Census Bureau had other ways to obtain information the government wanted on citizenship.

“We understand that the Bureau personnel may believe that ACS [American Community Survey] data on citizenship was sufficient for redistricting purposes. We wanted the Bureau to be aware that two recent Court cases have underscored that ACS data is not viable and/or sufficient for purposes of redistricting,” he wrote to Hofeller, according to the memo.

A citizenship question currently appears on the ACS, which goes to a small sample of American households each year. The decennial census, which goes to all households, has not asked a citizenship-related question since 1950.

Referring to Hofeller’s partner, Mr. Neuman wrote: “Please make certain that this language is correct. Dale doesn’t return my calls,” the memo said, adding that Hofeller replied the same day, saying, “Dale just read it, and says it is fine as written.”

Neuman later sent a draft letter that included the language approved by Hofeller and Oldham to the Justice Department, according to the memo.

The Justice Department did not respond to inquiries about the newly released documents. A Commerce Department spokesperson called the committee actions “a PR stunt primarily intended to malign senior officials in the Trump Administration,” adding that the department has cooperated “in good faith“ with the committee.

The timing and impetus of the department’s involvement became a flash point during litigation over the question. The Justice Department wrote a letter in December 2017 requesting that the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, add it, but documents released during the lawsuits revealed Ross had actively solicited the request from the Justice Department.

The government had said it needed the citizenship question on the decennial form to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. But census experts, civil rights organizations and the bureau’s internal analysis said the question probably would depress response rates among immigrants and minorities, resulting in underrepresentation of those groups.

Data from the decennial census is used to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding each year, and for redistricting and congressional reapportionment.

The administration backed off trying to add the question in July, after a Supreme Court ruling found its rationale for adding it to be “contrived.” But members of Congress, led by recently deceased congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), continued to push for information related to the government’s 19-month quest to add it.

The administration did not respond to congressional subpoenas over the matter, and in July the House voted to hold Ross and Attorney General William P. Barr in criminal contempt for failing to provide documents connected to it.

The question of Hofeller’s involvement came to light in May, as the question was being litigated, when new evidence discovered on his hard drives after his death suggested the administration had worked with him to craft the question. . .

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We’ve come to this: the Department of Justice now lies to Congress and the public. The US is doomed.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2019 at 8:23 pm

Here’s How Corporate America Took Over America

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Kevin Drump posts at Mother Jones:

Have American businesses become more concentrated over the past 30 years? Anecdotally, it seems like the answer is yes. The Big 8 accounting firms are now the Big 4. There are only four cell phone companies, soon to be three. Four airlines control 80 percent of the American market. The car industry consolidated into the Big Three decades ago. Four companies control two-thirds of the cloud computing market.

But in spite of this anecdotal feeling, it’s an undecided question among economists about whether American businesses are really a lot more concentrated than they used to be. Anyone can pick a few examples of industries that have consolidated, but what happens when you look rigorously at the business community overall?

We’re not going to solve this question today, though in general I’ve been more persuaded by the researchers who say that consolidation has, in fact, happened, and the result has been increasingly monopolistic behavior among US corporations.

One of those researchers is French transplant Thomas Philippon, who is introduced to us today in the New York Times by David Leonhardt. Philippon’s research has convinced him that we have indeed gone through an era of considerable consolidation, and it’s mainly due to weak enforcement of antitrust laws. In Europe, which has much stronger antitrust enforcement than we do, Philippon reports that the top firms have increased their market share far less than American firms. As a result, prices charged to consumers have also increased far less than in America. Here is Philippon’s conclusion about how this has affected American workers:

The consolidation of corporate America has become severe enough to have macroeconomic effects. Profits have surged, and wages have stagnated. Investment in new factories and products has also stagnated, because many companies don’t need to innovate to keep profits high. Philippon estimates that the new era of oligopoly costs the typical American household more than $5,000 a year.

I find that $5,000 number quite easy to believe. In fact, it seems a little low to me. But how did it happen? Even with weak antitrust enforcement (thanks Robert Bork!), how do companies get away with raising prices and cutting pay? They still have some competition, after all. The answer to that, I think, is the long Republican war against unions:

The destruction of the American working class is a two-part story. First, it was necessary to get rid of unions. As long as they were around, they’d demand a fair share of profits for workers no matter what the competition landscape looked like. That war lasted from about 1947 to 1981. When Ronald Reagan broke the air-traffic controllers union it was the final straw. Unions had already been decimated both by Republican laws and by Republican-led-efforts to train companies in how to resist unionization. Democrats never had the will to fight back hard enough, and after Reagan they never had the power. Republicans won their war against unions decisively.

It was only then, with unions effectively out of the way, that corporations could start consolidating and taking an ever bigger share of profits for top executives and shareholders, leaving workers with stagnating wages and grinding working conditions. No union, for example, would accept the practice of “clopening,” where an employee is required to close up a store at night and then turn right around and open in the morning. Nor would they accept the ever-more-common practice of expecting workers to be on call at all times, never knowing for sure what their work schedule will be. As much as low pay, these are the kinds of things that make work such a burden for the working class these days.

So this is the story. Spend three or four decades wiping out the power of labor unions, and then you can spend the next three or four decades turning the United States into a plutocracy with no one to effectively fight you about it.

And you have to give Republicans credit: Not only did they cobble together this plan and execute it brilliantly, they’ve managed even . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2019 at 11:06 am

Trump rails against impeachment: ‘They shouldn’t be having public hearings’

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And yet Republicans demanded transparency and in fact stormed a hearing room (in which Republicans were represented) to demand transparency. Odd. Brett Samuels reports for The Hill:

President Trump on Friday said there should be no public hearings in the impeachment inquiry as he railed against the process unfolding in the House.

“They shouldn’t be having public hearings. This is a hoax,” Trump said as he left the White House for events in Georgia.

The comments mark a sharp break from Trump’s allies, who have spent recent weeks complaining about the lack of transparency in the ongoing impeachment inquiry. The first public hearings in the process are set to take place next week.

House Democrats are investigating allegations that Trump abused his office by urging foreign governments to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his domestic political rival, as well as Biden’s son.

The committees leading the impeachment inquiry this week released transcripts of their closed-door hearings with several current and former officials.

Each of the testimonies indicated that there was widespread concern about the role of Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in the administration’s Ukraine policy and described a campaign by Giuliani to oust a U.S. ambassador.

A few witnesses testified that a White House meeting with the Ukrainian president was contingent on his publicly announcing investigations that Trump wanted.

Trump on Friday blasted the impeachment proceedings in his most extensive public comments since the first transcripts were released on Monday. He attacked Democratic lawmakers leading the impeachment process and suggested an attorney for the whistleblower who raised concerns about his call with the Ukrainian president should be sued “and maybe for treason.”

Trump downplayed the potentially damaging effects of the transcripts that have been released thus far, claiming he was unfamiliar with many of the witnesses and that none of them had first-hand information.

“I’m not concerned about anything,” Trump said. “The testimony has all been fine. I mean for the most part, I’ve never even heard of these people. There are some very fine people. You have some Never Trumpers. It seems that nobody has any first-hand knowledge.”

The president asserted that the only thing that counts is the partial transcript from his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. While Trump has insisted that document shows the call was “perfect,” it depicts the president urging his Ukrainian counterpart to “look into” the Bidens after Zelensky brought up the need for military assistance.

Trump added  . . .

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Emphasis added.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2019 at 1:59 pm

Hillary Clinton’s Zombie Impeachment Memo That Could Help Fell Trump

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Darren Samuelsohn reports in Politico:

document Hillary Clinton helped write nearly a half century ago has returned from the dead to threaten the man she couldn’t vanquish in 2016.

The bizarre, only-in-D.C. twist centers on a congressional report penned by a bipartisan team of young attorneys that included Hillary before she was a Clinton and written in the throes of Watergate. Then, unlike now, not a single lawmaker had been alive the last time Congress impeached a president. They had little understanding of how to try and remove Richard Nixon from the White House. So they tapped Clinton and a team of ambitious staffers to dive into the history of impeachment, stretching back to the 14th century in England: How has impeachment been used? What were the justifications? Can we apply it to Nixon?

The resulting document became a centerpiece of the congressional push to drive the Republican president from office. But then Nixon resigned. The memo was buried.

That was just the report’s first life.

In an ironic twist, the document was resurrected in the late 1990s. Republicans gleefully used it to bolster their unsuccessful bid to oust Clinton’s now-husband, President Bill Clinton. Then it faded from public conscience — again.

Until now, that is. The 45-year-old report has become a handbook House Democratic lawmakers and aides say they are using to help determine whether they have the goods to mount a full-scale impeachment effort against President Donald Trump, the same man who three years ago upended Hillary Clinton’s bid for a return trip to the White House.

Essentially, Clinton, albeit indirectly, might get one last shot at accomplishing what she couldn’t in 2016 — defeating Trump.

“I can only say that the impeachment Gods have a great sense of humor,” Alan Baron, an expert on the topic who has staffed four congressional impeachments against federal judges, said of the recurring role Hillary Clinton keeps playing in this story.

It started in early 1974.

The walls were closing in on a beleaguered President Nixon. His aides were going down one by one. He had tried — and failed — to halt the investigations into his behavior by cleaning house during the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre.”

On Capitol Hill, Hillary Rodham, a 26-year-old law school graduate, was hired by the House Judiciary Committee to work on a bipartisan staff effort to help determine whether to impeach Nixon. She joined a team of aspiring lawyers that also included Bill Weld, who would go on to his own illustrious career as a top Justice Department prosecutor, Massachusetts governor and most recently as a long-shot 2020 GOP primary challenger against Trump.

Over a couple of months just before the climactic end of the Watergate scandal, the team dug deep into constitutional and legal arcana scouring documents that dated to the country’s founding, as well as century-old newspaper clippings in the Library of Congress.

The resulting title of the report, “Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment,” may elicit yawns. But what they produced became a seminal 64-page road map with appendices that looks into what counts as an impeachable offense.

At the time, lawmakers needed the guidance. They had not had to think seriously about these issues for more than 100 years, when Congress rebelled against President Andrew Johnson over his handling of reconstruction after the Civil War.

The staffers’ research broke ground by making an accessible argument that a president doesn’t have to commit a straight-up crime for Congress to consider the historic step of impeachment.

“The framers did not write a fixed standard. Instead they adopted from English history a standard sufficiently general and flexible to meet future circumstances and events, the nature and character of which they could not foresee,” the House staffers, including the future first lady, wrote about the ill-defined constitutional working of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Their exhaustive report also included a whirlwind history lesson about how America’s founders had been well-versed in impeachment when they included the language in several clauses of the Constitution — the British Parliament had used the impeachment process as a check on royalty for more than 400 years, dating to the 14th century.

And the process hadn’t just been used to remove alleged criminals from office. In the United States, 83 articles of impeachment had been voted out of the House up to that point against a dozen federal judges, one senator and Andrew Johnson, and fewer than a third actually involved specific criminal acts. Far more common, they wrote, was that the House was dealing with allegations that someone had violated their duties, oath of office or seriously undermined public confidence in their ability to perform their official functions.

“Because impeachment of a President is a grave step for the nation, it is to be predicated only upon conduct seriously incompatible with either the constitutional form and principles of our government or the proper performance of constitutional duties of the presidential office,” the House staffers concluded.

While the document Hillary Rodham and her colleagues produced got marked as a staff report, the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee still used it to justify their historic votes against Nixon. In fact, two of the three articles of impeachment adopted by the powerful panel — dealing with the Republican president’s abuse of power and contempt of Congress — didn’t cover areas that fall neatly into the category of federal crimes. A final staff report submitted to the House just days after Nixon made history as the first president to resign from office quoted from the staff’s earlier analysis.

More than two decades later, though, Clinton may have wished she had never helped write the document.

It was 1997, eight months before the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. President Bill Clinton was facing Republican outrage over everything from allegations of campaign finance irregularities to Whitewater, the probe into the Clinton’s Arkansas real estate investments. To legitimize their anger, some Republicans turned to a document that likely hadn’t been discussed for a generation — the 1974 impeachment report Hillary Clinton had worked on.

Georgia GOP Rep. Bob Barr resurfaced the report in a sarcasm-laced op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that opened with the line “Dear Mrs. Clinton.”

The conservative congressman went on to thank the first lady for giving lawmakers a “road map” to consider her husband’s impeachment with a report that “appears objective, fair, well researched and consistent with other materials reflecting and commenting on impeachment.”

“And it is every bit as relevant today as it was 23 years ago,” he added.

In time, both parties would cite from the Judiciary Committee’s 1974 staff report as they fought over whether the conduct associated with President Clinton’s sexual relationship with Lewinsky merited impeachment.

Calling the Watergate document “historic,” then-Virginia GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte argued in the fall of 1998 that Clinton’s offenses, like those of Nixon, had extended beyond questions of obstruction of justice to whether the president betrayed the public trust. Then-Rep. Charles Canady, a Florida Republican chairing a House subcommittee on the Constitution, referred repeatedly to the Watergate panel’s work during the House debate and later in Bill Clinton’s Senate trial, which ultimately concluded with his acquittal.

Democrats, meanwhile, had a different read on the group’s findings.

California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who had worked for a member of the Judiciary Committee during Watergate, shared copies of the more than 20-year-old report with colleagues from both parties and posted a link to it online — she had an offer from law school students to type it out so it could be searchable by word but internal ethics rules prevented that move. Her primary argument was that Clinton’s lies about his relationship with Lewinsky, while immoral, didn’t match the historical precedents outlined as qualifying for impeachment in the 1974 staff analysis.

“The interesting thing is they cited it for purposes it didn’t support. I wonder whether they read it or whether they had index cards prepared by their staff,” Lofgren said in a recent interview when asked about the Republicans who were using the report to justify removing Clinton from office.

Ted Kalo, a former top Democratic aide on the Judiciary panel, said there was widespread bipartisan agreement that the Watergate staff report mattered — even amid the differing interpretations.

“Great books have been written and eloquent testimony was given in the 1998 hearing on the topic, but even in 1998, the 1974 staff report was considered to be state of the art,” he said.

“It’s the most concise, easily understood document on the history of the impeachment clause and the intent of the framers, including the issue of what constitutes an impeachable offense that I’ve come across. And it faithfully and logically describes what was intended to be the appropriate scope of the House’s impeachment power,” he added.

Now it’s 2019. President Donald Trump is an unindicted criminal co-conspirator who has fended off myriad congressional probes and watched his aides go to prison over an investigation into the Trump campaign. Most Democrats — not to mention their fervent progressive base — are clamoring for impeachment. And yet again, the 1974 impeachment report is getting a rereading on Capitol Hill.

Just as the Watergate staff suggested, the . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2019 at 1:54 pm

Dahlia Lithwick: Why I Haven’t Gone Back to SCOTUS Since Kavanaugh

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Dahlia Lithwick writes in Slate:

It’s been just over a year since I sat in the hearing room and watched the final act of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing. I listened from the back as Christine Blasey Ford and then-Judge Kavanaugh each faced the Senate Judiciary Committee to tell irreconcilable versions of what happened in the summer of 1982. The morning was spent as I’d anticipated: all of us—the press corps, the country—listening, some clearly in agony, to Ford’s account. And then Kavanaugh came in and started screaming. The reporters at the tables around me took him in with blank shock, mindlessly typing the words he was yelling.

The enduring memory, a year later, is that my 15-year-old son texted—he was watching it in school—to ask if I was “perfectly safe” in the Senate chamber. He was afraid for the judge’s mental health and my physical health. I had to patiently explain that I was in no physical danger of any kind, that there were dozens of people in the room, and that I was at the very back, with the phalanx of reporters. My son’s visceral fears don’t really matter in one sense, beyond the fact that I was forced to explain to him that the man shouting about conspiracies and pledging revenge on his detractors would sit on the court for many decades; and in that one sense, none of us, as women, were ever going to be perfectly safe again.

Kavanaugh is now installed for a lifetime at the highest court in the land. Ford is still unable to resume her life or work for fear of death threats. And the only thing the hearings resolved conclusively is that Senate Republicans couldn’t be bothered to figure out what happened that summer of 1982, or in the summers and jobs and weekends that followed. In the year-plus since, I have given many speeches in rooms full of women who still have no idea what actually happened in that hearing room that day, or why a parody of an FBI investigation was allowed to substitute for fact-finding, or why Debbie Ramirez and her Yale classmates were never even taken seriously, and why three books so far and two more books to come are doing the work of fact-finding that government couldn’t be bothered to undertake. Women I meet every week assure me that they are never going to feel perfectly safe again, which makes my son somewhat prescient. Two out of the nine sitting justices have credibly been accused of sexual impropriety against women. They will be deciding fundamental questions about women’s liberty and autonomy, having both vowed to get even for what they were “put through” when we tried to assess whether they were worthy of the privilege and honor of a seat on the highest court in the country.

My job as a Supreme Court reporter used to be to explain and translate the institution to people locked out of its daily proceedings. I did that reasonably well for 19 years, I suppose. Years upon years of sometimes partisan, often political brawling, from Bush v. Gore to the Affordable Care Act to Obergefell—and abortion, yes. But always swathed in black robes and velvet curtains, in polite questions, and case names and at least the appearance that this was all cool science, as opposed to blood sport.

What I have not acceded to is the routinization and normalization of the unprecedented seat stolen from President Barack Obama in 2016 for no reason other than Mitch McConnell wanted it, and could. And what I have also not acceded to is the routinization and normalization of an unprecedented seating of someone who managed to himself evade the very inquiries and truth-seeking functions that justice is supposed to demand. And so, while I cannot know conclusively what happened in the summer of 1982, or at the sloppy drunk parties in the years that followed at Yale, or in the falling-down summer evenings at tony D.C. law firms, or with the gambling debts, or with the leaked Judiciary Committee emails, I can say that given Senate Republicans’ refusal to investigate, acknowledge, or even turn over more than 100,000 pages of documents relating to Kavanaugh, it is surely not my job to, in the parlance of Justice Antonin Scalia, America’s favorite grief counselor, “get over it.”

The American public seems to be getting over the Kavanaugh hearings. New polling certainly suggests as much. And, having spent the bulk of last term lying low both doctrinally and also publicly, Kavanaugh appears to be ready to emerge now, in the form of a soaring Federalist Society butterfly. By his watch, apparently, it’s time, and so he will be a featured speaker at the swanky Federalist Society dinner next month (tickets are $250 for nonmembers and $200 for members). William Barr’s Justice Department last week awarded the “Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service,” the department’s second highest honor, to the team of attorneys that worked on Kavanaugh’s nomination last year. It was a closed ceremony.

Two of the three female justices spoke out this summer to support their new colleague. They hailed him as a mentor to his female clerks or as a collegial member of the Nine and urged us, in the case of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, to look to the future and turn the page. It is, of course, their actual job to get over it. They will spend the coming years doing whatever they can to pick off a vote of his, here and there, and the only way that can happen is through generosity and solicitude and the endless public performance of getting over it. I understand this.

As a Supreme Court reporter, I am also expected to afford the new justice that same generosity and solicitude. As a journalist, I am finding it hard to do. After all, he is a man who has already publicly condemned his critics to suffer his wrath for embarrassing him. He is a man who has promised that his doubters and detractors will “reap the whirlwind.” He should know full well that after such behavior, he will be celebrated as a hero by some, and he should understand that for millions of others, the choice will be whether to let him back into the centrist, reasonable D.C. insider fold or to push him to become what Clarence Thomas became after his own hearings: a vengeance machine that neither forgives nor forgets. Nobody other than the most radical conservative wants another vengeance machine on the high court, not one who could otherwise be a fifth vote on occasion. So the name of the game is forgiveness and forgetting, in service of long-term tactical appeasement.

That is the problem with power: It incentivizes forgiveness and forgetting. It’s why the dozens of ethics complaints filed after the Kavanaugh hearings complaining about the judge’s behavior have been easily buried in a bottomless file of appeasement, on the grounds that he’s been seated and it’s too late. The problem with power is that there is no speaking truth to it when it holds all the cards. And now, given a lifetime appointment to a position that is checked by no one, Washington, the clerkship machinery, the cocktail party circuit, the elite academy all have a vested interest in getting over it and the public performance of getting over it. And a year perhaps seems a reasonable time stamp for that to begin.

The problem with power is that Brett Kavanaugh now has a monopoly on normalization, letting bygones be bygones, and turning the page. American women also have to decide whether to get over it or to invite more recriminations. That is, for those keeping track, the very definition of an abusive relationship. You stick around hoping that he’s changed, or that he didn’t mean it, or that if you don’t anger him again, maybe it’ll all be fine when the court hears the game-changing abortion appeal this year.

I wish we could have learned what Brett Kavanaugh has actually done, said, worked on, enabled, covered for, empowered. Perhaps the next book will reveal more. Perhaps the one after that. The collective public conclusion of the most recent book, by Kate Kelly and Robin Pogrebin, seems to be that he was a sloppy, reckless, drunk youth who has largely become better, and that it is perhaps unfair to hold men to standards that we somehow always forgive when they are still boys. We didn’t get to have that conversation either. And the people who most deserve to decide whether he is, in fact, cured of these alleged acts of youthful carelessness, violence, and predation—the women who say he has harmed them—have, other than Ford, neither been heard nor recognized. I’m not certain they subscribe to the narrative that he was a naughty boy now recovered. He spent his confirmation hearing erasing them, and his boosters and fans have made their lives since unbearable. At any rate, they are also powerless, now, to change what has occurred.

It is not my job to decide if Brett Kavanaugh is guilty. It’s impossible for me to do so with incomplete information, and with no process for testing competing facts. But it’s certainly not my job to exonerate him because it’s good for his career, or for mine, or for the future of an independent judiciary. Picking up an oar to . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 October 2019 at 2:53 pm

The Market for Voting Machines Is Broken. This Company Has Thrived in It.

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Jessica Huseman reports in ProPublica:

In the glare of the hotly contested 2018 elections, things did not go ideally for ES&S, the nation’s largest manufacturer of voting technology.

In Georgia, where the race for governor had drawn national interest amid concerns about election integrity, ES&S-owned technology was in use when more than 150,000 voters inexplicably did not cast a vote for lieutenant governor. In part because the aged ES&S-managed machines did not produce paper backups, it wasn’t clear whether mechanical or human errors were to blame. Litigation surrounding the vote endures to this day.

In Indiana, ES&S’ systems were plagued by mishaps at the local level. In Johnson County, for instance, the company’s brand-new machines faltered in ways that made it difficult to know whether some people had voted more than once.

“ES&S misjudged the need for appropriate resources to serve Johnson County on Election Day 2018,” a report issued by state election officials later concluded. Johnson County subsequently terminated its contract with ES&S and, this September, paid more than $1.5 million to purchase an entirely new set of equipment.

The uneven performance by ES&S in 2018, however, did little to dent its position as one of the most popular and powerful voting technology companies in the U.S. Any number of prior controversies hadn’t either.

The vote in 2006 in Sarasota, Florida, was just one. There, ES&S machines lost around 18,000 votes; it is still unclear why. The loss was far more than the margin of victory, and a lawsuit followed that ultimately resolved little. The company said in a statement that a variety of testing done on its machines supports its claim that the devices were not at fault, but the county wound up canceling its dealings with the firm shortly afterward.

Despite such stumbles, ES&S — based in Omaha, Nebraska, and employing roughly 500 people — controls around 50% of the country’s election system market, the company says, meaning that some 70 million Americans vote using the company’s equipment.

The question of the nation’s election integrity has rarely been more urgent. President Donald Trump has repeatedly made baseless claims of voter fraud. The special counsel investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 vote produced indictments of more than a dozen foreign nationals. How and what federal authorities are doing to prevent future scandals — incidents of outside interference or basic breakdowns in accurately counting votes — has become yet one more partisan issue in a bitterly divided Congress.

A ProPublica examination of ES&S shows it has fought hard to keep its dominance in the face of repeated controversies. The company has a reputation among both its competitors and election officials for routinely going to court when it fails to win contracts or has them taken away, suing voting jurisdictions, rivals, advocates for greater election security and others.

In September 2018, ES&S filed a federal lawsuit against Cook County, Illinois, after the county awarded a $30 million voting machine contract to another company. ES&S later dropped the lawsuit, but the dispute delayed the implementation of Cook County’s new machines, and the Chicago mayoral election this spring ultimately was conducted using the same machines that were meant to be replaced.

ES&S’ lawsuits and threats of lawsuits have helped delay or thwart progress toward better voting technology even when the litigation is unsuccessful, more than two dozen election officials and voting technology experts said in interviews.

“I’d love to see a vibrant marketplace of voting technologies, with companies competing to make better products at lower prices. We have that in mobile phones, personal computers and automobiles, but we don’t have it at all with voting technologies,” said Dan Wallach, a computer science professor at Rice University who studies election systems and has testified in many such lawsuits. “These companies’ litigiousness creates a barrier to competition that becomes a barrier to improving our elections.”

ES&S is owned by the McCarthy Group, a private equity firm, and thus its financial records — revenue, profits, salaries — are not public. A spokesperson declined to make ES&S officials available for an interview for this article, and the company instead issued written responses to questions. It said its machinery and technology were ultimately found blameless in some of the election controversies over the years. In Georgia, it said that while the company was responsible for the maintenance of the machines, it was unable to make updates to the software. The state of Georgia, it said, was ultimately responsible for the mishaps.

“ES&S believes strongly in the security, accuracy and reliability of our machines,” the company said. “We’re committed to our role in democracy and protecting the right to vote.”

Asked about its history of litigation, the company said it sued only as a way to keep competitors honest: “We believe American voters deserve accountability in this industry.”

ES&S’ chief competitors — Hart InterCivic and Dominion — are not strangers to mishaps and aggressive tactics. Dominion’s most recent voting technology failed certification in Texas, and the state also saw hundreds of aging Hart machines confusing voters and leading to accusations of vote flipping. Both companies have sued customers and each other. But industry experts insist ES&S, in part because it has been around and dominant for so long, is in a category of its own.

Whatever the merits of ES&S’ performance, election officials and experts interviewed by ProPublica say the problems with the country’s voting systems go well beyond one company. They say the very nature of the industry and the way it’s regulated work against innovation and reward the tiny handful of often trouble-plagued companies that have been around for decades.

Along with going to court, ES&S had held onto the lion’s share of the nation’s election technology business by using a variety of controversial tactics, its critics say. For years, ES&S has required states and counties that buy its machines to sign long-term deals that often obligate them to purchase a vast array of other equipment and supplies from the company. ES&S also has made it a practice to hire former election officials as lobbyists in statehouses around the country. And it has donated to individual campaigns and spent money to lobby local and federal politicians at levels far higher than its competitors.

ES&S defended its practices, saying that lobbyists play an important role in monitoring new legislation, and that ES&S is in compliance with all state and federal laws related to lobbying. “Lobbyists help ensure legislators have accurate information for use in serving the best interest of the citizens they represent,” it said. “Lobbying is a normal practice employed by all election vendors and is common across all industries.”

In August 2018, Louisiana announced it would replace its old voting machines and awarded a $95 million contract to a rival of ES&S, which was the lowest bidder. ES&S filed a complaint that accused the state of writing its request for proposals so that only the other company’s machines would satisfy the terms. Shortly after, Gov. John Bel Edwards canceled the deal, effectively siding with ES&S and forcing the state to start the process over again.

“The governor’s administration just sided with a company that was $40 million more expensive,” Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said in a statement after the cancelation.

In a statement, the governor’s office said that the cancelation was justified. The office also laid the blame at the feet of the secretary of state’s office, which it said added “additional requirements” to the bid “just days before the responses were due.”

Louisiana campaign finance records show that an ES&S lobbyist in Baton Rouge has donated $13,250 to Edwards’ campaigns since 2014.

Louisiana still has not obtained new voting machines, and the state is expected to cast ballots in 2020 on the same machines it’s had since 2005.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is among a number of legislators pushing the federal government to better oversee the quality of local election technology, from voting machines to voter registration databases.

To begin the process of assessing the security and reliability of voting machines across the country, Wyden this year sent a detailed  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 October 2019 at 1:40 pm

Boeing’s reaction to 737 Max crash follows a familiar pattern of deflecting blame

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Douglas MacMillan reports in the Washington Post:

The artifacts displayed in a museum at Boeing’s corporate campus are meant to show how tragic accidents in the company’s history have given rise to major advances in airplane safety.

A wristwatch frozen at 6:56 honors the moment when Japan Airlines Flight 123 crashed into a mountain in 1985, a deadly crash that led to improved repair protocols across the industry.

A photograph shows the 18-foot hole that ripped open an aging Aloha Airlines jet midflight in 1988 and swept a flight attendant to her death; this prompted new limits on the number of times one plane is permitted to fly.

Boeing opened the museum to employees in 2017 and this year added a fountain honoring the 346 people who died in the two recent crashes of 737 Max jets. The memorial says nothing about what caused the crashes or what lessons Boeing has learned from them.

“It’s too early to tell,” John Hamilton, chief engineer of Boeing’s commercial planes division, said during a tour through the facility in early October. The crashes, he said, are still “under investigation.”

One year after rescuers hoisted fragments of the wreckage of Lion Air Flight 610 out of Indonesia’s Java Sea, Boeing has apologized for the loss of life but has not detailed what mistakes it made in its design of the 737 Max. Indonesian authorities’ 320-page final report on the accident, released Friday, faults Boeing for developing a powerful flight control system called MCAS that relied on a single problematic sensor, and for failing to adequately inform pilots and regulators how it works.

The report, which also cited problems with Lion Air’s maintenance and lapses on the part of a Florida sensor manufacturer, added to a growing body of evidence feeding public concerns about safety oversight at Boeing.

[Lion Air crash investigators fault Boeing 737 Max’s flight-control system, regulatory lapses and pilot training]

Boeing’s response to the public uproar over the 737 Max follows a historical pattern for the company, according to interviews with 11 former employees, government officials and aviation safety experts, all of whom worked on crash investigations involving Boeing. For decades, the aerospace giant has tried to carefully shape public perceptions around the causes of plane crashes — both to limit its legal liability and to maintain the confidence of customers, employees and investors in the integrity of its planes, those interviewed said.

The company has earned a reputation in the aviation community for withholding information, favoring theories of pilot errors over product flaws and being slow to make engineering changes to planes that could prevent future crashes, said Jim Hall, a former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that oversees investigations into all crashes that occur in the United States.

In my opinion, they are just not transparent with factual information,” Hall said.

Gordon Johndroe, a Boeing spokesman, acknowledged that “we know we need to be more transparent with information.” However, Johndroe said in a statement: “Boeing has cooperated fully with accident investigators to understand the root causes of all accidents. We are committed to sharing data to improve the overall safety of the transportation system — which has undeniably improved over the last three decades.”

Chief executive Dennis Muilenburg will face questions from U.S. lawmakers this week at a Senate hearing on Tuesday and a House hearing on Wednesday — part of Boeing’s campaign to win back the trust of regulators and the flying public amid a crisis that has grounded hundreds of planes, prompted a probe by the Justice Department’s criminal division and halted sales of the company’s flagship jetliner. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. . .

Boeing is simply an example of a common problem: a corporation that focuses on profits to the exclusion of all else. Profit-caused blindness leads to worker exploitation and deaths, consumer injuries and deaths, toxic products and by-products released into the economy and the environment, and a host of other ills. Nothing, so far as I can tell, will be done about it. Corporations, as semi-conscious memetic entities, have the power to protect themselves and alter the memetic environment to their benefit. They will prosper. Humans, not so much.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 October 2019 at 10:42 am

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