Saturday, February 17, 2018

It's Mueller Time, Con't

None of the defendants indicted Friday for their alleged influence operation against the U.S. political system is likely to ever see the inside of an American courtroom. None is in custody. None is likely to surrender to U.S. authorities. And Vladimir Putin will probably not race to extradite them.

Nevertheless, the grand jury’s charges against the 13 Russians and three organizations mark a significant moment in the investigation of L’Affaire Russe. President Trump has spent the year since his victory casting doubt on the very premise that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Yet here is the Justice Department on the record declaring that the Russia investigation isn’t, in fact, a witch hunt. It isn’t a hoax. It isn’t just a “phony Democrat excuse for losing the election,” as the president has tweeted. There really was, the Justice Department is saying, a Russian influence operation to interfere in the U.S. political system during the 2016 presidential election, and it really was at the expense of Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump.

The U.S. intelligence community, of course, already knew this. It has already shouted it from the rooftops about as loudly as the intelligence community announces its conclusions. The intelligence community, after all, assessed in January 2017 that it had “high confidence” that “President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016” targeting the U.S. presidential election. Before that, it had warned in October 2016 that the Russian government was behind the hacking and distribution of emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. None of these public conclusions stopped Trump from publicly casting doubt on Russian interference.

But the indictments on Friday reflect a different level of certainty, confidence and evidence. Here the special counsel is stating not merely that he has “high confidence” that the interference happened. He is stating that he can prove the existence of the Russian operation in court beyond a reasonable doubt, using only admissible evidence, and that the operation violated U.S. federal criminal law. And he is laying out an astonishingly specific set of forensic conclusions that reflect an impressive intelligence operation against the very operation on which the indictment reports. Even if the special counsel never gets the chance to prove his allegations in court by bringing any of the indictees before a federal judge, the formal statement that he is prepared and able to do so represents a remarkable rebuke of the president’s claims.

Notably, the allegations in this indictment do not deal with computer or email hacking. The operation described in this indictment did not relate to the hacking of the DNC network, nor to the theft or distribution of Podesta’s or the DNC’s emails in the summer and fall of 2016. The indictment makes no allegations about delivering “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, nor of Donald Trump Jr.’s Trump Tower meeting. To the extent that the indictment intersects with the hacking story, it does so obliquely; it includes no Computer Fraud and Abuse Act or other hacking charges. Instead, the indictment deals with an operation that the Russian organization itself described as “information warfare against the United States of America.”

And this is really the key.  For well over a year now, Trump and his supporters have been able to treat the allegations of a major Russian intelligence operation to disrupt the US political system as nebulous diplomatic headbutting ("We're always engaging in spy wars with the Russians") or as outright abstract nonsense ("The Russians are our friends, this is neo-McCarthyism") or as an overblown spy movie plot ("Obama Deep State! How can any liberal believe the FBI?") or worse.

Time and again Trump's supporters could say "If there really was a conspiracy involving a huge Russian intelligence operation to influence and disrupt the 2016 elections, somebody would have told us by now!"

Yesterday that particular exucse died screaming.  More excuses will come, most notably "Well the indictments don't mention that the operation was collusion with Trump in any way, so it still stands that he's exonerated!"

Yeah, about that particular theory, fellas...

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his prosecutors haven’t concluded their investigation into whether President Donald Trump or any of his associates helped Russia interfere in the 2016 election, according to a person with knowledge of the probe.

Friday’s indictment of a St. Petersburg-based “troll farm” and 13 Russian nationals should be seen as a limited slice of a comprehensive investigation, the person said. Mueller’s work is expected to continue for months and also includes examining potential obstruction of justice by Trump, said the person, who requested anonymity to discuss an investigation that is largely confidential.

A federal grand jury indicted the Russians for what it alleged was a vast scheme to interfere in the 2016 election and help Trump win. But Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said at a news conference Friday that there is “no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant” in the alleged scheme.

Trump indicated that he believes the indictment exonerates him and his campaign.

“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong - no collusion!” Trump said on Twitter.

That has yet to be determined. Friday’s indictment should be seen as an effort by Mueller to raise awareness about Russia’s capabilities as the 2018 U.S. elections draw near, the person said.

It’s still possible that Mueller will indict Americans for knowingly helping Russia, the person said.

You and I know the indictments clearly leave the door open to further indictments down the road, but now the Trump regime is going to be pushing very, very hard to try to end the investigation here, and soon.

Watch the reactions of Trump's mouthpieces this weekend.  If they go from "We hope the Mueller investigation will wrap up soon" to something like thanking Mueller for his service to America or how this chapter of America's history is behind us now or referring to the probe in the past tense, bad things are about to happen.

Stay tuned.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Last Call for How To Get Gun Safety Laws In America Overnight

Kari Holloway at Alternet gives us a very simple solution to motivate the GOP into passing background checks, closing gun show loopholes, and a host of other gun safety legislative steps virtually overnight.

Martin Luther King, who received endless death threats and was the target of a house bombing in 1956, applied for an open carry permit, but was denied by Montgomery, Alabama’s racist police force. When the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, in accordance with California law, began openly carrying weapons to patrol Oakland’s neighborhoods, the state legislature quickly crafted, and Gov. Ronald Reagan quickly signed, the 1967 Mulford Act ending public carry. On the heels of race riots, Congress Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, followed by the Gun Control Act of 1968, which Georgetown historian Adam Winkler notes included a provision to restrict “‘Saturday Night Specials’—the cheap, easily available guns often used by [black] youth.” The legislation was the first federal gun law in nearly three decades, and proved lawmakers would rather institute widespread gun control measures than potentially have a widely armed black populace. 
More recently, the understanding that the Second Amendment serves only to protect America’s white citizens was reified with the 2014 police murder of John Crawford III, who was holding an airgun in a Walmart located in Ohio, an open carry state. The same is true of Philando Castile, a licensed gun owner who had just informed cops he was carrying when Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez unloaded five fatal shots into his body. (The NRA was conspicuously mum on the issue.) The Christian Science Monitor cites research from Jennifer Carlson, author of “Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline,” who noted discrepancies in the Michigan licensing practices that stood until 2015.

She found differences in how gun boards operated in Michigan's majority-black Wayne County and majority-white Oakland County. Black concealed-carry applicants in Wayne were routinely lectured and quizzed in public forums – what she calls “degradation ceremonies.” White gun owners in Oakland, meanwhile, were addressed without lectures in hearings where they could plead their case in a semi-private room. (Michigan has since done away with the gun boards.) 
White folks' deep-seated fears of black folks will always ensure pushback on arms in black hands. These attitudes, it will surprise zero black people, are yet more pronounced among white gun advocates. That is, the intensity of gun fervor in white Americans often correlates directly with racist attitudes, and by extension, fears and stereotypes about black criminality, thus creating a perceived need for more guns. Researchers note that “for each 1 point increase in symbolic racism there was a 50 percent increase in the odds of having a gun at home.” Similarly, Jason McDaniel and Sean McElwee analyzed data comparing white racial resentment and gun attitudes and emerged with the near-obvious conclusion, “Opposition to gun control—like opposition to immigration, Sharia law, and ‘political correctness’—has become linked to things that racially resentful whites fear." It seems pretty likely that, were the media face of gun ownership to become black, calls to institute legislative controls would suddenly fill the halls of Congress. 
By the most recent tally, just 19 percent of African-Americans have a gun in their household, compared with 41 percent of whites. But new fears about rising racist violence, an increase in the number of hate groups and the everyday transparent bigotry of the Trump administration are reportedly helping drive up the number of African-American gun buyers. The official numbers aren’t yet in, but if the needle on black gun ownership noticeably moves, it will be taken as cause for alarm and time to politically act. And once again, black folks will have saved America from itself.

Imagine this scenario, guys.

Imagine if there were a large open carry rally in a red state like Oklahoma or Texas or better yet, Alabama or Florida, with ten or fifteen thousand black folks with AR-15s.

Imagine the kind of coverage that would get on FOX News.  Imagine the coverage that just the promise of organized future rallies of that type would get.  Imagine organizers on TV calmly telling the press that black America was planning on fully engaging in "Second Amendment remedies" to solve the problems of black inequality in the same way white supremacist groups and sovereign citizens groups and militia groups advocate today for in 2018.

Imagine how Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, Tomi Lahren, Laura Ingraham, Rush Limbaugh and Breitbart would cover something like that.

Now imagine what they would call for in response.  50 years ago we had the Mulford Act.  We'd have it again, only then some.

You would have the entire Sandy Hook package of legislation that Democrats wanted to pass years ago plus everything since get 400 House votes and 80 Senate votes and on Trump's desk within 90 days, and more like 30.

I guarantee you this.

If black citizens of this country ever started taking advantage of the Second Amendment that exists in the fantasies of the NRA lobby, you would have gun control laws, bans on certain weapon types, magazine bans, ammunition bans, smart locks, waiting periods, background checks, federal firearms databases, hell you'd even have the bans on the CDC researching firearms as a health hazard all lifted, and all of this legislation would happen within the space of months, if not weeks.

It would happen with a blinding swiftness, a near-epic celerity that would cement common sense laws for generations in America.


Then have these same black open carry rally leaders say "We respect these new laws, but plan to keep our existing firearms and ammunition for defense of our homes and neighborhoods."

And watch what happens with the idea that guns could never be confiscated in America.

You want to get the bulk of well over a hundred million plus firearms in this country off the streets within a year?

You do that.

Like lightning in a bottle, guys.

I know it's a fantasy, but it's a damn effective one.  And failing that, well, there's always voting out the NRA lobby in 2018 and 2020.

Let's aim for that too.

It's DEFINITELY Mueller Time, Con't

We got our Friday Mueller News Dump a bit early today, and boy it is ever a fantastic one.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for allegedly meddling in the 2016 presidential election, charging them with conspiracy to defraud the United States, the Department of Justice has announced. 
In addition, three defendants were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five defendants with aggravated identity theft. 
Mueller has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election as well as any connections between Russia and Trump campaign associates. 
Beginning as early as 2014, the Russian organization Internet Research Agency began operations to interfere with the US political system, including the 2016 elections, according to the indictment, which was released by Mueller's office Friday. 
The defendants allegedly posed as US persons, created false US personas, and operated social media pages and groups designed to attract US audiences, the indictment reads. 
The Internet Research Agency had a "strategic goal to sow discord in the US political system" including the election, according to the indictment. 
Russians posted "derogatory information about a number of candidates," and by mid-2016 they supported Trump and disparaged Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. They bought ads and communicated with "unwitting" people tied to Trump campaign and others to coordinate political activities.

And please note the indictment itself makes it very clear that this vast Russian information operation conspiracy supported Donald Trump in 2016.

This is massive, guys.  For months we've been told that there's "no evidence of Russian interference" and that this was all a hoax.  It's not.

After all, in order to establish that the Russians colluded to help Trump win, we have to establish the Russians were involved in election interference.   This 37-page indictment does just that.

Now things get very, very real.  Chuck Pierce sums it up:

Oh, they’re smart fellers, they are. The indictments were rolled out perfectly. It is now absolutely impossible for the president* to fire either Rosenstein or Mueller without the worst possible political consequences. By basing the indictments on federal election law, Mueller has framed the case so as also to include anyone who accepted this criminal help.

When the other shoe drops on this, as in we find out precisely "who accepted this criminal help" here, it's going to be roughly the size of a small moon (with roughly the same level of kinetic impact) when it lands squarely on Donald Trump's pea-brained head.

Stay tuned.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Despite the insanity going on this week, the Mueller probe steadily continues on as major players are cutting deals to turn state's evidence against the Tangerine Tyrant.  First up, Paul Manafort's partner in crime, Rick Gates, is definitely looking for a plea bargain deal with Mueller's team.

Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is finalizing a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller's office, indicating he's poised to cooperate in the investigation, according to sources familiar with the case. 
Gates has already spoken to Mueller's team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. He's had what criminal lawyers call a "Queen for a Day" interview, in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors' team, including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed. 
Gates' cooperation could be another building block for Mueller in a possible case against President Donald Trump or key members of his team. 
Once a plea deal is in place, Gates would become the third known cooperator in Mueller's sprawling probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It would also increase the pressure to cooperate on Gates' co-defendant Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, who has pleaded not guilty to Mueller's indictment and is preparing for a trial on alleged financial crimes unrelated to the campaign. Gates pleaded not guilty on October 30 alongside Manafort. 
"Nobody (who's charged) goes in to provide incriminating information to the government unless it's part of plea negotiations," said a criminal defense attorney who represents a witness in the case. In a Queen for a Day interview, a defendant can typically admit to crimes with little additional consequences, unless he or she lies. 

Sure, Gates could be lying, but I bet Mueller's team has enough corroborating evidence to know precisely what they are looking for, and what Gates can really offer them.  If Gates is flipping on Paul Manafort, who ran Trump's entire campaign and was neck deep in Russian collusion, then the goal is clearly to pressure Manafort into singing on The Donald.

Meanwhile, former Trump dirty deeds done dirt cheap man Steve Bannon continued to belt out his own hit parade to Mueller and his team this week.

Steve Bannon, who served as President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller over multiple days this week, NBC News has learned from two sources familiar with the proceedings.

Bannon spent a total of some 20 hours in conversations with the team led by Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as well as other issues that have arisen around the probe.

Bannon left his job as a senior White House adviser in August and returned to a leadership role at Breitbart, the right-wing news site based out of Washington. But he fell out of favor with the site’s financial backers, the Mercer family, after criticizing the president and his family in "Fire and Fury,”a book about the Trump administration published earlier this year by author Michael Wolff.

You don't spend 20 hours meeting with someone to talk about nothing with federal prosecutors.  He's singing like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, guys. Oh, and we also know Bannon is finally talking to the House Intelligence Committee, too.

After a more than four-week stalemate, Bannon also returned to Capitol Hill Thursday to resume his interview with the House Intelligence Committee, which was halted when he earlier refused to answer key questions in the Russia probe.

He left today after four hours, answering little more than the two dozen questions that the White House had negotiated with the House’s lead counsel.

The committee had issued a subpoena in their initial Jan. 16 interview when Bannon would not address issues that arose during his time on the Trump transition team, in the White House and after he left his top position there. The subpoena deadline was postponed three times as House lawyers negotiated with the White House over what Bannon would be willing to discuss without the White House invoking executive privilege to bar the testimony.

Lawmakers indicated Thursday that his continued non-cooperation might require the committee to take the next step and consider beginning the process of holding Bannon in contempt of Congress.

Guess Bannon is playing ball now after being thrown under the bus twice by Trump, huh?

Events in the last few weeks have pushed the Mueller probe out of the spotlight in February, to the point where it's given Trump a little bit of breathing room in the polls (he's actually above 40% approval for once.)  But Mueller and his team are still very much on the case.

And Trump knows it.


Thursday, February 15, 2018

Last Call For Immigration Nation, Con't

As widely expected, Republicans in the Senate killed all the proposals to protect Dreamers and put DACA protections under law, and now Democrats who stupidly trusted Mitch McConnell have nothing to show for it but voters who will turn on them in November.

The Senate's much-hyped immigration debate is heading toward a megaflop on Thursday. 
All three plans slated for votes are shy of the Senate's 60-vote threshold, likely leaving lawmakers with nothing to show for weeks of talks and Dreamers in limbo. 
A bipartisan agreement was rejected 54-45, with most Republicans voting against it after a furious White House campaign to defeat it, including a Thursday veto threat. It would give an estimated 1.8 million undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship while spending $25 billion on border security. 
“It’s a pig in a poke,” Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.), a close ally of President Donald Trump, said of the bipartisan bill. 
But Republicans also acknowledge a GOP amendment that would enshrine Trump's four-part immigration framework, including cuts to legal immigration, is also short of 60 votes. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has said that he could support the Trump framework, but no other red-state Democrat has joined him. 
The upshot is almost-certain stalemate, despite long-running negotiations, particularly among the bipartisan group of mostly moderate senators.

And Trump's supported plan, sponsored by Chuck Grassley, couldn't even get 40 votes it was so bad.

But now Democrats have a much different issue.  Immigration activists and supporters were told to stand down and give the Dems a chance to work this out.  They did, and Mitch McConnell crapped in everyone's punchbowl anyway.

So will Dems shut down the government in March or risk alienating their entire bloc of Hispanic voters? 

The Supreme Court has already been asked step in to fix this.

With all the noise coming out of Washington, it’s been easy to forget about the Supreme Court. The court has been very quiet: during a recess of nearly four weeks, only the peripatetic Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has made news, of a sort. 
But once the justices get back to business on Friday, that interlude of near invisibility will end. On the agenda for their closed-door meeting Friday morning is an urgent and highly unusual request from the Trump administration for the court’s intervention in the continuing debate over the fate of nearly 800,000 “Dreamers,” the young people brought to this country by their undocumented parents. They have been shielded from deportation since 2012 by the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which President Trump wants to phase out beginning less than three weeks from now. 
Blocked by a lower court from carrying out that plan, the administration seeks to vault over the normal appellate process, asking the Supreme Court for prompt relief from what Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco calls an “institutional injury to the United States.” The justices’ response — which may come as early as Monday — will tell us more clearly than anything since Inauguration Day what stance the rule-bound court is prepared to take toward the norm-breaking president. Will the Roberts court serve as Donald Trump’s enabler? Or will the court see itself, as it has on rare occasions at other troubled times in the country’s history, as a firewall between the president and the rule of law? With its overheated language and repeated reference to “the ongoing violation of federal law by more than half a million people,” the petition the administration filed last month reads not so much as a legal document but as a recruiting brochure, aimed at a very small but immensely powerful audience of nine. 
In freezing the DACA program in place last month while lawsuits against its termination proceed, Judge William Alsup of Federal District Court in San Francisco ruled that the plaintiffs, who include individual DACA recipients, the University of California, and a group of states and California counties, were likely to succeed on their claim that the order to terminate DACA was “arbitrary and capricious” and therefore violated the Administrative Procedure Act. (On Tuesday, a second federal district judge, Nicholas G. Garaufis, in Brooklyn, issued a similar ruling. Cases are also pending in the federal courts of Maryland, Virginia, Florida and the District of Columbia.) Because Judge Alsup sits in San Francisco, any appeal would go to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. That’s President Trump’s least favorite court, the court that rejected the his bans on immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries, including the current version that is now before the Supreme Court. The morning after Judge Alsup’s ruling, the president tweeted: “It just shows everyone how broken and unfair our Court System is when the opposing sides in a case (such as DACA) always come to the 9th Circuit and almost always win before being reversed by higher courts.”

So while filing an appeal to the Ninth Circuit, the administration’s lawyers also went to the Supreme Court with a “petition for a writ of certiorari before judgment,” a request to the justices to hear the case this spring without waiting. The Supreme Court’s rules reserve this court-jumping procedure for cases of “imperative public importance.” Only a handful of cases has cleared that bar, including the Nixon tapes case, which effectively forced the president’s resignation and the 1981 case that ratified the agreement that ended the Iran hostage crisis. Invoking those cases, Solicitor General Francisco insists to the court that “that standard has been met here,” an assertion the plaintiffs vigorously dispute.

If SCOTUS lets Trump slide here, by the time the March 23 potential government shutdown deadline occurs, DACA protections would have been already eliminated for all dreamers on March 15th.  It would be a madhouse.

We'll see what happens, but Dems chose this fight, and walking away from it will cost them the Senate and maybe the House if they let Trump trap them like they are currently doing.

They will have nobody to blame but themselves if that happens.

Our Little Domestic Terrorism Problem, Con't

So it's looking more and more like yesterday's hideous school shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 was an act of domestic terrorism.  not that it shouldn't have been considered one earlier, but there's now a Florida white supremacist group admitted to training the suspect in the shooting, Nikolas Cruz.

Nikolas Cruz, the alleged gunman who killed at least 17 people at a Florida high school on Wednesday, trained with a white-supremacist group, its leader told the Anti-Defamation League. Jordan Jereb of the Republic of Florida told ADL that Cruz had participated in at least one training exercise near Tallahassee area, carpooling with other ROF members from south Florida. ADL reports the group describes itself as a “white civil rights organization fighting for white identitarian politics” and seeks to create a “white ethnostate” in Florida.

Hey, these guys sound like upstanding concerned citizens, right?

After self-described ROF members claimed on the discussion forum 4chan that Cruz had also been a member, the Anti-Defamation League called the ROF hotline and spoke with an ROF member who identified himself as Jordan Jereb. 
Jereb, based in Tallahassee, is believed to be the leader of ROF. In 2016, he was arrested on charges of threatening a staffer in the office of Florida Governor Rick Scott because he was allegedly angry at the staffer’s son. 
Jereb said that Cruz was associated with ROF, having been “brought up” by another membe. Jereb added that Cruz had participated in one or more ROF training exercises in the Tallahassee area, carpooling with other ROF members from south Florida. 
ROF has members in north and south Florida. The alt right white supremacist group borrows paramilitary concepts from the anti-government extremist militia movement (not itself a white supremacist movement). ROF describes itself as a “white civil rights organization fighting for white identitarian politics” and seeks to create a “white ethnostate” in Florida. Most ROF members are young and the group itself is only a few years old. 
Jereb added that ROF had not ordered or wanted Cruz to do anything like the school shooting. 
If Cruz’s role is confirmed, the Parkland school shooting would be the second school shooting by a white supremacist in the past two months. In December 2017, another young white supremacist, William Atchison, engaged in a shooting spree at a high school in northwest New Mexico, killing two students before shooting himself.

Does anyone think this administration is going to lift a finger to go after white supremacist domestic terrorism?


How odd.

Yet Another One Of These

I don't have much energy for this one today, another school shooting, this one with 17 kids dead, the suspect was an expelled former student that the other kids were afraid of, and Florida law made sure he could buy the AR-15 he used to slaughter no problem.  He was expelled for getting into a fight with his ex's new boyfriend, so hey, there's the whole domestic violence issue too.

The portrait that emerged of the suspected gunman in the mass shooting was of a troubled former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who was expelled for disciplinary problems. 
Cruz was arrested without any serious incident at a nearby house very shortly after the shootings, which left 17 people dead and several more injured, Sheriff Scott Israel said. 
The AR-15 used in the mass shooting was legally bought by Cruz, attorney Jim Lewis told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Cruz already owned the gun when he moved in with his friend’s family in northwest Broward around Thanksgiving, Lewis said. 
“It was his gun,” Lewis said. “The family made him keep it in a locked gun cabinet in the house but he had a key.”

Oh well what can you do right?

85-90% of Americans want universal background checks, NRA pays millions every year to make sure that will never happen.

You can get rid of all the Republicans in November.

That's a start.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Last Call For University Of Bevinstan

The first casualties of Matt Bevin and the Kentucky GOP's massive higher education budget cuts are coming into focus as Morehead State University is announcing a major round of employee buyouts and layoffs.

Morehead State University is the first of Kentucky’s regional universities to cut its workforce in the face of impending state budget cuts and exploding pension costs, announcing voluntary buyouts that would let employees go part-time or leave the university. 
“This spring will ultimately result in a need to make a significant reduction in our employee FTE across all areas of the campus,” President Jay Morgan wrote in a campus-wide email dated Friday. “Our preference is to make those position reductions in vacant personnel lines created through normal employee attrition and ‘voluntary separation options’ before having to consider potential involuntary reductions in force of current employees.” 
In Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed state budget budget, Morehead faces a 6.25 percent cut, or $2.5 million, in overall state funding on top of a $2.7 million increase in pension payments. With fixed cost increases, the actual deficit could be as much as $9 million in each of the next two years. The school also faces dropping enrollment because it draws heavily from Eastern Kentucky, where the economy has been decimated by the coal industry’s decline. 
Any proposed buyouts would be considered by administrators on a case-by-case basis, Morgan said. Morgan said he hoped most volunteers would choose to go from full-time to part-time positions, or reduce the number of months they work. Faculty and staff who choose buyouts would also retain certain options, such as tuition benefits for family for three years.

Morehead is the first, but it won't be the last.  Eastern Kentucky University and Murray State University are in the same boat.  Expect more employee cuts and soon as Bevin's austerity budget destroys the commonwealth.

Kelly, Red Booked

The Rob Porter domestic violence story that claimed the former White House staff secretary's job last week has now morphed into the "White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is a massive liar" story, which has somehow even shocked our complacent media into action.  I pointed out last Friday why Kelly should have been fired months ago, and it looks like his tenure in the Trump regime may soon be coming to an end.

The White House struggled Tuesday to contain a widening crisis over its handling of domestic violence allegations against a senior official, as it reeled after sworn testimony by the FBI chief directly contradicted what President Trump’s aides had presented as the official version of events.

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the bureau had completed a background report on then-staff secretary Rob Porter last July and closed out the case entirely last month. Wray’s account is at odds with White House claims that the investigation required for Porter’s security clearance was “ongoing” until he left his job last week, after his two ex-wives publicly alleged physical and emotional abuse.

The latest bout of turbulence is exacerbated by the administration’s reputation, earned over 13 chaotic months, for flouting institutional norms and misrepresenting facts to the public — a culture set by the president himself.

The public relations fallout is further compounded by Trump’s own history of alleged sexual assault and his seeming reluctance to publicly condemn violence against women and give voice to the national #MeToo reckoning.

The president has said little publicly about the Porter issue other than to praise the former aide for doing “a very good job.” But he has privately expressed frustration with the week-long fallout, peppering advisers and confidants with questions about the media coverage and how the controversy is playing for him personally.

The Porter drama has become all-consuming, creating an atmosphere of chaos and infighting reminiscent of the “Game of Thrones” stage early in Trump’s presidency — and distracting from the administration’s budget and infrastructure agenda.

Not that the FBI isn't relishing the chance to drive in the knife.  Donald Trump has left his entire operation high and dry by basically defending the guy who allegedly beat both of his ex-wives as the "real victim", a subject where even Trump's supporters aren't going to go to bat for him.

And as countless other ex-Trump staffers have discovered (and John Kelly is finding out now) your usefulness to Trump ends as soon as you can be sacrificed to take the fall for Trump's endless awful behavior.

Inside the West Wing, a growing number of aides blamed Trump’s second White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, for the bungled handling of the allegations against Porter. Trump in recent days has begun musing about possible replacements, according to people with knowledge of the conversations.

Asked by a reporter to assess Kelly’s standing with Trump after a week of troubling revelations, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that “the president has confidence in his chief of staff.”

But Kelly does not enjoy the confidence of an increasing number of his subordinates, some of whom said they believe that the retired four-star Marine Corps general has misled them.

Kelly is “a big fat liar,” said one White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share a candid opinion. “To put it in terms the general would understand, his handling of the Porter scandal amounts to dereliction of duty.

This portrait of the West Wing in turmoil is based on interviews with more than a dozen top White House officials and outside advisers and confidants, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution.

Kelly’s attempts at explaining his role, according to some aides, have included telling senior staff members last Friday to communicate a version of events many believed to be false, as well as telling at least one confidant that he has “a good bulls--- detector” and had long detected troubling characteristics in Porter.

But Kelly initially defended Porter last week as “a man of true integrity and honor.” And in recent weeks, Kelly was even considering giving Porter an expanded role in policy development, a potential promotion first reported by CNN.

Rob Porter is the bad guy here of course.  But so is Trump, himself a serial abuser of women who has put his staff in the impossible position to defend a guy who allegedly gave his now ex-wife a black eye on their honeymoon.  Somebody has to burn over this, and the remaining White House staff wants to make sure it's Kelly.

And Kelly is the beating heart of Trump's post-Bannon manure factory.  As he's under fire, the rest of the White House is suddenly having extreme "message discipline" problems with people's stories on all the other current scandals this week: the ongoing Russia investigation, EPA chief Scott Pruitt flying first-class on the taxpayer dime, Trump lawyer lawyer Michael Cohen now saying he paid off Stormy Daniels out of his own pocket, ICE attorneys apparently stealing case files of immigrants under review, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner having his own continuing money issues and lack of security clearance, and keep in mind it's only Wednesday.

The goal of the White House staff is to protect Trump, and Kelly is the keystone of the Keystone Kops operation.  The media is now openly asking what else the White House is lying to them about (finally, guys the answer has been "everything" for over a year now) and the shield protecting Trump is starting to wear very, very thin.

For the first time in a while it's looking like the shield might break.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

America's intelligence agencies all agree that Russia will attack the 2018 midterm elections, and warn that both Donald Trump and the GOP-led Congress need to do far more to protect the country's electoral process.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Tuesday "there should be no doubt" that Russia sees the 2018 US elections as a target. 
Coats and the other top national security officials told the Senate Intelligence Committee that they still view Moscow as a threat to the 2018 elections, a stance that appears at odds with President Donald Trump's repeated dismissals of Russian election meddling. 
"We expect Russia to continue using propaganda, social media, false-flag personas, sympathetic spokesmen and other means to influence, to try to build on its wide range of operations and exacerbate social and political fissures in the United States," Coats said at a hearing on worldwide threats. "There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 US midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations." 
Tuesday's hearing touched on a wide array of threats, from North Korea to China to weapons of mass destruction. But Russia's interference into US and other elections loomed large amid the committee's investigation into Russian election meddling and the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russian officials. 
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the committee's top Democrat, warned that the US was not prepared to handle the Russian threat to US elections heading into the midterms. 
"We've had more than a year to get our act together and address the threat posed by Russia and implement a strategy to deter future attacks. But we still do not have a plan," Warner said. 
Warner questioned Coats and the other officials testifying — CIA Director Mike Pompeo, FBI Director Chris Wray, NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley and National Geospatial Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo — about how the government was addressing the threat to both the US election systems and through social media. He asked all six of the US officials testifying to reaffirm the intelligence community's findings last year that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and that the Kremlin will continue to intervene in future elections. All said yes
Democrats pointed to that unanimous assessment to criticize Trump for maintaining a contrasting view to his own intelligence community. 
Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, urged the intelligence chiefs to persuade the President to accept their findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. 
"My problem is, I talk to people in Maine who say the whole thing is a witch hunt and a hoax 'because the President told me,'" King said. "There's no doubt, as you all have testified today, we cannot confront this threat, which is a serious one, with a whole of government response when the leader of the government continues to that deny it exists."

That denial of course is part and parcel of the problem with Trump.  He can't publicly admit that Russia interfered with the election, because the facade he's hiding behind ends the moment he does.

Trump has been skeptical about the intelligence assessment that Russia meddled ever since he was first briefed on the issue during the presidential transition. But that skepticism has endured even after Trump hand-selected his own intel chiefs and they reiterated the conclusions of their predecessors. 
Trump has only begrudgingly acknowledged that Russia may have interfered in the election. In a press conference as president-elect, Trump said, "As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people." At a June 2017 press conference in Poland, he again said Russia meddled in the election, but added that "other people and other countries" likely did as well. 
More often, Trump has cast doubt on accusations of Russian meddling. He has questioned whether the Russians were responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee, and he has called the entire "Russia story" a hoax perpetuated by angry Democrats. He even convinced Pompeo to personally meet with a conspiracy theorist who denies that Russia hacked the DNC. 
Trump caused a stir during his trip to Asia when he suggested that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin's denials that his government meddled in the election. Trump and Putin met several times on the sidelines of the APEC summit in Vietnam. "Every time he sees me, he says, 'I didn't do that,'" Trump said. "And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it." 
But members of Trump's cabinet have bucked Trump and sided with the intelligence community including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who said in October: "When a country can come interfere in another country's elections, that is warfare." 
Tuesday's hearing was the latest opportunity for Democrats to pounce on the conflicting messages coming from the intelligence chiefs and their commander in chief. Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, urged the intelligence officials to convince Trump that the issue of collusion was separate from election meddling.

Trump's ego won't allow the admission, because it would be an admission of guilt.  Legally and politically it would be his near-immediate end, and any other person on earth would have resigned long ago.

But Donald Trump is a unique brand of evil bastard.  And so we pretend that the orange schlub somehow didn't benefit from Russian interference (and from James Comey's timely October 2016 surprise) and America continues to normalize the fact we're under a lawless regime led by a racist, misogynist abusive idiot.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Last Call For It's About Suppression, Con't

Last week I talked about how Pennsylvania's GOP-gerrymandered congressional districts were found in violation of the state's constitution, and how the state's Supreme Court ordered a full redraw of the map ahead of the November elections.  The US Supreme Court denied the GOP's request to stay the order, to which the GOP then floated the idea of impeaching and removing all the state Supreme Court justices who ruled against the Republicans that control the state legislature.

They still might end up doing that, but it won't save them from the clock.  Last Friday's deadline passed and the GOP vomited out a map that was literally just as bad as the current one.  Chris Ingraham at the Washington Post shows us the numbers:

The new districts generally respect county and municipal boundaries and don't “wander seemingly arbitrarily across Pennsylvania,” as the state's Supreme Court wrote. Unfortunately for Pennsylvania voters, the new districts show just as much partisan bias as the old ones. 
You can demonstrate this using the precinct-level results of the 2016 presidential election: See which precincts are assigned to which districts under the new map, use those assignments to calculate the total presidential vote in each of the new districts and compare those figures with the vote totals under the old districts. That will give you a good sense of how the partisan makeup of the new districts compares to the old ones. 
Brian Amos, a redistricting expert at the University of Florida, has done exactly that. Amos combined the new district maps with precinct-level returns compiled by cartographers Nathaniel Kelso and Michal Migurski
The similarities are striking: In 2016, Donald Trump received more votes than Hillary Clinton in 12 out of Pennsylvania's 18 districts. Under the Republicans' new map, Trump would similarly outperform Clinton in exactly 12 districts. 
Not only that, but the vote margins in each district would be virtually identical. The chart below plots, for each district, the vote margins in 2016 vs. the margins that would result from the Republicans' new map. Across all 18 districts, the average difference in vote margins between the old and new map would be a little over four percentage points. 
From a partisan standpoint, in other words, the new map is almost exactly like the old one. Under the existing map, Democratic House candidates have routinely received roughly 50 percent of the statewide popular House vote but only five of the state's 18 House seats. The new map is unlikely to change that.

Today, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, tossed the GOP's crapass homework in the garbage can, meaning that unless something totally out of the blue happens, the state's Supreme Court will make good on their threat to draw the map themselves.

Pennsylvania’s Democratic Governor Tom Wolf on Tuesday rejected a new proposed map for the state’s congressional districts, saying the state’s Republican-controlled legislature submitted an unconstitutional gerrymander. 
“Partisan gerrymandering weakens citizen power, promotes gridlock and stifles meaningful reform,” Governor Wolf said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “As non-partisan analysts have already said, their map maintains a similar partisan advantage by employing many of the same unconstitutional tactics present in their 2011 map.” 
Republican leadership submitted the redrawn map to Wolf on Friday. From there, Wolf had until this Thursday to to tell the state Supreme Court whether he approved of the map; and if he did, it would be enacted. 
Citing a number of nonpartisan analysts on Tuesday, however, Wolf said: “Like the 2011 map, the map submitted to my office by Republican leaders is still a gerrymander. Their map clearly seeks to benefit one political party, which is the essence of why the court found the current map to be unconstitutional."

We'll see how the new map goes, and I expect the GOP to fight it every step of the way, but it can't be much worse than the current map, which had Democrats gain a slight majority of votes in 2016 House races in the state, but Republicans still won 13 of 18 districts.

By the way, the new map the Pennsylvania GOP proposed?

It packs all of Pittsburgh's blue voters into one blue district and Philly's into four, leaving one suburban swing blue district and three red ones on the eastern side of the state.  The Pennsyltucky area in the middle, dead red.  Nine GOP districts with double digit advantages, and six of those districts having 20-point plus advantages.  Even if voters preferred Democrats by ten points in the state, the best the Dems could ever hope to do under this map would be to break even.  The default would be a 12-6 split.

So yeah, I'm glad this is happening, and it needs to happen in more states.

Papers Please Everyone

The Trump regime takes yet another step towards authoritarianism with both ICE and Border Patrol agencies vying to move under the umbrella of US intelligence agencies as part of Homeland Security.

The Border Patrol is one of the country’s most powerful law enforcement agencies; it can stop travelers within 100 miles of the border without probable cause. 
It’s also one of President Donald Trump’s favorites. He boasted on the campaign trail about his support from agents, and frequently tweets about its work. While he regularly trashes the FBI, his praise of the Border Patrol is unstinting. 
Now, the Border Patrol could become even more potent. The Daily Beast can confirm that officials in the Border Patrol’s parent agency, Customs and Border Protection, are quietly advocating to join the country’s powerful collection of intelligence agencies. And some former CBP officials are warning that this combination of border agents and spies could present an “Orwellian problem with law enforcement becoming both investigators and intelligence collectors.”
Sources familiar with the effort tell The Daily Beast that efforts within Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to join the Intelligence Community are significantly more advanced than those within ICE (The Daily Beast reported last week that ICE officials are also looking to enlist). A former senior DHS official said this effort is especially promising under the Trump administration.

This means that both ICE and Border Patrol would have full access to the nation's post-Patriot Act intelligence resources, to be used increasingly against people already in the country. 

Now to be fair, the Obama administration was already considering this, but ran into problems with civil liberties and Republicans refusing to take action on immigration reform.

Jeh Johnson, the secretary of DHS for the last three years of the Obama administration, told The Daily Beast he supported the change when he headed the Department. 
“I thought it was a pretty good idea, because what CBP has to offer and contribute to the IC is travel data,” he said.

As shaky as the Obama administration was on deportations and civil liberties at times the Trump regime on the other hand definitely doesn't care about civil liberties protections. If anything they are looking to make sure intelligence resources can be used to track down, say, undocumented immigrants or to profile everyone entering the country.

This would have been a pretty bad idea under Obama, but will be an abysmal abuse of government power under Trump.
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