Friday, November 27, 2015

New York Times Responds To Trump Mockery Of Reporter Who Debunked Bogus 9/11 Claim

As reported by PoliticoThe New York Times has responded to Donald Trump's recent mockery of one of its reporters who helped debunk the presidential candidate's false claim that he saw "thousands and thousands" of Arab-Americans cheering as the World Trade Center collapsed under the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Defending his claim at a campaign rally, Trump chose to mock the disability of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who covered the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and has recently added to the definitive debunking of the presidential candidate's smear. As reported by Politico, "'We think it's outrageous that he would ridicule the appearance of one of our reporters,' said a spokeswoman for the Times."

Trump can be seen mocking Kovaleski in this clip from Morning Joe:

From Politico:

During a defense of his widely debunked claim that thousands of people in parts of New Jersey with large Arab populations celebrated the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001, Trump performed a derisive impression of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski -- who suffers from a chronic condition that has limited the movement of his arms -- at a rally in South Carolina on Tuesday night.

Citing a 2001 article written by Kovaleski that referred to people allegedly seen celebrating the attacks, Trump said it was "Written by a nice reporter."

Trump went on, "Now the poor guy -- you ought to see the guy: 'Uhh I don't know what I said. I don't remember.' He's going, 'I don't remember. Maybe that's what I said.'" As he spoke, Trump launched into an impression which involved gyrating his arms wildly and imitating the unusual angle at which Kovaleski's hand sometimes rests.

"We think it's outrageous that he would ridicule the appearance of one of our reporters," said a spokeswoman for the Times. The article cited by Trump was written by Kovaleski when he worked for The Washington Post and stated that in the aftermath of Sept. 11, "Law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river."

On Tuesday, after Trump's supporters began citing the article as evidence for the candidate's claim, Kovaleski told CNN, "We did a lot of shoe leather reporting in and around Jersey City and talked to a lot of residents and officials for the broader story. Much of that has, indeed, faded from memory ... I do not recall anyone saying there were thousands, or even hundreds, of people celebrating. That was not the case, as best as I can remember."

Kovaleski suffers from arthrogryposis, a congenital condition that limits the movement of the joints and weakens the muscles around them. As a reporter at the New York Daily News in the late 1980s and early '90s, he covered Trump's business exploits and met with the developer on several occasions.

On November 24, the editorial board of The New York Times called on the media to hold Trump accountable for his "racist lies," adding "[h]istory teaches that failing to hold a demagogue to account is a dangerous act. It's no easy task for journalists to interrupt Mr. Trump with the facts, but it's an important one."

Trump's actions are reminiscent of Rush Limbaugh's mockery of Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's in 2006. Limbaugh at the time accused the actor of "exaggerating the effects" of the disease in an ad, and later suggested that Fox had intentionally over-medicated himself "so you would really, really hate Republicans." Fox News host Sean Hannity defendedLimbaugh, saying Fox "[has] a right to speak up, but he also has a right to be criticized. He is a guy that is very political."

By 2016, 1.5 million U.S. voters will have family members impacted by Obama's immigration orders

Republicans are super excited about their success so far in blocking President Obama's executive actions on immigration, which would provide deportation relief and work permits for up to five million undocumented immigrants through two programs: Deferred Action for Parenthood Accountability (DAPA) and an expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Now, a new study from the Center for American Progress shows just how many 2016 voters will be affected by their parents' inability to obtain those protections—1.5 million U.S. citizens.

We estimate that 6.3 million U.S. citizens live in the same household as a DAPA-eligible relative. More than 5.3 million of these citizen family members are the children of those eligible for DAPA, and about 1 million are their spouses and other relatives. By 2016, 1.5 million of these 6.3 million citizen relatives will be eligible voters, and by 2020, that figure will rise to 2.25 million as additional children and family members reach voting age.

That's right, GOP, gloat all you want about your senseless blockage of the immigration actions. Griselda Nevarez takes a look at how that's going to work out for you in some battleground states:

One of those states is Florida, where President Obama won by about 74,000 votes in 2012.

Next year, DAPA-affected voters may cast nearly 60,000 votes in the state. And by 2020, that number will rise to about 85,000, exceeding Obama's 2012 margin of victory, according to the report.

Five other battleground states where DAPA-affected voters could have a big impact in the 2016 election are Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina, Arizona and Georgia.

And that's not just going to affect the presidential race, it will also be at play in statewide U.S. Senate races. Just a guess that these 1.5 million voters will be particularly motivated to get to the polls, courtesy of the GOP’s vigorous anti-immigrant campaign.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Cartoon: This is what a dangerous refugee looks like

Happy Thanksgiving. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Trump's Pants on Fire tweet that blacks killed 81% of white homicide victims

A day after a black activist was kicked and punched by voters at a Donald Trump rally in Alabama, Trump tweeted an image packed with racially loaded and incorrect murder statistics.

The image shows a masked, dark-skinned man with a handgun and a set of points, ostensibly about deaths in 2015:

  • "Blacks killed by whites -- 2%"

  • "Blacks killed by police -- 1%"

  • "Whites killed by police -- 3%"

  • "Whites killed by whites -- 16%"

  • "Whites killed by blacks -- 81%"

  • "Blacks killed by blacks -- 97%’

The image cites the "Crime Statistics Bureau - San Francisco"

Here is the image:

2015-11-23 11_56_07-Donald J. Trump on Twitter_ __@SeanSean252_ @WayneDupreeShow @Rockprincess818 @C.png

None of the numbers are supported by official sources. The figures on black-on-white homicides and white-on-white homicides are wildly inaccurate. And, as several news organizations quickly noted, the "Crime Statistics Bureau" doesn’t exist. We looked for that agency as well and the closest we found in San Francisco were a number of crime scene clean-up services.

Interracial homicides

While the image references 2015, the year is not over, and no official numbers have been released. The latest data comes from the FBI for 2014. This table contrasts Trump’s figures with the official ones.


Trump Number

FBI Number

Error factor

Blacks killed by whites



4 times

Blacks killed by blacks



Just a little off

Whites killed by whites



5.4 times

Whites killed by blacks



5.4 times

The most glaring inaccuracies have to do with white homicide victims. Trump cast blacks as the primary killers of whites, but the exact opposite is true. By overwhelming percentages, whites tend to kill other whites. Similarly, blacks tend to kill other blacks. These trends have been observed for decades.

Killings by police

We also looked at what percentage of each race the police have killed. The official tally of deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers is well known to be incomplete. A study this year by the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated that official counts miss between 30 to 40 percent of all police-related deaths.

The Washington Post has worked to fill the gap by compiling a database of police shootings for 2015. The most recent figures from the Postshow 414 whites killed, compared to 223 blacks, as of Nov. 23, 2015.

Trump’s tweet said police were responsible for 3 percent of all white homicides and 1 percent of all black homicides. If that were true, then applying those percentages to the FBI report of all homicides in 2014, 91 whites would have died at the hands of police and 25 blacks. That’s a ratio of nearly 4-to-1.

In contrast, the Washington Post data show slightly less than two white deaths for each black death.

One of the official, and incomplete, sources for people killed at the hands of police is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention violent death database. It shows a ratio of about 1.5 white deaths for each black death, in the period 2009 to 2013.

Trump’s number is about double the most accurate figures we could find. That makes him about 100 percent off.

Parenthetically, the website Little Green Footballs traced the original image back to a Twitter stream that appears to originate in the United Kingdom and features a modified swatiska with the line "Should have listened to the Austrian chap with the little moustache."

Our ruling

Trump tweeted an image that made various statistical claims, including that blacks kill 81 percent of white homicide victims. Almost every number in the image is wrong. The statistics on white victims are exaggerated five-fold. The police-related deaths are off as well.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.

Why are media outlets downplaying Trump's lying and demagoguery?

On Saturday, a Black Lives Matter protester who interrupted a Donald Trump rally in Birmingham, Alabama, was assaulted by a group of Trump supporters and then forcefully escorted out while Trump egged the situation on. Multiple parties, including CNN’s Jeremy Diamond and attendee Cort Gatliff, releasedvideo of the assault, which shows a group of people tackling and kicking Mercutio Southall Jr., a local activist.

According to Gatliff, “I saw a couple other people jump in and try to get their hit in. I was worried that since he was on the ground, he was going to get destroyed or something. Once it became clear that it was a protester and that there was some kind of brawl going on, Trump said ‘get him the hell out of here,’ or something similar and everyone started cheering for Trump. And then he started comparing how he was handling the situation versus how Bernie Sanders handled it. Trump was definitely stoking the fire, I thought.”

This video and Gatliff’s recount of the story detail one thing and one thing only, a gang assault of a black protester, one which Trump not only endorsed but encouraged. So why then did several outlets such as CBS News and The Wrap refer to the event as a “clash” or “brawl,” or in Daily Mail’s case focus on the removal of the protester?

These headlines and several others of the event downplay the truly disturbing nature of what actually happened at the rally and its aftermath. A candidate encouraged, and according to the Washington Poststill encourages​ the use of violence against peaceful protesters. Southall is never seen throwing any punches or described as actively engaged in fighting in any way, so describing this event as a “clash” that places agency for fighting on him is misleading. But this event is only one among many cases of outlets soft-pedaling the true depths of Trump’s demagoguery.

Outlets engaged in similar downplaying after Trump tweeted an image showing purported statistics about race and murders. The tweet, below, states data from a nonexistent “Crime Statistics Bureau—San Francisco” indicating that 81 percent of all whites are killed by blacks. This data, completely false and easily checked against FBI data, amounts to nothing more than an unsourced lie.

However, KTLA 5 simply described the data as “controversial,” while the New York Daily News used a slightly stronger descriptor of “questionable.” These descriptors are fine for some misunderstood data point, but fall flat when describing what is a simply untrue piece of information intended to mislead and support a dangerous agenda. Similar soft-pedaling has also occurred around Trump’s horrifying ideas for Muslim registries and mosque closings, as well as his insistence that thousands of New Jersey Muslims cheered on the 9/11 attacks.

Much of the media landscape, of course, endeavors to maintain a veneer of political neutrality. But refusing to call Trump out for ideas that fall far outside of the scope of reasonable political debate and for his use of lies and violence to call for an agenda of vast human rights violations does not serve the purpose or usefulness of neutrality. In this instance, neutrality simply enables the demagoguery to grow.

Senate Republicans Could Face Key Tests Upstate

On the surface, Senate Republicans should not have an upstate problem.

The conference controlled its fate in the last round of redistricting, enabling them to choose their voters and ensconce their incumbents in a cocoon of enrolled Republicans.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo remains deeply unpopular in the rural and suburban communities and threat of New York City Democrats running Albany remains a potent concern. More tangibly, the conference kept a Southern Tier district in the GOP column with Fred Akshar defeating Cuomo’s preferred candidate for the job, Democrat Barbara Fiala.

Republicans in 2014 swept out not just Democratic incumbents in key battleground Senate districts in the Mohawk and Hudson Valleys, but the party did well in Congressional races as well.

And yet, there are problems on the horizon for the party among conservative activists who had taken to heart pledges candidates last year made: Complete repeals of the gun control law known as the SAFE Act and the controversial Common Core education standards.

To be sure, the battleground for control of the Senate next year will likely be Long Island. But restive voters upstate in an election season that’s already gearing up with a strong anti-incumbent, anti-establishment vibe, could throw a curve ball at the Republicans.

In a statewide context, the SAFE Act is a non-issue. Approved in 2013 in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, the measure continues to enjoy broad majority support. Cuomo is so bolstered by his push for the law that he’s taking it on a national road show.

Common Core remains a stickier wicket for Albany, with polls showing both upstate and suburban voters deeply concerned about the impact the standards are having on their children. Perhaps sensing the political danger after 20 percent of students opted out of April round of standardized testing, Cuomo announced a task force to consider potential changes.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has indicated he would prefer to have the task force act on the changes and not have lawmakers take up the measures.

“The task force is with an eye toward looking what have we done, where have gone and where are we going in the future,” Flanagan said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom last month. “What can and should happen is you get a lot of work done at the Board of Regents level and SED, state Education Department, and if need be, which I think is unnecessary, legislative intervention.”

Even so, both the SAFE Act and Common Core resonate with activists on the local level. They represent differing, but related forms of government overreach. And Republican incumbents, especially in the narrowly divided state Senate, haven’t done enough.

Consider this YouTube video of activists protesting freshman Sen. Sue Serino, a Republican who defeated incumbent Democrat Terry Gipson.

In the video, about a dozen or so protesters are seen picketing an event Serino is due to appear at. They’re angry pledges made to repeal the SAFE Act and pull the state out of Common Core haven’t been met. They promise to find a challenger for her next year.

Broadly, they’re upset Serino voted for a budget that included “funding” for the SAFE Act and Common Core.

The spending plan itself included general support for criminal justice expenses, including Division of Criminal Justice, which administers aspects of the law. As Republican Sen. Patrick Gallivan’s office pointed out, the approved budget included a $7 million reduction in funding a key aspect of the law: The ammunition database.

Then consider this video posted in which an anti-SAFE Act advocate discusses the memorandum of understanding released earlier this summer by the Senate GOP, in which Cuomo and the Republicans agreed to not act on the creation of an ammunition database.

The conference at the time insisted they scored a big victory in scaling back the law; Cuomo has said the agreement just stipulates the database won’t be funded until the technology is available.

For gun control supporters, the MOU was thin gruel.

Nozzolio, a staunch opponent of the SAFE Act, was forced to defend the mere placement of the bill on the floor for a vote by then-Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Nozzolio at one point claims a Democratic majority enabled the bill to pass (the caller correctly points out the Republicans retained power in the Senate during the majority coalition with the Independent Democratic Conference).

The call ends politely enough, but with a pledge by the caller (who isn’t a Nozzolio constituent) to fund a primary against him.

Conservative activists appear to want some sort of tangible victory in Albany or at least the find of confrontation at the state Capitol that’s occurred in Washington. Republican Assemblyman Bill Nojay, a conservative talk radio host in the Rochester area, was disappointed the Senate Republicans this year didn’t link the passage of new rent control laws to a SAFE Act repeal.

Republicans still have a lot going for them, especially when it comes to primaries. While their critics have vocal passion, the Senate GOP has money and resources.

But they may not want to take upstate New York for granted, especially with their narrowly divided majority.

An October Siena College poll found voters statewide are split — 42 percent evenly — on having a favorable versus unfavorable view of the Senate. But when it comes to political ideology, a plurality of conservative voters — 48 percent — have an unfavorable view, as do half of the Republican and upstate voters polled.

The Republican majority in the Senate has, over time, been chipped away by conservative challenges. The conference lost Sen. Stephen Saland in 2012 — who represented the district Serino now holds — thanks in part to the challenge from Conservative Party nominee Neil DiCarlo.

Republican Sen. Mark Grisanti, who like Saland backed the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2011 and later voted for the SAFE Act, was unseated in crowded race that included Conservative challenger Kevin Stocker.

In both instances, it wasn’t the conservative candidate who won the seat, but a Democratic one.

The conventional wisdom is the Senate Republicans are sailing into political headwinds with a presidential election and a New Yorker likely to head up the ticket. But it’s also possible the other, less thought of concern for the Senate GOP, is an anti-incumbent wave.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Fact-checking Trump's claim that thousands in New Jersey cheered when World Trade Center tumbled

Arguing that there are terrorist sympathizers in the United States, Donald Trump says he saw "thousands" of New Jerseyans celebrating after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

"I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down," the Republican presidential candidate said at a Nov. 21 rally in Birmingham, Ala. "And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering."

The next day, ABC This Week host George Stephanopoulos asked Trump if he misspoke, noting that "the police say that didn't happen."

Trump -- who has said he was in his Manhattan apartment the morning of the attack -- doubled down.

"It was on television. I saw it," Trump said. "It was well covered at the time, George. Now, I know they don't like to talk about it, but it was well covered at the time. There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. Not good."

We looked back at the record to see what we could find about American Muslim celebrations in New Jersey on 9/11. While we found widely broadcast video of people in Palestine celebrating, we found no evidence to back up Trump’s description of events on American soil.

Urban myth

We conducted an exhaustive search of newspaper and television transcripts on LexisNexis, looking for reports from September 2001 through December 2001 that made any mention of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks.

Regarding Jersey City, which Trump mentioned specifically, we found two uncorroborated and unsourced mentions.  Neither begins to approach the scale Trump described.

The Associated Press, on Sept. 17, 2001, described "rumors of rooftop celebrations of the attack by Muslims" in Jersey City. But the same report said those rumors were "unfounded."

The Washington Post, on Sept. 18, 2001, published an article that claimed "law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river." The Post story includes no source for this information, and we found no evidence that any of these allegations ever stuck.

more rampant rumor of Muslim or Arab-Americans cheering the attacks centered around nearby Paterson, N.J. But that turned out to be just a rumor, spawned by chain emails and perpetuated by shock jock Howard Stern’s radio show.

The Star-Ledger reported that as the rumors spread, "Paterson police rushed to South Main Street, the center of the city's Middle Eastern community."

"When we got there, they were all in prayer," Paterson Police Chief Lawrence Spagnola said.

Three percent of New Jersey residents are Muslim -- the highest of any state -- according to Pew Research Center. Suspected 9/11 terrorists had ties to Jersey City and Paterson. But there is no conclusive evidence that any New Jersey residents celebrated the attacks, and there is no evidence whatsoever of any demonstrations where "thousands and thousands of people" cheered.

Nor is there any evidence Trump saw these events play out in any way, be it on TV or in person. We reached out to Trump’s campaign but didn’t hear back.

What we did find are many stories of Muslims living in New Jersey speaking out against the attacks and bracing themselves for anti-Muslim backlash. For example, Paterson residents put up a banner on the city’s main street that said "The Muslim Community Does Not Support Terrorism.''

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop responded to Trump’s statement on Twitter, saying Trump "has memory issues or willfully distorts the truth."

Our ruling

Trump said he "watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering" as the World Trade Center collapsed.

This defies basic logic. If thousands and thousands of people were celebrating the 9/11 attacks on American soil, many people beyond Trump would remember it. And in the 21st century, there would be video or visual evidence.

Instead, all we found were a couple of news articles that described rumors of celebrations that were either debunked or unproven.

Trump’s recollection of events in New Jersey in the hours after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks flies in the face of all the evidence we could find. We rate this statement Pants on Fire.

By  Lauren Carroll on Sunday, November 22nd, 2015 at 6:17 p.m.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Democrat Edwards elected governor of Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS — State Rep. John Bel Edwards was elected governor of Louisiana on Saturday night, defeating two-term U.S. Sen. David Vitter in what would have been an unthinkable upset a few months ago.

Hundreds of supporters celebrated with the governor-elect, his wife Donna and their children at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans, cheering and endlessly ringing yellow and blue bells, the colors of the campaign.

Edwards defied conventional wisdom that a Democrat would be doomed in a ruby red Republican Southern state, winning with 55% of the vote with about half of the precincts reporting.

In fact, his victory comes on the heels of three-term former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s sound defeat in her re-election bid just last year. Landrieu had been the last Democrat elected to statewide office in Louisiana eight years ago.

Moments after conceding Saturday night, Vitter announced he will not seek re-election in the Senate.

"I've reached my personal term limit," Vitter told supporters who gathered at his campaign party at the airport Hilton in Kenner.

The announcement marks the end of a decades-long political career that culminated in a bruising and heated race for the state's top elected position.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

New York Times' Paul Krugman Calls Out Conservatives' "Bizarre Reaction" To Terror Attacks

The New York Times' Paul Krugman called out right-wing media's baseless anxiety about Syrian refugees and "exaggerated" panic over the threat of a terrorist attack as the latest example of the "apocalyptic mind-set that has developed among Republicans during the Obama years."

In a November 20 column, Krugman observed that Fox News contributor Erick Erickson's "bizarre" threat not to "see the new 'Star Wars' movie on opening day, because 'there are no metal detectors at American theaters'" is "part of a larger pattern" of right-wing panic.

Right-wing media reacted to the November 13 ISIS-led attacks on Paris and elsewhere with sweeping and unfounded claims that President Obama's anti-terror response is endangering U.S national security, with some on Fox even claiming that he has "Islamic sympathies." Others vilified Syrian refugees and defended calls for religious litmus tests, only accepting Christian refugees, on the basis that "Muslims might blow us up."

Krugman noted that among conservatives "[t]hese days, panic attacks after something bad happens are the rule rather than the exception." He attributed this epidemic to the "apocalyptic mind-set that has developed among Republicans during the Obama years": "Think about it. From the day Mr. Obama took office, his political foes have warned about imminent catastrophe. Fiscal crisis! Hyperinflation! Economic collapse, brought on by the scourge of health insurance!" Krugman recalled right-wing media's "great Ebola scare of 2014," which featured assertions that President Obama would expose American troops to Ebola to "atone for colonialism." While the "threat of pandemic, like the threat of a terrorist attack, was real," he wrote, "it was greatly exaggerated, thanks in large part to hype from the same people now hyping the terrorist danger." All of this overblown fearmongering is, Krugman concludes, "what the right is all about:

Erick Erickson, the editor in chief of the website, is a serious power in right-wing circles. Speechifying at RedState's annual gathering is a rite of passage for aspiring Republican politicians, and Mr. Erickson made headlines this year when he disinvited Donald Trump from the festivities.

So it's worth paying attention to what Mr. Erickson says. And as you might guess, he doesn't think highly of President Obama's antiterrorism policies.

Still, his response to the attack in Paris was a bit startling. The French themselves are making a point of staying calm, indeed of going out to cafesto show that they refuse to be intimidated. But Mr. Erickson declared on his website that he won't be going to see the new "Star Wars" movie on opening day, because "there are no metal detectors at American theaters."

It's a bizarre reaction -- but when you think about it, it's part of a larger pattern. These days, panic attacks after something bad happens are the rule rather than the exception, at least on one side of the political divide.


But we shouldn't really be surprised, because we've seen this movie before (unless we were too scared to go to the theater). Remember the great Ebola scare of 2014? The threat of a pandemic, like the threat of a terrorist attack, was real. But it was greatly exaggerated, thanks in large part to hype from the same people now hyping the terrorist danger.

What's more, the supposed "solutions" were similar, too, in their combination of cruelty and stupidity. Does anyone remember Mr. Trump declaring that "the plague will start and spread" in America unless we immediately stopped all plane flights from infected countries? Or the fact that Mitt Romney took a similar position? As it turned out, public health officials knew what they were doing, and Ebola quickly came under control -- but it's unlikely that anyone on the right learned from the experience.

What explains the modern right's propensity for panic? Part of it, no doubt, is the familiar point that many bullies are also cowards. But I think it's also linked to the apocalyptic mind-set that has developed among Republicans during the Obama years.

Think about it. From the day Mr. Obama took office, his political foes have warned about imminent catastrophe. Fiscal crisis! Hyperinflation! Economic collapse, brought on by the scourge of health insurance! And nobody on the right dares point out the failure of the promised disasters to materialize, or suggest a more nuanced approach.


The context also explains why Beltway insiders were so foolish when they imagined that the Paris attacks would deflate Donald Trump's candidacy, that Republican voters would turn to establishment candidates who are serious about national security. Who, exactly, are these serious candidates? And why would the establishment, which has spent years encouraging the base to indulge its fears and reject nuance, now expect that base to understand the difference between tough talk and actual effectiveness?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Senate Democrats focus on actual potential threats to national security after Paris attacks

Senate Democrats are planning to introduce legislative proposals this week that would actually address "terror gaps" in our national security: A visa waiver program, and a loophole that actually allows suspected terrorists to get guns.

"There's a question raised: if you came to the United States as a foreign national on a visa waiver into our country, we believe the law allows you to purchase a firearm in the United States," Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Wednesday night. "These are legitimate questions about safety that we all want to address. I wish the other party didn't spend all of their time talking about refugees."

Several other Democratic lawmakers pointed out Wednesday that the visa waiver program—which allows foreigners from nearly 40 countries to travel here without obtaining a visa as long as they stay under 90 days—needs to be part of the discussion.

Several Republicans leaving a closed-door classified briefing with top administration officials on Wednesday night also indicated that they were also worried about potential security gaps with the visa waiver program and would seek changes. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) listed the waiver program, along with student and tourist visas, as areas of "much more concern, frankly, than refugees."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein is introducing a bill along with Flake to restrict that visa waiver program, which allows citizens and foreign nationals from mostly European countries—like France and Beligium—to come to the U.S. for 90 days without visas. Their legislation would bar visa-less entry to people from those countries if they had been to Iraq or Syria in the past five years. Flake is joined by at least one other Senate Republican in not being totally insane about refugees. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker said, following the briefing, that "the visa waiver program potentially is the place where there's greater gaps, possibly, than the refugee program itself."

Where Republicans are not working with Democrats, not at all shockingly, is on the gun part. The part where people on the FBI terrorist watch list can buy guns. According to the General Accounting Office, between 2004 and 2014, "suspected terrorists tried to purchase guns through the loophole at least 2,233 times, and were able to do so in 2,043 of those cases." That's comforting, huh? Thus far, Feinstein has no Republicans wanting in on that proposal.

But it is encouraging that there's some sanity among Senate Republicans. It looks like they might actually be willing to be a check on House Republicans and their own grandstanding members, who seem dead set on forcing a government shutdown over refugees.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Koch brothers have a surveillance program and staff—to spy on liberals

The Koch brothers are really going to have to kick their public relations efforts into high gear now to make the latest revelation about their nefarious efforts to acquire the  U.S. system of governance in a hostile takeover look like politics as usual. They have a "secretive operation that conducts surveillance and intelligence-gathering on its liberal opponents, viewing it as a key strategic tool in its efforts to reshape American public life." No, it's not April Fool's Day. They're really doing this.

The operation, which is little-known even within the Koch network, gathers what Koch insiders refer to as "competitive intelligence" that is used to try to thwart liberal groups and activists, and to identify potential threats to the expansive network.

The competitive intelligence team has a staff of 25, including one former CIA analyst, and operates from one of the non-descript Koch network offices clustered near the Courthouse metro stop in suburban Arlington, Va. It has provided network officials with documents detailing confidential voter-mobilization plans by major Democrat-aligned groups. It also sends regular "intelligence briefing" emails tracking the canvassing, phone-banking and voter-registration efforts of labor unions, environmental groups and their allies, according to documents reviewed by POLITICO and interviews with a half-dozen sources with knowledge of the group.

The competitive intelligence team has gathered on-the-ground intelligence from liberal groups' canvassing events in an effort to assess the technology and techniques of field efforts to boost Democrats, according to the sources. And they say the team utilizes high-tech tactics to track the movements of liberal organizers, including culling geo-data embedded in their social media posts.

Is this all just kind of creepy? No. It's extremely creepy.

 "While the Republican Party focuses on winning elections, the Kochs want to realign American politics, government and society around free enterprise philosophies that they hope to spread more broadly." They want to remake American society in their own image. Which, by the way, would be pretty fucking profitable for them. So it's really nothing for them to drop several hundreds of millions to do so.

But they're not just spending hundreds of millions to acquire elected officials—they're doing it to counter the spending of their "enemies," the big donors backing liberals. To do that effectively, according to what Politico's Ken Vogel is reporting, they have to track their activities. And those of their allies: "public sector unions and academic and media elites." The main focus appears to be the Democracy Alliance, a "a club of wealthy liberal donors and influential operatives" that has steered about $500 million to candidates and causes in the past 10 years. That would be in contrast to the $889 million the Kochs plan to aggregate and spend in 2016, alone.

Now, you might say, that's sort of fair because the Kochs have been a target of the left and there are real and well-funded efforts to expose their activities. On the other hand, there isn't a formal surveillance operation complete with a former CIA-operative on the job. It's a bunch of people looking at, you know, public records. Whereas the Koch surveillance team "tracks people deemed suspicious outside the offices of Koch network groups, circulating be-on-the-lookout photos to internal network email lists, while keeping an eye on the network's own ranks for possible leakers or disloyal employees."

Here's one thing the Kochs are inadvertently doing to actually help American democracy: They're really making the case for getting big money out of our politics.