20 September 2017

They Really are Chicken Sh%$s

Trump's HHS Secretary Tom Price has been burning up private jet hours so profligately that it might make Steve Mnuchin blush:
In a sharp departure from his predecessors, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price last week took private jets on five separate flights for official business, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars more than commercial travel.

The secretary’s five flights, which were scheduled between Sept. 13 and Sept. 15, took him to a resort in Maine where he participated in a Q&A discussion with a health care industry CEO, and to community health centers in New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, according to internal HHS documents.

The travel by corporate-style jet comes at a time when other members of the Trump administration are under fire for travel expenditures, and breaks with the practices of Obama-era secretaries Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius, who flew commercially while in the continental United States.

Price, a frequent critic of federal spending who has been developing a plan for departmentwide cost savings, declined to comment.

………

Price’s spokespeople declined to comment on why he considered commercial travel to be unfeasible. On one leg of the trip — a sprint from Dulles International Airport to Philadelphia International Airport, a distance of 135 miles — there was a commercial flight that departed at roughly the same time: Price’s charter left Dulles at 8:27 a.m., and a United Airlines flight departed for Philadelphia at 8:22 a.m., according to airport records.
Seriously, what is wrong with these people?

Now Which Pathological Liar Are We to Believe?*

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has claimed that Donald Trump apologized for forcing Turkish security forces to attack unarmed protesters, while the White House has denied this:
The White House on Wednesday denied Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s claim that President Donald Trump called him to apologize for an incident in May where Turkish security agents allegedly attacked protesters in Washington.

A White House spokesman told the Hill late Tuesday that Trump and Erdogan “discussed a wide range of issues but there was no apology.”

“It’s not true,” White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters said, according to BuzzFeed News reporter John Hudson.

………

Washington, D.C. police in June issued arrest warrants for nine Turkish security guards and three Turkish police officers accused of attacking protesters who gathered outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence. A grand jury in August issued indictments for three more Turkish security officials charged with attacking protesters.
This is seriously f%$#ed up.

*Not my line. It's from the comments thread of the post.


Tweet of the Day

FWIW, "Peter Douche" is a parody account mocking Clinton supporter Peter Daud, and he captures the reality of the corporate "Democratic Party" moderates.

Quote of the Day

That said, if all it takes to neutralize a billion plus in Clinton campaign contributions is $100K in Russian Facebook ads and some Twitterbots, then then political class has a lot to answer for in terms of its ROI.
Lambert Strether
For the non-financial types, ROI=Return On Investment.

The Democratic Party consult class really is hopelessly incompetent.

Spain is Going Nuts

There are elements of the population of the Spanish province of Catalonia who want to secede from Spain.

They are pushing for a referendum, and the central government in Madrid has responded by sending federal police into to seize government buildings and arrest politicians:
Spanish national police have stormed ministries and buildings belonging to Catalonia's regional government to put a stop to the region's independence referendum.

The Guardia Civil, which acts with the authority of Madrid's interior ministry, is searching for evidence regarding the planned 1 October referendum on Catalan independence, which Spain's Constitutional Court has declared illegal.

In the early hours of the morning armed officers arrived at various Catalan ministries, including the economy department, foreign affairs department, and social affairs department, Spanish media reports.

At least twelve Catalan officials are said to have been arrested, including the chief aide to Catalonia's deputy prime minister, Josep Maria Jové. The arrests come as the mayors of Catalan towns who back the referendum were yesterday questioned by state prosecutors.

Pro-independence crowds have formed outside the regional ministries in support of the provincial government and in protest against the raids and searches.
It should be noted that the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled the referendum illegal, so some sort of action to stop the election is justified, but what is going on now seems guaranteed to inflame tensions and make a peaceful solution less likely.

So, in Europe, we are seeing, the rise of the racist right wing, and now we are seeing a conflict in Spain that has the very real possibility of going violent.

History may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Linkage

Here is a classic Star Wars parody.  It's 20 years old.  I feel old:

19 September 2017

Pass the Popcorn

I've generally been pretty dismissive of the "A noun, a verb, and Vladimir Putin," wing of the Democratic Party.

I've always observed that at worst, what we have is a violation of campaign finance laws, where, if the Russians explicitly coordinated with the Trump campaign, it was an illegal in-kind donation.

That's a lot of "ifs", and even if true, the penalties are minimal.

The real jeopardy only occurs if members of the Trump campaign engaged in obstruction of justice in an attempt to cover this up.

After all, it was obstruction of justice that took Nixon down.

I'm still not sure if there is any "There" there, but things is getting profoundly interesting:
CNN and the New York Times this evening published dueling scoops on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

As Jim Comey might put it: Lordy, there appear to be tapes.

First, CNN reported that U.S. government investigators wiretapped Paul Manafort, the onetime Trump campaign chairman, both before and after the 2016 presidential election. According to CNN, the court that provides judicial oversight for the administration of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorized an FBI investigation into Manafort in 2014 focused on “work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine's former ruling party.” Manafort’s firm, among notable others, had failed to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) for work with the pro-Russian Ukrainian regime. This first investigation was reportedly halted in 2016 by Justice Department prosecutors because of lack of evidence, but a second warrant was later issued in service of the FBI’s investigation into Russian influence of the election and potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

CNN reported that interest in Manafort was “reignited” because of “intercepted communications between Manafort and suspected Russian operatives, and among the Russians themselves.” The FBI also conducted physical searches: one of a storage facility belonging to Manafort and a more widely reported search of his Alexandria home in late July. Manafort was not under surveillance when he became chairman of Trump’s campaign, CNN sources suggested, because of the gap between the two warrants.

………

Shortly after CNN’s story broke, the New York Times published its own scoop regarding Manafort. The story is largely a scene piece, but includes a number of highly significant facts. The Times catalogs what it describes as “aggressive tactics” that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has employed in his investigations of Trump associates, specifically Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. First, the Times reveals that after the July raid on Manafort’s residence, Mueller’s prosecutors warned Manafort that he would be indicted. The story also reports that Mueller’s team has subpoenaed several of Manafort’s associates, including Jason Maloni, a former Manafort spokesman; the heads of Mercury Public Affairs and the Podesta Group; and one of Manafort’s former lawyers (with Mueller’s team claiming an exception to attorney-client privilege). While White House officials have been given the opportunity to appear for “voluntary interviews” instead of before grand juries, Manafort’s associates have been subpoenaed, marking a less deferential approach to the Manafort investigation. The Times suggests that Mueller, leaving no rock unturned, is investigating Manafort for “possible violations of tax laws, money-laundering prohibitions and requirements to disclose foreign lobbying.”
I'm not sure where this is going, but it is getting interesting.

Headline of the Day

Hopeful Martians Emerge From 8-Month Experiment To Find Earth Horrific As Ever
Gizmodo
This is an actual news story.

The headline is opinion, but I do understand the sentiment:
Before Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and other space enthusiasts can ship humans to Mars as easily as an Amazon Prime delivery, we need to figure out they’ll fare on a foreign planet. Luckily, NASA and the University of Hawaii have been all over this, funding several successful iterations of an experiment called Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS), in which a crew of “astronauts” live in Mars-like conditions in a dome on a Hawaiian volcano. On Sunday, the fifth Hi-SEAS endeavor ended, meaning a crew of six “astronauts” have left the comfort of a literal bubble to greet the fresh hell that is Earth right now.
I do understand the urge to stay in a cave.  I have on occasion had an urge to go live in a cave.

18 September 2017

A Good Explaination of the Brexit

At its core, the Brexit vote was a political act, not an economic one, despite the arguments made by both supporters and opponents of the UK leaving the EU:
Defending Brexit is not the easiest thing to do at the moment when we have a government hell bent on delivering the worst case scenario. It also doesn't help that the Brexit groupthink produces pretty feeble economic justifications rather than looking at the issue as a whole. Fighting on the enemy's turf is always a loser and the mainstream Brexiter economic justifications are collapsing

I have argued for a long time now that the economy is a secondary concern - and as far as that goes, the aim of the Brexit process should be to minimise what is bound to be economically stressful. Something this government is failing to do.

But then, I repeat, this isn't an economic question and it never was. It is political, cultural and constitutional. It is said that Brexit has divided the nation but in fact all it has done is exposed a deep cultural chasm that was not being addressed by the status quo. There is a gulf of misunderstanding between the factions and it's time we dragged it all out for examination.
And then comes this bit, which I found particularly informative:
When we look at that we find that it stems from a collapse of trust in UK institutions. And that can hardly be a surprise. Every major increment in EU membership has been done by subterfuge and deception. Direct consent has never been sought and our interactions in the EU have been yet more deception. Cameron's phantom veto and the bogus attempts at reform were quite obvious pieces of political theatre from an establishment with no regard to the wishes of the public.
I think that this critique, when taken generally, is also at the core of the right-wing populist movements throughout the western world.

People feel that the sales pitch for increasing global integration have been dishonest, and I'm inclined to agree.

Interesting Texts Received Today

I am not quite sure why this happened, but I got a warning about a gas leak about 15 miles away from where I was working.

The basic story was rather straightforward, chlorosulfonic acid leaked from a chemical plant, but I am unclear who pulled the trigger on the emergency text that got sent out to a whole lot of people.

It was definitely surreal.

17 September 2017

Well, This is Great

Did you know that Equifax runs the My Social Security and is responsible for verifying data for Obamacare exchanges for the US government?

You know, that whole, "Reinventing Government", thing that Bill Clinton put forward in the 1990s, when critical government functions were outsourced to private for-profit operators, is looking to be an even worse deal than when it was first implemented in the mid-1990s.

Of course, efficiency and savings were never really the goals: It was a depressingly successful attempt to subvert the civil service laws and to return to the spoils system.

Just ask President Garfield how well that worked out.