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Trump’s White House defies media’s superlatives

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Eric Wemple has a good column in the Washington Post:

Sample the outrage:

  • “Every administration tries to manipulate the press, but this is the most hostile to the media that [an administration] has been in United States history,” said veteran reporter Bob Franken.
  • The administration is “more restrictive” and also “more dangerous” to media outlets than any other in U.S. history, said USA Today’s Susan Page.
  • “This administration exercises more control than George W. Bush’s did, and his before that,” said veteran TV journo Bob Schieffer.
  • “This is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered,” said New York Times reporter David E. Sanger.
  • “It’s turning out to be the administration of unprecedented secrecy and unprecedented attacks on a free press,” said Margaret Sullivan.
  • “In the past, we would often be called into the Roosevelt Room at the beginning of meetings to hear the president’s opening remarks and see who’s in the meeting, and then we could talk to some of them outside on the driveway afterward. This president has wiped all that coverage off the map. He’s the least transparent of the seven presidents I’ve covered in terms of how he does his daily business,” said former ABC News correspondent Ann Compton.
  • “This is the most secretive White House that, at least as a journalist, I have ever dealt with,” said Jill Abramson.

Such affinity for superlatives! Seasoned media-watchers can determine quite easily that those comments don’t pertain to the Trump White House, which lacks the discipline to execute secrecy. They all pan the media policies of the Obama White House.

They provide some perspective, too, on the study of relative media-obstruction. Franken’s objections came after photographers complained that Obama staffers had excluded them from certain events, giving preferential treatment to official White House photographer Pete Souza. Others, including Page, Sullivan and Abramson, relate to the Obama administration’s insistence on pursuing leak investigations. “Over the past eight years,” wrote New York Times investigative reporter James Risen late last year, “the [Obama] administration has prosecuted nine cases involving whistleblowers and leakers, compared with only three by all previous administrations combined. It has repeatedly used the Espionage Act, a relic of World War I-era red-baiting, not to prosecute spies but to go after government officials who talked to journalists.” . . .

Continue reading. And read the whole thing. What Trump is doing is worse, and he explains why.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 May 2017 at 5:42 pm

Interesting: The “most-read” stories right now in the Washington Post

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 February 2017 at 12:11 pm

Congress targets a California law that aims to give low-income workers retirement security

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Evan Halper reports in the LA Times:

ambitious California law intended to help create retirement security for low-income workers is in the crosshairs of the Trump-era Congress, which is moving to block the state and others from launching programs to automatically enroll millions of people in IRA-type savings plans.

The push is one of the most direct confrontations yet with California and other liberal states by a GOP-led Congress emboldened by President Trump’s election.

And it is intensifying the debate about whether conservatives who now control Washington will honor their pledge to respect states’ rights, even when states pursue policies out of step with the Republican agenda.

By targeting the novel “auto IRA”-style programs, congressional Republicans are also provoking one of California’s most visible leaders, state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, the Democrat who championed the policy in California and nationwide and is leading a movement in the Legislature to resist the Trump White House.

The 2016 law being targeted requires employers to enroll 6.8 million California workers who currently have no access to a retirement savings account at work in a state-sponsored plan. Millions more in seven other states that have passed laws similar to California’s would also be enrolled in those states. Many more states are now weighing joining a movement that has been years in the making.

California first took steps toward creating its program in 2012. Other states, including Illinois, have been slowly implementing their own laws, which have been complicated by federal Labor Department rules governing such investment pools.

In its final months, the Obama administration gave states the green light to pursue their vision.

The state laws generally require employers with no retirement plans to automatically invest a small percentage of each worker’s pay in a state-sponsored retirement account. Employers are not required to contribute anything and workers can opt out of the program if they choose.

The first such program was expected to launch this year in Oregon. California and other states were hoping to begin next year.

Now at the urging of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of Wall Street investment firms long opposed to government-sponsored retirement programs that could compete with their own offerings, key Republicans are moving to revoke the federal approval.

“Our nation faces difficult retirement challenges, but more government isn’t the solution,” said a statement from Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), chairman of a House subcommittee on retirement issues who is taking a lead in the repeal effort.

Walberg and his colleagues are invoking an obscure parliamentary tool that gives Congress a small window to repeal new regulations. It has rarely been used in recent years because any repeal effort would have faced certain veto by President Obama. But under Trump, it is now a potent tool for Republicans to swiftly unwind Obama-era regulations.

“The results of the November election give us an opportunity to go back and correct this,” Aliya Wong, executive director of retirement policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said of its effort to block California and other states from moving ahead with their programs.

No hearings are required before the full House votes on the repeal of the federal approval, which could happen as soon as next week. . .

Continue reading.

It’s really out in the open now, isn’t it? The next step will be fistfights.

And contract reporter? Shouldn’t he be on staff?

In that connection, note the GoFundMe of Pizza for the Newsroom: contribute toward buying pizza for the staff of the NY Times and the Washington Post. I have digital subscriptions to both, and they are fully worth it. And I bought a pizza, too.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2017 at 7:40 pm

Memory Lane: Government scandal/Clark Mollenhoff Division

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I just read George Eliot White’s comment in the Washington Post:

It was unfortunate that in Colbert I. King’s Feb. 1 PostPartisan blog excerpt, “Tillerson’s first test” [op-ed], Clark Mollenhoff was identified only as “Nixon’s special counsel and resident gumshoe,” making Mollenhoff sound like some sort of Nixonian goon.

Mollenhoff was a friend when I was a newspaperman covering the White House. Despite taking a year out of his journalistic career to serve as a special counsel to President Richard Nixon, he was a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who wrote for the Des Moines Register with few interruptions from 1942 until his death in 1991. Mollenhoff uncovered corruption in the Teamsters union when Dave Beck was its president and did much fine investigative reporting in Washington.

He deserves better.

It awakened memories, and I commented on the story:

I totally agree on Clark Mollenhof’s excellence as a reported. I was in Iowa following close his reporting in the Des Moines Register on the bidding scandal that Fairchild-Hiller surfaced. He was absolutely on top of it and it was thrilling. His reports were better than what could be found in the Washington Post or NY Times.

By chance, some decades later I met socially the man who was General Counsel for Fairchild-Hiller at the time and learned why Mollenhof had such excellent and detailed information. The former general counsel was pleased (and bemused, I think) by how much I knew of the case, until I told him I had read all Mollenhof’s articles on it. “Yes,” he said, “Mollenhof was very good to us.” I then realized the likely source of Mollenhof’s inside knowledge.

It was an interesting case: Fairchild-Hiller got the bid thrown out because the NASA guy in charge had passed along FH proprietary information to General Electric, which then won the bid. (That NASA employ soon left NASA for a highly lucrative position at … wait for it: General Electric!) As this story reports, NASA said it would re-open the bidding. “No, you won’t,” FH said, and forced the contract to be awarded on the original bids, with GE offer removed. And here’s the amazing thing: FH won the contract. (Normally, if a bidder raises a problem about the bidding that forces a re-do, an agency will (grudgingly) redo the bidding but make sure the company raising the problem doesn’t get the contract. It was quite unusual for the company that got the bid revoked was then given the contract.)

Memory lane: nothing like it. But yes, Mollenhof was a dynamite reporter, on that and other stories. I looked for his articles in the Des Moines Register.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2017 at 1:36 pm

Our journalists are failing us: Washington Post has a false and hysterical story about Russians hacking into a Vermont power grid

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Here’s the report, by Juliet Eilperin and Adam Entous, the Chicken Little reporters who went from a hacked laptop not connected to any grid to a sky-is-falling report about Russia hacking our entire energy grid. In the fourth paragraph that do note that it was just some laptop that was hacked, but that fact barely seems to register in their fear-stoking report written in a hysterical register.

Glenn Greenwald does a good takedown of the report. As he notes, malware is passed around and purchased, and he notes:

. . . There was no “penetration of the U.S. electricity grid.” The truth was undramatic and banal. Burlington Electric, after receiving a Homeland Security notice sent to all U.S. utility companies about the malware code found in the DNC system, searched all their computers and found the code in a single laptop that was not connected to the electric grid.

Apparently, the Post did not even bother to contact the company before running its wildly sensationalistic claims, so they had to issue their own statement to the Burlington Free Press which debunked the Post’s central claim (emphasis in original): “We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop NOT connected to our organization’s grid systems.”

So the key scary claim of the Post story – that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid – was false. All the alarmist tough-guy statements issued by political officials who believed the Post’s claim were based on fiction.

Even worse, there is zero evidence that Russian hackers were responsible even for the implanting of this malware on this single laptop. The fact that malware is “Russian-made” does not mean that only Russians can use it; indeed, like a lot of malware, it can purchased (as Jeffrey Carr has pointed out in the DNC hacking context, assuming that Russian-made malware must have been used by Russians is as irrational as finding a Russian-made Kalishnikov AKM rifle at a crime scene and assuming the killer must be Russian).

As the actual truth emerged once the utility company issued its statement, the Post rushed to fix its embarrassment, beginning by dramatically changing its headline. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2016 at 9:57 am

Posted in Media, Washington Post

David Fahrenthold tells the behind-the-scenes story of his year covering Trump

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And a fascinating story it is. He reports in the Washington Post:

“Arnold and Tim, if you’d come up, we’re going to give you a nice, beautiful check,” Donald Trump said. He held up an oversize check, the kind they give to people who win golf tournaments. It was for $100,000. In the top-left corner the check said: “The Donald J. Trump Foundation.”

Along the bottom, it had the slogan of Trump’s presidential campaign: “Make America Great Again.”

This was in February.

The beginning of it.

Trump was in Waterloo, Iowa, for a caucus-day rally at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center — named for five local siblings who had been assigned to the same Navy cruiser in World War II. They all died when the ship went down at Guadalcanal.

Trump had stopped his rally to do something presidential candidates don’t normally do. He was giving away money.

Arnold and Tim, whom he had called to the stage, were from a local veterans group. Although their big check had Trump’s name on it, it wasn’t actually Trump’s money. Instead, the cash had been raised from other donors a few days earlier, at a televised fundraiser that Trump had held while he skipped a GOP debate because of a feud with Fox News.

Trump said he had raised $6 million that night, including a $1 million gift from his own pocket. Now Trump was giving it, a little at a time, to charities in the towns where he held campaign events.

“See you in the White House,” one of the men said to Trump, leaving the stage with this check that married a nonprofit’s name and a campaign’s slogan.

“He said, ‘We’ll see you in the White House,’ ” Trump repeated to the crowd. “That’s nice.”

After that, Trump lost Iowa.

He won New Hampshire.

Then he stopped giving away money.

But as far as I could tell, just over $1.1 million had been given away. Far less than what Trump said he raised. And there was no sign of the $1 million Trump had promised from his own pocket.

So what happened to the rest of the money?

It sounded like an easy question that the Trump campaign could answer quickly. I thought I’d be through with the story in a day or two.

I was wrong.

That was the start of nine months of work for me, trying to dig up the truth about a part of Trump’s life that he wanted to keep secret. I didn’t understand — and I don’t think Trump understood, either — where that one check, and that one question, would lead.

I’ve been a reporter for The Washington Post since 2000, covering everything from homicide scenes in the District to Congress to the World Championship Muskrat Skinning Contest. (People race to see who skins a dead muskrat the fastest. There’s also a beauty pageant. Some women compete in both.)

By the time I got to that Trump event in Waterloo, I’d been covering the 2016 presidential election for 13 months, since the last weeks of 2014. But I had the track record of a mummy’s curse: Just about every campaign I had touched was dead.

I had, for instance, covered former New York governor George Pataki’s (failed) attempt to get people to recognize him in a New Hampshire Chipotle. Pataki dropped out. I read the collected works of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and made a list of everything the old Baptist preacher had ever condemned as immoral or untoward. The subjects of his condemnation ranged from college-age women going braless to dogs wearing clothes to Beyoncé. Huckabee condemned me. Then he dropped out, too.

I went to St. Louis to write about a speech given by former Texas governor Rick Perry. In the middle of the speech, Perry dropped out.

So by the time the New Hampshire primaries were over, the candidates I had covered were kaput. I needed a new beat. While I pondered what that would be, I decided to do a short story about the money Trump had raised for veterans.

I wanted to chase down two suspicions I’d brought home with me from that event in Iowa. For one thing, I thought Trump might have broken the law by improperly mixing his foundation with his presidential campaign. I started calling experts.

“I think it’s pretty clear that that’s over the line,” Marc S. Owens, the former longtime head of the Internal Revenue Service’s nonprofit division, told me when I called him.

Then Owens kept talking, and the story started deflating.

In theory, Owens said, nonprofit groups like the Trump Foundation are “absolutely prohibited” from participating or intervening in a political campaign. But, he said, if the IRS did investigate, it wouldn’t likely start until the Trump Foundation filed its paperwork for 2016. Which wouldn’t be until late 2017. Then an agent would open a case. There went 2018. Finally, Owens said, the IRS might take action: It might even take away the Trump Foundation’s tax-exempt status.

In 2019. Or maybe not ever.

Owens doubted that the IRS — already under scrutiny from the GOP-run Congress after allegations it had given undue scrutiny to conservative groups — would ever pick a fight with Trump.

“I don’t think anything’s going to happen” to Trump, Owens said. “But, theoretically, it could.”

My other suspicion was that Trump was still sitting on the bulk of the money he had raised for veterans — including the $1 million he had promised from himself.

I asked Trump’s people to account for all this money. They didn’t.

Then, finally, I got a call.

“The money is fully spent,” Corey Lewandowski, then Trump’s campaign manager, told me in late May. “Mr. Trump’s money is fully spent.”

But, Lewandowski told me, the details of Trump’s $1 million in gifts were secret. He wouldn’t say which groups Trump had donated to. Or when. Or in what amounts.

This was an important assertion — that Trump had delivered on a signature campaign promise — made without proof. I didn’t want to just take Lewandowksi’s word for it.

So I tried to prove him right. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 December 2016 at 5:09 pm

Unpacking The New CIA Leak: Don’t Ignore The Aluminum Tube Footnote

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Marcy Wheeler makes some good points in this post:

This post will unpack the leak from the CIA published in the WaPo tonight.

Before I start with the substance of the story, consider this background. First, if Trump comes into office on the current trajectory, the US will let Russia help Bashar al-Assad stay in power, thwarting a 4-year effort on the part of the Saudis to remove him from power. It will also restructure the hierarchy of horrible human rights abusing allies the US has, with the Saudis losing out to other human rights abusers, potentially up to and including that other petrostate, Russia. It will also install a ton of people with ties to the US oil industry in the cabinet, meaning the US will effectively subsidize oil production in this country, which will have the perhaps inadvertent result of ensuring the US remains oil-independent even though the market can’t justify fracking right now.

The CIA is institutionally quite close with the Saudis right now, and has been in charge of their covert war against Assad.

This story came 24 days after the White House released an anonymous statement asserting, among other things, “the Federal government did not observe any increased level of malicious cyber activity aimed at disrupting our electoral process on election day,” suggesting that the Russians may have been deterred.

This story was leaked within hours of the time the White House announced it was calling for an all-intelligence community review of the Russia intelligence, offered without much detail. Indeed, this story was leaked and published as an update to that story.

Which is to say, the CIA and/or people in Congress (this story seems primarily to come from Democratic Senators) leaked this, apparently in response to President Obama’s not terribly urgent call to have all intelligence agencies weigh in on the subject of Russian influence, after weeks of Democrats pressuring him to release more information. It was designed to both make the White House-ordered review more urgent and influence the outcome.

So here’s what that story says.

In September, the spooks briefed “congressional leaders” (which for a variety of reasons I wildarseguess is either a Gang of Four briefing including Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, and Harry Reid or a briefing to SSCI plus McConnell, Reid, Jack Reed, and John McCain). Apparently, the substance of the briefing was that Russia’s intent in hacking Democratic entities was not to increase distrust of institutions, but instead to elect Trump.

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.

The difference between this story and other public assessments is that it seems to identify the people — who sound like people with ties to the Russian government but not necessarily part of it — who funneled documents from Russia’s GRU to Wikileaks.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.

[snip]

[I]ntelligence agencies do not have specific intelligence showing officials in the Kremlin “directing” the identified individuals to pass the Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, a second senior U.S. official said. Those actors, according to the official, were “one step” removed from the Russian government, rather than government employees.

This is the part that has always been missing in the past: how the documents got from GRU, which hacked the DNC and John Podesta, to Wikileaks, which released them. It appears that CIA now thinks they know the answer: some people one step removed from the Russian government, funneling the documents from GRU hackers (presumably) to Wikileaks to be leaked, with the intent of electing Trump.

Not everyone buys this story. Mitch McConnell doesn’t buy the intelligence.

In September, during a secret briefing for congressional leaders, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) voiced doubts about the veracity of the intelligence, according to officials present.

That’s one doubt raised about CIA’s claim — though like you all, I assume Mitch McConnell shouldn’t be trusted on this front.

But McConnell wasn’t the only one. One source for this story — which sounds like someone like Harry Reid or Dianne Feinstein — claimed that this CIA judgment is the “consensus” view of all the intelligence agencies, a term of art.

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

Except that in a briefing this week (which may have been what impressed John McCain and Lindsey Graham to do their own investigation), that’s not what this represented.

The CIA shared its latest assessment with key senators in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill last week, in which agency officials cited a growing body of intelligence from multiple sources. Agency briefers told the senators it was now “quite clear” that electing Trump was Russia’s goal, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

The CIA presentation to senators about Russia’s intentions fell short of a formal U.S. assessment produced by all 17 intelligence agencies. A senior U.S. official said there were minor disagreements among intelligence officials about the agency’s assessment, in part because some questions remain unanswered. [my emphasis]

That’s a conflict. Some senior US official (often code for senior member of Congress) says this is the consensus view. Another senior US official (or maybe the very same one) says there are “minor disagreements.”

Remember: we went to war against Iraq, which turned out to have no WMD, in part because no one read the “minor disagreements” from a few agencies about some aluminum tubes. A number of Senators who didn’t read that footnote closely (and at least one that did) are involved in this story. What we’re being told is there are some aluminum tube type disagreements.

Let’s hear about those disagreements this time, shall we?

Here’s the big takeaway. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 December 2016 at 10:07 am

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