Saturday, September 10, 2016

Natural Weekends - More Birds

A shore bird catches a crab - if anyone knows what kind of bird this is, please let me know in comments.

I'm not sure if this bird has just taken a bath, feasted on some red berries, or was wounded; but it flew off without a problem.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Trump Does Propaganda For The Guy He Will Out-Negotiate

One day after telling Matt Lauer that he would be the toughest negotiator Vladimir Putin has ever seen, Donald Trump managed to appear on the Russian propaganda channel RT America and bash US foreign policy and blast the US media. And the best part is that Putin didn't even have to negotiate with Trump to get him to do this - Trump did it on his own. Trump appeared on Larry King Now which airs on both Hulu and RT America. When asked to explain how Trump managed to be putting out anti-American propaganda for Russian TV, spokesperson Kellyanne Conway said, "Nobody said it would be on Russian TV". Maybe Trump's negotiating skills aren't what he thinks they are. You really can't make this stuff up.

Senate GOP Goes For Yet Another Obamacare Rollback

The Senate has plenty of work to do before they adjourn again for the election. There is the important task of putting together some sort of budget deal in order to keep the government from shutting down at the end of this month. Then there is the question of coming up with a clean bill that will finally create some funding to combat the continuing Zika crisis. In addition, Republican Senators have to keep on dodging questions about the latest outrages coming from Donald Trump. So you'd think they might want to take care of these issues or even possibly introduce some legislation that advances their vision for the future. Of course, you'd be thinking incorrectly. Apparently, Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate have so few ideas that they have had to borrow the one idea that the House has managed to produce in the last four years - that's right, roll back Obamacare. McConnell actually has two bills ready, one that eliminates the individual mandate if there is only one option for Obamacare coverage and the other eliminates the individual mandate if a state's average Obamacare premium rises by more than 10%.  Of course, neither of these will address the relatively few real problems with Obamacare and are intentionally designed to actually weaken the law. I guess Senate Republicans are so desperate to get out GOP voters in order to save their majority that they've had to stoop to this. Of course, neither of these bills are going anywhere as Democrats are sure to filibuster them and Obama will veto them even if they ever do get to his desk. But such is the dysfunction of our Republican-led Congress these days.

Judge Orders Connecticut To Totally Revamp Its Education System

Connecticut State Superior Court Judge Thomas Moukawsher may have struck the most important blow for poor and underserved schoolchildren in decades. I have already written about the historic suit that has been brought against the state of Connecticut alleging that the state has failed its constitutional mandate to provide equal education for all students. Judge Moukawsher finally issued his ruling in this case and it was scathing.  He criticized the state for a "kind of spoof" when the task force set up to institute meaningful graduation requirements simple recommended setting up another task force. He lambasted a teacher evaluation system that ranked "virtually every teacher in the state" as proficient and exemplary even as thousands of students in poorer communities cannot read at even the most basic levels. The education funding mechanism in the state is totally out of whack. As the state faced a budget crunch last year, the city of Bridgeport, one of the poorer areas of the state, had its education budget cut by nearly $1 million while a relatively richer suburban district like Branford actually saw its funding go up by about $300,000. If that doesn't indicate a totally broken system, then I don't know what does. "An approach that allows rich towns to raid money desperately needed by poor towns makes a mockery of the state’s constitutional duty to provide adequate educational opportunities to all students," Judge Moukawsher wrote. The judge ordered the Attorney General to return to court in six months with a plan for an almost complete overhaul of the educational system in Connecticut. The ruling is more than just making sure education money is more equitably distributed across the state. It is also about holding teachers, school boards, and the state responsible and accountable for more equitable opportunities in Connecticut education.

This decision is likely to create a firestorm as the state tries to craft a solution that will be satisfactory to the court. Teachers unions will fight evaluations; local school boards will fear a loss of control; richer districts will fight any effort to move funding from their districts to poorer districts. It could be a bloodbath but the legislature has a chance to create some bold solutions while blaming the court for the result, although it is doubtful they will do so. They will also be loathe to finally take on the ridiculous method of funding our public schools primarily through local property taxes. In a state like Connecticut with so much inequality, the only result of this system will be unequal results in educational opportunities. This decision will also be a shot across the bow to all those other states that are suffering the same problems as Connecticut.

Dairy Group Settles Antitrust Class Action On Inflating Milk Prices

In yet another example of corporate criminal behavior, major US dairy producers will pay $52 million to settle an anti-trust lawsuit accusing them of slaughtering half a million cows in order to raise the price of milk, yogurt, cream, and other dairy products. The suit alleges that a dairy industry group oversaw a program that bought up around 500,000 dairy cows and slaughtered them between 2003 and 2010. The resulting decrease in raw milk supplies increased the price of milk by about $0.59 for every 100 pounds of milk in the four years between 2004 and 2008. The industry group had said the program of buying up cows and then slaughtering them "allowed dairy farmers who wanted to stop farming, to exit farming altogether." Of course it is hard to see why those farmers could not have sold the cows to other farmers willing to take on more productive cows. It is also unclear whether the farmers understood that their cows would be slaughtered. The settlement requires the dairy group to pay $52 million, while not admitting to any guilt or being found in violation of antitrust laws. Because we wouldn't want them to have to admit they did anything wrong. When will these violations of law result in anything but a minor, monetary slap on the wrist.

Massive Fraud At Wells Fargo Is Just More Criminal Wall Street Conduct

It is hard to go a day without reading about another corporate criminal caught in the act - what are they teaching these people in business schools these days? Yesterday's huge story is about the massive fraud committed on a firm-wide basis at Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo employees apparently set up millions of unauthorized bank and credit card accounts since 2011 in an attempt to boost fees and rack up sales figures to earn more money. Employees would set up phony accounts linked to existing accounts, even creating bogus PINs and email addresses for those accounts. Those new accounts would count toward the employee's sales targets, earning them bonuses. But on top of that, the employees then illegally and without authorization transferred money from the valid original account into the newly opened account. This caused the valid account to be overdrawn and then be charged for insufficient funds by the bank. An estimated 1.5 million of these bogus accounts were opened up at the bank in the last 5 years. In addition, employees opened up over half a million credit card accounts without the customer's knowledge or approval. These cards racked up over $400,000 in various fees as well. Wells Fargo states that over 5,300 employees were fired over the last few year for improper behavior. And it is clear that these illegal actions were widespread throughout the company. It is impossible to believe that levels of senior management could not have been aware of the problem. It also brings into question the whole account opening procedures and protocols at the bank which are subject to strict anti-money laundering (AML) rules. The unauthorized transfers of funds is also a clear violation of securities law. Wells Fargo has been ordered to pay $185 million in fines and restitution by the CFPB. Wells Fargo net income for the second quarter of this year slumped to around $5.5 billion just to show you how pathetic this fine is, despite it being the largest fine the CFPB has ever levied.

In my experience on Wall Street, the violations here are egregious - violating AML rules and moving customer money without authorization. But it was apparently business-as-usual at Wells Fargo. It is becoming more and more apparent that many of these large financial firms are in many ways ongoing criminal enterprises. How long must this go on before we either create serious enough punishment for all levels of management when this illegality occurs or simply force the institution to close down.

Third Party Candidates Derail

Hopefully, the last couple of days will finally put to rest any idea that Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party are a real alternative if you can't stand Trump or Clinton. Stein and her running mate, Ajamu Baraka, have an arrest warrant out for them both in North Dakota for criminal trespass and criminal mischief. The warrant arose out of the protest against the Dakota Access pipeline that is opposed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe because it violates sacred Indian ground. To be clear, I absolutely support the Sioux in their legal fight against the pipeline and they have every right to protest. And I'm glad Jill Stein is there supporting them. But spraying graffiti on privately owned construction equipment is hardly the best way to do that.

Yes, the North Dakota authorities are reacting with overkill with their arrest warrant (and they've just called out the National Guard in a clear escalation of tension with the protesters), and, yes, this is hardly a serious criminal act. But the lack of judgement showed by Stein and her running mate is pretty clear. If you are running for President, then fight the pipeline in the courts, in the legislature, and in the public. Stand with the protesters and stay with them until the end. Don't just fly in and spray some graffiti and then leave.

While Stein only is polling around 2% in the polls, Gary Johnson and the Libertarian party are polling at near 10% and actually had a chance to reach the threshold to get into the debates. That was until Johnson went on Morning Joe and showed his complete lack of knowledge of, or apparent interest in, foreign policy. When asked what he would do about the continuing crisis in the war-torn city of Aleppo, Johnson answered, "What's Aleppo?".

The level of ignorance here is astounding. If you have been following the dreadful and disgusting news out of Syria even in just a cursory way over the last four over five years, you had to have heard of Aleppo. The city has been the scene of a destructive four year battle between Syrian government forces and the opposition that has left the city virtually in ruins. The civilian casualties have been immense and most of the recent cease-fire initiatives have been concerned with somehow getting humanitarian aid into the city. How anyone running for President could not be aware of the city is mind-blowing.

Hopefully, after these disasters, we will not hear too much from these candidates again and the people who are considering voting for either of them will realize that neither of them is even worth a protest vote - better to just stay at home than support the lack of judgement and ignorance of these two.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Serena Williams Upset By Pliskova At US Open

Karolina Pliskova upset Serena Williams tonight 6-2, 7-6(5), and advanced to the US Open Finals. Serena finally ran into a player who could hit as hard or even harder than she could. Pliskova actually outserved Serena in this match which is totally unheard of - Serena simply could not read Pliskova's power serve and Pliskova's blistering forehand at times overpowered Serena. After cruising through the first set, Pliskova and Williams traded breaks early in the third set and then held serve until the tiebreaker.  Pliskova ran out to a 3-0 lead and then lost 4 consecutive points. But Karolina held her nerve and finally won it when Serena double-faulted at 5-6. Pliskova should give a big thanks the Simona Halep who lost to Serena last night in three spectacular sets. If you can, take a look at the second set in that Halep match - it was one of the better sets of tennis you will see as both players were simply crushing the ball, moving each other from corner to corner. It was apparent tonight, especially in the second set, that Serena just did not have the movement and energy she needed and I'm sure that was a residual of her match with Halep. But all credit to Pliskova as she was clearly the better player on the court tonight.

Press Apparently Doesn't Believe In Truth

You really have to wonder what the our present corporate media is here for, to just be stenographers for the powerful. Tonight Matt Lauer let Donald Trump once more get away with the lie that he opposed the Iraq War. No follow up. No push back pointing out the interview with that noted journalist Howard Stern where Trump responded to the question of whether he would support the war by saying, "Yeah, I guess so. You know, I wish it was, I wish the first time it was done correctly."

And Chris Wallace, one of the coming debate moderators, when asked whether he would call out the candidates for blatant lies, responded, "That’s not my job, I do not believe that it’s my job to be a truth squad." Yes, there are times when the media should be used to disseminate important information the government needs it citizens to know. But calling out flat-out lies by Presidential candidates is definitely one of their jobs. My God, did the press learn nothing from the debacle of the G.W. Bush administration.

Fox Settles Gretchen Carlson Lawsuit For $20 Million

The Murdochs and 21st Century Fox have settled the lawsuit brought by Gretchen Carlson for $20 million and also given a public apology for the fact that she "was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve." That's seems like a pretty weak apology for getting sexually harassed but I guess the $20 million takes a bit of the sting out of it. Of course, the settlement comes with a non-disclosure agreement so will never know just how bad Ailes treated Carlson and we'll never hear the tapes she apparently has of Ailes. Meanwhile, Ailes has walked off with a $40 million payday from Fox, apparently no worse for wear for his years of serial sexual harassment and intimidation at Fox. Although no one seems to want to admit it, Ailes is now clearly advising Donald Trump. At least one reporter questions whether that is "appropriate".

On the other hand, indigent people who cannot pay fines end up in jail for extended periods, forcing them to lose their jobs and extending the cycle of poverty. People in Denver, Seattle, and Portland are banned from public parks for a certain period if they have committed even just a minor offense like having a dog off a leash or an open container of liquor. And people still insist that there is not a two-tier justice system in this country.

Senator Asks For Investigation Of Immigration Violations By Trump Modeling Agency

It looks like Barbara Boxer, the retiring Senator from California, is demanding some sort of inquiry into the Mother Jones report on the Trump Model Management company. The report indicates that the agency that Trump founded in 1999 employed models who were here on tourist visas which did not legally allow them to be employed. In addition, the agency never procured the proper work visas for some models and apparently encouraged others to lie to Customs officials about why they were here in the US. Some models also complained that they were charged excessive fees for rent and other expenses. Boxer has asked the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service to investigate these chargers. It seems Trump's commitment to immigration enforcement only matters when he's not lining his own pocket.

Harry Reid Determined To Make Life Difficult For GOP

Harry Reid, the retiring Democratic Senate Minority Leader, is not going to go out without a fight. Reid has already made clear that the Senate will need to craft a clean Zika funding bill, not one that restricts funding for Planned Parenthood that Democrats filibustered yesterday and last August before the summer recess. Republicans had difficulty crafting a bill that could even pass the House last spring and the one that did was clearly never going to make it through the Senate because of the ridiculous provisions attached. As the Zika virus spreads, the Democrats position may become a little harder to maintain but Reid is betting that the GOP will be held responsible because they do control both houses of Congress.

But Zika is the least of the GOP problems. Reid also announced on Tuesday that Democrats will use his power of blocking unanimous consent in order to make it difficult for Senate committees to actually meet until the Republicans agree to move forward on the Merrick Garland nomination to the Supreme Court. He made it clear that if Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader, felt that a committee needed to meet in an extraordinary circumstance, he would certainly consider it. Under the byzantine rules of the Senate, unanimous consent is needed to have a committee meeting after the Senate has been in session for two hours or after 2pm in the afternoon. This consent is normally given as a matter of routine, but Reid now says that will no longer be the case. Admittedly, Reid's move just adds to the dysfunction in the Senate but the GOP's refusal to even consider Garland has already broken the norms of governance.

In addition, last Thursday, Reid announced that Senate Democrats would oppose any stopgap funding bill that goes beyond December.  Despite Paul Ryan's promises, House Republicans have still not passed a majority of the spending bills that are required to keep the government operating after October 1 and the chances that they will are beyond remote. That means the government can only keep running via a stopgap spending bill that postpones a budget deal until some time in the future.  The Republicans in the House Freedom Caucus want to make sure the stopgap spending bill takes them into the next Congress early next year, allowing the budget to be crafted after Obama has left office. In addition, they feel that a lame-duck Congress with lots of legislators who will not face the voters again will create a budget deal that increases spending and feeds lots of special interests. That sets up a showdown between the Freedom Caucus and Democrats that could prevent a bill from being passed at all. So, incredible as it may seem, we may be looking at another government shutdown under Republican Congressional leadership. You have to think they wouldn't risk this just before an election, but with the anarchists in the GOP House, you never know.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Nishikori Upsets Murray In 5 Set Thriller

This afternoon, Kei Nishikori upset Andy Murray in a thrilling five set match filled with service breaks, 1-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.  Nishikori looked like he was going to get run off the court early, but a rain delay in the middle of the second set seemed to settle him down and he was able to win that set. Murray then took the third when he held after three consecutive service breaks. But Murray lost his focus when a PA problem prompted the umpire to rule a let when Murray had double break point against Nishikori at 1-1 in the third. He then proceeded to lose eight out of the next ten points and basically threw the set away. So it was onto the fifth set where Murray proceeded to get broken in the very first game. Nishikori gave the break back at 2-1 but broke Murray and then held serve to go up 4-2. Then serving at 4-3, Nishikori blew a 40-0 lead and let Murray get back the break to 4-4. But  Nishikori used the drop shot the bring Murray forward and then made an incredible stab volley to break at 5-5. He then served out the match.

The match was really determined by Nishikori's play. He was incredibly aggressive and used his drop shot to great effect. But he also had nearly 60 unforced errors. When he was passive, Murray regained control. And when he was attacking it was whether he would win the point before he made an error. This tournament may also indicate the end of an era and a changing of the guard in men's tennis. This is the first major since the 2004 French Open that neither Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, nor Andy Murray has made it to the semifinals.

Trump Admits Excuse For Not Releasing Taxes Is A Sham

Donald Trump finally admitted that an ongoing audit is not the reason he is refusing to release his taxes. In a Bill O'Reilly interview last night, Trump said, "Let her release her emails and I will release my tax returns immediately." Trump is referring to the personal emails that Hillary Clinton deleted during her tenure as Secretary of State. The FBI investigation has already exonerated her from improperly deleting those emails but that doesn't stop the Trump campaign from constantly harping on it. Of course, those emails are permanently deleted so it makes for a nice sound bite for Trump. But it also shows that his excuse for not releasing his tax returns is a sham. Of course, Trump has already admitted that his tax returns from 2001 to 2008 are not being audited but he still refuses to release those. But this latest statement linking Hillary's emails to the release of his tax returns actually takes him back to his position in the late summer and early fall of last year before changing his rationale to the audit. I'm pretty sure he will flip back to the audit explanation today if not sooner.

As I have stated over and over again, the press can not let Trump get away with not releasing his tax returns. If he does, we may never see another candidate's returns ever again. And that lack of transparency will only be negative for American democracy.

Clinton Faux Scandal II - The Clinton Foundation

Following up on the post about the FBI report exonerating Hillary regarding her emails, let's now look at the supposed scandals at the Clinton Foundation. The New York Times has been especially irresponsible in their reporting on this but that is nothing new for the newspaper that brought us the bogus Whitewater scandal. However the Times is not alone in producing stories that sound bad but reveal nothing improper. Paul Glastris has a nice rundown on these bogus stories here.

Let's start off with the AP story which seemed to imply that over half the people Hillary Clinton met with during her tenure as Secretary of State were donors to the Clinton Foundation. Of course, the implication was false. When they said half the people she met with, they really only meant half the private individuals she met with as opposed to those in government or diplomatic roles. Of course, those government officials make up the majority of the people she met with. In addition, the 154 private individuals they say she met with are solely gleaned from her official calendar - she undoubtedly met with many more than that during her tenure. And the examples the AP gave of the individuals who had donated to the Clinton Foundation were people like Muhammed Yunis, a Nobel Prize winning pioneer of micro-lending and a friend of the Clintons since Arkansas, and Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Weisel. And, to this day, I do not believe the AP has released the entire list of supposed foundation donors who were seeking access to Clinton nor have they retracted the totally misleading tweet that hyped the story.

Next let's go to the LA Times story about a Clinton Foundation executive who tried to set up a meeting with Hillary for some shady Lebanese businessman based in Nigeria in order to provide insight into the machinations of Lebanese domestic politics. The article details the unsavory deals this businessman has been involved in, his donations to the Clinton Foundation, and the fact that the State Department leased land from him to build an embassy. But there is nothing in the article that shows Hillary had anything to do with the leasing decision and, in addition, the businessman never met with any State Department official, much less Hillary.

Here's a Politico story that not only implies that the Clinton Foundation was improperly using government funds for IT equipment and staff. The headline also leaves the impression that one of the IT items in question was Hillary's private email server. The article discusses "how the Clintons blurred the line between their nonprofit foundation, Hillary Clinton’s State Department, and the business dealings of Bill Clinton and the couple’s aides." Unfortunately, the prior sentence in the article states that whatever they've uncovered "does not reveal anything illegal." So, it has hard to see how the lines were "blurred" when nothing illegal happened. And you won't find out until paragraph 24 in the article that this all revolves around the various functions that a former President is allowed to perform. When he is performing in his capacity as a former President, he is allowed to charge some of his staff time to the GSA with a cap on total staff salaries paid by the government of $96,600 per year. When he is giving a private speech or acting on behalf of the Clinton Foundation, he is not allowed to bill any time to the government. Staff time is tracked and then billed out accordingly. And Bill Clinton did exactly that. This is standard stuff for every ex-President - there is nothing shady or blurring the lines about it.

Let's look at the NY Times story about the Clinton Foundation executives trying to influence Hillary to provide them with diplomatic passports. In addition, they also wanted to set up a meeting with Dow CEO Andrew Liveris who is a Clinton Foundation donor. That doesn't sound very good. But you have to read the whole article to find out that these Foundation execs were traveling with Bill Clinton on an unofficial mission to North Korea in what turned out to be a successful attempt to free two jailed American journalists. Bill Clinton wanted some staff to go with him and the staff requested they be provided with diplomatic passports for the trip. After all, they were going to North Korea and those passports would provide at least some sort of protection. But their request was turned down because only Department employees and others with diplomatic status are eligible for those passports. A brief meeting with the Dow exec actually did occur but that was because he was offering the use of his private jet for Bill Clinton's flight to North Korea. So all that access to Hillary got them absolutely nothing.

Finally, the latest bogus story from the Washington Post whose headline screams "Inside Bill Clinton's $18 Million Job As 'Honorary Chancellor' At For-Profit University". It details how the fastest growing college network in the world, Laureate International Universities, paid Bill Clinton $17.6 million over the five years between 2010 and 2015 to be its honorary chancellor. The article states that, "it seems that part of the strategy in hiring the former president was to bolster Laureate’s image by aligning it with the former president’s famous charitable efforts — thereby portraying the company as a force for good in the world." Yes, that probably is why they hired him which is the same reason most people get hired, because they can help the company. And, unlike Trump and Trump University, Bill Clinton stayed relatively engaged with the university over the five years, making multiple appearance at Laureate's campuses. But the reason this was a story for the Post is because Hillary Clinton added Laureate to a 2009 private State Department dinner on higher education that also included leaders from community colleges and church-funded institutions. She also wanted to add a representative from the for-profit space and since Laureate was one of the largest in the world, it only made sense to invite them. Remember, this was months before Bill Clinton was hired by the University. In paragraph five of the story, however, you get to the point, or rather the non-point of the story, "There is no evidence that Laureate received special favors from the State Department in direct exchange for hiring Bill Clinton." And finally, in paragraph 25 you get to the kicker, "Clinton’s contract with Laureate was approved by the State Department’s ethics office, in keeping with an Obama administration agreement with Hillary Clinton that gave the agency the right to review her husband’s outside work during her tenure. An ethics official wrote that he saw 'no conflict of interest with Laureate or any of their partners,' according to a letter recently released by the conservative group Citizens United, which received it through a public-records request." Once again, there is no indication that the activities of Bill Clinton or the Clinton Foundation had any influence on Hillary while she was Secretary of State.

Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye for over 20 years now. She, her husband, and her family have been continually attacked for being deceptive, corrupt, and selling influence. Yet, over all those years, and the literally thousands of negative stories that have been written about them, the only real thing the press could ever come up with is that Bill lied about having an affair. But that doesn't stop the press. Donald Trump lies almost continuously but somehow the electorate still has the impression that Hillary is less trustworthy. If that does not indicate a compete failure of the media to appropriately inform the public, then I'm not sure what will. And the press then wonders why she hates them.

Clinton Faux Scandal I - Hillary's Emails

Kevin Drum has read the entire FBI report on Hillary Clinton's emails so we don't have to and its conclusions exonerate Clinton. Hillary's private email was originally hosted on a server at her home. When she became Secretary of State, Clinton was informed that she could not link personal email accounts to Department of State mobile devices. So, in order to keep track of her government and personal email, she would have to carry two different devices. She decided she would rather not do that and so kept her personal device for both personal and State email. In fact, she contacted Colin Powell immediately after Obama was sworn in  and asked about his use of a personal Blackberry during his tenure as Secretary of State. Powell replied that he used one although he was concerned that all his emails including his personal ones would be considered "official records". He got around this by using a system that did not archive his emails at all. However, Hillary did archive her emails, both on the private server at home and then when her email migrated to a hosted service in late 2013. For a better understanding of Hillary's motivations, Drum also has an excellent post that points out that, having made the decision to use just one personal email account, Hillary also wanted to make sure that her personal emails would not be subject to a Freedom of Information request, just as Powell had warned.

There was no restriction on the use of personal email accounts for State business, although State did send out a recommendation in 2011 that personal email accounts not be used. This was a recommendation, not a prohibition. Apparently, Clinton used 13 individual devices that were used to send emails but only eight of them were used during her tenure as Secretary of State. She only used one device at a time but apparently had difficulty with new versions. After migration, the SIM cards on all those devices were destroyed. Clinton deleted email regularly and emails were apparently purged when she changed devices. While within the physical Department of State building, personal devices were not allowed. Hillary complied with this rule at all times by checking her mobile device in the State Diplomatic Security Service. Only thirteen State Department employees maintained email contact with Clinton on her personal device. She was NOT doing all her State business through her personal Blackberry. After she was requested to produce her State emails, an attorney went through the emails and segregated the business from personal emails. Hillary was in no way involved in that process. Emails that were deleted in 2015 were solely the responsibility of the service hosting Clinton's emails. Platte River Network (PRN) was aware of the document retention order but screwed up by deleting some of Hilary's archived emails.  Also remember that Hillary had left the Department of State in early 2013.

The FBI report seems to indicate that Hillary did not initiate any classified e-mails. Of the three classified emails that the FBI did find, two were not classified at the time of sending and all were part of an email chain that was forwarded to Clinton. It was quite common for State employees to use personal email accounts and discuss business in a roundabout way that would not break the rules for classified material. It is also important to note that a "" email account that Hillary could have used is NOT a secure account. Classified material is required to be sent over a separate State Department system. In addition, State Department employees have only guidelines to help them determine whether a document they are putting together should be classified. Subsequent review may deem the document to be classified but the author may not have thought so when it was written. Finally, the FBI report shows that there is no indication Clinton's email account was ever hacked.

I will leave it up to Kevin Drum to summarize: "That said, this report is pretty much an almost complete exoneration of Hillary Clinton. She wasn't prohibited from using a personal device or a personal email account, and others at state did it routinely. She's told the truth all along about why she did it. Colin Powell did indeed advise her about using personal email shortly after she took office, but she chose to follow the rules rather than skirt them, as Powell did. She didn't take her BlackBerry into her office. She communicated with only a very select group of 13 people. She took no part in deciding which emails were personal before handing them over to State. She had nothing to do with erasing information on the PRN server. That was a screw-up on PRN's end. She and her staff all believed at the time that they were careful not to conduct sensitive conversations over unclassified email systems. And there's no evidence that her server was ever hacked." This should be the end of it but because her name is Clinton we know that it won't.

NY Times Finally Uncovers Illegal Activity In Presidential Charity

Finally, the New York Times has actually written an article on a real scandal involving a charitable foundation - the one involving the Trump Foundation and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. And they also put it on page 1. Of course, even a lowly blogger like me had managed to detail the story three months ago. I say that not to beat my own chest but to show just how delinquent the Times has been in reporting on this story. And while they've been ignoring it, they have had plenty of articles detailing that "clouds" and "shadows" surrounding the Clinton Foundation that all ended up with the articles admitting that nothing illegal or even unethical happened.

The background of the story is that Florida AG Pam Bondi was investigating whether to join with other state AGs in suing Trump over the fraud at Trump University. While she was considering the matter, she says that she personally solicited campaign contributions from Trump for her re-election campaign. She then decided not to join that suit and four days later a group supporting Bondi's re-election effort called  received a $25,000 donation from the Donald J. Trump Foundation which added to a personal $500 donation she received from Ivanka Trump three days before her decision. Unfortunately, tax law does not allow charities to make political contributions so the $25,000 donation was clearly illegal. In addition, when the Trump Foundation made their tax filings, they listed the $25,000 as going to a charity in Kansas with an almost similar name to the political group supporting Bondi. When a political watchdog group uncovered the Bondi donation, the Trump Foundation said they had just made a clerical error, amended their filings, and Trump himself reimbursed the charity for the $25,000. Last Thursday, the IRS slapped a $2,500 fine on the Trump Foundation for its violation.

The IRS fine means that the Trump Foundation had clearly violated tax rules by making a political donation. And some might say that the listing of the donation to a charity based in Kansas that the Trump Foundation had given no money to was more than just a clerical error but a brazen attempt to hide the contribution. Of course, you would not know that some might say that if you read the Times article because it does not even mention the fact that the contribution was reported to the IRS as going to a charity rather than a political group. In addition, the Times also ignores a Huffington Post story that Trump and his daughter Ivanka also gave $125,000 to the Republican Party of Florida a few months after Bondi's decision, which turned out to be Bondi's largest source of campaign funds. In addition, Trump rented out his Mar-a-Lago estate for a fundraiser for Bondi for just under $5,000. A similar event held by the Trump campaign was charged $140,000 for renting the same venue. In this case, it is hard to know whether Trump was giving Bondi a deal or whether he is just gouging his own campaign to line his own pockets. Probably, it is a combination of the two, but Bondi clearly got a deal for her fundraiser. Finally, you have to get down to the third to last paragraph of the story, which, by this time means you are on page A12 of the Times, to also find out that similar questions are being asked about contributions to Texas AG Greg Abbott who was also thinking of joining the suit regarding Trump University.

To give the Times some credit, it does a good job of re-hashing all the other election law violations that Trump has committed over the years, especially in New York. And it also details his clear belief that these political donations are a "pay-to-play", so the article is useful and worth reading just for that. However, the aforementioned significant omissions in the article are glaring. And the headline for the article is just as egregious, reading, "Donald Trump's Donation Is His Latest Brush With Campaign Fund Rules". What the article describes is not "brushes" but clear and continual violations of campaign finance laws. Unfortunately, the damage has already been done. The previous Times articles that insinuated shady activities by the Clinton Foundation and which all ended in the conclusion that nothing improper had happened have already tainted the electorate. This story of clear violations by Trump will just be give the usual false equivalence. And it will be interesting to see whether the Times follows up this story or this is just a one-off because of all the pushback they've received from both inside and outside the newspaper.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Theresa May Backs Off Key Brexit Promises

It was pretty clear that many voters in the UK who voted for Brexit did not fully understand exactly what they were voting for. And now, even the ones who clearly understood that it meant leaving the EU, reducing immigration, and using savings from less EU regulation to spend more on the NHS will be starting to wonder if that is what they are really going to get.  On Sunday, Prime Minister Theresa May cast doubt on at least two of those Brexit assumptions. First, she cast doubt on the effectiveness of a business-friendly "point-based" immigration system that was touted by Brexit leader and current Foreign Minister Boris Johnson as well as her current Trade Minister Liam Fox. May still insisted that a policy of tighter immigration that would pass muster with the EU and allow the UK access to the European single market could still be crafted, but provided no details on how that might be done. May then went on to say that she would not commit to increase spending on health care either. Now, the savings from leaving the EU that Brexit supporters said would be spent on the NHS were largely mythical, so it is not that surprising that May has backed away from that promise. On the other hand, May had supported remaining in the EU so she is already viewed by suspicion. Backing away from key promises made to Brexit voters will only add to the concern that May will implement a Brexit that is far different and much weaker than what they had voted for.

Angela's Ashes

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her center-right CDU party suffered a humiliating defeat in the regional elections where Merkel herself holds her parliamentary seat.  The center-left Social Democrats (SDP), the dominant party in the rural Mecklenburg-Vorpommern region but the junior partner in Merkel's governing coalition, took 30% of the vote, while the CDU fell to third place with only 19%. The "winning" party was the recently formed anti-immigrant AfD party which came in second with 20%. AfD took votes from both the SDP and CDU in building their shocking total. Merkel's immigration policies are driving voters away from both parties in the governing coalition and it is becoming increasingly difficult for Merkel to lead. In addition, Merkel still has not announced whether she will run for a fourth term as Chancellor in next year's elections. Current polls show the electorate is split on whether she should seek a fourth term but there is clearly anger in the electorate about Merkel's immigration policies. This election will make her decision even more difficult.

Merkel has always been an extremely careful politician, making sure she never got too far ahead of the German public. That is why her position on immigration for the refugees flocking into Europe from Syria and Iraq was so surprising and courageous. There was no clear mandate within the German public for allowing these refugees in and her policies would clearly create a political opening for the far right. But she did the morally courageous thing and she is still at least publicly sticking to her policy, even though immigration has been substantially reduced in the past year. But she has suffered an enormous political cost and seen the rise of AfD as a new power in German politics. Merkel's domestic problems will also distract her from focusing on the problems in Europe, from the anemic economy to Brexit. And, if she decides not to run for re-election, there is no clear successor in either the CDU or the SDP, providing an even greater opportunity for the AfD.  Without strong German leadership, it is difficult to see how any of Europe's problems will be effectively addressed.

It is admirable to see that Merkel has finally been willing to expend some political capital in pursuit of a larger, more honorable goal, in this case, a sympathetic policy toward war refugees. What is so sad is that she did not spend that capital on behalf of those southern European countries like Greece, Spain, and Portugal in helping them recover from the financial crisis. Whether that is because she did not want to take on the German banks who would have been force to take a haircut on their loans or because she truly believes that they "need to be taught a lesson", even though in the case of Spain and Portugal their borrowing had not been excessive, is only for her to know. But perhaps showing a little more courage in order to salvage those countries' economies would have mitigated the rise of the far right that humiliated her in her home region.

College Football Wrapup

It was a tough opening weekend for some of the preseason favorites in college football. Thankfully, two of the most perennially overrated teams, Notre Dame and Oklahoma, were losers.  Oklahoma, preseason #3, was dominated by #15 Houston 33-23, unable to stop the Cougars offense and unable to mount a running game of their own. Notre Dame, preseason #10, lost a wild one to Texas, 50-47 in double overtime. Unfortunately, both these teams will still not be out of the national championship debate until they lose again. And if they don't, you can expect they will creep back into the picture as the memories of opening weekend fade. Of the two, Notre Dame looks like the team with the most upside as their offense can clearly move the ball. The defensive secondary looks to be their big weakness, but coaching and scheming should be able to fix that. And this team clearly has the luck of the Irish on their side as well. Texas scored a go-ahead touchdown to go up by 2 with just over 3 minutes left in the game. Bu the extra point was blocked and returned for a two point conversion, tying the gam for the Irish. It could only happen for Notre Dame.

Another top 10 victim was preseason #5 LSU, who lost to Wisconsin 16-14. Wisconsin dominated the game, outgaining LSU by 80 yards and holding the time-of-possession advantage by 10 minutes. Florida State, preseason #4, looked to be in big trouble against #11 Mississippi, down by 22 points late in the 2nd quarter. And it certainly looked like it wasn't going to be their night when Darwin Cook literally dropped the ball on the 5 yard line as he was strolling in, untouched, for a touchdown. The ball rolled out of bounds and the Seminoles had to settle for a field goal. But FSU quarterback Deondre Francois led the big comeback, passing for over 400 yards, in the 45-34 victory. Clemson, preseason #2, survived a hard fought battle with Auburn, 19-13, and #9 Tennessee looked less that spectacular as they escaped with an overtime win against the ever-capable Appalachian State. The Volunteers needed to recover their own fumble in the end zone to win 20-13 in overtime. Appalachian State held Tennessee to  just 127 yards rushing but were unable to capitalize with any points in the four times in the second half when they reached Tennessee territory.

Alabama, preseason #1, Ohio State, #6, Michigan, #7, and Stanford, #8, all rolled over lesser opponents.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Most Workers Do Not Want To Work On A Holiday

While you are out enjoying this Labor Day holiday, try to remember that, like all holidays, it is supposed to be a holiday for everyone. But just like all holidays, there are people out there working. Most of these people are working because they really have no choice. They may be contract or temporary employees who do not necessarily get holidays. Some are providing essential services. Others may simply need the money. Most are probably low-paid, perhaps just getting minimum wage. Many are not getting overtime for working today. Most are probably not getting health care through their employer, either because they are temporary or contract employees or because they are not working enough hours to qualify. Quite simply most of them are just trying to get by.

So let's try to be extra-special nice to those workers today - to the persons serving you breakfast at the diner; to the person ringing up your purchases at a Labor Day sale or the checkout person at the supermarket where you're picking up burgers, dogs, and beer; even to the cop who's giving you a speeding ticket. And if you can spare it, maybe throw them an extra buck just for being there today (well, maybe not with the cop - it probably won't end well). But at least say, "thanks for working on Labor Day!"

The History Of Labor Day

Labor Day became on official holiday in the summer of 1894 but had been proposed by the emerging trade and labor unions since the early 1880s. In 1887, Oregon was the first state to make Labor Day an official holiday and, by 1884, 30 other states had followed through. But the real impetus for the national holiday actually was the result of the violent crushing of the Pullman strike in Chicago by the US Army and US Marshals. The strike was a nationwide strike by the American Railway Union (ARU) that basically shut down all freight and passenger rail traffic west of Detroit. The strike began as a wildcat strike against the Pullman Company which made railway cars in the factory town of Pullman, just outside of Chicago. As a factory town, the Pullman Company maintained strict control, setting rent, water, and gas rates for the workers living there and refusing to allow them to buy homes. But the strike was really precipitated by a reduction in wages paid to the workers due the economic downturn that began in 1893. The Pullman workers had not yet formed a union, but as the strike went on, the ARU signed up many of the striking Pullman workers. When the Pullman Company refused to recognize the ARU, it called on its members to stop running any train that carried a Pullman car on June 26, 1894. And that basically shut down all rail traffic beyond the Midwest.
President Grover Cleveland put his Attorney General in charge of handling the strike. The AG was a railroad attorney who was actually getting paid more via a retainer from one of the railroads than he was as Attorney General. He got a federal injunction against the strike and then President Cleveland used his legal right to make the sure the mail was delivered, arguing that the strike was in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. He called out the military and the strike was brutally suppressed city by city and town by town. By the end of the strike, 30 workers were dead and nearly 60 wounded and there was over $80 million in property damage.
Although the public largely supported Cleveland's actions, it was clear that something needed to be done to appease workers and unions. So, six days after the strike had been suppressed, Congress voted to make Labor Day a national holiday. Of course, the logical date for the holiday would be on May 1 which was already recognized as International Workers Day. But it was determined that using that date would encourage socialists and anarchists. So Labor Day became the first Monday in September. Labor Day is then more than a celebration of the American worker; it is also a memorial to all those who fought and died to improve the lives and conditions for those workers.