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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Trump's congrats

by digby

I wrote about Trump getting on the horn with Putin yesterday for Salon this morning:

Whenever an autocrat or a dictator "wins" an election, it's always a diplomatic challenge for more democratic countries to figure out how to respond. In order for nations to have open channels of communication, there has to be some basic acknowledgment of the legitimacy of the nations' leaders. It's not a simple issue.

Recall that in 2012 there was a tremendous amount of hand-wringing over whether President Barack Obama should congratulate Vladimir Putin on his election "victory," especially after a campaign in which Putin had been especially belligerent toward the U.S. The New York Times reported that "the Obama administration fiercely debated how to respond to the Russian election, with some officials favoring a strong condemnation of the results." In the end, "the White House ultimately settled on a tempered statement, not directly congratulating Mr. Putin but saying 'the United States looks forward to working with the president-elect.'" The statement didn't mention Putin by name and the president waited five days before making the call.

Considering what has happened since Putin's last campaign, his election to a fourth term has had everyone wondering what President Trump would do. After all, since 2012 there has been the annexation of Crimea and that little matter of election interference in Europe and the U.S., so the stakes appear quite a bit higher now. There is also that recent unpleasantness in the U.K. where people were poisoned with Russian nerve gas and the likely perpetrators aren't even really trying to hide it.

There can be little doubt that this Russian election was, to use Trump's term, rigged. Putin "won" with 77 percent of the vote, which is simply not believable, especially given video evidence of ballot box stuffing. Most importantly, Putin banned his most popular opponent from the race, a tactic Trump almost certainly wishes he could impose. Remember, Trump told the whole country in the final debate of the 2016 campaign:
She shouldn't be allowed to run. It's crooked -- she's -- she's guilty of a very, very serious crime. She should not be allowed to run. And just in that respect, I say it's rigged, Chris, she should never have been allowed to run for the presidency based on what she did with emails and so many other things.
Since Trump simply cannot utter a negative word about Putin, most observers were anxious to hear what kind of verbal gymnastics the Trump administration would come up with to finesse this issue. It seemed unlikely that Trump would straight-up offer congratulations, since that would inevitably raise suspicions of his motives at a time when Robert Mueller's investigation is exploding in different directions.

So of course he did. Trump congratulated Putin and didn't even broach any of those issues. Not that the White House informed Americans of this. Just as the Kremlin had released those laughing pictures of Trump with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the day after Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey, it was the Kremlin that released a read-out of the Putin call, with the White House only belatedly acknowledging that it had happened.

In a photo-op with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia later on Tuesday, Trump was asked about it:

You have to love the idea that he wants to talk about the "arms race" getting out of control and then says, "but we will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have." Of course this is the same man who wanted to go back to the huge number of nuclear weapons we had during the Cold War (prompting former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to call him a "fucking moron"), so he's not exactly rational or informed on this subject.

At the Tuesday afternoon press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if Trump might have mentioned something about the Russian election being well, rigged. She replied, "We don't get to dictate how other countries operate. What we do know is that Putin has been elected in their country and that's not something that we can dictate to them, how they operate. We can only focus on the freeness and fairness of our elections." She didn't even crack a smile.

This isn't the first time she has proclaimed that the United States has no right to comment on the inner workings of other countries when asked about Russia. That's curious, since the administration has not withheld judgment when it comes to Iran.

Neither has it held back in criticizing Cambodia or Venezuela, which evoked this scalding statement in the wake of the latter nation's recent elections:
This outrageous seizure of absolute power through a sham election represents a serious blow to democracy in our hemisphere.
The White House wouldn't even take the call from Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, and at the time Sanders issued this statement by way of explanation:
Since the start of this Administration, President Trump has asked that Maduro respect Venezuela’s constitution, hold free and fair elections, release political prisoners, cease all human rights violations, and stop oppressing Venezuela’s great people.The Maduro regime has refused to heed this call, which has been echoed around the region and the world. Instead Maduro has chosen the path of dictatorship.
It was unclear whether Maduro had tried to reach Trump by phone before or after Trump, standing between his UN ambassador and his secretary of state, said on camera that he was considering military intervention in Venezuela.

So one can be forgiven for thinking the Trump administration's new policy of saying nothing about undemocratic results in other countries seems to be strangely limited to countries run by autocrats Trump admires, particularly his friend Vladimir Putin.

As it turns out, Trump's national security team had actually gamed out a more nuanced approach to dealing with the Russian election, but Trump just ignored it. The Washington Post reported Tuesday evening that Trump had been given briefing note cards that said "DO NOT CONGRATULATE" and reminded him that he was to condemn the nerve-agent poisoning in London. Apparently he either didn't read them or simply ignored the advice because he didn't feel comfortable burdening his good friend with any disagreeable discussions about assassination attempts on the streets of America's closest ally.

As always, the question when it comes to Trump's stubborn unwillingness to speak to or about Putin in anything but obsequious, sycophantic terms is: Why? This bizarre and uncharacteristic behavior remains the most compelling and convincing piece of evidence that Putin must be holding something over his head. Not even the narcissistic Trump would take on this much blatant risk or be willing to look this bad simply because a man once flattered him.


"Ashamed" of the Fox "propaganda machine"

by Tom Sullivan

Retired Lt. Col. Ralph Peters, a longtime Fox News analyst announced his departure in a letter calling out the network for harming democracy. Buzzfeed acquired the email Peters sent to colleagues. Peters signed off in Russian, accusing Fox of “wittingly harming our system of government for profit.”

Peters condemned the network for "assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers."

Otherwise known as the business model for the full spectrum of conservative media.

Peters continued, "Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed."

The Los Angeles Times adds:

Peters' missive is the second time in a week Fox News' top-rated conservative opinion hosts have been subjected to internal criticism. While not nearly as harsh, Fox News anchor Shepard Smith said in an interview with Time magazine that some of the network's opinion programming "is there strictly to be entertaining," which led to some blowback from Hannity and Ingraham on social media. (Hannity called Smith "clueless" about the reporting done on his program).

But Peters' remarks are noteworthy because as a Fox News national security analyst for 10 years, he has been a foreign policy hawk who frequently criticized the Obama administration. He was once suspended from the network for a week in 2015 after an appearance on the Fox Business Network in which he used a vulgar term to describe former President Obama's fortitude in combating terrorism by Islamic extremists.
The full text of the Peters letter is below. He did not spare the rod on some of the network's anchors:
On March 1st, I informed Fox that I would not renew my contract. The purpose of this message to all of you is twofold:

First, I must thank each of you for the cooperation and support you've shown me over the years. Those working off-camera, the bookers and producers, don't often get the recognition you deserve, but I want you to know that I have always appreciated the challenges you face and the skill with which you master them.

Second, I feel compelled to explain why I have to leave. Four decades ago, I took an oath as a newly commissioned officer. I swore to "support and defend the Constitution," and that oath did not expire when I took off my uniform. Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.

In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration. When prime-time hosts--who have never served our country in any capacity--dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller--all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of "deep-state" machinations-- I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.

As a Russia analyst for many years, it also has appalled me that hosts who made their reputations as super-patriots and who, justifiably, savaged President Obama for his duplicitous folly with Putin, now advance Putin's agenda by making light of Russian penetration of our elections and the Trump campaign. Despite increasingly pathetic denials, it turns out that the "nothing-burger" has been covered with Russian dressing all along. And by the way: As an intelligence professional, I can tell you that the Steele dossier rings true--that's how the Russians do things.. The result is that we have an American president who is terrified of his counterpart in Moscow.

I do not apply the above criticisms in full to Fox Business, where numerous hosts retain a respect for facts and maintain a measure of integrity (nor is every host at Fox News a propaganda mouthpiece--some have shown courage). I have enjoyed and valued my relationship with Fox Business, and I will miss a number of hosts and staff members. You're the grown-ups.

Also, I deeply respect the hard-news reporters at Fox, who continue to do their best as talented professionals in a poisoned environment. These are some of the best men and women in the business..

So, to all of you: Thanks, and, as our president's favorite world leader would say, "Das vidanya."
Peters' resignation follows on the heels of Shepard Smith's aforementioned interview with Daniel D'Addario of Time in which he too took a shot at his network's infotainment programming:
Smith says he’s unbothered by the divergence between his reporting and Fox’s opinion slate. “We serve different masters. We work for different reporting chains, we have different rules. They don’t really have rules on the opinion side. They can say whatever they want. If it’s their opinion. I don’t really watch a lot of opinion programming. I’m busy.” He laughs, enigmatic punctuation that may indicate he’d been trying for a bon mot, or might just be a Mississippi-nice way of indicating he’s said what he’s going to say, bless my heart.
It is too soon to predict that Fox News may see an exodus resembling the West Wing's. The pay at Fox is too good and the capacity for shame too vestigial. But it couldn't happen to a more unworthy organization.

* * * * * * * *

Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

They just cheat

by digby

Here is the final segment of the Cambridge Analytic expose:

An undercover investigation by Channel 4 News has revealed how Cambridge Analytica claims it ran key parts of the presidential campaign for Donald Trump.

The British data company was secretly filmed discussing coordination between Trump’s campaign and outside groups – an activity which is potentially illegal.

Executives claimed they “ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy” for President Trump.

In the third part of a Channel 4 News investigation into Cambridge Analytica, bosses also talked about:

The full scale of their pivotal work in Trump’s election win
How they avoid Congressional investigations into their foreign clients
Setting up proxy organisations to feed untraceable messages onto social media
Using a secret email system where messages self-destruct and leave no trace
Cambridge Analytica’s involvement in the “Defeat Crooked Hilary” brand of attack ads
In a series of meetings filmed at London hotels over four months, between November 2017 and January 2018 an undercover reporter for Channel 4 News posed as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka.

I'll just let Michelle Goldberg put this whole thing in perspective:

After days of revelations, there’s still a lot we don’t know about Cambridge Analytica. But we’ve learned that an operation at the heart of Trump’s campaign was ethically nihilistic and quite possibly criminal in ways that even its harshest critics hadn’t suspected. That’s useful information. In weighing the credibility of various accusations made against the president, it’s good to know the depths to which the people around him are willing to sink.

Created in 2013, Cambridge Analytica is an offshoot of the SCL Group, a British company that specialized in disinformation campaigns in the developing world. It’s mostly owned by the Mercer family, billionaire right-wing donors and strong Trump supporters. Before becoming the Trump campaign’s chief executive, Steve Bannon was Cambridge Analytica’s vice president. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I., also served as an adviser to the company.

Cambridge Analytica shared office space with Trump’s San Antonio-based digital operation, and took substantial credit for its success. “We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communications played such an integral part in President-elect Donald Trump’s extraordinary win,” Nix said in a Nov. 9, 2016, news release.

It’s long been hard to judge how well psychographic profiling actually works. Many consider Cambridge Analytica overrated. Last year, BuzzFeed News reported that former employees said “that despite its sales pitch and public statements, it never provided any proof that the technique was effective or that the company had the ability to execute it on a large scale.” Those who feared that Cambridge Analytica was conducting information warfare on the American people may have been giving the company’s self-serving propaganda too much credence.

But whether or not Cambridge Analytica’s methodology works, the fact that the Trump campaign had a crew of high-tech dirty tricksters on its payroll is significant. We already know that Cambridge Analytica reached out to Julian Assange about finding and disseminating Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails. We know that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, has asked the company to turn over documents related to the Trump campaign. Channel Four News plans to air additional undercover footage about Cambridge Analytica’s role in the Trump campaign on Tuesday.

At a minimum, we’ve learned that the Trump campaign’s vaunted social media program was built on deception. Shortly after the 2016 election, Forbes ran an article crediting Jared Kushner for his father-in-law’s shocking triumph. Thanks to digital tools, it said, the traditional presidential campaign was dead, “and Kushner, more than anyone not named Donald Trump, killed it.”

For those who knew something of Kushner’s pre-election career, this portrait of him as some sort of analytics genius was befuddling. The small, gossipy New York newspaper he’d owned, The New York Observer, didn’t even have a particularly good website. “He wasn’t tech-savvy at all,” Elizabeth Spiers, the paper’s former editor in chief, told me.

Cambridge Analytica’s corruption helps provide the missing piece in this story. If the Trump campaign had a social media advantage, one reason is that it hired a company that mined vast amounts of illicitly obtained data.

There’s a lesson here for our understanding of the Trump presidency. Trump and his lackeys have been waging their own sort of psychological warfare on the American majority that abhors them. On the one hand, they act like idiots. On the other, they won, which makes it seem as if they must possess some sort of occult genius. With each day, however, it’s clearer that the secret of Trump’s success is cheating. He, and those around him, don’t have to be better than their opponents because they’re willing to be so much worse.

Why not Tiffany?

by digby

If Trump was known to drink I'd assume he was on a bender. As it is, it's clear that he's still just an f-ing moron:

Cohn, who resigned in early March amid a fight over tariffs, told associates at the time that he would consider rejoining the administration if Trump called and offered him “the right big job,” but he did not elaborate on what that job would be. In fact, according to three people close to the president, Cohn had already talked with Trump about taking the helm of the CIA, a job that suddenly opened up last week when Trump nominated his spy chief, Mike Pompeo, to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.

Trump, these people said, informally offered Cohn the position, telling him he thought he’d be a good fit for the job, and Cohn had agreed to take it. Trump long ago decided that Pompeo would replace Tillerson as secretary of state, and the president in recent weeks had bounced off his closest external advisers the idea of sending Cohn to the CIA. It is unclear why Trump decided to change course at the last minute, but last week he named Pompeo’s deputy Gina Haspel to the CIA role instead. 
Two senior administration officials acknowledged that Trump discussed other positions with Cohn. But they did not specify any other position, and they said the president didn’t extend a formal offer.

The episode offers a window into Trump’s decision-making a little more than a year into his tenure. While he is growing more comfortable in the job, willing to follow his instincts and make unorthodox personnel choices, his decisions remain entirely unpredictable, leaving even his most senior advisers in a state of perpetual uncertainty.

Cohn has no background in intelligence but told associates he was interested in running the CIA or, potentially, serving as secretary of state. He was at one point the leading candidate to be chair of the Federal Reserve, but his standing cooled after he criticized the president’s equivocal response to a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year.

What on earth qualifies Gary Cohn to head the CIA? Why would he even want that job? What the hell?

But hey, Mike Pompeo's wife is there everyday managing his schedule and using CIA personnel so why not put Tiffany Trump in the job?


15 years ago today

by digby

Following up Tristero's post below, from my perch here on this old blog, this was where were were on that day:

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Memo To The Democratic Presidential Candidates:

Do not fall for this bullshit:

While Democrats and Republicans closed ranks last night behind the troops, leaders of both parties have shown a willingness to seize on war issues to score political points. Many Republicans hope to chill criticism of Bush and his Iraq policy by sending a clear and early message that they will come down hard on vocal Democratic dissenters, especially those in positions of national prominence, GOP lawmakers said. These Republicans worry that France, Russia and other critics will seize on comments from high-profile Democrats to buttress their case internationally that a preemptive war is unwise and unwarranted.


Some Republicans see a longer-term political advantage in such applause. They believe Daschle and other Democrats will suffer in the 2004 elections, which may be dominated by themes of national security and terrorism, if voters view them as unpatriotic or soft on defense.

Most national polls show that about two-thirds of Americans back the war against Iraq. "When you are constantly criticizing the president, you are also criticizing the 70 percent of people supporting him," DeLay said.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Thomas M. Reynolds (R-N.Y.) said Democrats will likely "pay a political price" for feeding the perception they opposed disarming and deposing Hussein. That is why most of the Democrats running for president have backed Bush in the conflict, Reynolds said.

Reynolds warned that politicians, such as Daschle, who hail from states Bush won in 2000 are particularly at risk in 2004 if they criticize the president's Iraq policy. This proves that attacks on Daschle are "so brazenly political and over the top and politically motivated," said Daschle's spokeswoman Ranit Schmelzer.

It should be obvious by now that there is no margin in playing Neville Chamberlain to Tom DeLay. Max Cleland proved that nothing will stop them from lying about your record and assassinating your character, no matter what you do. It will gain you nothing to worry about quelling Republican attacks on your patriotism.

If a Democrat wins, he will win despitebeing smeared as an unpatriotic coward by the Republican Party. Whether he supports the President or doesn't he will be portrayed as having tried to foil him at every turn. It is pointless to pretend otherwise. Put your head down and barrel along on your own terms.

Remember also, that the entire strategy is designed for only two reasons. The first and foremost is to get Bush legitimately elected, if possible (illegitimately, if not.) The second is to use his wartime popularity to pass their radical domestic agenda under threat of retaliation to moderates who stray. I doubt seriously that they have ever really understood that their bullying and hectoring is what drove Jeffords from the party, but they will likely not be quite as obvious about it as they were with him. It is in the Democratic Party's interest for Daschle and Pelosi to take some heat right now to give the GOP moderates some cover. This administration may very well overplay their hand (they're not good at sausage making and Frist is a virgin) so it is worth the Party's while to hang tough, really tough, on this budget. The presidential candidates can help by giving Daschle and Pelosi some cover as well. It's going to get bumpy and it would be nice if the Democrats could show a little bit of solidarity here. It would certainly be good for the country.

The Republicans have the strange habit of getting manic and agitated just after they win a battle. They become enraged when they find that winning didn't result in unconditional surrender by the political opposition. On the day the Washington Post revealed that the president had rallied 71% of the American public, George Will wrote:
Speaking of indiscriminate chaos, many elements of the Democratic Party, including most of its base and many of its most conspicuous leaders, seem deranged, unhinged by the toxic fumes of hatred and contempt they emit for the president. From what does this arise? It cannot just be Florida, the grievance that Democrats, assiduous cultivators of victimhood, love to nurse. No, many Democrats' problem, which threatens to disqualify their party from presidential responsibilities for a generation, is their incontinent love of snobbery and nostalgia -- condescension toward a president they consider ignorant, and a longing for the fun of antiwar days of yore.
I don’t know why Republicans have such an overwhelming need for their opponents to cry Uncle and completely capitulate. I suspect it may be from frustration at fighting for an aggressive policy against Soviet communism but never being allowed a final, mano-a-mano battle from which they could derive the masculine satisfaction of dominance and victory. I don’t know. But, it is never enough that they win, they want the Democrats to grovel.

It is more and more clear that those who hated it the most developed a sort of Stockholm Syndrome in which they came to admire many facets of Soviet totalitarianism, one of the most obvious being the efficiency and power offered by the one party state. These people do not believe there is such a thing as the loyal opposition. Opposition is, by definition, disloyal.

Rush has been known to say, “I’d like to keep one liberal around in a museum so every body could see what they look like.” Republicans believe we are the enemy. We cannot win unless we understand this.

I don't think "we" ever really understood this.  And sadly, I suspect that even the extreme example of Donald Trump won't be enough to make "us" get that.

Note that George Will is now a Never-Trumper.  He obviously didn't see the writing on the wall either.

One Million Dead 

by tristero

As awful a president as Donald Trump already is, he hasn't yet done anything remotely as terrible as George W. Bush:
No one knows for certain how many Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion 15 years ago. Some credible estimates put the number at more than one million. You can read that sentence again. 
To those who will tell you that hindsight is 20/20, I am here to tell you that not only I but nearly everyone on Planet Earth knew back in 2003 that the Bush/Iraq war was a catastrophically insane decision. While many Americans drank the Bush administrations Kool Aid,  millions of people marched all over the world and even in the US itself, begging the US government not to invade. We knew, people, we knew. And we knew then. No one in a position of power listened.

And the war came. Over one million dead. With many more casualties to come from Bush's senseless, malevolent stupidity.

There is something seriously wrong with a country that would forget the crimes of a man so soaked in the blood of innocents as George Bush. There is something truly twisted in a society that would rehabilitate Bush into some grotesque kind of avuncular presence (wowie zowie, he paints!).

To be sure, Donald Trump is the direct consequence of our moral and cultural derangement.

What in the hell is the CIA director's wife doing?

by digby

I guess it's a nepotistic free-for-all in the Trump administration:

Susan Pompeo, wife of Central Intelligence Agency chief Mike Pompeo, has taken on an unusually active role for a CIA spouse in agency affairs since he started the job in January 2017, regularly spending her days at the agency, traveling with her husband, and attending agency social events -- seven sources with knowledge of the matter told CNN.

The Washington Post was first to publish a story detailing concerns over Pompeo's role, CNN has been reporting on the story for a number of weeks.
Susan Pompeo is the "Honorary Chair" of the Family Advisory Board, according Ryan Trapani, a CIA spokesman. The board serves as a liaison between the agencies and families, whose members serve a two-year term and provide families with access to educational resources. She often attends or hosts events "in support of the agency," Trapani said.

While Pompeo does not technically have her own office, she frequents the seventh floor director's suite at CIA's campus in Langley, Virginia, where CIA employees often "assist Mrs. Pompeo in various ways," said Trapani. This includes preparing "materials, briefings, meeting agendas and so forth for our programs assisting spouses traveling overseas." She also works on projects for the Family Advisory Board, as well as providing support services to relocate CIA officers around the world.

White House gearing up for bruising fight to confirm Trump's CIA pick
The CIA says none of these officers are officially assigned to work for Pompeo, and do not spend all their time with her, her work has led sources familiar with the matter to believe that they were her employees, and that she'd adopted a permanent residence upstairs in Langley.
It is not clear whether Susan Pompeo has been officially hired in a special role in the agency, but Trapani says she is not paid and does not control any agency funds.

"Mrs. Pompeo's work on behalf of CIA officers and their families has been broadly praised and welcomed, particularly by officers stationed in the field. She has graciously volunteered her time, much like former director's spouses, to drive initiatives that specifically make the lives of CIA officers and their families better for nothing more than the proud satisfaction of helping the Agency achieve its mission," Trapani said.

A congressional source told CNN that Pompeo's role has "definitely raised eyebrows ... particularly the use of the office space. CIA explained that away by saying there's an empty space she uses which is exactly what I'd say if she had an office."

Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert at the Washington University in St. Louis, called Susan Pompeo's role at the CIA a "red flag," questioning her use of CIA office space and the assistance she has received from CIA officials.

"If staff are helping her, it sounds like she can direct staff. It's odd that someone who is not a government official or an employee is allowed to direct actual government employees," Clark said.

This isn't the Department of Housing and Urban Development, not that that's any more acceptable. It's the fucking CIA. Why in the hell is it ok for the director to bring his wife to work???

These people are just ... oy.

Trump's character assassination squad convenes at the White House

by digby

I wrote about Trump's new hit man for Salon this morning:

Twenty years ago last month, Fox News media critic Howard Kurtz, then of the Washington Post, published a flattering profile called "The Power Couple at Scandal's Vortex" about a couple of DC lawyers who suddenly seemed to be everywhere, making the case against Bill Clinton. The two former prosecutors and conservative activists were Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing and they were not only ubiquitous on television, they had their hands in every scandal and investigation in DC, making them, as Kurtz put it, "players, which gives them access to juicy information, which gets them on television, which generates legal business."

Then, as now, there were dozens of lawyers on cable news acting as pundits and analysts arguing over the details of the latest scandal news.  But DiGenova and Toensing were unique in that they weren't just giving opinions, they were often representing clients and even worked on retainer for the one of the House investigations. And from time to time they became personally involved in the scandal themselves as when Toensing claimed that she was contacted by a Secret Service agent with a story to tell about Clinton and Lewinsky and DiGenova going on TV and insisting that the White House was "digging up dirt" on him and his wife. All of these cross connections between media, clients and various investigations often gave the two of them information which they used to promote their legal business and advance their cause which was to help Republicans take down Bill Clinton by any means necessary. They are both very savvy television performers and ruthless political operatives.

I hadn't heard much about them in the ensuing 20 years beyond some tepid defenses of convicted former Bush official Scooter Libby, but it stands to reason that they would be back in business now that Washington is engulfed in scandal again. And it makes perfect sense that Donald Trump would hire a lawyer with a conspiratorial bent and a strong media presence to defend him for when he decided to go to the mattresses against the Mueller investigation.
Toensing has been all over the scandal from the beginning representing former Trump adviser Sam Clovis, former Trump legal spokesman Mark Corallo (I wrote about him for Salon, here) and a shadowy alleged whistleblower and former FBI informant  named William Campbell who claimed he had information that Clinton had sold uranium to Russia as Secretary of State in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation. The Uranium One story played big on Fox News for a while but it didn't catch on since Campbell didn't have any proof and the FBI said he had been an unreliable informant.

Of course that could just have been part of the Big FBI Conspiracy DiGenova has been pushing for several months now and which seems to gotten legs on Fox News. Before the election, DiGenova went on Laura Ingraham's radio show and claimed that James Comey threw the case against Clinton:
“Comey’s a dirty cop. And if there’s one thing a prosecutor hates worse than a criminal, it’s a dirty cop … He threw this case. He did it for political reasons. He lied publicly about the quality of the case. He lied publicly about the law. He lied publicly about the ability to get documents when he could have used the grand jury and he didn’t.”
This was a huge deal in the right wing fever swamps during the election and DiGenova undoubtedly knew the Clinton scandal machine was oiled up and he was just testing the gears in anticipation of four years of steady work. Long before Comey and Trump had their confrontation, the right was readying the attack on Comey and the FBI. DiGenova laid out the Bizarro World case:
[Comey] has destroyed his credibility. He has done horrific damage to the FBI as an institution...If this were a Republican, the press would be going crazy about obstruction of injustice...[Clinton] will preside over the most corrupt administration since the Teapot Dome scandal. This is about the future of the country.
DiGenova  promised legal representation to any FBI agent who wanted to come forward and testify against James Comey.  As far as we know there were no takers.

All that was before the election. Since then the conspiracy, out of necessity, has gotten more sensational and convoluted. He now claims that  "a group of FBI and DOJ people were trying to frame Donald Trump of a falsely created crime...they were going to exonerate Hillary and they were going to frame Donald Trump."

So, the original sin in all this was letting Crooked Hillary off the hook for her heinous email crimes. Then apparently, the leaders of the global intelligence community joined with the nefarious Hillary lovers at the FBI to wreak their vengeance on the man who took down their chosen leader.  As DiGenova put it, "Comey sold his soul to the devil."

According to reports in the New York Times and the Washington Post, DiGenova is expected to do what he does best: appear on television and give colorful quotes to the press. But he is also a clever lawyer and former prosecutor with right wing contacts throughout the government. His wife and law partner Toensing has access to information about the investigation as the attorney for Clovis and Corallo. He will be a valuable addition to the team as they go about the ongoing smear campaign against their own government.

According to press reports this week, Mueller's team is particularly interested in Trump's behavior around the Comey and Flynn firings which indicates he's definitely looking at obstruction of justice by the president in the White House. If DiGenova is telling his new client that the president can't be indicted while in office he's undoubtedly glad that Trump doesn't use a computer or he might come across DiGenova's legal opinion on the matter from 20 years ago:
Nobody should underestimate the upheaval that a prosecution of the president would cause. But we went through it once before, in Watergate, and survived. The nation, in fact, could conceivably benefit from the indictment of a president. It would teach the valuable civics lesson that no one is above the law. As an appeals court told Mr. Clinton in the Paula Jones case, the Founders created a presidency, not a monarchy.
When he's right he's right. 

Oy vey: There's more. Ted Olson is possibly being added to the team. Those of you who have been around a while remember that Oldson was in the middle of the Arkansas Project that went after Clinton in the 1990s.

They're putting the band back together to protect Trump. These guys were ultimately unsuccessful back in the day and they' are 20 years older now. If the president of the United States is reduced to calling on these guys he's in big trouble.

Update II: Oh sorry Trumpie. Looks like the band will be missing a lead guitar player...

Data Have Many Uses 

by tristero

So far, news reports re: Cambridge Analytica have focused on their efforts to identify, profile, and target supporters of Donald Trump for the purpose of aiming propaganda at them. But data have many uses. And nothing says they only identified Trump supporters.

Recall that Cambridge Analytica and that professor had access to Facebook up until very recently. A huge treasure trove of data could very well have have been gathered to identify, profile, and target enemies of Donald Trump for the purpose of neutralizing them through harassment, intimidation, or worse.

While we can't see the full extent of the efforts that Trump and the GOP have been undermining democracy - and probably never will -  the infrastructure is clearly in place to make life very bad for those of us who are doing whatever little we can to thwart him and his Republican enablers.

And btw, Republicans are all but unanimous in their approval of Trump - 82% this week. They'll be very happy to have nasty things happen to us.


Film at six

by Tom Sullivan

The Cambridge Analytica expose by Britain's Channel 4 News will either kill the data firm or drive its business through the roof. That is, once the dust and lawsuits settle. The first parts of the expose on the firm's seamy tactics hit over the weekend and there is more to come, says Channel 4, later today.

Bribes, women, a lie floated on the Internet that “doesn't have to be true. It just has to be believed.” Karl Rove's reputation just shank to the vanishing point.

The BBC reports:

The UK's Information Commissioner is to apply to court for a warrant to search the offices of London-based political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica.

The company is accused of using the personal data of 50 million Facebook members to influence the US presidential election in 2016.

Its executives have also been filmed by Channel 4 News suggesting it could use honey traps and potentially bribery to discredit politicians.

The company denies any wrongdoing.
In Trumpian fashion, the firm's chief executive Alexander Nix denies saying what he is caught on camera saying.

Step away from the keyboard

UK Commissioner Elizabeth Denham is not simply investigating Cambridge Analytica, but Facebook as well:
She told BBC on Tuesday she is also investigating Facebook and has asked the company not to pursue its own audit of Cambridge Analytica's data use. She says Facebook has agreed.

"Our advice to Facebook is to back away and let us go in and do our work," she said.

Denham said the prime allegation against Cambridge Analytica is that it acquired personal data in an unauthorized way, adding that the data provisions act requires platforms like Facebook to have strong safeguards against misuse of data.

Chris Wylie, who once worked for Cambridge Analytica, was quoted as saying the company used the data to build psychological profiles so voters could be targeted with ads and stories.
The controversy will turn up the heat on Facebook. The Washington Post reports that Cambridge Analytica was not the only outfit interested in mining the social media platform for personal data:
Facebook last week suspended the Trump campaign’s data consultant, Cambridge Analytica, for scraping the data of potentially millions of users without their consent. But thousands of other developers, including the makers of games such as FarmVille and the dating app Tinder, as well as political consultants from President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, also siphoned huge amounts of data about users and their friends, developing deep understandings of people’s relationships and preferences.

Cambridge Analytica — unlike other firms that access Facebook’s user data — broke Facebook’s rules by obtaining the data under the pretense of academic use. But experts familiar with Facebook’s systems and policies say that the greater problem was that the rules for accessing the social network’s information trove were so loose in the first place.
Despite the Post's claim, it is not clear that Cambridge Analytica was the only violator. But with Facebook, isn't this, in part, a case of "You fucked up... you trusted us!"? No wait, that was Animal House. This was Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in college:
Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard

Zuck: Just ask.

Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS

[Redacted Friend's Name]: What? How'd you manage that one?

Zuck: People just submitted it.

Zuck: I don't know why.

Zuck: They "trust me"

Zuck: Dumb fucks.
Slate's Tiffany C. Li cautions that, digitally, we have led ourselves like lambs to the slaughter:
Ultimately, some responsibility should also fall to us, as consumers. We have created the privacy environment that allows for these violations to happen. We freely give up our data to various apps, websites, and companies. In return, we reap the benefits of many new technologies, including technologies that rely on use of personal data. You can blame Cambridge Analytica for using your data, or Facebook for collecting your data, or the government for not regulating either. But if the public really cares about preventing this kind of privacy violation, we need to change our social understanding of privacy and how data should be collected and used. Otherwise, we should stop being surprised when our most personal information is inevitably misused.
Let the buyer beware. We need to learn that when the apps are "free" we need to be even more skeptical.

* * * * * * * *

Request a copy of For The Win, my county-level election mechanics primer at tom.bluecentury at gmail.

Monday, March 19, 2018

A good bet

by digby

Rick Tyler, formerly of the Ted Cruz campaign, has a prediction:
“Here’s what’s going to happen, I’m going to go out on a limb,” Tyler began. “The president has calculated now — and I think it’s true — is the reaction from the Republicans. He is going to fire Robert Mueller. And you know what’s going to happen? Nothing. That’s what’s going to happen. There will be no response from Republican leadership, from Congress.”

Tyler continued as the other guests looked on in amazement.

“He is now going about — the reason to fire [former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe], the reason to deny him his retirement is he has to discredit him,” Tyler said. “And he has to systematically discredit everybody who’s involved in this Russia investigation. And he has now seen that he can do these things without any recourse. The Congress is not going to reign him in.”

The GOP strategist predicted Mueller’s firing would come “sooner rather than later, before he can get any further… on money laundering or other tangential issues.”

“Wow,” Ruhle said at the conclusion of the segment. “It is not even 9:30 on a Monday morning and Rick Tyler just knocked my socks off. I wasn’t ready for that.”

Get ready.

I don't know if this will happen. Some of this just suits Trump's desire for drama and chaos. And he might think that he's scaring Mueller into going easy. But if he's going to do it, he'll do it before November when the congress might very well change over and try to pass a law to stop him from firing Mueller. (I don't know how that would work unless the wave is so huge they could override Trump's veto ...)

But just in case he does flip the switch, here are some links you might want to bookmarks just in case:


Move On



Yet another Russia connection...

by digby

Following up on the Cambridge Analytica story here's just a tiny little bit of further information regarding the top scientist behind the use of the app Cambridge Analytica Facebook app:

"But while he was helping turn Facebook profiles into a political tool he was also an associate professor at St Petersburg State University, taking Russian government grants to fund other research into social media. “Stress, health, and psychological wellbeing in social networks: cross-cultural investigation” was the title of one piece of research. Online posts showed Kogan lecturing in Russian. One talk was called: “New methods of communication as an effective political instrument”.

Cambridge University said academics are allowed to take on outside work but are expected to inform their head of institution, a rule Kogan had complied with. “We understand that Dr Kogan informed his head of department of discussions with St Petersburg University regarding a collaboration; it was understood that this work and any associated grants would be in a private capacity,” a spokesman said.

Apart from that, Kogan appears to have largely kept the work private. Colleagues said they had not heard about the post in St Petersburg. “I am very surprised by that. No one knew,” one academic who asked not to be named told the Observer. Russia is not mentioned in a 10-page CV Kogan posted on a university website in 2015. The CV lists undergraduate prizes and grants of a few thousand dollars and links to dozens of media interviews."

It doesn't mean anything in itself. But keep in mind that the famous Russian Troll Farm was located in St. Petersburg. It's uhm ... interesting.

Data nerds and honey traps

by digby

Oh look. Trump's vaunted data analytics company Cambridge Analytica, with board member Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner's personal hire Brad Parscale (recently hired as Trump's 2020 campaign) was allegedly involved in much more nefarious activity than just stealing tens of millions of Facebook profiles:

An undercover investigation by Channel 4 News reveals how Cambridge Analytica secretly campaigns in elections across the world. Bosses were filmed talking about using bribes, ex-spies, fake IDs and sex workers.

Senior executives at Cambridge Analytica – the data company that credits itself with Donald Trump’s presidential victory – have been secretly filmed saying they could entrap politicians in compromising situations with bribes and Ukrainian sex workers.

In an undercover investigation by Channel 4 News, the company’s chief executive Alexander Nix said the British firm secretly campaigns in elections across the world. This includes operating through a web of shadowy front companies, or by using sub-contractors.

In one exchange, when asked about digging up material on political opponents, Mr Nix said they could “send some girls around to the candidate’s house”, adding that Ukrainian girls “are very beautiful, I find that works very well”.

In another he said: “We’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the Internet.”

Offering bribes to public officials is an offence under both the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Cambridge Analytica operates in the UK and is registered in the United States.

The admissions were filmed at a series of meetings at London hotels over four months, between November 2017 and January 2018. An undercover reporter for Channel 4 News posed as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka.

Mr Nix told our reporter: “…we’re used to operating through different vehicles, in the shadows, and I look forward to building a very long-term and secretive relationship with you.”

Along with Mr Nix, the meetings also included Mark Turnbull, the managing director of CA Political Global, and the company’s chief data officer, Dr Alex Tayler.

Mr Turnbull described how, having obtained damaging material on opponents, Cambridge Analytica can discreetly push it onto social media and the internet.

He said: “… we just put information into the bloodstream of the internet, and then, and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again… like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda’, because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda’, the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’.”

Mr Nix also said: “…Many of our clients don’t want to be seen to be working with a foreign company… so often we set up, if we are working then we can set up fake IDs and websites, we can be students doing research projects attached to a university, we can be tourists, there’s so many options we can look at. I have lots of experience in this.”

In the meetings, the executives boasted that Cambridge Analytica and its parent company Strategic Communications Laboratories (SCL) had worked in more than two hundred elections across the world, including Nigeria, Kenya, the Czech Republic, India and Argentina.

Despite film of executives saying they are doing this, they deny that they are doing it.

This was part two of the Channel IV documentary about Cambridge Analytica which, along with the news from the NY Times over the week-end and stories in the Guardian, are shaking up the Russia scandal. Part one of the Channel IV story featured the whistleblower telling the story of the theft of the Facebook users information.

Highly recommended:

Here is Part 1:

Here is Part 2:

They will be broadcasting their story about Cambridge Analytica and the United States election tomorrow.


Republicans are all-in with Trump

by digby

That's what they're saying anyway:

His approval rating is perpetually underwater, and the pandemonium surrounding his presidency only grows the longer he’s in the job.

But Senate Republicans are nevertheless making a counterintuitive, all-in bet that President Donald Trump will save their 51-49 majority — and perhaps even help them pick up a few seats.

Even as fears grow within the GOP that Trump will cost Republicans the House, Senate Republicans say the president will play a starring role in the closely contested campaigns that will decide control of the chamber. Trump will be front and center in every state that helped elect the president, according to GOP senators and strategists, making the case that Democrats are hindering his agenda.

“If you look at a race in a state like Missouri or North Dakota — or any of these states — he’ll be very involved,” said Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, chairman of the GOP’s campaign arm, who speaks with Trump about political strategy regularly. “He’ll be actively campaigning for a Senate majority. Absolutely.”

Republicans will lean most heavily on Trump in five deeply conservative states where the president remains highly popular and where he crushed Hillary Clinton: West Virginia, North Dakota, Indiana, Missouri and Montana. But they say they will also deploy Trump in the next tier of swing states that Trump won more narrowly: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida. And they expect him to help preserve GOP seats in Nevada, where he narrowly lost, and in Arizona.

In fact, despite his unpopularity on the national level, Republicans insist there isn’t a state on the Senate map where they are nervous about deploying Trump. Republicans reason that opposition to Trump is already baked into the Democratic electorate. They figure Democrats will be motivated to vote whether Trump shows up or not, so they might as well use him to fire up their base, too.

Republicans have “got to have some intensity in our base,” as Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) put it.

Sure, why not? Ginning up the rabid Trump base is just what the doctor ordered.

Nothing matters. They can't even contemplate the idea that losing the Senate for two years might just be to their own advantage in the long run.

At least he isn't a warmonger

by digby

I know, I know. Democrats are just as bad if not worse and nobody should ever point out the fact that Trump is a violent, bloodthirsty psychopath because George W. Bush and his cronies started that misbegotten war for no reason.

But still:

The numbers are shocking — or at least they should be.

2017 was the deadliest year for civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria, with as many as 6,000 people killed in strikes conducted by the U.S.-led coalition, according to the watchdog group Airwars.

That is an increase of more than 200 percent over the previous year.

It is far more if you add in countries like Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia and many others.

But the subject, considered a stain on President Barack Obama’s legacy even by many of his supporters, has almost dropped off the map.

Obsessed with the seemingly daily updates in the Stormy Daniels story or the impeachment potential of the Russia investigation, the American media is paying even less attention now to a topic it never focused on with much zeal.

“The media has unfortunately been so distracted by the chaos of the Trump administration and allegations of the president’s collusion with Russia that it’s neglected to look closely at the things he’s actually doing already,” said Daphne Eviatar, a director of Amnesty International USA.

That includes, she said, “hugely expanding the use of drone and airstrikes, including outside of war zones, and increasing civilian casualties in the process.”

Trump, of course, was a candidate who promised to “bomb the shit out of ’em [Islamic State],” and has since declared victory over the terrorist organization, while continuing to drop bombs.

It was always obvious that he would not restrain the military even a tiny bit when it came to killing foreigners. He hates foreigners, especially the ones who are not rich.


“Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would. In a heartbeat. I would approve more than that. It works. And if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway for what they do to us”.

He once asked a briefer three times why we can't use nuclear weapons.

If anyone thinks that Trump hasn't told his military leaders to "bomb the shit out of 'em" as they think necessary, they are kidding themselves.

The good news is that he hasn't invaded anywhere. Yet.

Trump holds his breath until he turns blue

by digby

I wrote about the week-end tantrum for Salon this morning:

Attorney General Jeff Session fired former FBI deputy Director Andrew McCabe and the president couldn't have been more thrilled. In a characteristic display of puerile mendacity he tweeted out his glee for the world to see:

These tweets were so full of lies that they required a full fact check by the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler.  The short version? The investigation started before there was a Steele dossier when one of Trump's national security advisers got drunk and spilled to an Australian diplomat that the Russians told him they had dirt on Hillary Clinton. There's no reason to believe the FISA court did anything improper and there have been a boatload of indictments and guilty pleas of Trump associates. And that's not to mention that the Trump campaign and transition were bizarrely crawling with more Russians than the annual Red Square May Day parade and nobody can adequately explain it.

Michaels Isikoff and David Corn's new book "Russian Roulette" gives one possible explanation as to why Trump insists on telling those lies to explain the Russia investigation. Recall that on January 6th of 2017 the heads of the intelligence agencies gathered to tell Trump about the Russia investigation. After the meeting was over James Comey had the unpleasant task of meeting with the president-elect alone to tell him about the contents of the Steele dossier. After Comey left, Trump apparently exploded and told members of his staff that this meeting was an FBI shakedown to blackmail him. In other words, the Fox News fulminating over the Deep State being out to get him originated with Trump himself.

His paranoia runs so deep that anyone in government who isn't a loyalist cannot be trusted, especially Democratic career law enforcement employees who are all obviously in on the plot:

It is against the law for Mueller to ask the political affiliation of anyone he hires but such things are of interest to Trump who proved that last spring when he asked Andrew McCabe if he voted for him and told him "ask your wife what it feels like to be a loser."

If there was any question about where Trump is headed, his lawyer John Dowd (who belatedly claimed he was only speaking for himself) came out after the announcement of McCabe's firing and said:
“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier."

Let's just say that if Dowd was speaking for himself he seemed to be channeling the thought process and phraseology of his client with perfect precision channeling his client. This was meant as an offer Rosenstein couldn't refuse.

As agitated and manic as Trump's tweets were this week-end, it seemed clear that he was testing the waters.  The New York Times' Maggie Haberman explained,

She wrote a fuller analysis for the paper explaining that Trump is actually brimming with self-confidence now because he sees that there have been no dire consequences for his actions despite warnings to the contrary so he sees himself getting stronger and taking control. And from the quotes from Republicans in her story, his allies in the congress and elsewhere are impressed with his new take-charge attitude.

Congressman Peter King for instance, says he thinks the president is more relaxed now but he's also been  "frustrated by the fact that he feels like a lot of what he didn’t succeed at, or what hasn’t worked, is that he wasn’t allowed to be Trump." So he's decided to be Trump.

In this instance, what Trump has realized is that if he humiliates a member of his cabinet, tweets that someone should be fired and makes it clear that he wants someone gone, at some point he will simply wear down institutional resistance. Recall that he humiliated Comey by making sure the FBI director only found out he'd been fired by seeing it on TV. Just last week, Rex Tillerson was totally demeaned as he was shown the door, with John Kelly even telling the press he informed Tillerson he was fired while the latter was on the toilet. By taunting McCabe about his scheduled retirement, and then waiting until just a day before that to fire him, Trump demonstrated to everyone else in the bureau that they'd better not cross him.

We don't know whether there will be any fallout from the McCabe firing by congressional Republicans but if there is and it goes the way every other Trump assault on presidential norms has gone, it won't last. Still there were a few more antagonistic comments than usual.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said if Trump fires Mueller "that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency." He also called for public hearings to explain the firing and allow McCabe to defend himself. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said the Mueller probe should be allowed to continue and responded to Graham's request for public hearings on the McCabe firing positively. Those two seem to be working in concert toward ends that are not entirely clear, what with their attacks on Christopher Steele and calls for a second Special Prosecutor, but perhaps this is on the up and up.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took the position that McCabe should have been allowed to retire, echoing the analysis in this article at Lawfare which points out that while nobody can say whether the charges against McCabe are reasonable until the report is released, this process appeared overly punitive and vindictive.
Surprisingly, the scourge of Benghazi, Trey Gowdy, had the most stinging criticism saying to Trump what millions of Americans are thinking every day:
If the allegation is collusion with the Russians, and there is no evidence of that, and you are innocent of that, act like it...if you've done nothing wrong, you should want the investigation to be as fulsome and thorough as possible.
House speaker Paul Ryan put out a tepid statement stating that Mueller and his team Mr. Mueller and his team "should be able to do their job" but there was no word from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  That's about it from Republicans. It was hardly a stampede of outraged elected officials rushing to do their duty.

Trump is on a roll and he's not likely to care in any case. The congressional Republicans have already shown their hand. Unless they're willing to impeach him he knows he can do what he wants. And so he is.

The racial dimension of student debt

by Gaius Publius

Student debt is increasingly burdening everyone, but that burden disproportionately weighs on black households.
—Marshall Steinbaum (source)

As an interim addendum to our short series, "Killing a Predator — Cancelling Student Debt" — Part 1 here, Part 2 here — consider the observation above by Marshall Steinbaum, one of the co-authors (with Stephanie Kelton, Scott Fulwiler, and Catherine Ruetschlin) of the Levy Institute paper on student debt cancellation we've been looking at. It comes from a more general piece Steinbaum wrote for the Roosevelt Institute discussing his Levy Institute paper. I'd like to focus here on just that observation.

Compare the two charts above. They show median wealth of households headed by black individuals (top chart) and white individuals (bottom chart) between the ages of 25 and 40 in successive waves of the triennial Survey of Consumer Finances, with and without student debt. (Credit to Matt Bruenig for preparing these data from the SCF.)

Before we look at more of what Steinbaum wrote, please note three things about the charts above.

First, consider the differing degrees to which student debt subtracts from the wealth of young black households and white households. The takeaway from that should be: No, canceling student debt would not mainly benefit the rich. It actually disproportionately benefits black households when measured as a percentage of household wealth.

Second, look at the vertical scales of the two graphs, their Y-axes. The numbers are not the same.  The top charted point (peak of yellow line) for young white households is $80,000. The top charted point (peak of yellow line) for young black households is slightly more than $18,000. That's a peak-to-peak wealth differential of greater than 4:1.

Worse, the actual wealth of these black households in 2016 is less than $4,000 (blue line, top chart), compared to more than $40,000 for white households in the same year (blue line, bottom chart). In other words, the 2016 wealth differential is more than 10:1.

Canceling all student debt would bring that differential down to "just" 5:1 — still shameful for a society like ours, but it shows what a great boon student debt cancellation would be for young black households.

Finally, note that from 2013 to 2016, white wealth for these households has recovered somewhat from the Wall Street–caused "great recession" while black wealth has recovered not at all

Now Steinbaum:
One thing that immediately becomes clear upon investigation of the student debt crisis is the extent to which it is a creature of this country’s legacy of racial discrimination, segregation, and economic disadvantage patterned by race. My prior research with Kavya Vaghul found that zip codes with higher population percentages of racial minorities had far higher delinquency rates, and that the correlation of delinquency with race was actually most extreme in middle-class neighborhoods. What this tells us is that student debt is intimately bound up with the route to financial stability for racial minorities.

In that work, we ascribe this pattern of disadvantage to four causes: segregation within higher education, which relegates minority students to the worst-performing institutions, discrimination in both credit and labor markets, and the underlying racial wealth gap that means black and Hispanic students have a much smaller cushion of family wealth to fall back on, both to finance higher education in the first place and also should any difficulty with debt repayment arise. The implication is that while higher education is commonly believed to be the route to economic and social mobility, especially by policy-makers, the racialized pattern of the student debt crisis demonstrates how structural barriers to opportunity stand in the way of individual efforts. Insisting that student debt is not a problem amounts to denying this reality.

Looking at the time series of median wealth for households headed by black and white people between the ages of 25 and 40 (what we refer to as “white households” and “black households”) in successive waves of the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) [see charts above] reveals these racialized patterns. ... By this measure, the racial wealth gap (the ratio of the median wealth of white households in that age range to the median wealth of black households in that age range) is approximately 12:1 in 2016, whereas in the absence of student debt, that ratio is 5:1.

Moreover, while overall net household wealth levels for the non-rich increased between the 2013 and 2016 waves of the SCF for the first time since the Great Recession did violence to middle-class wealth, rising student debt weighed in the other direction—especially for black households. The time trend from these charts is clear: Student debt is increasingly burdening everyone, but that burden disproportionately weighs on black households.
Steinbaum refers to another study to explain why this is the case (emphasis mine):
A 2016 paper by Judith Scott-Clayton and Jing Li offers clues, since it tracks the debt loads of black and white graduates with four-year undergraduate degrees. They find that immediately upon graduating, black graduates have about $7,400 more in student debt than their white counterparts. Four years after graduating, that gap increases to $25,000. The crucial difference is simply that white graduates are likely to find a job and start paying down their debt, more-or-less as the system is designed, but black graduates are not—they carry higher balances, go to graduate school (especially at for-profit institutions) and thus accumulate more debt, and subsequently earn no better than whites with undergraduate degrees.

What this suggests is that any given educational credential is less valuable to blacks in a discriminatory labor market (probably because they attended less well-regarded institutions with weaker networks of post-graduate opportunity, and also because even assuming they did attend the same institutions as their white counterparts, outcomes for black graduates in the labor market are mediated by racial discrimination). ... The assumption that debt-financed educational credentialization represents constructive wealth-building and social mobility thus reflects a failure to comprehend the landscape of race-based economic exclusion.
The interaction of student debt with "race-based economic exclusion" provides a powerful argument for student debt cancellation all on its own. Something to keep in mind as this idea enters public discourse.

(A version of this piece appeared at Down With Tyranny. GP article archive here.)





Future-crime and punishment

by Tom Sullivan

General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B) fitted with DB-110 surveillance pod.

Minority Report's PreCrime police unit was science fiction. Or was it?

From The Atlantic:

China is rife with face-scanning technology worthy of Black Mirror. Don’t even think about jaywalking in Jinan, the capital of Shandong province. Last year, traffic-management authorities there started using facial recognition to crack down. When a camera mounted above one of 50 of the city’s busiest intersections detects a jaywalker, it snaps several photos and records a video of the violation. The photos appear on an overhead screen so the offender can see that he or she has been busted, then are cross-checked with the images in a regional police database. Within 20 minutes, snippets of the perp’s ID number and home address are displayed on the crosswalk screen. The offender can choose among three options: a 20-yuan fine (about $3), a half-hour course in traffic rules, or 20 minutes spent assisting police in controlling traffic. Police have also been known to post names and photos of jaywalkers on social media.

The system seems to be working: Since last May, the number of jaywalking violations at one of Jinan’s major intersections has plummeted from 200 a day to 20. Cities in the provinces of Fujian, Jiangsu, and Guangdong are also using facial-recognition software to catch and shame jaywalkers.
That's creepy. But what about convenience? What about speeding up train or plane boarding? All well and good unless you're a minority. NPR:
According to a report by the CAPA-Centre for Aviation, face-recognition software "is not so good at identifying ethnic minorities when most of the subjects used in training the technology were from the majority group." Another problem are passengers who are wearing glasses, hats or scarves.

Rudolph says about 4 percent of travelers are wrongly rejected by the system.

Another concern he has: He says privacy protections are nonexistent.
The ultimate cost of convenience is creepier. Again from The Atlantic:
The technology’s veneer of convenience conceals a dark truth: Quietly and very rapidly, facial recognition has enabled China to become the world’s most advanced surveillance state. A hugely ambitious new government program called the “social credit system” aims to compile unprecedented data sets, including everything from bank-account numbers to court records to internet-search histories, for all Chinese citizens. Based on this information, each person could be assigned a numerical score, to which points might be added for good behavior like winning a community award, and deducted for bad actions like failure to pay a traffic fine. The goal of the program, as stated in government documents, is to “allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.”
We keep seeing this theme, don't we? Captain America: The Winter Soldier might not have been so far from fact:
Jasper Sitwell: Zola'a algorithm is a program for choosing Insight's targets.

Steve Rogers: What targets?

Jasper Sitwell: You! A TV anchor in Cairo, the Under Secretary of Defense, a high school valedictorian in Iowa City, Bruce Banner, Stephen Strange, anyone who's a threat to HYDRA. Now, or in the future.

Steve Rogers: In the future? How could it know?

Jasper Sitwell: How could it not? The 21st century is a digital book. Zola told HYDRA how to read it. Your bank records, medical histories, voting patterns, emails, phone calls, your damn SAT scores! Zola's algorithm evaluates people's past to predict their future.

Steve Rogers: And what then?

Jasper Sitwell: Oh, my God. Pierce is gonna kill me.

Steve Rogers: What then?

Jasper Sitwell: Then the Insight helicarriers scratch people off the list. A few million at a time.
Which, of course, is silly. The Chinese have are no such things as helicarriers. But Reapers? We got those, and that's how we use them abroad on a smaller scale. But not to worry. When we are not letting Facebook and Cambridge Analytica log psychological profiles of 230 million Americans, here on the home front (Syracuse, New York) we only use Reapers for "wide-area persistence surveillance" to collect "more than 10,000 square miles of imagery per hour":
UTC Aerospace Systems was contracted by the Guard in 2017 to support the installation and assessment of the DB-110 on the 174th Attack Wing's MQ-9 Reaper. Following the first Operational Assessment, the Guard is evaluating long-term solutions to field the next-generation sensor of the DB-110 family, the MS-110, in a new pod that will be compatible with both the MQ-9 Reaper and C-130 Hercules. The MS-110 will produce multispectral color imagery across 7 bands, thereby enhancing the long-range and wide-area attributes of the DB-110. For the Guard, the MS-110 would enhance the service's ability to assess critical infrastructure during poor weather conditions, through smoke and below the surface of the water, while also helping to detect objects against a cluttered background.

"As the most advanced tactical-reconnaissance sensors of their kind, the DB-110 and MS-110 will greatly improve the Air National Guard's ability to carry out its mission of saving lives and providing humanitarian assistance," said Kevin Raftery, vice president of ISR and Space Systems at UTC Aerospace Systems. "The imagery they provide will enable the timely assessment of critical infrastructure such as power plants, energy corridors, roads and highways, and civilian domiciles. Collecting this information rapidly across wide areas and disseminating the data directly to incident commanders will help save lives and property during natural disasters and emergency situations."
And won't that be convenient?

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